Adolph, Ed, and Henry + Gates of the Arctic National Park

Dearest Bureau of Land Management,

I have long pondered what I might write you to prevent you from building a road through Gates of the Arctic National Park, a rather foolish idea at best, heresy at worst. I do not know what drives us to such greed or hubris. I do not know where we will finally draw the line one day, when we might decide that we have had enough with the destruction of wildness and livelihoods. I don’t know.

I do know that I am but a child and haven’t the wisdom to change your mind. You are, after all, an agency of the Federal Government of the United States of America, and I, a twenty-four year old writing in his basement apartment in a college town in Pennsylvania a mere 24 hours before your comment deadline closes and you begin taking bids from gravel contractors and port-a-potty salesmen.

I do not know what to say to you other than that I am losing faith. In Uncle Sam. In human nature. In the folks who keep telling me its all going to be alright.

How? I might ask. Who is going to stop them? Who is going to make sure its going to be alright? Where are they? Are they my friends? Leaders? Parents? Children?

I do not know.

I don’t know a lot. But I have known some people who do. I’d like to share their thoughts here 1) because its 11:01 pm and in this moment I feel like they are the only people who might change your mind and 2) because most of them are dead.

Their words, however, are full of life. They burst with life in fact. The kind of life that can only come from seeing so much other life: a woobly-legged moose calf taking its first steps, a salmon returning to die in its home stream, the tundra turning green in spring, a child rolling down a slope of heather.

These are my people. Americans. Patriots. Dirtbags. Rebels: perhaps the true definition of an American.

I’d like to introduce them to you now, and let them speak their piece about your mission, your cost analysis, your road.

Adolph Murie. 1899-1974.

On our initial day in the field in McKinley National Park in 1922, my brother and I were crossing from Jenny Creek over a rise to Savage River on our way to the head of the river. In those days there was no road, the park was all a blessed wilderness, and I have often thought since what a wonderful people we would have been if we had wanted to keep it that way. –The Grizzlies of Mount Mckinley.

Edward Abbey. 1927-1989.

My thoughts were on the road and the crowds that would pour upon it as inevitably as water under pressure follows every channel which is opened to it. Man is a gregarious creature, we are told, a social being. Does that mean he is also a herd animal? I don’t believe it, despite the character of modern life. The herd is for ungulates, not for men and women and their children. Are men no better than sheep or cattle, that they must live always in view of one another in order to feel a sense of safety? I can’t believe it. W e are preoccupied with time. If we could learn to love space as deeply as we are now obsessed with time, we might discover a new meaning in the phrase to live like men. –Desert Solitaire.

Robert W. Service. 1874-1958.

Thank God! there is always the Land of Beyond
   For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
   A fairness that never will fail;
A proud in our soul that mocks at a goal,
   A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still,
   Behold it, our Land of Beyond!

-The Land of Beyond.

Terry Tempest Williams.  1955-present.

In Gates of the Arctic, following in caribou tracks, I am finding peace.

Would you believe me if I told you I was skipping?

We came by wings.

Our ability to travel is a privilege. But it is also a choice. Money is time. Where do we spend our time? Wilderness is not my leisure or my recreation. It is my sanity. –The Hour of Land.

Paul Brooks. Unknown.

The more city pavements, the more urban sidewalks, the more precious become the surviving forest trails…Our national symbol, the bulldozer, flattens the hills, fills the ponds, and smooths our path to man-made monotony. As Phyllis McGinley says in her poem “In Praise of Diversity”, “We are altering to a common way / The planet’s holy heterodoxy.” -Roadless Area.

Henry David Thoreau. 1817-1862.

At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only—when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the public road, and walking over the surface of God’s earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman’s grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us improve our opportunities, then, before the evil days come. –Walking.

Here, here Henry.

Until next time.

Forever your concerned citizen,
Will Rice


Cover photo courtesy of Paxson Woelber


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