A Wilderness Science and Art Collaboration

Aldo & Leonardo, a partnership between Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, is a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The project is inspired by the scientific wisdom of Aldo Leopold and the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Our endeavor is an interdisciplinary collaboration of artists and scientists designed to celebrate the lands, resources and opportunities protected by the Wilderness Act. In 2013, we are hosting one-month residencies in six diverse wilderness areas. Artists will work alongside wildland research scientists and gain firsthand knowledge of the wonders, complexities and challenges of our nation's wildest places. The result will be a body of work that creatively illustrates the value of wild areas and honors the scientific efforts to preserve wilderness for the next fifty years.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

After Alaska

By Jessica Segall

Within the next few hours I will take a swim in Lake Champlain.  Within the next few days I will return to the Appalachian Trail to hike and look for chanterelles. The Green Mountains in Vermont and the White Mountains in New Hampshire have been my favorite camping grounds since college - the first place I found that one could hike for days without seeing another body.  It was here that I tried my first attempt at solo camping, and stayed up all night to the sound of stomping hooves around me.  Vermont feels somehow like a halfway point in between the wilderness of Alaska and my home New York City.

The expanse of Alaska will forever change the way in which I experience and consider the terms wilderness. The Appalachian Trail is now a trail, a National Forest with clearly marked terms of engagement.  The formerly most remote space I enjoyed in the states is now a place that I can drive to in a weekend.  The house we are staying in is accessible through a campground on Lake Champlain. RVs with humming generators circle several acres of mowed grass, and campers rent golfcarts to travel the distance from the lakeside back to their sites. Or, if you prefer, an antique fire engine has been outfitted into a shuttle bus. At the camp there is both an RV and small river kayak with the words, "wilderness" branded on the side.  

Last week, when asking around for good hiking trails, a Vermont neighbor suggested Camel’s Hump, part of the Appalachian Trail.  He lamented the overcast sky, saying on a good day, “one can feel like they are on top of the world up there.”  It reminds me of a conversation in the Noatak with Mike, Tama and Andrea about climbing mountains.  During our residency, we hiked through tundra to small raised outcroppings with exposed gravel to look for archeological sites of interest.  Andrea and Tama were both eyeing the mountain beyond the lake.  I remarked, somehow, on the desire to climb to mountain peaks as part of human nature.  Mike’s opinion was that this desire, the desire to reach the highest elevation for a Freidrich - esque point of observation, is part of a newer cultural construct.  He said that the earlier inhabitants of the Noatak would have looked at the mountain peaks and just think of the wasted energy expended to get there, with no advantage to climbing it - no caribou on top of the mountain!  We, the recreational campers who were well-fed up to our trip to the Noatak and can reasonable expect to be well-fed for the rest of our lives, see a mountain differently.  A change in perspective, ego, nourishment, exhaustion.

Not everyone should want to, or has the means to have an experience like we were offered in the Noatak Preserve - to be delivered across hundreds of roadless miles via float plane and hike without trails, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.  I will continue to explore and honor the other National Parks, but the sheer size of Alaska's 19 million acres of preserves and parks has left an Alaska – sized impression in my mind and soul.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely entry about your experience there. So much happens during such an opportunity and then, so much unearths itself over time. Thanks for writing of your experience. I nod from my Chicago home in appreciation.