It's hard for me to believe that this summer will be my 20th season of guiding Inside Passages kayaking retreats in Southeast Alaska. So much has happened since that first trip in 1994, and so much has grown out of that early impulse. When I started Inside Passages, I had a clear purpose in mind. I wanted to augment my commercial fishing income with time in the wild that was more contemplative, less driven, and more in line with my love of silence. My ulterior motive was to bring leaders into that majestic wildness, where they might find convincing new reasons to care for the fate of our endangered earth. My medium was wilderness. My method was the practice of listening and paying attention. I still have that purpose. I still love these deep annual immersions in the silence of a wild landscape. And by most accounts from my clients, these trips have spurred a deeper passion in them too for the fate of the earth that sustains us all. The Tongass wilderness has been a terrific partner in that effort.
I began this project as a veteran of the fight for new wilderness in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, and I have enlisted new allies in that effort through my trips. This was, and remains, important to me.
But a lot has changed since 1994. The scale of our environmental threats, and the stakes involved, have grown radically larger than what I understood them to be back then. It's not that I think habitat protection isn't still important. Every place is precious, and I will always fight for the protection of the places I love.
But with the rapid escalation of global trends like climate disruption in the intervening years, it is clear that no place is safe from the impacts of human activity, no matter how remote they may seem from our direct presence. This is a sea change in how we have come to understand the nature of nature itself, and of our place within it. With temperatures now rising 50 times faster than at any time in the last 15 million years, the damage done by development to places like the Tongass is peanuts compared to the systemic changes that are assaulting every ecosystem on the planet at once. I no longer see Alaska as a "place apart" where we might escape the engines of disruptive ecological change.
So I increasingly enter the human wilderness of the city on this same quest for restoration. If the sources of imbalance ecologically reside with us, then the sources of restoration reside within the human heart and mind, and not merely in the protection of external nature, or the development of cleaner technologies. This deeper exploration of wholeness is what my Circumference of Home project was all about in 2008, when I stayed close to home and lived car-free in an effort to renew my local practice of place.
That's also why I don't think of my climate activism as separate from my work as a mindfulness teacher. The forces that stand between ourselves and ecological resilience are less technical than they are psychological and spiritual. A lot of mindfulness will be necessary to confront the depth of our own fear and aversion to the challenges we now face. A lot of mindfulness will be necessary to accommodate the accelerating scale of change that is confronting us all. There is a great deal of inner work which must accompany our activist agendas.
This process of discernment starts, as it always has and must, with our individual choices about how we are going to live, what we value most, and what comes between us and the living of those values. How we move around on the planet, and how much we need to consume, are choices that have never carried higher stakes.
As I enter the third decade of my work with Inside Passages, these questions are active and alive in me. The uncertainty, and unknowability, of what is to come actually gives me hope, because I am learning to trust the deeper intelligence of a living world that refuses to give up, and that is erupting with new expressions of aliveness, even amid the painful litany of losses. That emergent world is fully capable of finding its way. And it will. The question is whether we humans will prove, in the end, to be on the side of that emergent aliveness, or swept aside by it.