July 18, 2016
I heart Supercubs.
There's no way around tiny planes in the Alaskan Bush.
The air is the only way to get to where you're going.
It's a way of life.
And my first time up in these little air go-karts.
I learned to get comfortable quick.
Mostly for lack of a better option!
From the backseat of a pilot and one-passenger plane,
I saw brown bears and their cubs.
Mama and baby moose.
I witnessed the Porcupine herd of Caribou
nestled into 24 hours of summer
at the base of the Brooks range,
and the white of last year's sheds dotting the landscape.
I flew down valleys of tundra,
mottled green and red and variations of gray.
I flew across icy valleys and over encrusted alpine lakes
right after a snowstorm on the summer solstice.
I flew over some of the most braided and wide river beds I've ever seen.
Over some of the most vast and ominous mountain ranges I've ever seen.
Over a tiny portion of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge's massive 19 million acres.
I saw a handful of take-offs and landings
in some gritty parts of remote backcountry.
I was passenger for a few, too.
And that's something truly amazing to watch.
The Supercub is the ballerina of the backcountry.
The grace and capacity of these machines are impressive
when manned (or woman-ed) appropriately.
My pilot was a 31 year old badass woman from Montana.
Thank you Emily and Silvertip Aviation, for your competence and grace.
I saw a generation of young bush pilots
confidently navigating themselves, a black lab dog, and others
in and out of Alaska's temperamental weather.
Not an easy task, and not without dire consequence.
One dumb-ass move,
and you're dead.
That risk was real, and respected.
On the inside of one plane, attached to the side of the door, it reads:
"HEAD MUST BE REMOVED FROM ASS PRIOR TO FIRST FLIGHT".
I saw competence.
Both as pilots and as passengers.
I saw concern.
For people. Gear. Planes. Weather.
Concern too, for the path of least resistance.
And what it means to cut corners in unforgiving territory.
Because AV-gas and forgiveness are hard to find out here.
I mostly saw, and heard, so much concern for the future,
and a constant quest for the right sum of many parts.
What we know to be the crown jewel of Alaska's wild lands
hangs in a delicate balance between air-time, money, legislation, and permits.
Every Alaskan seems to be acutely aware of their rich environment,
the realities of taking more than your share,
and the almighty dollar bill.
Every Alaskan, too, has a different opinion on what comes first.
And finding that conversation has historically been difficult.
I'm afraid it always will be.
I do have to say this though.
It's very obvious from the back of a backcountry bush plane,
The Arctic is magic.
It is like no other place.
It must be our priority.
That conversation, difficult as it may be, is NOW.
The Arctic Wildlife National Refuge is the largest refuge the United States lays claim to.
It's also the only refuge that is currently under scrutiny. Under contract in a way.
The pipeline knocks on her door daily.
The caribou don't know any better,
and it sometimes seems like we don't either.
With a greater plant and wildlife variety than any protected area in the Arctic circle,
this is a wild land we can't afford to be incompetent and irresponsible with.
I feel like we haven't quite removed our head from our ass,
as it's required before first flights.
Please take the time to educate yourself.
There is no home for oil exploration here.