As I accompanied the 2022 Planet Forward Storyfest winners to Alaska with Lindblad Expeditions, our individual conversations continued to harmonize on a collective theme: connection.
There we were, hiking through the vast wilderness, or standing on the shores of remote beaches, or floating near the bases of staggering glaciers — and, yet, we didn’t feel separate from these unfamiliar surroundings. Humbled; inspired; overwhelmed? Absolutely. But not separate.
On the final day of our expedition, Lindblad Naturalist Tim Martin led a hike into the old growth forest of Chichagof Island. Throughout our time in Alaska, I’d had a camera in hand, filming our adventures and interviewing our Planet Forward cohort about the experience, with the intention of editing this very film upon our return. Yet, we were warned that this particular hike was for those looking for a challenge and, sure enough, I found myself tucking my camera away in my pack to free two hands to brace myself on treacherous terrain and uncleared trails.
I nervously climbed up a steep, soily incline, steadied by the reaching hands of my human companions and the strong roots of the trees above. Once at the top, we embarked deeper into the forest and Tim stumbled upon a small, yellowish-green animal on the mossy floor. Never one to pass up a teaching moment, Tim picked up the banana slug and, at my request, handed it to me.
At first coiled into itself, the slug began to unwind once in my palm, revealing its four sensing tentacles and angling them directly toward me. I looked into the face of this seemingly alien creature, startlingly aware that, as it oozed protective mucus onto my hand, it saw an equally alien face looking back.
I beamed with pure joy.
In a time when so much of my life has been mediated through screens and one way interactions, when so much of my attention is pulled away from reality and toward something else, someplace else, the glance of this tiny, slimy being delivered a message. It said, “You are not a spectator on this planet. You, too, are part of the show.”
Throughout our time in Alaska, I got the sense that each of the Storyfest winners had had their own parallel experiences: interactions with the landscape, its non-human inhabitants, and our human guides and companions, that viscerally reminded them of the ways in which we are all connected — the ways in which all of our actions are never truly ours, as their impacts stretch outward in ways we as individuals can never comprehend.
This, of course, is why we tell stories. We share experiences through stories with a deep knowledge that, in fact, all experiences are already shared.
Will these heightened moments of connection with the Earth and with each other, shared through stories, save our planet?
No — but they remind us we have no choice but to keep trying.
Editor's Note: Lindblad Expeditions, our Planet Forward Storyfest Competition partner, made this series possible by providing winners with an experiential learning opportunity aboard one of their ships. All editorial content is created independently. We thank Lindblad Expeditions for their continued support of our project. Read all the stories from the expedition in our Astonishing Alaska series.