Harker School to Inian Islands Institute
Inian welcomes guest writer Edwin Su, a high school student from Harker School in San Jose, California. Edwin and his classmates participated last July in the first high-school-age programming at Inian Islands Institute.
Coming from an extremely urban background in the Silicon Valley, I never stopped to think where everything I consumed came from. The food that I ate, the energy I used, and the technology that fueled my everyday life was all a mystery to me despite how much I depended on them. My curiosity of the sources of these needs grew when I read the description of a course that was going to be taught at my high school in the summer. It was titled “Human Ecology: Our Place in Nature,” and it focused on educating students about how the environment is affected by people.
I, along with nine other students at the Harker School, learned about the development of agriculture and aquaculture as well as their devastating effects on the natural world. Part of this learning experience was travelling to three different locations in Alaska: Juneau, Gustavus, and the Inian Islands Institute. There, we visited multiple land regions that were protected by the government so their natural state could be preserved. Some of the places we visited included Glacier Bay and Mendenhall Lake, where each and every one of us was astonished by the scenery, which was drastically different from our hometown.
These sights revealed something to me. All the necessities that I mentioned before were being taken from places exactly like this. Places that could have been awe-inspiring were instead being exploited by humans for their resources and transformed into cities where the only important aspect seemed to be materialistic wealth. In the Silicon Valley, I was extremely connected with technology. Everyday I would be sitting in front of my computer either watching television shows or playing video games. Different forms of enjoyment that involved outdoor activities never occurred to me. It felt so out of the norm: going outside to have fun. It felt like some kind of social sin.
With the endless amounts of online entertainment in the modern day, most people around my age spend their free time catching up on the trending television shows or playing the latest video games. There’s also so many ways to communicate with others without actually meeting face to face, ranging from emails, to texting, to the various forms of social media. Considering all these factors, I think people from urban backgrounds simply don’t believe spending time outdoors is considered “entertainment” for one reason: the effort it takes. I used to think that way too; why would I waste my spare time going outside just to get all sweaty and tired, not to mention all the preparations and planning, when I could easily just walk downstairs and turn on the TV to watch some shows? Leisure is meant to be relaxing, and adventuring seemed like everything except for that, so it felt wrong to throw all my downtime away for something that I thought would just make me more exhausted. Then, I met Zach Brown at the Inian Islands Institute, where exploring the outdoors seemed extremely opposite from the supposed nightmare I described before.
At the islands, we disconnected with the material world and had a true experience of being one with nature. Everything was so calm, living without the rush of the city. Sitting outside on a chair during my free time there, I distinctly remember the sound of the waves crashing and birds chirping, nearly falling asleep as the cool Alaskan breeze rushed through the air.
On the third of our four day visit, we went kayaking to Eagle Beach. The clear waters were deep blue colored, with countless numbers of creatures living in it ranging from common kelp to jellyfish. A sea lion even startled some of us when it suddenly appeared out of the water just around fifteen feet in front, but it too was scared and quickly popped back underwater. Before heading back to the homestead, we kayaked past a large group of sea lions whose barks echoed for seconds through the cove and to the beach.
On the fourth and final day of our time at the Inian, we hiked to the top of the island. Even though it was raining quite heavily and the climate was always chilly, I had the urge to keep going through the muddy Tongass forest. Why? For the adventure. I had no idea what we would come across if we kept going, and I was curious to find out. We climbed a total of over one thousand feet before reaching the top, where the fog enveloped us completely, limiting our vision to only about one hundred yards. The view wasn’t great, but I felt a sense of success; after all, the steep mountainside was very slippery and loose because of the rain, and I had made it through.
It’s been about three weeks after I got back from my adventures in Alaska, and I miss it so much (especially the cool weather)! I definitely feel that my time there has changed my view of going outside more. Just a week after returning home, I went hiking up a nearby mountain called Mission Peak with a few friends, and it felt amazing getting a chance to enjoy the outdoors again. A week after that I went on a family vacation to Santa Catalina Island for a couple days. We took a tour along the coast and during it I actually saw a trailhead leading to the top of the island. Of course, I asked my parents if we could go up the following day, and they agreed. The weather was obviously not quite as cool and comfortable as Alaska to go hiking in, but the view from the summit made it worth the hike.
At the top, I could see the layout of the entire island: in front of me, the sophisticated, bustling town, and behind, the barren mountains just beckoning to be explored. As I traveled back down, the sights reminded me of the many differences between the artificial and natural worlds.
My experience at the Inian Islands Institute and taking this human ecology course has given me a new point of view on society. Technology and wealth is not everything. There are other factors that determine how “successful” someone is. The natural world has blessed us with resources to become the most prominent species on earth. However, our success only arose with the misuse of these resources which has left nature critically injured. I believe it is time that we gave back to nature and to protect instead of harm it. Visiting this spectacular place has revealed a whole new perspective to me, and I hope that will also happen for everyone else who chooses to experience a true connection with nature. Maybe then will people realize what a spectacular place the natural world can be.