by Dimitri Diagne, AP'18

This is the place to watch the tides. I’ve become compulsive about it. Sometimes I walk to “The Gut.” Other times I stare from the window of the Hobbit Hole’s main house as a trail of white foam and tiny whirlpools forces itself through this one narrow entrance to the harbor. Save for the ring of seaweed and barnacles around its rocky edge, the cove looks more like a mountain lake than an inlet of an inlet of the wild northern Pacific. In the evenings I stare down at enormous fronds of ribbon kelp pulled either to the left or right side of the dock, as I and a new friend look for a clear place to jump in. We’ve made a pact to enter the forty-something degree water every day we spend at the Hobbit Hole. This ordeal doesn’t get easier.

It’s astounding that the physical world can move so quickly. A rock I stepped on minutes ago is now covered. We dig postholes through marine sediment, deposited when this land lay underwater, still bowed below the phantom weight of glacial ice. The copious rainfall keeps a stream flowing down from the heights of the island. This stream provides us water and, as of yesterday’s refurbishment, a steady supply of hydroelectric power. Two fishing trips over the past two weeks have each yielded a halibut more than big enough to feed twenty (taking for granted the supply of grains, vegetables, tubers, fruits, and condiments we brought here from the mainland).

These features of satisfyingly off-the-grid life are only possible on this island paradise, a sheltered emerald rainforest in the rich marine passes of Southeast Alaska. So many things happen that are only possible right here, under these conditions. This is a certain kind of blessedness and magic for which we are thankful and overjoyed, but which the goals of the Arete Project suggest we must also scrutinize.

In “Of Beauty and Death,” which we read for class one day, W.E.B. DuBois describes the Grand Canyon as something not real. He stands before it, marveling at a terrifying greatness and eternality that seems not of the Earth. The Inian Islands Institute is unreal for the opposite reasons. It is temporally and physically specific. As a social project, it is distressingly bounded. Here is a place that seems to be heaving itself away from the exploitative, industrial, modern American mainstream. The tough part is that, like most places, it is still moored down to that world. The Inian Islands Institute and the Arete Project we imagine, or at least the ones I imagine – self-sustaining enclaves almost completely independent from that world – are unreal. Even what exists now is unreal. The magic of small-scale hydropower and long-lined halibut are only possible in this place – not in Dakar, not in Philadelphia.

But some of the communal, sustainable lifestyle practices we engage in here can be carried into the “real” world. DuBois casts stones into the canyon’s void, and hearing no sound, concludes that it is unreal. It is not like this here, for us. The stones we move from the garden and those we skip across the water make a noise. This place is as real as the Grand Canyon. Unlike the canyon, we can make it realer.


Dimitri Diagne is a member of the 2018 Glacier Bay Session cohort. He graduated from Yale in May 2018, where he majored in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.