The Call of the Wild

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.

Working a silver mine story near Juneau, Alaska, I was overwhelmed by how routine man’s co-existence with nature was there. Eden has not been lost after all. Here the human footprint has not squished aside nature like mud around a boot. The mine itself was on an island hosting the world’s densest concentration of brown bears. Deer lined up along the road to watch our bus come back down to the ferry. I saw glaciers, seals, whales, eagles, and spawning salmon. But most impressed upon my memory are the trees.

Juneau is surrounded by the United States’ largest protected woodland, the Tongass National Forest. I had known, of course, spruce grew that tall. But it was secondhand, cognitive fact. To be standing at the base of one of those evergreens looking up to the clouds through its limbs, nearly falling over backward to look for its top, is so much more than fact. And the density of that forest! Mendenhall Valley residents do not have yards: they insert a cabin or house beneath the trees that remains hidden until you are abreast its driveway.

In Juneau, skyscraper spruce look down upon lowly buildings six and seven stories tall. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder as mothers in a nursery, they protect its infants from low and heavy clouds bulging round them, monstrous gray caricatures crowding close, taunted by humanity’s bumptious intrusion. Moving colors and unsettled sounds lay in sacrilegious contrast to the pre-historic backdrop of moss-laden, ragged branches hanging tired against dark green eternity. And the clouds of Juneau demand silent reverence.

Reluctantly, I left Juneau as I found it, beneath its moist grey veil, promising a glimpse inside the treasure chest to any who’ll wait for the sun.