We are on a sailboat–well, really a canoe with a big plastic tarp for a sail and a complicated 3 stick mast, manned by 5 Manusians who’ve sailed this rig 1000s of miles across the open ocean (more on that later). As we approach Manus Island, we see a flotilla in the distance. We approach and furl the sail. We pole our way into the shallows, escorted in by a hundred men in costume rowing dugout outriggers, a drummer keeping them in time. On the shore we are greeted by dancers and feasts and drums made of different-sized dug out logs.
After things have settled down we are shown to our room in a stilted house and head back out to wander around–our heads abuzz with the extraordinary welcome. We walk down tidy, fresh swept paths that run along three rows of houses–one in the water itself. out on the fringing reef we see children playing. 200 meters out, they are surfing on canoes and logs and boards they have cut themselves.
At dinner that night, the real business begins. We witness the signing of the Pere’s new resource management plan by the 6 clan leaders and the ward leader. This plan is a self-policed agreement that zones the ocean around Pere and sets rules like catch limits, off limits areas, and seasonal closures. (it also includes a 1 billion kina fine for mining pollution!). This sort of enlightened self government, based on scientific realities and traditional knowledge, in the face of a threat of climate change that may wipe out the Titan culture of the Admiralty islands, is grounds for a very high level of optimism.
Margaret Mead came to live in Pere in the 1920’s (see the great short video on her at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ej-C_SG1dOE ) and to study, and missionaries came after to convert, and now the words “integrated resource management planning” and “climate change adaptation” have crept their way into the pidgin. This is truly the place where the butterfly wing flaps causing the hurricane half the world away has hit hardest–except here it is the coal plants in Pittsburgh and Chongqing that are submerging and destroying these rich cultures, smart people and beautiful environment. I have a strong hunch that the Titan people are going to thrive, even as they adapt.
I’ve been very privileged to have the opportunity, and the luck, to see a lot of beautiful creatures and wild places. They are what has driven my work in conservation and what recharges me. I revel in the daydream of seeing western North America with Lewis and Clark, or even more interesting, seeing it with the first peoples that came across from Asia to find the Giant Buffalo, North American Cheetah, and Mammoths.
But I work in the present reality of our dominion over nature and the complex problems of humans trying to figure out a way to sustain this world that has shaped and sustained us. This planet is now virtually dominated and managed by our species—even the huge systems like the oceans and the atmosphere are under our thumbs and laboring to provide us with the air, water and food that we need to survive.
I’ve given up the romantic notion of saving nature for it’s own sake, and never really bought the idea of a rights-based approach to species, instead I believe in designing and promoting models and ideas that will fully recognize that the economy is a wholly—owned subsidiary of nature, that the fabric of the ecology is best preserved by making the connection to good human lives.
And the good life isn’t about the Italian yacht or the Rolex watch or the Gucci handbag, it’s about clean air and water, access to safe and sustainable food sources, and livelihoods that can support families, communities, ecological systems and civilizations.
Sharks and goats and spiders are majestic and scary and miraculous to me, and they are also the indicator of our own health and well—being. I hope my daughter can see them too; if she does, I know our species might be on the right track.
Hong Kong is wilder than anyone realizes. Most visitors never get off of Hong Kong island and the concrete jungle. But just a few steps out of Central is a real jungle (note the dark spaces in the photo right next to the skyscrapers–all trees and hills and trails!), and a subway ride away puts you close to where the last tiger in the territory was killed in the 1940s!
We moved to a part of Hong Kong that has easy access to some of the remaining open spaces (over 50% of Hong Kong is preserved land!) so that we could have a real jungle as an antidote
to the concrete jungle. It’s been fun to explore the trails, bays, beaches and mountains of Sai Kung.
I have a small running group for Tuesday morning trail runs, Oliver from Germany and Roman from France. We head out very early so that we can be in to our offices by 9. A couple of Tuesdays ago, we were headed down a jungle track with me in the front.
I was running along full speed when my face was enveloped in thick strands of spider web—the golden orb weaver, a spider with legs about twice as long as my fingers, didn’t appreciate the man-sized hole in his very sticky web, but fortunately I didn’t have to pull him off my face. The other guys were laughing at me as I was coughing and frantically trying to get the web off and started up the trail—I shouted, “you guys are next!”
About a mile later, with me in the rear of the line now, I suddenly saw them doing what can only be described as Euro-techno dancing in front of me, both hollering a the top of their lungs in foreign languages. Looking down, I managed to hop over the tail of a 10 foot long Burmese Python as it scooted across the trail trying to avoid the weird disco performance that it clearly had not evolved to deal with. Roman immediately ran a new European 1500 meter record down the trail as Oliver and I struggled to keep up……..
The second evening in Glacier National Park after a nice dinner at the Many Glacier Lodge—it stays light til about 11 at that time of year—I decided after dinner to hike in to a back country lake and camp.
I got to the lake around 930 and was laying out my bag when I saw, across
Redrock lake, two grizzlies—a momma and her fairly large year old cub—walking down the trail that I had just come up and on which i was now camping.. The wind was at their back so they couldn’t smell me, and they don’t see accurately very far. So I started yelling, “Hey Bear” to make sure I didn’t surprise them. I had left the pepper spray in the car, so I was just hoping that they were on their way through as opposed to looking to stop for dinner.
The problem was that a small creek poured off some rocks between us on the trail, just 30 yards or so from me, and they couldn’t hear me over the water’s roar. So they kept coming through the waterfall until they finally heard me. Without changing her pace, momma bear veered left off the trail along the hillside and continued walking down hill. Phew! The sun set about 15 minutes later.
Though I couldn’t see them in the pitch black, two very large animals, probably my bears from earlier, came crashing out of the willows just a few feet away and walked back up the trail. I figured my luck in Glacier could might be about done……fortunately my talk in Kalispell was the next morning so all I had to do was drive, which, on reflection, is the most dangerous, and more daily, activity we do!
Thinking back on that trip now, I wonder how many of the glaciers will be left when I go back. The photographer Jim Balog has been documenting the global recession of glaciers over the last 10 years and a move about his work is coming out soon–Chasing Ice. It’s a stark reminder to us that our world is changing and we must figure out how to adapt. I suspect that those grizzlies may well be sensing the change also. The dangers of being next to big wildlife or driving in our cars are clear to us, but the danger of rising temperature is something we are just beginning to figure out.
In Glacier one summer solstice. I had 2 days to see the park before a conference in Kalispell, so I was doing 2 long trail runs a day into the more remote areas of the park. On the first day, in the southeast section, I hit Dawson Pass at around 10am and had planned to traverse around a mountain to Cut Bank and Pitamakan Passes into Dry Fork valley that would take me back to the car, but I couldn’t find the trail for all of the snow.
I started following what looked like a trail on a shelf, and what I thought were human footprints. Pretty quickly I realized that these were mountain goat* tracks and the shelf ended. I knew from the map that I was headed in the general direction so I kept going. As I rounded the next high alpine ridge two things happened, the slope got a lot steeper and I saw the maker of the footprints about 100 yards ahead of me—a very large, male goat that looked back at me as if to say, “this way, dummy.” Walking on hard pack snow with hiking boots on the flats is one thing, but running shoes and 50 degree slopes without ice axes is another thing entirely.
It seemed like I had made it through most of the really steep stuff, though, and the guy with 4 cloven hooves just kept moseying along with the occasional toss of the head to me to keep moving. Had I fallen, what was left of me, 4000 feet below, probably wouldn’t have been found for years, as no one knew where I was, and no one was expecting me anywhere for a couple of days (this sort of situation helps to focus the mind…….) But the goat was right, as I rounded another ridge, the pass was right up ahead. He wondered onto a grassy ledge above and watched me head down the valley. I nodded my thanks.
*Turns out the Mountain Goat isn’t a goat at all–but rather a relative of the asian antelope family. Truly a beautiful and unique species.