The Call of the Wild

In a bus traveling north through the Alaskan tundra last summer,my fellow passengers and I were quietly enjoying the blossoming landscape out our windows. Suddenly I straightened up and bellowed, “CARIBOU! 2 O’CLOCK!” Sleepiness and stiff joints were instantly forgotten and everyone on the bus rushed to my side of the vehicle, hoping for a glimpse of the stately animal.

In just the few days we’d been together,my tour group had quickly developed into a well-oiled wildlife-spotting machine. Together we managed to spot two sets of mama grizzlies and cubs, caribou, moose, foxes, and even a wolf. Each time, the resulting scramble for the best view reminded me of a school bus full of seven-year-olds on a field trip.

The group’s excitement and enthusiasm for the natural world filled me with hope. This trip showed me that people who don’t necessarily identify themselves as “environmentalists”— even ones who, like my favorite Canadian couple, worked for tar sands developers in Alberta before retirement—do care about our planet and its creatures, even if they don’t express it the same way. Perhaps most of the people on my trip wouldn’t have donated to an environmental organization. But the money they spent at Denali National Park, for example, for the privilege of viewing unusual creatures in their natural habitat helped maintain the park in its near-pristine state. In fact, just about any vacation to Alaska is focused on enjoying Earth’s beauty, and at least a portion of tourists’ dollars is used to preserve it.

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