preserving the wilderness
A terrifying experience with a bear
strengthened Kalin Grigg and Jennifer Stark's resolve that the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge
has to remain pristine | Their story is told by Thomas Curwen and David Petersen
They were paddling easily in the endless Arctic sunlight when they spotted the bear, its blond-brown fur blending into the surrounding tundra. Perhaps 500 pounds, they guessed, but at close range all grizzlies look big, and they were spectacularly close to this one.
Kalin Grigg and Jennifer Stark were thrilled. They paddled slowly, so their oars would not splash or flash in the sun. They wanted to photograph the animal and hoped not to spook him,
but as they reached for their binoculars and camera, they noticed something else.
The river they were rafting, the Hulahula, bent left. On the far bank, just beyond the bear, a tumble of brightly colored camping gear was scattered across the beach. Their guide, Robert Thompson, first spotted the strange disarray.
This doesn't look good, he said quietly, almost to himself. It looked as if a small tornado had razed someone's bivouac.
Robert was Inupiat. He had grown up in Alaska, and he knew what he was seeing.
This doesn't look good at all, he said again.
Robert was right | Their adventure became more harrowing after this** |
For Kalin and Jennifer, encountering a killer grizzly only strengthened their feelings for protecting the refuge.
"What that bear did for us was shatter the idyllic, romantic image of wilderness and bring home the pragmatic reality of what a huge privilege and responsibility it is to actively participate in the day-to-day workings of natural wildness," Jennifer said, weeks later. "Once, all the world was wild. That was the world the human animal evolved in, and for. And that fact alone makes the final few fragments of original wildness worth saving."
"Whether we 'need' wild places in some utilitarian way or not, they have intrinsic value and deserve to exist apart from our experience of them," added Kalin. "But we do need wild natural places, because we need wild natural experiences to help define and structure our overly civilized lives. And we need to be willing to enter such places on their terms, not ours."