Chapter Eighteen - The Sheenjek Expedition of 1956


Throughout the late 1950s, the Muries were lobbying intensely on behalf of the Arctic Refuge. When they approached Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the New York Zoological Society and Conservation Fund, about helping them organize an expedition to the Sheenjek River in 1956, he funded it at once. Ever since Theodore Roosevelt had helped found the New York Zoological Society in 1895 it had probably worked harder and more thoughtfully than any other organization on protecting North American big game. In Arctic Alaska the great caribou herds were threatened, so Osborn was more than ready to finance the expedition. If time allowed, Osborn wanted to come along and explore the limestone peaks and narrow side valleys along the Sheenjek. In addition to the New York Zoological Society and Conservation Fund, the Arctic expedition was sponsored in collaboration with The Wilderness Society and the University of Alaska–Fairbanks.1

The Muries were hoping that 8.9 million acres in the northeastern corner of Alaska would be declared the Arctic National Wildlife Range. (The name was changed to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1980. Within the U.S. Department of the Interior it was known as the Arctic NWR.) To The Wilderness Society, this huge range represented the only “undisturbed portion of the Arctic” that was “biologically self-sufficient.” When talking to Osborn and others, Olaus would rattle off all the mammals—grizzly, black, and polar bears; caribou; Dall sheep; moose; wolverines; and other fur-bearing creatures—that lived on the plain of the Beaufort Sea. With the Naval Petroleum Reserve occupying 23 million acres along the Arctic Ocean—to be developed as an oil field owned by the U.S. government—it seemed only fair for the Eisenhower administration to establish the Arctic Refuge. There, scientists could study an “undisturbed natural arctic environment” and outdoorsmen could hunt and fish.2

What Theodore Roosevelt had done for the Great Plains bison in South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Montana Murie was hoping to do with the caribou of the Brooks Range. Starting in 1920, he would work with the Biological Survey to make this happen. There were the Porcupine herd, whose calving ground was the coastal plain of what would become the Arctic NWR; the Western Arctic herd, a 500,000-head herd in what would become the National Petroleum Reserve (in an area known as the Utukok uplands), grazing atop 2 trillion tons of coal (9 percent of the world’s supply); and the Central Arctic herd of 30,000 to 60,000, which roamed between the Colville and Canning rivers. Murie, it seemed, had a vision of the Great Caribou Commons remaining intact along the Brooks Range so that future generations could experience its primordial grandeur.

The Muries had chosen well in making the Sheenjek River their symbol of Arctic Alaska. There were hundreds of valleys just as beautiful, but the Sheenjek had Last Lake—a good place for pontoon planes to land—and was among the last great wilderness areas in America. Because of the perpetual summer sun, a twelve-hour hike was possible, through some of the most impressive big country anywhere. Olaus told Osborn that their trip would be a “sample adventure,” a weeklong hike to see snowcapped mountains, blue lakes, and white spruces. Clucking ptarmigan, hungry bears, and gray wolves would be moving conspicuously through the landscape. Mardy believed that any decent person who spent a week on the Sheenjek during the summer months would be compelled to ask Congress to create a national park or ask President Eisenhower to sign an executive order offering permanent protection. “I sit here on this soft mossy slope above camp, writing. The writing has been very erratic because of those who live here,” Mardy wrote in her Sheenjek River diary on June 3, 1956. “I have watched a band of fifty caribou feeding back and forth on a flat a quarter mile away; ptarmigan soaring and cluck-clucking and giving their ratchety call, all about tree sparrows so close and unafraid; cliff swallows hurrying by; Wilson snipe and yellowlegs calling, grey-cheeked thrushes singing.”3

The Sheenjek expedition consisted of Mardy and Olaus Murie, Dr. Brina Kessel (an ornithologist at the University of Alaska), George Schaller (a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison), and H. Robert Krear (a postgraduate student at the University of Colorado). All the members agreed that banning mining or drilling in the Arctic Range was of the “utmost importance.”4 According to Schaller, the Sheenjek River was symbolic of everything The Wilderness Society stood for: good science, exploration, and conservation. “I’ve traveled in many parts of the world,” he said, “in the most remote wilderness, and I don’t think people in the United States realize what treasure they have, because there is very little remote wilderness left in the world.”5

The weather was unpredictable along the Sheenjek River during the short summer. When the Muries led the expedition in June, one day the temperature was twenty-nine degrees Fahrenheit. Two weeks later the thermometer rose above eighty degrees. Along the glacially formed pothole lakes in the valley floor, every hour could bring a contrast. Olaus had brought a motion picture camera, which he aimed at caribou; it would be helpful for The Wilderness Society’s presentations at college campuses. Much of the scenery in the Sheenjek valley was reminiscent of A. B. Guthrie Jr.’s novel The Big Sky. But for long stretches the Murie party hiked over soggy muskeg as if doing penance for being biophilic; nothing was easy in the Arctic. Mardy decided that Sheenjek should mean “Land of Contrasts” (rather than “Dog Salmon,” its actual translation). On some days the Muries trapped mice to study and made borings in spruce trees to measure growth rates. One morning a grizzly visited the camp, and the mosquitoes followed. But overall, the “sample adventure” was working out idyllically.

Getting politicians in Washington, D.C.—or anybody—to care about Arctic Alaska in 1956 wasn’t easy. But the Murie expedition had a stroke of luck when William O. Douglas confirmed that he would join the expedition on June 29, along with his wife, Mercedes Hester Davidson. (Their addition made the expedition a party of seven.) Olaus had hiked along the C&O Canal—the 180-mile waterway trail from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland—with Douglas, amazed by Douglas’s knowledge of birds, his astounding stamina, and his conservationist convictions. Douglas had fought to save the old towpath canal as a refurbished National Historic Park instead of allowing a concrete highway or a dam at River Bend just above Goat Falls, which would have flooded a section of the trail. Residents of Washington, D.C., have been grateful for his advocacy of the C&O Canal ever since. Douglas, an expert on land policy issues, continually thought of ways to protect the shrinking American wilderness from industrial ruin. As Douglas prepared for the trip to the Brooks Range, he was mulling over how best to draft a Wilderness Bill of Rights. “To Douglas,” the legal scholar William H. Rodgers Jr. explained, “those who canoe or hike or backpack or ride horses or climb mountains deserve protection no less than that extended to religious minorities.”6

Olaus knew that Douglas, who had hiked in the Cascades and the Olympics, disdained being pampered on the trail. The primitive conditions on the expedition—no pavement, no roads of any kind—would appeal to his desire to escape from the nation’s congested capital during the humid summer months. The unanswered question was whether the justice’s wife (his third) would be able to tolerate the backcountry conditions. Friends of Douglas had a theory that if a wife couldn’t handle his arduous campouts in the Pacific Northwest, then he’d dump her.7 “Trim, petite, blond, every hair in place, chic gray flannel suit, nylon hose, brown calf loafers,” Mardy wrote, describing Mrs. Douglas. “But I needn’t have worried! The first thing she said to me was ‘I’ve got my blue jeans and rubber pacs just like you said, as soon as I can get into our duffel.’ ”8

For too long, William O. Douglas’s judicial brilliance, intense manner, poetic demeanor, outdoors heartiness, uncluttered mind, environmental prescience, and landmark legal decisions have been neglected by historians. Because Douglas had a rather unconventional personal life, including numerous wives and numerous affairs with Supreme Court interns, gossip has often prevailed. But Douglas represented much that was good, true, and durable in America. Never did he fritter a day away with nothing accomplished. Hikes, to Douglas, were a productive time for thinking. During the cold war, nobody else fought to protect the Bill of Rights with the same ardor as Douglas. During his thirty-six years on the Supreme Court, Douglas—misleadingly pigeonholed as a New Deal liberal—was the truest western libertarian of his era. Time and again he was the best friend working people had on the Supreme Court. Douglas always defended the unemployed, the homeless, the freakish, and the contrarian against the abuses of both big corporations and big government. Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison surely would have understood his feisty unorthodoxy. Nobody would have been a better guide on the Lewis and Clark expedition than Douglas. The U.S. Army’s lawyer Joseph Welch eventually embarrassed Joe McCarthy in 1954 by asking whether McCarthy had “no shame” in pursuing supposed communists; but Douglas had attacked McCarthy from the outset, accusing him of trampling on both procedural rights and the First Amendment. “The great danger of this period is not inflation, nor the national debt nor automatic warfare,” Douglas wrote in the New York Times Magazine. “The great, critical danger is that we will so limit or narrow the range of permissible discussion and permissible thought that we will become victims of the orthodox school.”9

Douglas had appropriately titled this article “The Black Silence of Fear.” The narrow thinking of the Republican right annoyed him to no end. Luckily for America, by the early 1950s Douglas’s shoot-from-the-hip voice had become unrestrained. While Douglas held no brief for Marxist-Leninist philosophy, he understood how essential it was for the Supreme Court to defend freedom of thought at all costs. Douglas predicted an Orwellian nightmare if American teachers, for example, were silenced and forced to adhere to official dogma. Yet Douglas, for all his virtues, made a series of bad choices regarding whether Julius and Ethel Rosenberg should be executed—as they were on June 17, 1953. He refused to fight for their lives: in the end, he had no tolerance for spies.

On the other hand, Douglas got the disaster in Vietnam right from start to finish. His 1953 book North from Malaya warned the Eisenhower administration not to get bogged down in Southeast Asia along with the French at Dien Bien Phu. North from Malaya was Douglas’s third book on his “traveling social conscience” (as his biographer James F. Simon put it). Douglas was prophetic about the limits of U.S. intervention in the third world. He would have made a terrific secretary of state. All of his “magic carpet” trips took place while he was on the Supreme Court. Friends used to joke that there must be five William O. Douglas look-alikes because he seemed to be everywhere at once. Journalists and book reviewers often praised Douglas for being the most literary Supreme Court justice since Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. “The eye-to-ear witness reporting,” the chief White House correspondent for CBS, Eric Sevareid, wrote of Douglas in the Saturday Review, “is magnificent.”

Douglas brought along to the Arctic all his acuity, and his global perspective. While the Muries didn’t know much about the Rosenbergs or Vietnam in 1956, they were keenly aware that Douglas might hold the key to persuading President Eisenhower to sign an executive order creating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. When Douglas asked, “You want to go for a walk?” power brokers quickly grabbed their hats. Only Woody Guthrie was a more celebrated tramper than Douglas in 1956. Bringing his tackle box with him, using mostly a light rod and dry fly, Douglas had fished Silver Creek in Idaho and the Rio Grande in Texas and everywhere in between. “I would rather hook a one-pound rainbow with a dry fly on a 3½-ounce rod,” Douglas wrote, “than a four-pounder with bait or hardware.”10

Douglas was a crusader for protecting treasured landscapes. Using the New York Times and the Washington Post as his forum, Douglas argued wholeheartedly that conservationists had to battle to save forests, lakes, canyons, and rivers from industrialization. For a CEO, dealing with Douglas on environmental protection laws had all the appeal of shaving with a blowtorch. Scolding, steely-eyed, and intolerant toward polluters, Douglas was always willing to be a lone vote on the Supreme Court when a case involved protecting America’s natural heritage.11 For a long time he dreamed about exploring the tussock tundra, which swept across Arctic Alaska and which reminded him of the Scottish moors. “I had seen this tundra on an earlier trip stretching from the north side of the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean,” Douglas wrote. “That tundra, though differing in botanical detail from the tundra of the Sheenjek, has the same general appearance. It is in the main a dwarf-shrub heath marked by tussocks, and it runs for miles and miles.”12

Prior to the Sheenjek Expedition, Douglas had been in fairly regular touch with Olaus Murie about finding new energy sources for America before all the rivers were dammed and the glaciers melted. This was another one of his hobbyhorses. No matter how long he lived in Washington, D.C., he remained a western individualist more comfortable in Goose Prairie, Washington, at the Double K Ranch than in the “marble palace” (as he called the Supreme Court). “We pay farmers not to produce certain crops,” Douglas asked Murie. “Why not pay the Army Engineers not to build dams?”13

Olaus concurred with this idea, because he believed that hydroelectric power would become obsolete in the coming decades. As Douglas had made clear in My Wilderness, he wanted America to shake off its addiction to fossil fuels. “We are, indeed, on the edge of new breakthroughs that will open up sources of power that will make it unnecessary, and indeed foolhardy, to build more dams across our rivers to produce power. Hydrogen fusion, with an energy potential that is astronomical, has not yet been mastered. But it certainly will be. Solar energy, though not yet available by commercial standards, is in the offing. Nuclear fission already exists and promises energy supplies.”14

Seldom has America produced a man more unnervingly prescient than Douglas. While the politicians of the cold war era were counting nuclear stockpiles and the agriculturalists were spraying crops with DDT, Douglas was envisioning a future in which U.S. citizens would find themselves estranged from the land, sadly living in what Michael Frome called “a shell of artificial, mechanical insulation.” The great tragedy of postmodern America, Douglas believed, was that our children had lost contact with the environment. “We allow engineers and scientists to convert nature into dollars and into goodies,” he said. “A river is a thing to be exploited, not treasured. A lake is better as a repository of sewage than a fishery or canoeway. We are replacing a natural environment with a synthetic one.”15

Few American politicians look out for the long-term public welfare anymore—Douglas did. In the herd of sheep in Washington, D.C., Douglas was an iconoclastic visionary who never had a dull thought. The gossips of Georgetown tried to attack his character, mocking him for his divorces, scoffing at his promotion of Arctic Alaska, belittling him for including a long riff about the rattlesnakes of eastern Washington in his memoir. Conventional wisdom was tough on Douglas. But in the end he was one of the great men of the twentieth century, a champion of individual rights and of freedom of speech in a world dominated by corporate thinking. Fearless in his appraisals and always aware of the big picture, he asked the key questions about the arrogance of the industrial-military complex, angry that technocrats, in defiance of God, thought they could conquer nature with concrete monstrosities. Douglas believed that being outdoors in clean air reduced eye irritation, helped the respiratory system, and kept the blood pressure down. Even plants in offices, he said, reduced human stress.

“We have no conservation ethic,” Douglas wrote in dismay of the U.S. government’s refusal to rein in corporate abuse of landscapes and waterways. “Individuals in the bureaucracy understand it; but few bureaus practice it. America is dedicated to the dollar sign and the pressure of the Establishment on any of these bureaus is overwhelming. We get our oxygen for breathing from the green plants. Who is the guardian of the rate of combustion versus the rate of photosynthesis? Certainly no one in Washington, D.C.”16

Some other Supreme Court justices have seemed to become parched, dull husks, but Douglas was always alive to the wind, sky, and grass. Donning a Stetson hat and western-style coat, insisting on going without a necktie, Douglas looked like a frontier character. “Bill was a genius and a visionary,” Charles Reich, a law clerk to Justice Hugo Black, said. “He had the ability to take you to the top of the mountain and show you the entire vista of future issues, but then you would come down from the mountain, and lose sight of what you had seen. He never did.”17 Some critics tried to impeach Douglas because he wrote a controversial piece for the journal Evergreen (which published the work of rebels like Jack Kerouac and Terry Southern) or gave too many public speeches for compensation. But no matter how hard his opponents tried, they never did remove Douglas from the bench. Senator William Langer of North Dakota, late in life, came up to Douglas and wrapped an arm around him. “Douglas, they have thrown several buckets of shit over you,” Langer said. “But by God, none of it stuck. And I am proud.”18


Outdoors excursions, especially in the expansive North, are usually jolly when the weather cooperates and people share an interest in the ecosystem. The Sheenjek Expedition of 1956 was one of those trips on which people consider even cones of dried mud and cotton grass worth discussing. Hiking across the tundra was like walking on a sponge—it was hard to get into a rhythm because of ground squirrel holes or clumps of lichen. For once, in the roadless Arctic Range, afforestation was discussed instead of deforestation. Everybody was measuring everyone else’s depth of spirit—not the accoutrements of success. Justice Douglas had no higher rank than tin plate cleaner after supper. Regularly Douglas deferred to Schaller on talus slopes; to Krear on the grizzly’s hunting habits; to the Muries on caribou calving; and to Kessel on ring-billed gulls. There was never a pecking order when Douglas was in the wilderness. Also, to Douglas complaints were a tedious nuisance for everyone and undermined the serenity essential to endurance while camping. Decades of hiking had taught Douglas a basic lesson about the outdoors: be humble and do your proper chores. “I heard horrible stories of the mosquitoes of Alaska and went prepared with head nets,” Douglas recalled. “But I never used them. There are mosquitoes—many of them. Even after a frost—one of which we experienced—new crops of mosquitoes are born. They swarm up out of the marshland and tundra. They are not too bothersome when the wind blows.”19

Early on the expedition Mardy Murie, wanting to be gracious, said, “Justice Douglas, will you have some soup?” Furrow-browed, he glowered at Mardy, as if insulted, and said coldly, “Bill.” A little while later Mardy innocently said, in her cheeriest voice, “Justice Douglas, can I make you a cup of cocoa?” Clearly perturbed that she hadn’t gotten the message the first time, he gave her his blue gaze treatment and a single syllable: “Bill.” Some evenings Douglas would pour a little bourbon into his hot chocolate to help him stay warm.

Meals on the Sheenjek Expedition weren’t fancy, but the party ate like kings: caribou steaks, cheese rice, and corned beef, with blueberries, Fig Newtons, Jell-O, and angel food cake for dessert. Douglas was particularly interested in hiking to wherever ice presented itself. With field glasses he also scoured the Arctic landscape looking for the great bull caribou, which Bob Marshall had described. Up close—down on his hands and knees—Douglas examined lily plants, buffalo bush berries, and poppies. With field glasses he watched a fox eating blueberries. Douglas found bog cranberries—a tiny creeping plant with thin stems that threaded its way over sphagnum moss and was ideal for making jam. The fields shimmered in the fresh Arctic air. “What impressed me most,” Murie recalled in Two in the Far North, “was the far-ranging interest of this man of the law. What a divine thing curiosity is!”20

The Muries had timed the expedition perfectly until about the second or third week in June. The rivers in the Brooks Range were snow-fed for part of the year, but then, about the time of the Douglases’ arrival, the waterways of summer would be fed either by springs or by rain runoff. The largest river in the Brooks Range—the Colville—was far to the northwest of the Last Lake camp. The Sheenjek was a south-side river that drained south into the mighty Yukon River. It was lined with black spruce, birch, and alder brush (as thick as bamboo). When Douglas caught grayling along the Sheenjek, he’d cook them at night with alder wood, perfect for smoking fish. “These grayling, which run up to three pounds or more, are not prospering,” he wrote. “Their small heads and broad-beamed bodies make them seem a bit awkward compared to our streamlined rainbows. But whatever they lack in grace they make up for in food. Their flesh is white and their thick steaks cook up into a sweeter and more delicious dish than any trout I have sampled.”21

Douglas understood that there was a thread that began with Theodore Roosevelt and ran to Charles Sheldon and the Muries in Alaska. Saving the Brooks Range and the coastal plain of the Beaufort Sea aroused a kind of tribal passion in serious outdoors enthusiasts. They believed that this part of Alaska was the biological heart of North America. Although George L. Collins liked to use the term recreation, the word was inadequate to describe the hardiness and intensity of the Sheenjek expedition. All day long, well into the evening, the members kept busy identifying birds and wildflowers. Each party member believed deeply that Arctic Alaska belonged to the wildlife. Philosophically, the members were all aligned with the Gwich’in elders. As the Muries and the others set up base camps and collected bones and antlers among the caribou calves, the Arctic made them feel like little cogs in the huge machine of the modern world. The humbling effect of feeling small helped to develop character. Forget the judge’s black robe: Douglas was nothing more than a grain of sand or a falling leaf.

There is no transcript of the conversations that took place between Justice Douglas and the Muries when they camped together in the Arctic Range. But since everybody in the Sheenjek River party considered himself or herself a New Deal liberal, any banter about President Eisenhower couldn’t have been complimentary. After all, Eisenhower had meant it when he said on the campaign trail in 1952 that he planned to restore the Republican Party’s land policy in the West to help business. As president he had cleaned house, removing New Deal conservationists from the Department of the Interior. Without much concern about pension plans, he retired longtime employees of the National Park Service early. Friends of “big oil” and “big timber” were brought into the Forest Service. The attitude at both Interior and Agriculture favored leasing public lands. But new U.S. senators—like Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota—stepped into the picture, promising to give new lands protected status. Congressmen were defending wild places against an administration bent on helping the extraction industries in the West. Crunching across the tundra, putting on rubber boots to cross creeks, Douglas embodied the ethos of A Sand County Almanac. Getting an Arctic tan—neck-up, elbows-down—Douglas would talk, while hiking, about “man’s responsibility to the earth.”22 At least, the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs—influenced by Bob Marshall’s Alaska Wilderness—urged Congress to create a “National Wilderness Preservation System.”23

Justice Douglas and the Muries were particularly disturbed that Douglas McKay, a Chevrolet dealer from Oregon, had been confirmed as secretary of the interior. He was called “Giveaway McKay.” In Alaska alone he had opened up the Tongass, the Chugach, and even TR’s federal bird reservations to oil and gas leasing. The Arctic, to McKay, was worthless except as an oil field. McKay had learned to be genial from selling Chevys to customers; but his undersecretary, Ralph Tudor, was ruthless and enamored of Joe McCarthy—a narrow-minded conservative who wanted to purge the Department of the Interior of “wilderness screwballs” and “rabid New Dealers.” When Justice Douglas and the Muries, along with numerous conservation groups, vociferously disapproved of desecrating Dinosaur National Monument by building a dam at the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers, McKay retorted that wilderness “punks,” communist types, cared more about Colorado’s rivers than they did about hardworking people. David Brower, executive director of the Sierra Club, testified before Congress against McKay, showing photos of what had happened to Hetch Hetchy. “If we heed the lesson learned from the tragedy of the misplaced dam in Hetch Hetchy,” Brower argued, “we can prevent a far more disastrous struggle in Dinosaur National Monument.”24

Certainly political conversation was in the air that summer of 1956, but none of the seven on the Sheenjek expedition gave many details. The journey had an unexpectedly spiritual feel. In Athabascan-Inuit cosmology, animal species like the bear and the caribou were once humans. To cut down a white spruce or to shoot a trumpeter swan for no essential reason was considered a crime against the creator.25 Perhaps Olaus Murie—who considered exploration the most profound intellectual activity known to man—summed up the Sheenjek River experience best when he simply wrote, “Here we found nature’s freedom.”26 The short summer intensified the awareness that warmth in the Arctic was only a brief respite from the cold, that light was always followed by a deep, long darkness. This mood, Murie knew, dominated the land and everything living in it.

All the members of the expedition did publish articles in various periodicals, including Alaska Sportsman and National Parks. Mardy Murie would use her Sheenjek diaries quite extensively in her memoir, Two in the Far North, published in 1962. Olaus had taken fine photographs of the Sheenjek Valley over the summer and was prepared to give public slide presentations throughout the Lower Forty-Eight. Olaus had collected cutting-edge biological information about Arctic Alaska to share with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.27 The Muries, in fact, had so much fun that they considered the expedition their second Arctic honeymoon.

Living Wilderness published a detailed account of the Sheenjek expedition of 1956 under the heading “Alaska with O. J. Murie.” Murie began by praising Dr. Brina Kessel of the University of Alaska for documenting eighty-five birds, but it was the spirit of William O. Douglas that pervaded this account. Clearly, having a man of Douglas’s eminence on the Sheenjek River was extremely encouraging. “I was impressed with the sincere motivation of this author of books such as Of Men and Mountains and Almanac of Liberty,” Murie wrote. “And I feel fortunate in having on our Supreme Court a man of his honest outlook, and one who so loves the mountains and virile outdoor living.”28

Clearly, Douglas had been enraptured by the snowcapped Brooks Range and the virgin Sheenjek River. His upbeat report on the Arctic Range as a wilderness area had a dramatic effect on the entire conservationist community. “This is—and must forever remain—a roadless, primitive area,” Douglas said, back in Washington, D.C., about what became the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, “where all food chains are unbroken, where the ancient ecological balance provided by nature is maintained.”29 George L. Collins expressed the prevailing opinion in conservation circles when he observed that Douglas’s participation in the Sheenjek expedition was crucial, because that “goofy bird” from the Supreme Court had a name that was “sterling” and “magic” in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C.30

Douglas had left the Sheenjek Valley convinced that it should be preserved as a primitive park. It was an Arctic Eden where whales blew, grizzlies stalked, and caribou roamed freely. If President Harding could make a National Petroleum Reserve for the navy in 1923, Douglas didn’t see why President Eisenhower couldn’t declare an Arctic Range by 1960. Back in Georgetown, Douglas, who always wanted to keep the public estate out of corporate hands, started writing My Wilderness: The Pacific West. Its opening chapter was about the Sheenjek expedition with those amazing Muries. With Aldo Leopold and Bob Marshall gone, Douglas, a man of keen political instinct, knew he had to step up his own advocacy. Presidents dating back to Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland had favored creating new forest and wildlife reserves on their way out of office; it gave them a few final good deeds for the historians to tally. Collins, Douglas, Sumner, and the Muries were all calling for an Arctic Wildlife Range, as were Alaskans such as Virginia Wood and Celia Hunter.

“The Arctic has strange stillness that no other wilderness knows,” Douglas wrote of his experience on the Sheenjek expedition. “It has loneliness too—a feeling of isolation and remoteness born of vast spaces, the rolling tundra, and the barren domes of limestone mountains. This is a loneliness that is joyous and exhilarating. All the noises of civilization have been left behind; now the music of the wilderness can be heard. The Arctic shows beauty in this bareness and in the shadows cast by clouds over empty land. The beauty is in part the glory of seeing moose, caribou, and wolves living in a natural habitat, untouched by civilization. It is the thrill of seeing birds come thousands of miles to nest and raise their young. The beauty is also in slopes painted cerise by a low-bush rhododendron, in strange mosses and lichens that grow everywhere, and (to one who gets on his hands and knees) in the glories of delicate saxifrage, arctic poppies, and fairy forget-me-nots. The Arctic has a call that is compelling. The distant mountains make one want to go on and on over the next ridge and over the one beyond. The call is that of a wilderness known only to a few. It is a call to adventure. This is not a place to possess like the plateaus of Wyoming or the valleys of Arizona; it is one to behold with wonderment. It is a domain for any restless soul who yearns to discover the startling beauties of creation in a place of quiet and solitude where life exists without molestation by man.”31

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