While paddling along nearly the entire length of Norway's coast, the couple noted that while the landscape often physically resembled Alaska's, there was little wildlife. The Europeans they encountered in those areas, however, considered the region relatively pristine wildernesses.
Such experiences convinced Fredston that our perceptions of nature are based in large part on our past experiences, on what we've seen before. And it leads her to a cautionary note on the future of wild lands: "We're not going to know what's missing if we've never known it."
Land of Oil and Caribou
On a marathon trip along the coast of the Arctic's Beaufort Sea, Fredston crossed from Canada to the United States and began rowing along the 125-mile length of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the subject of considerable debate regarding its future. Whether to drill for oil in the refuge has divided Alaska's native communities, state officials, conservationists, and politicians in Washington.
The nearly 20-million-acre refugemore than three times larger than Vermontis commonly known as a pristine wilderness that's the calving area of the porcupine caribou herd.
From Fredston's vantage point along the coastline, the view was sometimes a bit different. "Whenever we thought we saw the bulk of a musk ox, it usually proved to be just another 55-gallon drum," she recalls.
The drums are a Cold War legacy, stockpiled from the radar stations that once stretched across the Arctic. Years of storms and waves have scattered them, and although a federally funded cleanup is underway, ANWR's coastline is clearly showing a human footprint.
Yet Fredston found the region hauntingly beautifulalmost magical. "It's a different kind of beauty, a more subtle kind of beauty," she says. "It's lone wolf tracks on the beach, and ethereal lighting and clumps of lupines."
It's the kind of wild place, like the others she journeys past each summer, that inspires her to reflect not only on herself but also on the responsibility that people have for such lands.
"We can chip away at wildness one project at a time, one road at a time, without realizing the cumulative impact," she says. "When will we reach a state of grace where we slow down and stop trying to use every last resource?
"Once you wring the wildness out of a place," she adds, "it doesn't come back."
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