I still vividly recall the dream, even though I couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old when I had it. I was flying, low—without a plane, mind you—over Alaska. I soared above waving fields of purple flowers and gurgling, ribbon-like, blue rivers. I remember being surprised in the dream, because I had thought, as a child, that Alaska was always covered in snow and ice.
I’d never been to Alaska before age seven, nor did I know anyone who had been to Alaska. I knew of no relatives there. I suspect the only reason Alaska could have been in my psyche at all was because of some Disney nature show I may have watched or some book I might have read in school. Perhaps I heard a story about Alaska in the news on TV.
Ever since that dream, I have had a deep desire to travel to Alaska and actually see it for myself. Perhaps this is how wanderlust gets implanted in our souls; we follow our dreams. Eventually, many years later, I did manage to get to Fairbanks, as a writer on a magazine assignment. And, I’ve seen some great places in Alaska since then. But one spot I’ve never been to in the state is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And chances are, I never will.
A silent bidding
My interest in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge got fired up a few years ago at a silent auction in Wisconsin, of all places. I was at a national outdoor writers conference, and I happened to pick up one of the items on the bidding tables: a book titled Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, a Photographic Journey by Subhankar Banerjee. As I paged through the glossy, full-color, breathtaking images, my heart skipped a beat when my fingers fell upon a photograph of purple anemones in full bloom. Toward the end of the book, on a two-page spread, there were shots of the Chandalar and Junjik River Valleys. I recognized these places as the ones—or almost the ones—I had seen in that long-ago dream. I quickly put in my bid for $30. Two days later, I was notified that I was now the owner of the book.
Today when I linger over those pages, I still get a chill down my spine. It doesn’t matter that I’ll probably never get to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; the expenses and logistics would be huge challenges to overcome. But I still read everything I can about the refuge—and about the environmental attacks on it. For me, it’s of utmost importance that the refuge is there. And, somehow, I want to make darn sure that it always will be.
Caring for the hidden
Places such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge make us ask ourselves why we should care about places we’ll likely never see. Why do they visit us in visions; why do we think about them and buy books about them? One answer could be that there’s a growing global awareness that our own well-being is truly dependent on an intact and healthy natural world. Today, with so much information available at our fingertips, conservationists and environmentalists around the world are able to show us that mangrove forests located on the other side of the planet from where we are provide crucial nurseries for the seafood we savor. Researchers provide us with evidence that the removal of an inefficient dam thousands of miles away enables the restoration of salmon runs and coastal fisheries. Stopping the rampant cutting down of temperate rain forests—which sequester large amounts of CO2 and which could be located on the opposite end of our continent—may help protect the very air we breathe.
Or, it could be that some places are important to us because their significance is symbolic. Satisfaction, inspiration and hope could be in just knowing that caribou still cross rivers and polar bears still search for the everlasting ice, even if they only do so in our everyday lives on a two-dimensional plane, in a glossy book.
Or maybe we just need places to fly to in our dreams.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,