Alaska is vast. But it is only at certain times that you realize it. With a total area of 591,004 square miles of land and water, and almost 700,000 residents, that works out to 1.1 person per square mile. Contrast that with the entire United States, where there are 79.6 people per square mile. That is something to ponder. And ponder it I did last week when I flew on a small plane to Kake, a village about an hour south of Juneau. Here is what I saw during that hour.
What I didn't see was any sign of human habitation: no curls of woodsmoke rising upward, no roads, no boats bobbing on the whitecaps. That doesn't mean it is untouched wilderness. When we came closer to Kake at a lower elevation, I did see clearcuts and logging roads. It is true that the closer you get to the ground, the more you see where people have been. Erin McKittrick and her husband, Hig Higman, found that out when from June 2007 to June 2008, they traveled 4000 miles from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands solely by human power. See their story here. http://www.groundtruthtrekking.org/ They found plenty of evidence that people had been there before them. Plastic lasts forever.
But from the air, flying south from Juneau, you can see forever - until you get to Kake, a community of fewer than 500 residents on the northwest coast of Kupreanof Island. Most places in Alaska have no road access, and Kake is no exception. It is a tiny jewel.
After more than 40 years in Alaska, I still am stunned by the beauty everywhere. I think most people are. But with all of this magnificent landscape, people here can still get complacent about taking care of it because there is just so darn much of it. We have to continue to remind ourselves that despite its size, it is precious and rare.