When we are open to learning, teachers take on many forms. They are friends we share stories with over campfires. They are birds, whose sudden presence in our lives leave us wondering, “Why did all the Snow Buntings stay on the Chilkat River so much longer this year?” They are elders who tell us to pay attention to the way a feather lands on the ground because it can show us how to say soft words that leave a beautiful mark. They are campaign managers and chiefs of staff who tell us how to shorten our sentences so that the words are memorable. They are the enduring curves of the eroding Arctic Coastal Plain, grumbling glaciers calving into warmer waters. It is possible that these sentinels of change are our greatest teachers of all, giving us the inheritance of knowledge told in the stories of their changing forms.
Every day, we find ourselves with a rich inheritance of responsibility: “the responsibility to live thoughtfully and intelligently, to question - never to assume, or trample, to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always caringly,” as poet Mary Oliver reminds us. When we think about the work we do and the energy we each bring into the world as part of a continuum, the challenges before us become opportunities to share knowledge and learning across unprecedented space, creating movements for change. We saw this momentum in the final tally for the recent public comment period on the Tongass National Forest. Our entire community of advocates submitted over 170,000 comments in support of reinstating the Roadless Rule in the Tongass. After the comment period closed, Audubon did a virtual screening of Understory to an audience of over 200 people in Vermont, sharing the similarities of the old growth forests of the Tongass with those of the Northeast United States. Our community of advocacy is built from our shared, inherited responsibility for the stewardship of old growth forests, Arctic coastlines, and eelgrass estuaries.
As I prepare to step down as the executive director and vice president for Audubon Alaska, I reflect on what all of us as a community of advocates have built together in these last few years. We successfully joined partners in protecting the Arctic Refuge from oil and gas drilling, prevented a wholesale giveaway of Alaska’s D1 BLM lands, and launched the Southeast Alaska Birding Trail. We supported the growth of the Indigenous-led Imago Initiative to reimagine conservation in Alaska’s Arctic. We celebrated the beauty of Alaska’s birds and people, and demonstrated our collective need for clean water, clean air, foods that nourish, and communities that flourish through a global pandemic. We elevated the voices of a new generation of advocates for the Tongass National Forest with our film, Understory. We highlighted the importance of Alaska’s public lands and waters as our nation’s greatest opportunity to combat the climate crisis. And we did all of this together.
I will be departing Audubon Alaska as executive director on February 22nd, but our conservation work continues with David Krause, who will serve as our interim director while we search for a new leader. I will now join you, Audubon’s community of supporters, as new leadership builds on this inheritance “to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always caringly.”
Alaska’s birds connect us to every state in the country, and every continent on the planet, so I look forward to continuing to live in community with each of you, on this splendid earth, where every day is a gift of inheritance marked by song, step, stride, scamper, stretch, and always shared.