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Module 3 • Natural Resources: Tundra Farming
Student Page 3-5a
by the depth of a single person’s local knowl- or the fish and wildlife services or for a private
edge, by the serenity that seemed to come with institution like the Nature Conservancy. They are
that intelligence. Any harm that might be done people to whom the land is more than politics
by people who cared nothing for the land, to or economics. These are people for whom the
whom it was not innately worthy but only some- land is alive. It feeds them, directly, and that is
thing ultimately for sale, I thought, would one how and why they learn its geography.
day have to meet this kind of integrity, people
with the same dignity and transcendence as the
In the end, then, if you begin among the blue
land they occupied. So when I traveled, when
crabs of Chesapeake Bay and wander for sev-
I rolled my sleeping bag out on the shores of
eral years, down through the Smoky Mountains
the Beaufort Sea or in the high pastures of the
and back to the bluegrass hills, along the drain-
Absaroka Range in Wyoming, or at the bottom
ages of the Ohio and into the hill country of
of the Grand Canyon, I absorbed those particu-
Missouri, where in summer a chorus of cicadas
lar testaments to life, the indigenous color and
might drown out human conversation, then
songbird song, the smell of sun-bleached rock,
up the Missouri itself, reading on the way the
damp earth, and wild honey, with some crude
entries of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
appreciation of the singular magnificence of
and musing on the demise of the plains grizzly
each of those places. And the reassurance I felt
and the sturgeon, cross west into the drainage
expanded in the knowledge that there were,
of the Platte and spend the evenings with Gene
and would likely always be, people speaking
Weltfish’s The Lost Universe, her book about
out whenever they felt the dignity of the earth
the Pawnee who once thrived there, then drop
imperiled in these places.
south to Palo Duro Canyon and the irrigated
farms of the Llano Estacado in Texas, turn west
The promulgation of false geographies, which across the Sangre de Cristo, southernmost of the
threaten the fundamental notion of what it Rocky Mountain ranges, and move north and
means to live somewhere, is a current with a west up onto the slickrock mesas of Utah, those
stable and perhaps growing countercurrent. browns and oranges, the ocherous hues rever-
People living in New York City are familiar with berating in the deep canyons, then go north,
the stone basements, the cratonic geology, of swinging west to the insular ranges that sit
that island and have a feeling for birds migrat- like battleships in the pelagic space of Nevada,
ing through in the fall, their sequence and num- camp at the steaming edge of sulphur springs
ber. They do not find the city alien but human, in the Black Rock Desert, where alkaline pans
its attenuated natural history merely different are glazed with a ferocious light, a heat to melt
from that of rural Georgia or Wisconsin. I find iron, then cross the northern Sierra Nevada,
the countermeasure, too, among Eskimos who waist-deep in summer snow in the passes, to
cannot read but who might engage you for days descend to the valley of the Sacramento, and
on the subtleties of sea-ice topography. And rise through groves of elephantine redwoods in
among men and women who, though they have the Coast Range, to arrive at Cape Mendocino,
followed in the footsteps of their parents, have before Balboa’s Pacific, cormorants and gulls,
come to the conclusion that they cannot farm gray whales headed north for Unimak Pass in
or fish or log in the way their ancestors did; the the Aleutians, the winds crashing down on you,
finite boundaries to this sort of wealth have facing the ocean over the blue ocean that gives
appeared in their lifetime. Or among young men the scene its true vastness, making this crossing,
and women who have taken several decades of having been so often astonished at the line
book-learned agronomy, zoology, silviculture and the color of the land, the ingenious lives of
and horticulture, ecology, ethnobotany, and its plants and animals, the varieties of its dark-
fluvial geomorphology and turned it into a new nesses, the intensity of the stars overhead, you
kind of local knowledge, who have taken up would be ashamed to discover, then, in yourself,
residence in a place and sought, both because any capacity to focus on ravages in the land
of and in spite of their education, to develop that left you unsettled. You would have seen so
a deep intimacy with it. Or they have gone to much, breathtaking, startling, and outsize, that
work, idealistically, for the National Park Service you might not be able for a long time to break
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© NOMADS Online Classroom Expeditions GoNorth! Chukotka 2007 Curriculum 79
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