The Alaska Forest/Ocean Divide

Many Alaska communities, particularly in the southeast, are dominated by a contrast between two very different environments—the forest and the ocean.

These are my unexceptional wildlife photos representing the
forest/ocean divide, taken in Ketchikan and near Petersburg, respectively.

My fiancée and I both grew up in Ketchikan, located near the southeasternmost edge of Alaska. We both love our hometown, but we have very different preferences for where we spend time in nature: I love the forest, and she loves the ocean. It's almost like a compatibility test based on the "classical elements," where I would be "earth" and she would be "water." Does that mean we're a good match?

The dramatic contrast between forest and ocean informs not only how Alaska couples spend their spare time, but also how communities have survived, died, or thrived—such as through logging, fishing, and tourism. To be sure, Alaska is the most immense and geographically diverse state in America—perhaps the most geographically diverse sub-national political unit on earth. There must be many other great contrasts to be found—between mountain and valley, muskeg and forest, ocean and ice, and so on. I wonder if in other places people define themselves according to other natural divides.

For me, though, my nearest and dearest natural environment will remain the temperate rainforest of Lingít Aaní, or as the federal government would have it, the "Tongass." The forest may not sustain Alaska communities as it did in decades past, during logging's heyday, but it continues to define who we are and where we live.