Monday, August 9, 2010
The Golden Bear Republic
California – The Golden Bear Republic. I smirk and shake my head thinking about the irony. The last California grizzly was hunted in 1922 and the bear is the emblem of their flag.
I’m sitting in the grass looking out to the bay completely surrounded by bear scat. I even moved some to pitch my tent. In Alaska, brown bears are a reality, a regular sighting in the wilderness of Glacier Bay. Unlike California, the ecosystem of Glacier Bay is complete and undisturbed. When combined with the protected areas to the north, Glacier Bay is the largest protected land in the world north of Antarctica.
Here in Glacier Bay, endangered species flourish and dominate. The food chain is alive. Salmon jump and splash, bald eagles soar with fish wriggling in their talons, grizzlies leap through rivers with fish clenched in their jaws, and humpbacks lunge-feed, their pleated throats bulging with fish and water. Here there are no roads, no sky scrapers, not a trace of a human.
Sitting by the beach, Glacier Bay becomes my window into the past. I try to imagine the first westerners arriving to the West Coast of the United States and seeing the sights before me. I wonder if they were struck with awe. I wonder if rivers would turn black with running salmon or if the seas were so densely packed with microorganisms that trails of light would stream behind their boats under night skies.
Looking out to Glacier Bay, I think about the explorers discovering wild lands of the western United States. I think about the turning of centuries and the expansion of camps to villages, towns, and cities. I think of the concrete, the roads, and the fallen trees. I think of the Golden Bear Republic where the iconic grizzly only exists in dusty photos and flying flags, and I wonder what has happened to this world.
Human population explosion in California fragmented ecosystems and marginalized wildlife species. Some species like the California grizzly were eradicated to extinction. With the depletion of truly wild lands, places like Glacier Bay become rare windows into the past, living examples of complete ecosystems and the abundant wildlife that follow. Neglect and oblivious destruction leads us to a world absent of iconic species, and a world full of flags and pictures advertising the wildlife that has vanished. If the world could see the wondrous setting before me, people would wish to turn back time and perhaps true wilderness would not be so hard to find.