“And here, too, one learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the morning of creation…” — John Muir, describing Southeast Alaska
The word “inspiration” may sound fluffy, conjuring up images of those awful landscape posters with inane captions like “Today is the first day of the rest of your life“. With apologies, I will flirt with cliche and try to describe the inspiration offered by this remarkable place.
Among today’s rapid degradation of Earth’s ecosystems and clear-cutting of wild places, inspiration is ever-more profoundly important. If you ask almost anyone working in the areas of conservation, sustainability, and environmental sciences, they’ll say they do what they do because they were inspired by a Wilderness experience at a young age. This is just a casual observation, but it is supported by behavioral psychologists like P. Wesley Schultz, who show that our sense of connection to the natural world plays a critical role in creating stewardship and “pro-environmental” behavior. Inspiration, then, is not a poster cliche — it is a crucial ingredient in the making of young environmental leaders. But that crucial ingredient, that sense of connection, that formative Wilderness experience, gets more difficult to find with each passing day.
In the U.S. alone, 6,0o0 acres of wild and open spaces are lost to development every day. For the first time ever, the majority of the world’s population lives in a city, and this proportion continues to grow. For most of today’s youth, “nature” means the local city park. Can you imagine their astonishment to confront a place like Southeast Alaska? “Big trees, big birds, big fish, big bears, immense peaks wrapped in great glaciers that break off into bays where great whales spout: This is Southeast Alaska,” writes Douglas Chadwick. Its ineffable and archetypal wildness has been inspiring conservationists for generations. I’m one of them.
Our curriculum is designed to teach our students how to confront challenges of conservation and sustainability. But all the teaching in the world is hollow without that passion for change, that environmental ethic, that can only be forged by experiencing. The setting of our school will allow us teachers to shut up for awhile, and let the landscape do the teaching. It reminds students what we’re fighting for.