As our tiny boat silently hugs the shoreline of a tiny island in Carroll Inlet just south of Ketchikan, we surprise a young black bear contently munching on juicy grass. He stares at us with a puzzled look on his face before disappearing in the woods behind him. It is brief moments like these that are priceless and awe inspiring, moments when we humans can witness and be a part of a world that used to work a lot BETTER without us – wilderness.
By definition, wilderness areas are those ever-shrinking parts of our planet that are void of human influence, manipulation and interference – irreplaceable remnants from another era in earth history. Given the realities of climate change and the fact that those areas, sadly and ironically, often have to be managed by humans to stay wild, the purity and integrity of such places are increasingly compromised. To my knowledge, truly wild places that are totally beyond the impact and control of mankind, no longer exist on our planet. Yet, there are places where you can still discover the rawness and innocence of nature. Alaska is such a place.
How important is it for us humans to have a relationship with wilderness? Does it really matter to our lives to know that wilderness still exists and to experience the wide open spaces, the silence of the forest and the awe inspiring sight of a truly wild animal in its native habitat? I firmly believe it does. Real life encounters like the one I described above, will change you and move the most hardened of hearts. They are, quite literally, food for the soul.
As always, photographs don’t communicate very well the essence of the experience and are a poor substitute for the real thing. But once you’ve left Alaska behind and re-entered civilization, the photos and your memories are all that’s left of your life-changing encounter with the wild.