In today's interconnected world, is it possible to truly be alone with nature? In my opinion, Canada and Alaska may be the real "Last Frontiers" of pure wilderness. In other parts of the world, even if you're among the great African animal migrations, or high in the Swiss Alps, you still come across the occasional traveler.
In an attempt to embrace the great wild, I recently visited Gwaii Haanas to film the famous giant carved poles of the Pacific Northwest. Literally called the "Islands of Beauty," they are also known to naturalists as the Galapagos Islands of North America because of their abundant sea life.
When I landed in my float plane, I was greeted by someone who appeared to be Willie Nelson. A shock of wild hair. A guitar in the back of his Zodiac. This "Willie Nelson" was actually German-born Gotz Hanisch, who left his home 30 years ago in search of true wilderness. Despite his guitar, he didn't actually know any Willie Nelson songs. I asked.
He was, however, a remarkable philosopher. Technically, Gotz lives well below the poverty line. But, he considered himself very rich in the abundance that nature provides him in Gwaii Haanas. Just to put it in perspective, Gotz lived in a nice waterfront house with a studio where he records music inspired by his remote Pacific Island setting.
He ferried me to an even more remote part of the island, the UNESCO World Heritage site known as Skang Gwaii. Truly incredible, it is the resting place of very old, magnificently carved mortuary poles. It is also the home of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen, an ancient and noble group. In a tradition dating back before the Egyptians by thousands of years, the Watchmen have been guardians and protectors of the land and its heritage. It is a position of honor, as these poles are sacred and are believed to house the remains of ancestors and ancient spirits.
Fitting in with my escape from the modern world, the Haida carvings are very mystical, with a Lord of the Rings feel. They are certainly a sharp contrast from Gotz's homeland, which just goes to show that the land of your birth is not necessarily the land of your heart.
During my visit, I was honored and trusted by a Haida Watchman to stand alone amongst these giants and reflect on the many generations of his people who had stood in the same spot. It was a chance to witness a living culture and to immerse myself in the spirituality of their land.
The typical noise of civilization is gone. It's a warm sunny day, and all I can hear is the chattering of nature without any other distractions. Very powerful stuff. Usually when you try to "drop out and unplug" there always seems to be interference from the outside world. I gloried in the cathedral of nature. Walking back to the beach, I see "Willie" waiting on a rock with his guitar. I know it wasn't posed but it almost looked like an album cover for "Willie Nelson Goes North."
Maybe the universe sensed my thoughts were drifting back toward civilization as it decided to send me a message in a bottle. It floated up to the shore in the form of a volleyball with "Japan Volleyball Association" stamped on it, accompanied by Japanese soda bottles. It was clearly debris from that terrible tsunami that tragically hit Japan in March of 2011.
As I turned the volleyball in my hand on this isolated beachhead, several distinct cultures were brought together in an instant. Debris from Japan, a philosopher from Germany, an American adventurer and a Haida watchman.
I reflected on the Haida people's creed that "all things are connected." At this moment, I could see the wisdom of their words. In a world where we consider connectivity based on WIFI hubs or hot spots, sometimes, all it takes is sitting on a beach in a remote Pacific Island and finding a message in a bottle.