Discussion 4 19 comments



Take a look through the Alaska Digital Archives at some of the photos surrounding Alaska’s natural resources. Each of the writers we’ve read thus far seems to think differently about the use of natural resources in Alaska. Choose two writers and explain how each discusses Alaska’s natural resources in a different light.

About Madara Mason

Madara Mason's hats include painter, graphic designer, Instructional Designer, faculty educator, English Instructor, food blogger, and Oxford Comma Aficionado. If she's not in front of an easel, she's in front of a screen, or in front of a classroom. Her motto is "If you're not having fun, you're probably doing it wrong."

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

19 thoughts on “Discussion 4

  • aaron

    There were several passages from this week’s reading which struck me as noteworthy when it came to the use and approach on Alaska’s natural resources: “A River Ran out of Eden” by James Vance Marshall illustrates the story o a young boy Eric exploring his outlandish home on a deserted Aleutian island, whereupon during a bad storm one day, he finds shelter in a small sod hut which is occupied by some local wildlife. “She lay curled up against the wall: a sinuous seven-foot golden seal, her fur like a field of sun-drenched corn; and clinging to her teats, two soft-furred pups.”(Last New Land, pg. 203) He goes on to further reflect, “he looked at the seal. And he was troubled. For it came to him that now the weather was improving his father would be starting to search for him, and didn’t his father often go hunting golden seals–with a gun? The idea appalled him. It was unthinkable that ‘she with the yellow hair’ should be hurt.” (pg. 205) Regardless of their value for food or fur, by planning to intervene with his father’s hunting, our main character here has adopted a conservation stance on protecting his new mammalian friends and promises to ensure that they are not harmed.

    In “The Birth of a Cabin” by Richard Proenneke and Sam Keith, we generally see a more practical, utilitarian view on the anthropocentric use of natural resources as a means to the main character’s dream of building his log home in the wilderness. He has an intimate appreciation for the aesthetics of Kodiak Island’s wilderness value, both the visual scenery and genuine understanding of it’s ecological nuances such as the weather, plants and animal interactions. While condoning their use wisely, he certainly does exploit the local natural resources to a certain extent, as necessary. Among these activities are harvesting timber for his cabin’s construction, gardening, fishing, and hunting wild game. “Babe spotted by peas [some nipped off just above the ground]. His eyes twinkled. ‘I like rabbit better than peas anyway.’ That rabbit really likes peas. He has a rough time of it in the winter, what with lynxes and fox ready to waylay him. I really don’t need the peas. Let him have them.” (pg. 239) and a few days later: “While I was away, the rabbit changed his menu. He cleaned half a row of rutabagas. Bet he never tasted them before, either.” (pg. 241) Taking it in stride, the main character’s menu changes depending on who eats what. Its assumed to the reader that he’ll potentially catch the garden-fed rabbit in action on a later date and will happily eat it instead. Another arguably powerful message on his view of the natural world: “I thought of the season that would soon open, of the men the season would bring to do just that [annihilate all the wildlife], if they could. Kill, shake hands with the guide and stand with hands in their pockets while he skins out the hide or saws off the skull and antlers and perhaps a quarter or two of meat, not even bothering to open the carcass. The wolves had done a better job.” (Last New Land, pg. 244) This latter point suggests his disdain for the outsiders’ inefficient and seemingly disrespectful way of squandering such precious Alaskan natural resources. It is noted that the natural system of predator/prey relationship leaves virtually nothing as waste. Whatever remains after the scavengers have their fill is decomposed and returns back into the cycle as primary producers transform the leftover nutrients into energy for organisms higher up on the food chain.

  • Patricia

    Different writers express their view through the stories about the use of natural resources in Alaska. I will mention two of my favorite stories that provide the reader with information about the authors’ view on natural resources in Alaska. I like Rudy Billberg’s story Alaska, from “The Last New Land, Stories of Alaska Past and Present” where he expresses that the houses look sad. In addition all of them looked very old and needed to be even replaced. The author mentions quote “ Mining as the lifeblood of Nome. More than $100 million worth of gold had been wrested from Nome area mines in four decades before our arrival. Mining had changed from one — or two man operations with crude equipment to large scale dredging efforts run by big companies.” (The Last New Land, page 192) This excerpt provided me as a reader with a lot of relevant information, which allowed me to conclude that though there were many big companies in Nome drilling and looking for gold, the money obtained from the gold was not invested in Nome, which looked old. I believe that when the author mentions that the houses looked sad it is also because it was sad for the author to see a small town so forgotten and at the same time were natural resources were exploited without limits.
    Another story that I like is Richard Proenneke’s story The Birth of A Cabin, “The Last New Land, Stories of Alaska Past and Present” where he mentions how wonderful is to live a simple life, building a cabin and where uses the natural resources in a respectful way. This story provides the reader with information about what the author did per day like for example quote “ Bright and clear. I hear the spruce squirrel, but he stays out of sight. He likes to shuck his spruce cones in private. The blueberry bushes are nearly leafed out and loaded with bloom.” In this excerpt the author mention blueberries and a squirrel. He describes the blueberry, which may entail he might eat some later in the day or another day. He respects animals and do not use guns. The author mentions timber, salmon, a rabbit that like peas, lynxes and foxes. In addition quote “ I saw a bear’s head raise, his muzzle tossing and testing the wind. Maybe I could get some pictures.” (The Last New Land page 241) In addition, he mentioned he could have killed the squirrels that the bear was trying to chase as well as the bear but he did not kill them and thought about the season that was coming soon where lots of hunters comes. This story shows a positive way of seeing natural resources and respecting them. The author only uses the necessary logs, salmon etc. he needs and respects the environment.

    • LaVonMarie

      That is an very interesting point of view that you brought to our attention, where the money being taken out of the mines in Nome but is not being invested into the local environment and towns. (although I remember this story as being placed in the past, it still remains true to some economies that our state’s natural resources supports). I think this is also problematic across the country as well. We can look at the coal mines towns on the East Coast and despite the millions of dollars being taken from the ground, the people and the towns are run down, schools lacking funds and in general the people are living in borderline poverty–despite being employed in the local mines and surrounding structure which supports the business.

    • Madara Post author

      Both of you are touching on the idea that too often Alaska’s resources (and especially the profit from those resources) often go to those who have no connection to the land. I think that leads to many of the misunderstandings between Alaskans who live off the land and those who profit (as in the capitalistic sense of the word) off the land.

  • LaVonMarie

    I think that many of us who make Alaska our home, we are aware of the natural resources that surround us, and indeed, many of our economic reasons for living here is due to the natural resources that Alaska provides. However, I do not think we truly understand how much Alaska has to offer in natural resources, nor are we educated in how it is managed, the different perspective that surround each resource, the potential and actual earning and whether it is renewable or not. While going through the digital archives, I was once again reminded of how much of Alaska’s history is about the exploitation and exploration of its natural resources. Some of these resources have been depleted in its early history, and reading through the stories included in “The New Land” it is understandable why at some point Alaska had to step in and find a way to manage it all. (I am not saying it has been done correctly in all cases but none-the-less it is easier to see why government felt like it needed to be managed.) Out of this early era, arose many different perspectives to Alaska’s natural resources and the following is one of the most common found–this land is mine and the resources regardless of the impact or future of these resources. (The story I note, does not necessarily have that final opinion but it is often an opinion of many Alaskan residents which creates a conflict with those who view it differently. This in turn creates a constant struggle between these differing opinions that is present in our Alaskan literature, text, language, social spheres and media today.
    One story in particular (although not to my greatest taste) was the beginning of colonial history in Alaska’s and the main reason to settlement by the Russians. This was the fur trade industry. The story by John Haines “The Hunt” was a very truthful and raw telling of what it means to be a trapper. He is unapologetic in his passion for it, “There is the coarseness too often found those who follow the trade, especially where mere cash is the end in mind” (356). The hunt for fur was relentless in Alaska beginning history. As we know, entire seal populations were nearly wiped out. To support the fur trade the indigenous people of Alaska were put into servitude to the Russians, either by keeping families’ hostage or simply forced labor by all able men in each tribe. Although he explains the reason behind trapping, he also allows the reader to see the other draw that the wilderness provides to someone who pursues this trade: “And yet to some fortunate individuals there have been few things more deeply attractive than this seasonal pursuit of the wild. It is life at its fullest, uncertain and demanding, but rich with expectation” (356). Along with this call of the wild, there is an attitude not so much of symbiotic existence but a view of ownership that is different from those who look at Alaska’s resources differently, “The wilderness is open, and whoever enters it know the satisfaction of being at ease in a country he calls his own. The land belongs to him and to no one else” (356).
    The second is a poem written by Margaret Mielke, “The Moose Kill” and it reflects the attitude of using Alaska’s natural resource for sustainment and nourishment. It also contains great imagery of Alaska’s landscape: “The annual trip by dory to horizon land/ Across the water, where the pastel mountains stand;/ Leaves of copper scaled and shiny/ On the sponge-moss ground.” (383). The beginning of the poem also expresses the wish that her children not forget these experiences: “This is something I would have the boys remember:/ The moose kill in Alaska each September” (383). The author is wanting her children to not only the process of the hunting for food, but also the environment and how it shaped her memory and the experience. Although this is a poem about the killing of animals, the use of its resource is in relationship with the land, and not just the exploitation of the resource, “The long, long aim and quick, quick shot, releasing blood,/ The work of men and knives and axe that turn it into food. The heave quarters that with pride we load/ With provider’s knowledge that the meat is good” (383). I think these two stories really contrast a past and current perspective and relationship to Alaska’s resources that any Alaskan can relate to.

  • Kari

    In the short story, “Change” written by Charles J. Keim, was a story about a man named Arne and his experience with changes in the environment that surrounded him. Arne was an old man that had emotional ties to the landscape that surrounded him and his deceased friend, named Ross. Arne and Ross staked out a particular spot near Silk Creek and Clear Creek, Alaska. This two men built a well that provided running water to the cabin and they would go up the mountain to mine for gold. Arne and his partner were set on three natural resources; water from the mountains, gold, and the beautiful landscape, that they set up camp 60 years before the neighbors intruded on their land.

    “The Birth of a Cabin” written by Richard Proenneke, was a story about himself enduring the natural resources for his daily living. This strong willed pioneer wanted to prove he was able to build practically every thing he needed to use from the treasures of Alaska’s landscape, from trees that he, himself cut down to make his cabin. Richard fished for his food and wondered if planting foreign seeds to make a garden would potentially grow. Richard talked about the ground being frozen an inch deep.

    These two different writers discuss in their stories, the motives of individuals that see Alaska’s resources of importance, differently. Arne in the story of “Change,” saw the need of fresh running water from the mountains and the mining for gold for their job, as a great need to set up camp. Richard Proenneke motives were set by a peaceful retirement, in which, he used Alaska’s greatest resource of trees to build practically his whole world that he lived in with some basic necessities. Richard Proenneke’s goal in life was to be free-free to come, free to go, free to do as he pleased, more so to learn about his surrounding environment. The thoughts of Richard that came from the Alaskan environment that surrounded him was of basic survival for himself, finding who he can be, obtaining nature’s resources and basic survival of native animals

    • Madara Post author

      As much as I know Proenneke loved where he was, the isolation of that environment overrides the freedom gained from it. But that’s why I find some of these stories so fascinating… the authors do things I would be afraid to do!

  • Misty

    The section we read this week had a lot of the resources we have here in Alaska. The one that struck me was “Slade’s Glacier” on page 280. The thought of all those animals frozen in time makes my heart yearn to see it. It has to be a beautiful sight. All that treasure that you cannot bring yourself to collect on because of the beauty of it. To many times people ruin things because of greed. The Shaman, Charlie Blue, knows that so he tell them to keep it a secret. The fact that Blue knows the man trapped in the ice os a little bit shocking.

    I also like the story “Change” on page 249. It is a very interesting perspective. This man who has peace and quite all this time being intruded on, in his perspective. He went for gold, these people went for the land. He doesn’t know what to do. When the pregnant wife saves him, and he in turn brings her to the cabin to have her baby, it shows the spirit of Alaska. Even though Arne Olsen took a little while to get to this state of mind. He was just not wanting to share his place with anybody else. Alaska is a big land after all.

  • Imaginary Chaos

    Take a look through the Alaska Digital Archives at some of the photos surrounding Alaska’s natural resources. Each of the writers we’ve read thus far seems to think differently about the use of natural resources in Alaska. Choose two writers and explain how each discusses Alaska’s natural resources in a different light.

    The two authors that I’m going to discuss are Sheila Nickerson and Ann Fox Chandonnet and their different ways of discussing some of Alaska’s natural resources. Nickerson talks more about how nature is used as a home and how moss is a huge part of Alaskan life. Chandonnet discusses the use of the northern Alaskan’s main natural resource: whales.

    In Sheila Nickerson’s piece titled “Tales of the North” on pages 269-270 she addresses the different ways that moss is used in Alaska. What I like about the poem is that she doesn’t flat out say “this is how moss is used”. She instead makes the reader use their imagination to see all the different ways that moss is used. She talks about how the wild animals use the moss and how the berries grow in the moss. She also talks about how the moss grows everywhere in Alaska, even on rooftops. Taking the little snapshot images from this short poem, you get that moss is a huge part of Alaska’s resources because it grows berries and keeps wildlife warm in the winter.

    In Ann Fox Chandonnet’s cleverly titled piece “Whalescape” on pages 271-274 she discusses the use of the northern Alaskan’s main natural resource: whales. Chandonnet goes about telling the use of whales in a different way than Nickerson does about moss. Chandonnet tells it in a journal form, where the reader gets to feel the writer of the journal’s emotions and explanations. The reader feels the sadness of the whale’s still-born whale’s death but the feeling that at least the whale didn’t die in vain and that it’s still going to be put to good use. You also get the feeling of appreciation of the villagers towards the whale and it’s resourcefulness.

    Both of these authors talk about Alaska’s natural resources in a different way, Nickerson tells about it in a way that the reader gets to imagine what the resource is used for through little snapshot images that she sets up for the reader. Chandonnet tells about the natural resource through a more emotional way that helps the reader understand that people are grateful for and appreciate Alaska’s natural resources.

    • Madara Post author

      I like that you chose these pieces and I think your observations on how the details (rather than straight editorial) reveals how the authors feel about our natural resources.

  • Chad Hinders

    Alaska’s rich natural resources have proved a magnet for humanity since the first of our kind took steps across the Bering Sea land bridge spanning Asia to North America during the last great Ice Age. Since then, a parade of trappers, hunters, miners, homesteaders, and drillers have plied the soil and wilderness of Alaska in search of subsistence and riches. However, although all of these groups have used the land in a variety of manners to thrive and survive, a common sense of reverence, or at the least respect, for the power and vastness of the land seems to permeate the writing related to them. Ann Fox Chadonnet’s poem Whalescape illustrates the deep connection between the harvesting of a whale to sustain the bellies and traditions of the Inupiat (Last New Land 271-274). Additionally, Charles J. Keim’s s excerpt from Change and Other Stories is a textbook example of conflict that arises from the many differing opinions on how Alaska’s great natural resources should be partitioned out and utilized.

    In Whalescape, the taking of a Bowhead whale is described in stark yet beautiful terms. The “49 feet of [Inupiaq] tradition” that the whale symbolizes to the onlookers is a source of fuel, meat, and pride to the indigenous people of the North (LNL 271). From this once living and breathing natural resource is taken “slabs of muktuk” and a “phalanx of baleen” (LNL 272-273). Although whales were mercilessly hunted for centuries for their precious oil, the tradition of hunting whales by the Inupiat is a process that utilizes most of the whale that has given itself to the hunters. This use of resources for not just their commercial, but subsistence value and the concept of animals being gifts to be received and not trophies to be taken illustrates two of the strongest themes running through literature regarding Alaska Natives. I have never heard one of my Cup’ik acquaintances speak of going “hunting” or “killing” anything. It has always been “trying to catch” an animal or “getting” some kind of quarry. When being raised and molded in a land that is so unforgiving and demanding, any good fortune and success on a hunt is more often portrayed as good fortune rather than the skill and equipment of the hunters themselves. Even the best of hunters and providers do not brag about their catches or prowess, but tend to refer to their luck and divine providence. This is what is seen reflected in Whalescape. Not a community rejoicing over a vanquished beast, but a solemn respect and thanks for a valuable resource provided by the land.

    Charles J. Keim’s Change illustrates the conflict that has arisen throughout Alaska’s history over ownership and use of Alaska’s rich natural resources. Alaska’s first big influx of Europeans came with the discovery of gold. Although the boom years were short-lived, miners continue to this day to scratch the hard earth for precious minerals. The character of Arne in Change has cut out his life in a rugged area that is now feeling the incursion of modern life. Where once the treacherous Fairbanks-Valdez Trail winded its way through the woods, now the modern Richardson Highway brings more and more people to Alaska’s once-remote interior (LNL 251). This situation has been repeated throughout history. As one group is supplanted by another, conflict arises over how to use the land and whom has the rights to its bounty. Arne could have found a more prosperous place to mine and live, “but the water and the beauty of the place had anchored [him] there” (LNL 249). When a family of hardscrabble homesteaders arrives and threatens his peace and solitude, he reacts angrily out of both love and jealousy for the land he has so long called his own. Although this account is set years ago, the clash between those seeking to profit from Alaska’s natural wealth is still well and alive today. The debate over the Pebble Mine and its impact on Bristol Bay and the opening of ANWR to oil exploration continue to shape the debate over how and where Alaska’s great wealth should be parceled out.

    Alaska’s natural resources are indeed many and great. However, they come wrapped in beauty and danger. The harshness of the land is often only matched by its ability to inspire. The Inupiat thankful for the bounty of the sea knows of the dangers associated with the shifting ice and ever-changing weather. Gold miners and homesteaders were also acutely aware of the ability of Alaska’s land to freeze, drown, or otherwise take the life of someone unprepared or just unlucky in its wild places. This “half-wakeful menace [that] waits for us in the quietness” of Alaska that John Haines spoke of in Lost has led to an overlying respect for the land and its resources (LNL 279). Perhaps the fact that the land does not give up its riches easily imbues the landscape with such power in these writings, and makes those resources valuable beyond just monetary amounts.

    • Madara Post author

      This is a really comprehensive discussion comment, and your last insight is pretty spot on: the idea that some of our resources are not monetary at all. Or even visible for that matter…

  • Caroline Streeter

    Natural resources can be used as a means of subsistence, as well as employment. Joe Upton and his wife work the salmon runs in “Southeastern Alaska”. The money is truly excellent, I’ve often heard, though storytelling is easier than action. Grueling hard labor and long hours in cold, wet weather pay off, however. “Don’t like it myself, but it pays the bills,” Upton writes. I have spent a few short, yet sunny, weeks in the summer around Juneau and Tenakee Springs, Alaska. On the days it did rain, I found there was nothing I hate more than being cold and wet.

    Some Alaskans make themselves scarce, living far off the grid, a feat which I imagine to be very rewarding. “Change”, and interacting or merely cooperating with others can be trying after years of self-isolation. Arne Olsen spent his lifetime making a homestead for himself without anyone to tell him otherwise. Even the presence of a family is too much of an imposition. In this short excerpt, Olsen seems obstinate for the sake of being obstinate. ‘Sharing’ Alaskan back country can be a divisive issue. Continuity in fairness and conservation of a healthy environment are essential. Changes will always occur, but the flora and fauna should not be for the worse because of it.

  • Nikki

    Charles J. Keim in “Change,” sheds Alaska in the untouched, beautiful, natural light that we see in those majestic locations that we all travel to, to witness this beautiful view. Unlike the gold-digging explorers Arne Olsen chose to live the simple, Alaskan life in the wilderness with all the natural resources surrounding his homestead. Sunlight used for a source of light to work throughout the day. Water, a natural resource that can be taken for granted, is not in Arne Olsen’s case. “In the winter the soft snow blanketed the land and the northern lights played their silent symphony across the sky. Spring and summer there would always be the song of the twin creeks, one clear, the other silty from a glacier and the mining higher up the mountainside,” (LNL, 250). This excerpt paints a beautiful picture. I picture the northern lights dancing across the sky; hear the song of the twin creeks. He used the dead trees for their heat, and those upright and tall for their beauties. But also, through the reading all these natural resources are not taken for granted, but are protected. Arne Olsen’s duty was to protect this uncharted, beautiful wilderness from the gold-digging explorers. He loved Alaska, and he was determined to keep it natural, and untouched. Whether he truly owned the land or not, he wanted to keep the land in that natural light that he found when he first discovered it.

    Another writing that I felt was spot on and too real was John Haines, “Lost.” Too many individuals from the Yukon Kuskokwim region area have gone missing, and found as well. Haines does an excellent job of writing about the tragic stories of those that get lost in the wilderness, or those that choose to be lost in the wilderness. Experienced and inexperienced travelers fall to the tricks of Mother Nature and are lost in the storms for hours, days, and even weeks. Just recently there were two young boys that went out ptarmigan hunting for the day, and ran out of gas and were lost for 2 days out in the cold. The weather in this region is notorious for sudden changes, and an individual can get turned around very easily. Like the man in, “Lost,” Hanson was an experienced traveler and attempted to brave the cold but was not fortunate enough to make it through. “One of the men touched him, and found that they had been calling to a stone,” (LNL, 278). This shows the extreme of an individual that is lost in the wilderness, but it is possible. Talking to individuals that have been lost or turned around in the wilderness talk about always coming back to the same spot, like going in circles. And when I spoke with elders they talked about the spirits playing with their minds, and sometimes they mentioned little people (irciinruqs) playing with their sense of direction. They say that when this happens that the individual is supposed to get off their machine and draw a line behind their sno-go. They say if you do this the spirit will stop following you. Fred Campbell’s experience reminded of this teaching. “It seemed to him at times that he was not walking on earth, but stranded in a still cloud, far from anything he could or know,” (LNL, 279). Stories of being lost are all too familiar to me, so it’s refreshing to read them but at the same time still chilling.