In Alaska, wilderness prevails everywhere. Even in the largest city, Anchorage, those that live there are reminded of their vulnerability by the moose that frequents their neighborhood, by the ash from erupting volcanoes that shuts down the airport, and by the fact that a large earthquake could easily level their homes on the soft silt.
One of the joys of living in this state is in the closeness to nature, which gives us a unique perspective. Generally, people learn to live beside it and operate in a relationship of respect. This is a point I have expounded upon before, but it comes up repeatedly in my understanding of my role in this state. At this time of year, it starts getting dark early again and drivers tend to put their anxious driving-skills back on high-alert, as in the darkness the wilderness tends to creep back into our lives again, especially in the form of moose on the road. Moose are a common, often disregarded aspect of our lives here, but they truly are creatures of the wilderness that coexist with us and then act as a resource in terms of food come autumn and hunting season.
In this capacity, moose are a good example of our understanding of protect/exploit. We use them when the time comes, but otherwise we find joy in their existence alongside us, and I know when I see a cow with calves that I stop and marvel, regardless of being a life-long resident of Fairbanks. When looking at moose as either resource to be exploited (ie consumed) or protected (ie, treated as sacred), they lose their place in the scheme of things. Moose can easily fit into the middle of this false dichotomy, where while we don’t treat them as above-natural (sacred) or simply as food, we treat them simply as cohabitant. When I stop and marvel, it’s partially out of interest in the “wild” animal that represents the Wild, but also understanding that there is respect on my end for the moose’s place in the food chain both for humans and other predators, and the short life that these calves might face. So long as a level of respect and understanding prevails for the surroundings and Wild, then there is no need to view it as something in need of protection.
Many of our authors, such as John Haines, have understood this balance without contempt. We all fit into this scheme of nature, and to imply that we ruin the world is to completely discount the fact that we are animals too and therefore fit into the natural world. Because we are self-aware, there is some responsibility to check our rampant consumption, but that doesn’t need to be in the form of captured, “perfect” ecosystems. To deny our role in the world is to deny our places as predators and gatherers, and as William Cronon makes clear, we have helped shape and cultivate the world since our very beginnings.