Alaska showcases the majesty of nature - its beauty, power, and intricacy. I don’t think the state slogan “The Last Frontier” is fitting in the modern age - our frontiers have expanded far beyond our world with the progression of technology over the last century. But I do think it offers a rare glimpse into Earth’s natural systems untouched by humans - or at least as untouched as I’ve been able to witness in this lifetime.
This absence of ‘normal’ human influence actually served to accentuate the impact of humans on Earth. With the contrasting backdrop of nature, it was easy to see:
- How extreme and unforgiving nature can be
- How adaptable humans have become to these extremes
- How humans have worked to tame and control their environment - and the consequences of these actions
For me, this jaunt through nature was a solid reprieve from normal life. It’s the longest I’ve vacationed in at least a year, maybe two.
This removal from my usual cycles in conjunction with the new environment of Alaska raised several questions about my life that I’m still working through - logged here for posterity:
- What impacts do I want to have in my life?
- Should I be taking more time off? Should I be spending my time differently?
- What’s my role in the world?
I don’t have answers right now, but I think they’re worthwhile questions to ponder and I’m glad I had the headspace to start. Onto some observations:
Majesty of Nature
Seeing the natural landscape of Alaska was by far the highlight. It’s so big and diverse which is awe-inspiring and a good bit humbling. It makes you feel small which I think is a healthy thing for humans to feel every now and then.
Some cool things we saw:
- Clouds / mist
- Lakes / Rivers / Streams
- Glaciers (!)
- Mud flats
- Red squirrels
- Humpback whales
- Caribou (and ate them)
- Reindeer (and ate them)
- Fish - swimming and mating and dying
- Black and Grizzly bears
- sea lions
- lots of birds (I love ravens now?! Like flying pigs?!)
Land: We did a bus tour at Denali National Park which was quite long but allowed us to see a ton of different landscapes and many animals out in the wild! The animals were often very far away and in small groups, which added to the sense of being very small.
Animals: Of course, us humans are heavy consumers and top of the food chain so wild animals weren’t enough. We also visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center which has a bunch of different animals that they’ve fostered that would take lots of time and effort to see and impossible to safely see as close if encountered in the wild.
Sea: We did a boat tour in the Kenai Fjords which allowed us to see (melting!) glaciers and a bunch of different sea creatures we wouldn’t have been able to see on land.
1. Everything is connected
We got to learn a bit about the history of the land and its ecosystems from our tour guides and a few stories stood out to me as they relate to the interconnectedness of nature.
- Game overhunting -> National Park creation
- overhunting and ecosystem change -> bison extinction
- global warming -> severe melting of glaciers
- feeding animals -> human-targeting behavior
A reminder of the massive impact humans can and do have whether we mean to or not and the default role we have as stewards of our environment for the simple reason that we are the only ones that can.
2. Humans are killing the world
This is a direct derivation from the observation that everything is connected. When we look at a lot of these negative symptoms and cycles, we often find that humans are the cause for them becoming unsustainable.
A lot of these seem rooted in consumption of some sort. We want to have something, so we build operations to gather necessary resources and craft the end product. What we often skip is the analysis of how to make this process sustainable - i.e. not having negative impacts on surrounding systems such that we could theoretically continue our processes forever without negative outcomes. Instead, we tend to optimize locally which seems to lead to severe disruptions outside of that scope.
I don’t think I can phrase this any clearer. Humans are killing the world. Humans are the only ones with the power to stop killing it.
Unfortunately it kinda has to start with you and me doing something about it - even though it’s not “our” mess. Even more unfortunate, it can’t stop with us because we can’t solve this alone. We’ve really built ourselves a great, big, messy problem and ignored it to the point that it threatens our immediate future. Talk about bad planning.
3. I am privileged
I am privileged in so many ways and there were several observations this trip that reminded me of that privilege.
- Many of the people we saw on our tours were older and mentioned this being one of their first large travels or that they’d been looking forward to it for quite a long time. This reminded me of my own family in which many have not traveled to many places due to the resources available to them - be it time, money, or something else. I’m lucky I can take trips like this without having to wait years for the right time / resources.
- Afghanistan news continues to roll in, reminding me how lucky I am to not exist in a geographic area contested through violence and that I am not currently discriminated against for attributes I cannot choose.
- Goods were relatively expensive (for a non NYC place) while many businesses were short-staffed. This reminds me of how fortunate I am to be financially stable in such an overpriced place which allows me to travel to many other locations without much worry about the financial impact to my journey. But that’s not the case for many people and these financial woes were front and center with the inability of businesses selling these high priced goods to attract workers with the pay and benefits they can provide.
- Ability to take off work and travel for a week
- Financial position to travel and experience everything I wanted - food, drinks, tours, travels. Many of the people we
- Living and traveling in a non-hostile culture / environment
- Ability to enjoy these abilities with good health and at a young (ish) age
I’m grateful that I was able to make this trip. It was great and I hope that more people can and will make the journey themselves.
Some other observations I found interesting.
- Alaska is a temperate wetland - Probably not all of it, but a lot of what we saw was. This meant that it was much greener and lusher with vegetation than I thought, with a good mix of evergreen and deciduous tress and lots of little flying bugs! It felt a lot like the PNW with some high humidity (in air and on ground) and lush, cool forests. I thought it’d be more like a desert but with snow. I was wrong.
- Alaska doesn’t have much cold brew - they’re more of an iced americano kind of place. I only found one real, good cold brew in the town of Seward at a place called 13 Ravens Coffee. Go there for some good coffee then go to Smoke Shack in the same complex for some excellent breakfast.
- Alaska has flamin hot munchies! These are my fave snack but seem to only be able to find it in remote / rural areas (usually gas stations).
- The sun really is up for a long time. Sun would be pretty bright by around 6am and go down around 10pm. However it wouldn’t really get dark, more of a low light, late evening kind of feel well past midnight.
Some actions I’ll be taking, influenced by this experience.
- I’d encourage people to visit Alaska and do some tours, was very cool
- Restructuring HamForGood to be simpler and more sustainable and focus on building funds over time with the goal of leveraging that growth to have a higher impact long-term. Sacrifices short-term giving for long-term giving. Also influenced by The Simple Path to Wealth
- Starting a system of reflection on my adventures (this is the first one!)
- Paying the Earth Tax for everything I ate and my travels
I’ll be posting pics of my trip to @hamy.see in the coming months.
Happy Hamventuring, -HAMY.OUT