Journey to Alaska – Post 4

Pica webWhen the grand vistas are not visible you can always focus in on the small details, and they can be just as magnificent.  That is exactly what I had to do on my foray into Denali National Park which began on Monday, August 19.  From the precise time that I boarded the bus with thirty other journeyers to Camp Denali/Northface Lodge, 89 miles into the park, it began to rain.  The rain did not stop until after we exited the park at noontime on Friday, August 23. 
Denali is the name of the National Park which President Woodrow Wilson signed into law in 1917 after nearly 10 years of campaigning by Charles Sheldon.  Though white explorers called the mountain at the center of the park Mt. McKinley, for tens of thousands of years native  Athabascan people called it Denali, meaning “the great one.”   Its base begins at 2,000 feet, much lower than the base of Everest, which begins at 12,000 feet.  This means that Denali, rising to 20, 320 feet, has a greater vertical rise than Mt. Everest.  And she, the Great One, even produces her own weather patterns.  But from inside the park I was not privileged to catch even a little glimpse of her.
Berries webSo I looked elsewhere: down to the ground, between the trees and into their branches. I was enthralled by the wonderful colors and carpeted patterns, and creatures mostly spotted from a distance.  It was then that I saw my first Pica, a small rodent slightly bigger than a mouse whose cuteness grows on you.  But I wondered how such a small animal could survive in the harsh winters and predator-rich 6 million acre terrain.
Yes, how can this tiny creature flourish?  It made me think of Darwin’s theory of the “survival of the fittest.”  Just the night before, an ecologist lecturing at the lodge pointed out that Darwin’s theory had been misunderstood, misrepresented and manipulated.  He felt that Darwin actually intended to show us the survival of the “fit,” referring to the plant, element, creature, and human that was able to “fit” into its symbiotic system, a system which would promote self and communal survival.  And when we “fit” into the system, no matter how complex, those systems eventually come to find our individual and unique contributions necessary.
Ptarmigan with a little showing

Ptarmigan with a few white feathers showing

Therefore this theory is not about domination, brute strength, power over or oppression; rather it is like the little pica that can find its home in the rocks in the tundra and build multiple caches of vegetation for the winter.  Or the ptarmigan that is smaller than a chicken but camouflages itself among the trees and bushes, turning white in winter to blend into the snow. These are indeed the “fitting into ones.”

Although I did not see the “Great One,” I found valuable insight into survival for us all in the little ones who are least in the food chain and least in power and might.
The Great One’s base is embroidered by caribou and bears, bunch, crow, lingeon and blue berries and an ever-growing population of spruce among the scrubby tundra (the spruce are flourishing because of the rising temperatures).
National parks did not just happen.  More often it took heroic personalities and hard workers who understood stewardship of the land.  Challenges continue to confront the preservation of Denali:  Wolves are hunted in Alaska at the borders of the park, the climate is changing, the permafrost melting and habitats are disappearing. But thoughtful people can affect the common good!
This entry was posted in Weekly 2 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.