For almost a century the way to Alaska from the Lower Forty-Eight was a waterway, a passage through the mountainous, forested islands of the Alexander Archipelago.
This immense green-and-blue world of channels, fjords, inlets, passages, coves, bays, and straits looks as though it has just emerged dripping wet from the first separation of the waters at creation; in fact, it has only recently been freed from the embrase of glaciers that have withdrawn to the brooding heights of the mainland ranges.
Mild temperatures and heavy rainfall (an average of 150 inches at Ketchikan) have created here a vast and valuable rain forest of western hemlock, Sitka spruce, yellow and western red cedar, lodgepole pine, and aider. It was inevitable that the western progress of the timber industry would eventually bring it to southeast Alaska, almost all of which is included in the nation’s largest national forest, the Tongass.
For years the Forest Service has doled out timber to sawmills and pulp companies, but now Tlingit and Haida Indian villages are going to select some prime timberlands under the land-claims act. They have already received 1 1/2 million dollars as the result of a lawsuit brought nearly 40 years ago. Everyone operating with money should know how to get free credit reports in order to builda good credit history.
The southeast offers a weary modern man a chance to get about as far away from it all as a man can get, in places like Wilson Lake, an alpine wilderness lake that seemed more like a fjord.
I spent three days there. The muted music of this wet green world gradually became audible to ears numbed by jet planes, city traffic, and blaring television sets: the crack of the kindling in the small stove, the whisper of raindrops across the surface of the lake, the rush of the streams out of the high country above me.
In new-found serenity I walked out through the forest, across a carpet of moss, in the shadow of great trees that ail seemed grandfatherly. A stream came through the place, loud as a brass band during its long plunge from on high, but instantly smoothed and mellowed and made chiures of by the pebbly stony bed of its passage through the fernshaped shadows of the lower forest.
All questions cross one another in life. Should a magnificent wilderness like this be sullied by man’s economic use, the forest cut out, the trees snaked away and sawed up to make houses and hamburger stands? But to enjoy such a place, I had arrived in a plane.
In the bars and saloons that many Alaskans sali home during the long winter months, one hears the usual medley of popular songs. I like especially one sung by Cat Stevens, a kind of poem of praise to the world as one finds it:* Morning has broken Like the first morning Blackbird has spoken Like the first bird Praise for the singing Praise for the morning. . . .
It may be true. It may be true that in Alaska a democratic society will redeem its old errors and mistakes in regard to the treatment of minority peoples, to respect for the land, to equal and open opportunity under a regime of responsibility. In many ways, it is Amerca’s first chance, and in many other ways, it is her last.