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PUBLISHED: 4:48 PM on Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Nothing can remain the same

Icebergs are sliding by at 30 miles an hour as I write this.

We're returning from a day's visit by boat to Dawes Glacier and an incredible narrow fjord named Ford's Terror, both a couple of hours by fast catamaran south of Juneau.

Nothing strenuous, just a nice day cruising some incredible places along the Inside Passage on one of the last Goldbelt Tour boats of the summer. There are 70 or so of us, I'll wager every one realizing again what an incredible place Southeast Alaska is.

We've watched Dawes Glacier calving house-sized chunks of brilliant blue ice, with thundering booms and giant splashes of water. We caught glimpses of brown and black bears scooping spawning salmon from a tiny creek, and eagles perched on icebergs crafted by nature into unbelievable shapes.

It's a nice wake up call.

Sticking to the beaten path in Juneau or Anchorage, or even Ketchikan or Sitka, it's sometimes easy to forget what an amazing place the Southeast is, how rare and beautiful.

And fragile.

This week I've been pondering what a wise new friend observed a few days ago:

"Everybody who comes to Alaska wants everything to stop the minute they get here, to never change again."

Yet each one of us changes it, just by living here.

Look at the dense rain forest we live in today, and compare any of it to the bare logged slopes of a century before. We hardly live in virgin country. Everyone that's come before us has left a stamp on this land, as we are doing now.

Much as we'd like to pretend we have ultimate control, we are still visitors on this land.

Allow me a down-south example:

This winter almost a million acres of my old home ground in the Texas Panhandle burned in a colossal prairie fire. It was terrible. Livestock, wildlife, houses and some people perished in its flames.

But there have been fires scorching-and rejuvenating-the High Plains since before man, or cattle, or buffalo, roamed those open acres.

And in most of that country, the landscape is in better condition now, after that fire removed old vegetation, dead grass, choking brush.

Such is the future of Alaska in general and southeast Alaska in particular.

We'll almost certainly always have resource development-fishing and mining-just as we'll always have visitors and tourism. There is good and not-so-good to each.

This will be written and printed before we vote on Ballot Measure 2, and you'll read it after. But regardless of whether or not that one initiative passes or is defeated, it points to a trend.

We're trying to chart our future in fits and starts and stops. One shot in the dark at a time. Sometimes we hit, often we miss, and a lot of innocent bystanders get winged in the process.

Democracy can be like sausage making-not a pretty thing to watch, yet a noble undertaking. But it seems there's should be more room for an outbreak of common sense here, more room for consensus and team building.

This is hardly a na?ve wish that "can we all just get along?" We don't have to get along. But we sure have to find some common ground to work together. That applies whether we're talking about the cruise industry and its host communities, or miners and conservationists.

After all, without a little gas to run the jet boat I'm riding it, it's not likely I'd ever see Dawes Glacier.

Regardless of the direction, we're still just stewards of this beautiful place. We all live here. And we have to be able to leave it better than we found it.

That should be something we can all agree on.

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and regional advertising director for Morris Communications newspapers in Alaska, including the Juneau Empire. Email him at lee.leschper@juneauempire.com.


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