Drinking from the River

by Elise Nabors

May 29, 2013

Our last wild places are falling into unjust hands. Weve lost too much, so the thought of allowing criminals to pillage the Arctic slams my heart with rage. And when I say criminals, I do mean it.Our government may not recognize them as such, but the fabric of our earth knows its villains. I came to work at Greenpeace a decade after my plane lifted from the banks of the Kongakut River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.As a child, I poured over maps of the world, and something primal of Alaskas shape called like a beacon, tugging me from some wild place in the gut.It was a piece of earth Id always associated with true wilderness, and so that part of us which yearns to roam ached to breathe its air. At the age of sixteen, my father asked me to choose any spot on a map and wed go. And so I did, and we did. Our fourth plane took us over a sea of mountains before landing on a stony island rushed by river water. Two guides, my father, and I. And the plane faded into white-blue sky. We were alone, awash in arctic summer. Days unfolded like dreams, without the dark of night to distinguish them from waking life. Caribou rolled the hills in waves; thousands upon thousands upon thousands in an endless stream. As our raft drifted north, herds crossed the surging river, throngs of antlers thrashing in whitewater. One day I went alone into the mountains, and for the first time drank directly from a river, lips to water; no rim separating the two. How unnatural, that it was my first true drink as an animal on its earth. Early one morning, I woke in my tent, and some part of my being pulled me outside. A gray wolf stood across the river, watching me from the hillside. Our eyes met as if the earth arranged for them to. Later in the day, the same wolf allowed me to observe its hunt of the caribou. At the age of twenty-seven, Ive yet to receive a greater gift. And then, of course, there was the time spent with my father. Together we climbed mountains, skipped Alaskan stones, and came to understand the true meaning of the word earthling. It was he who instilled in me a love of nature. There is an image of him, standing in a field of flowers beneath an arctic sky. I took the photo, and it is how I remember him now that hes gone. Gone too is the logical ignorance of youth. Id assumed places such as this to be sacred in the eyes of our sentient species, but, of course, I was too young, and too logical to understand the insane. As you read these words, humankind is readying more drills. We plan to open the heart of the Arctic and draw its blood, forgetting that we are not fine surgeons. I say we because we too often distance ourselves from those directly involved in wrongdoing. However, were all in this together, and, like water, must learn to change our direction, as this is not a natural tide. The moon is only looking on in horror. Of our crimes against the earth, facts abound. They fall in rains upon us, yet like stubborn ships we tend to ignore the storm, convincing ourselves that, it too, shall pass. This writing is not about facts, but something beyond them; something that tethers us to the cosmos and our original dust. There is much to discover, and journeys to undertake. The mystery of our universe is the most beautiful mystery we aim to solve, but surely we are not deserving of the voyage if saying no to a few oil companies proves too great a task. I have the memory of wolf howls carried on arctic winds, although this memory may be an invention born of my longing for it. Real or imagined, what music it was. If our children are to know the same songs, we must not deafen them with our complacency.
Written by Robbie Joe Banfitch
Robbie is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. An equal love for both film and nature led him to Los Angeles, where he works at Greenpeace and pursues various creative projects.

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