Way back when, I used to dread the elemental ritual of sharing what I learned from my summer vacation. It wasn’t just that my vacations were relatively uneventful. In truth, even if I’d been interested in gleaning insights from day camp or Little League (which I most certainly wasn’t), I simply didn’t have the perspective to do so. But now, lucky readers, insights seem to be everywhere, even on a classically touristy trip I recently took to Alaska.
The Subconscious Stories Our Pictures Reveal
After graduating from college, I spent a summer tramping around Europe. When I returned I noticed I had photographed a broad array of posters, billboards and bus ads and concluded a career in advertising was calling me. Indeed, it was. As I was reviewing my Alaska pictures, I was initially puzzled by my obsession with totem poles. A week later, the answer hit me like a virtual arrow to the temple. And no, this is not a new career announcement.
The Atavistic Importance of Storytelling
Totem poles—those intricate carvings by indigenous tribes along the northwest coast of North America—are, in fact, memorialized stories of the men and women who carved them. Some feature epic myths, like how knowledge is passed from the sky to the land, or the profound role of animals in the cycle of life. Others are more personal, depicting the adventures of a great chief with all of the drama of a riveting novel. All were stories well told, an intent indistinguishable from the modern marketer’s.
Mentors in the Forest
Hiking through a primeval forest outside of Girdwood, our crusty “I’ve lived off the grid for years” guide asked us to consider the cause of an unusually straight line of six trees. After numerous hints, we came to understand that these “soldier trees” had sprouted initially on the nutrient rich moss covering a fallen predecessor. Evidently, it’s easier for young trees to gain their footing this way rather than starting alone on the forest floor—a sort of natural mentoring program that provides the sprouts a leg up.
You can’t visit Alaska without being struck by the intricate interconnectedness of nature. Dead trees nurture new ones. Mineral-rich glacial silt provides the nutrients for microorganisms that feed the krill that sustain the giant humpbacks. If there aren’t otters to eat the urchins, there isn’t room for the seaweed that harbors the fish that feed the salmon that orcas depend on. It’s an old story but nonetheless relevant, as the decisions individuals, communities and businesses make today will undoubtedly impact the collective health of our planet tomorrow.
Not Every Innovation Works
To end on a less heavy note, you’ll get a kick out of this attempted innovation during the Yukon gold rush of 1897. A couple of aspiring entrepreneurs imported camels with the hopes of being the Uber of their time. In some ways, these heavy-hooved beasts of burden were well suited to the torturous terrain, surviving on the tundra like troopers. Unfortunately, they were so mean spirited, biting both man and beast, that they were soon abandoned like a shopping cart on the ill-fated Pets.com. So yes, there is such a thing as a bad idea.
Final note: If you’ve been to Alaska, let me know your impressions. If not, feel free to reach out to discuss why this trip needs to move up a peg on your bucket list.