Amy Irvine’s essay “Spectral Light”
(January/February 2010) is a beautifully
written and honest account of not only an
event but also the challenge to all of us to
cross the borders of our worldviews. In
my native Alaska, we are all too familiar
with the di;culty of balancing the old
and the new.
I do take issue with Irvine’s statement
that “we are back on [the] menu.” We have
never been o= the menu. While there are
clearly incidents resulting from encroachment on habitat, our
self-exclusion from this
habitat is the only thing
that has allowed us to
su=er under any delusions that we are not
The necropsy performed on the bear that
mauled the two Alaskans mentioned in Irvine’s piece, who the
authorities said “did everything right,”
was a healthy male bear, not su=ering
from either malnutrition or any kind of
injury or illness.
While climate change certainly has
profound implications for the Arctic, the
link to that attack in particular is specious.
O;cials deemed the attack predatory,
which, however unlikely, seems well within
reason for a predator and a wild animal.
Whatever the reasons for unfortunate
interactions between the wild and humans,
Irvine writes beautifully that we might
“become viscerally, sensually invested in
our surroundings.” Perhaps this will
heighten our appreciation for nature’s and
our own diversity.
I appreciate Amy Irvine’s ability to hold
the tension of opposites—between the
Old and New West, the wild and domestic, light and shadow. The essay reminds
me of Carl Jung’s notion
of the “transcendent function,” which he refers to
as the mediating force between oppositions within
the psyche. According to
Jung, by resisting the urge
to identify with one side
or the other, a third, completely unexpected image
comes into view, one that
unites the two in a creative
new way. This article expresses this idea
so viscerally and shows its importance
for our world today.
Though Amy Irvine writes about finding a “language of delicacy . . . that can carry
across the muddy mire of moral, spiritual,
political, and environmental ambiguities,”
I strongly disliked her word choice in her
dialogue with the [Old West] locals.
I first figured out that “crick” was not a
proper English word when I was about sixteen. I had always assumed that crick and
creek were just two equally valid words,
synonyms for tributary. My self-conscious
teenage self was horrified to find that my
language somehow placed me in a group
of “uneducated and ignorant” backwoods
people, and I never said “crick” again outside my immediate family.
I turned my back on my personal history, went to school, listened to lectures
about riparian areas, stream morphology,
hyporheic flow—subjects I understood
well from a young age, as a kid looking for
a good swimming hole down at the crick.
Like Amy, I went on to work as a biologist
for the National Park Service. Only now,
when I realize the strength and depth of
my family’s history—five generations in
the same river valley—have I slowly begun to return to the “crick” from where
I came. I also understand firsthand the
underlying discrimination of “educated
people” against rural communities and
culture. It is subtle but very present.
I truly enjoyed reading Amy Irvine’s
article and her introspective words on embracing “the gray area,” the commonali-ties within the black-and-white of land use
issues. But beautiful, intelligent writing
interspersed with grammatically incorrect and profane quotes from local folks
seemed to work against her message. It
was disappointing to see that, even in the
midst of an article about straddling the
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