ON FRIDAY, Oct. 13, 1978, the last day of the 95th Congress, Sen. Mike Gravel killed the Alaska Lands Bill.

It was a strange thing for Gravel to do. For one thing, everybody else in Congress thought he had promised just the day before to support the measure. For another, the bill's death apparently would lead to the preservation of a third of Alaska as America's last huge, untouched wilderness -- a result he had pledged all his energies to preventing.

Not only was Gravel's behavior strange; it was messy, too. The messiest part was what it did to his relationship with his fellow senator from Alaska, Ted Stevens. Before last fall, Gravel and Stevens didn't like each other. Gravel's fatal blow to the lands bill was the first of a series of events (culminating in the death of Stevens' wife in a plane crash) that led to a mutual loathing of an intensity unusual even for competitive politicians. Today the two men hate each other.

That would be interesting but not sifnificant if it were not that the Alaska Lands Bill is still before the Senate. It is the most important legislation in Alaska's history and perhaps in the history of the environmental movement as well, with the disposition of millions of acres of land at stake. What happens to them has everything to do with the feud between Gravel and Stevens.

There's a lesson in that. A year ago, debate over the land bill seemed to be a classic ideological struggle between environmental and developmental interests, a case right out of the civics books. Now it's clear that it is also a complicated and unattractive matter of money, political survival and personal animosity -- an example of the way petty concerns are often the driving force behind grand legislation.

Mike Gravel and Ted Stevens moved to Alaska as young men, in the 1950s. Gravel found fame and fortune as a real estate developer, and Stevens found them as a lawyer and politician. They entered politics in the '60s and were both elected to the state legislature -- Gravel as a Democrat in 1962, Stevens as a Republican in 1965.

They did well there; Gravel was speaker of the House, Stevens majority leader. Both ran unsuccessfully for statewide office in those years. Stevens against Sen. Ernest Gruening in 1962 and Gravel for Alaska's lone seat in Congress in 1964. At that point, they were just casual political acquaintances.

In 1968 both Gravel and Stevens ran for Gruening's Senate seat.Gruening was the grand old man of Alaska -- the territorial governor for 14 years before statehood, a medical doctor, a newspaper editor, and the author of a fine history, "The State of Alaska" -- but he was also 81 years old and politically vulnerable. Gravel went after him aggressively, using their age difference (he was 38) and the Vietnam war (he was then a hawk, Gruening a prominent dove) as his issues. Gravel waged Alaska's first sophisticated media campaign. He trekked all over the state showing a high-quality, half-hour film that probably won the election for him. "Mike Gravel," the film said, "is on the sunshine side of 40."

Stevens, meanwhile, was running for the Republicaan nomination, figuring that Gravel would lose in the primary, leaving him with a clear shot at Gruening in the general election. Stevens felt that by running against Gruening six years earlier, he had established himself as the official opposition, so that if anyone deserved to unseat Gruening, it was him. When Gravel won his primary and Stevens lost his, Stevens felt that his voters had crossed over and voted Democratic in the primary just to get Gruening out of the way, rather than because they liked Gravel. He was a little bitter about it, and Gravel, who won easily in the general election, was the new senator from Alaska.

Shortly after the election, Alaska's other venerable graybeard in the Senate, Bob Bartlett, died, and it fell to the governor, Walter J. Hickel, to appoint a successor. At the time Hickel was about to go to Washington himself for his brief term as President Nixon's secretary of the interior. He appointed Ted Stevens to fill Bartlett's seat, even though Stevens had just lost the Republican senatorial primary. Hickel says he chose Stevens because he was the best man for the job; others in Alaska politics say Hickel wanted a Senate loyalist on hand to make sure he was smoothly confirmed for his new Cabinet post.

Whatever the reason, Stevens suddenly became Alaska's senior senator -- a situation reputed to please Gravel not a bit, though he insists it has never bothered him.

Stevens had to run for his seat in 1970 and for reelection in 1972. He won both elections by huge margins, and Gravel, says Gravel, made perfunctory endorsements of the Democratic nominee both times but essentially sat on his hands. He says that Stevens' Democratic opponent in 1972, a state senator named Gene Guess, was so angry at Gravel for not helping out more that he ran against Gravel in 1974 just to get revenge.

Gravel beat Guess in the 1974 Democratic primary, but Stevens was laying a trap for him by promoting the candidacy of Alaska's attractive young lieutenant governor, Terry Miller, who was running in the Republican primary against a prominent member of the John Birch Society named C.R. Lewis.

"Ted and Miller went to Lewis," sayd a friend of Stevens, "and they told him, 'Let's make a deal. Whoever loses in the primary will support the other guy against Gravel.' Of course they thought Lewis would lose, and they didn't want him making trouble. But then Lewis won, and there was Ted with a Bircher on his hands." In the general election, Gravel beat Lewis with 58 percent of the vote, and he was furious with Stevens for having gotten involved.

As Gravel tells it, when the two men returned to Washington after the campaign Stevens sent him a note suggesting that they and their wives go out for a nice dinner some night. "I indicated," sayd Gravel, "that I didn't want to socialize with him. I felt he did not behave in a cricket manner in the campaign. I wanted nothing to do with him socially."

In Washington, Stevens and Gravel were becoming completely different kinds of senators -- in fact, practically archetypes of the two paths a senator can take. Stevens was the insider, the member of the club. He did his homework. He won the respect and affection of his colleagues. He kept a low profile. He rose steadily through the Republican hierarchy, becoming minority whip in 1977. He was not a striking man in public -- he is a dull, rambling speaker -- and he is not a source of daring ideas. But he does his job responsibly and well. A vote promised by Stevens is a vote delivered, and an assignment accepted is an assignment carried out.

Gravel quickly became an outsider. He is a flamboyant speaker, a lover of travel and expensive restaurants, a man with a flair for the dramatic. He became famous by convening a little-known subcommittee one night in the summer of 1971 and reading into the record, past 1 o'clock in the morning, large portions of the Pentagon Papers, until he collapsed in tears and had to stop. At the 1972 Democratic convention, he nominated himself for vice president. He has had one major legislative accomplishment for his state -- successfully leading the fight for the Alaska pipeline -- but generally he has been the kind of senator who wins popular support back home by pointedly not working within the system. He goes back and tells Alaska voters that he's a maverick trying to fight the federal government down there in Washington, and they love him for it.

In the Senate, Gravel is unpopular, partly because mavericks always are, partly because he can be a very annoying man. He lets others do the detail work while he makes speeches and goes on trips. He has a reputation for refusing to live by the Senate's complex code of favor-trading and for occasionally not delivering on promised votes.

For instance, in 1968 Democratic Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington decided to help Gravel in his long-shot race against Gruening. He arranged for a fund-raising dinner for Gravel to be held at a Seattle hotel. After Gravel was elected, Jackson helped him get on the Finance Committee. According to the Senate code, Gravel in return should have made his vote available to Jackson on issues that posed no political peril to Gravel. Instead he voted against Jackson, most infuriatingly on the anti-ballistic missile in 1971, one of the big fights of Jackson's career and one in which he had counted on the support of his young protege from Alaska.

"I think the problem has more or less been one of reliability of commitment on Gravel's part," says a Jackson ally. "He'll say, 'Yes, I'm with you,' and then in a crunch he's not there." Gravel and Jackson are now lasting enemies.

It isn't just that Gravel violates the rules that annoys people; it's that he violates them in an especially maddening way. He will not only welsh on a promised vote -- he'll do it by cloaking himself in righteousness. He'll get up and make a speech on the floor about how he agonized and made the choice that was tough and brave and right and voted his conscience, thus making his colleagues look like people devoted to the main chance while Mike Gravel is driven by dedication to principle.

In fairness to Gravel, another element in the annoyance is what people always feel when they have worked hard on some compromise and invested enough of themselves in it to feel some loyalty to it, when they have softened their position even though deep inside they wonder if they haven't given just a little too much. Gravel is good at playing to those guilt feelings, because there's always a glimmer of truth to what he says. When everybody else in Alaska had written off the pipeline, for instance, he insisted on pushing it anyway, and it passed by one vote.

Through the mid-1970s, Gravel and Stevens carried out their enmity in low-visibility ways. On virtually every major bill involving Alaska -- the pipeline, natives' land claims, the 200-mile fishing limit -- there was some friction between them, and they vied for preminence back home as well. "I can remember how every time one of Ted's bills would pass we'd be in a big hurry to put out our press release on it before Gravel's people -- if Gravel had thrown his name on the bill as a co-sponsor -- could claim credit for it," says one former Stevens aide. "There would be a race to see who could call up the Alaska reporters first."

Stevens, for example, had urged the U.S. Geological Survey for years to revise its standard map of the United States to show Alaska's true and impressive size in relation to the other states, rather than shrinking it and sticking it in the corner so that it looked only as big as Missouri. This was a matter of pride for Alaskans. Finally, after years of badgering, Stevens got the map changed. Gravel, whose part in the campaign had consisted of sending one letter, quickly sent out a self-adulatory issue of his newsletter telling his constituents how he had achieved this great victory for Alaska.

Under the Alaska Statehood Act of 1958, the new state got the right to take title to 103 million of its 375 million acres, with the federal government keeping the rest. So far the state has taken only 36 million of its acres; of the rest of Alaska, 44 million acres went to the state's natives under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, 1 million acres are in private hands, and the remainder has been "frozen" by the federal government since 1969. Much of this area will become national parks, forests, wildernesses and wildlife refuges, but the question of the location and size of these areas is unresolved. That's what the Alaska Lands Bill is supposed to decide.

On one side of this argument are virtually the entire environmental movement (which has for the occasion coalesced into an efficient and well-financed organization called the Alaska Coalition), President Carter, Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus and leading congressional environmentalists like Rep. Morris Udall of Arizona. They say Alaska is the last place where we can preserve large areas in pristine condition.

On the other side are the timber industry, the oil industry, the mining industry and just about everybody in Alaska, including Ted Stevens and Mike Gravel. Alaskans feel that the idea of a vast wilderness in the state appeals to people who don't live there, but that in practice nobody will go to the protected areas and that valuable resources (especially oil) will be locked away forever.

The culture of Alaska is commercial -- more people move there to make money than to enjoy the scenery. In their attitude toward the East Coast and the federal government, Alaskans feel an extreme version of the hostility that prevails throughout the western states. "They're trying to ruin us with that temperate-zone mentality," sayd Hickel, now an Anchorage businessman. "They think our land is like the South 48. It's not. It's arctic. It's survival. You're not gonna enjoy recreation there. Nobody's gonna buy a lot on Prudhoe Bay and retire there."

For years not much happened in the lands battle, but last year it seemed likely to end at last. The reason was that a provision (called Section 17(d)(2), or D2 for short) in the Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 allowed the interior secretary to protect most of Alaska, pending a decision on what to withdraw permanently as federal lands. D2 was to expire last Dec. 18. So it appeared that unless some bill was passed by then, the secretary's protection powers would evaporate.

For most of last year the Alaska lands issue was debated back and forth and lobbied hard by both sides. Various bills were offered. The first salient result was that on May 19, 1978, the House passed by a huge margin the environmentalists' version of the lands bill, sponsored by Udall, which withdrew about 100 million acres from the state.

Then the bill went to the Senate, and the pressure was on Stevens and Gravel. Both were up for reelection soon, Stevens that fall, Gravel in the fall of 1980. Both knew that voters back home cared passionately about stopping the Udall bill and almost not at all about any other political issue. Their situations were identical, and indeed both men had the same reaction to passage of the Udall measure: They announced they would filibuster it if it came up on the Senate floor.

But after that, for reasons of style rather than substance, they parted company. Stevens, the inside man, decided to work for a compromise that would be as favorable as possible to Alaska. Gravel, the outside man, decided to try to prevent the enactment of any bill at all -- to fight to the bitter end.

In the Senate, the bill went to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Henry Jackson -- by that time a friend of Stevens' and, of course, an arch-enemy of Gravel's. Neither Stevens nor Gravel was a member of the committee, but because the bill so profoundly affected their state Jackson invited them both to sit in on the markup sessions. Stevens accepted the invitation. Gravel turned it down -- and then tried to use an obscure parliamentary tactic to prevent the committee from marking up the bill at all.

That was when Gravel and Stevens first started to bicker in public about the bill. Gravel criticized Stevens for participating in the markup and accused him of changing his position. Stevens, asked to respond by the Associated Press, said, "He's getting all the publicity and I'm doing all the work. Every state has a show horse and a work horse. I'm the work horse." Gravel said Stevens was taking a "traitorous position" on the issue.

From July through October of last year, Jackson's Energy Committee held 44 markup sessions on the Alaska Land Bill. The committee met as often as three times a day, all summer long. Stevens was at every session, Gravel at none of them. By October a compromise between the environmental and development interests was beginning to emerge.

One reason Stevens was eager to compromise was that President Carter and Secretary Andrus, environmentalists themselves, had put pressure on the development side by threatening to use executive powers to seize millions of acres of Alaska if no bill emerged. In other words, if Gravel and Stevens stopped the bill, Carter and Andrus would protect from development even more of the state than would the Udall bill. If Carter and Andrus weren't bluffing, then the logical alternative for Stevens and Gravel was to go for the best deal they could get.

In early October Jackson worked out a deal with Udall and Andrus: If all the interested parties could get together and work out a compromise acceptable to all, the House would quickly pass it and the president would sign it. The skids would be greased.

The last day of the session was Friday, Oct. 13. On Wednesday, Oct. 11, in the House Administration Committee room on the third floor of the Capitol building, a group gathered: Jackson, Udall, Andrus, Stevens, Rep. John Seiberling of Ohio (a leading House environmentalist), and Sens. Clifford Hansen of Wyoming (the ranking minority member of Jackson's committee) and John Durkin of New Hampshire (the environmentalists' champion in the Senate).

By the end of the day they thought they had an agreement worked out. Only one problem remained: Mike Gravel. By that time it was so late in the session that the Senate was operating under unanimous consent, which meant that one senator's objection could keep a bill from being brought to the floor. The only senator who might conceivably do that was Gravel, who after all had pledged to kill any Alaska lands bill. So the group asked him to come in the next day, Thursday, and hear about their compromise.

Out of the blue, Gravel announced that day that he was reconsidering his total opposition to any bill. He sent out a raft of telegrams to Alaskan leaders and told the press he wanted the people of Alaska to send him a "mandate" about what he should do now. The reasons for this sudden turnaround have never been clear, but Stevens was putting heavy pressure on Gravel, through industry groups and state officials, to change his mind about compromising. Perhaps the pressure worked.

On Thursday, Oct. 12, Gravel sent a letter to Stevens making his new stand official. It began this way:

"Dear Ted:

"In the last 24 hours, I have canvassed the views of as many Alaskans as possible as to whether I should continue blocking any and all D2 legislation this year . . . .As most of these urge me to join the effort to seek compromise, I have decided to follow this course."

Gravel told reporters that he was taking a "dangerous" course, but that "if I permit no bill to go through there would be all kinds of Monday morning quarterbacking -- people saying, 'We could have a better situation, if not for Gravel.'" It looked as if Stevens had won. Gravel showed up at the Thursday meeting of the compromise group and sat, sweetly silent, listening to the discussions.

Then the group took a break, and the Alaska delegation repaired to Gravel's hideaway office off the Senate floor. Gravel told Stevens he had some objections to the emerging compromise. As he tells it, he asked Stevens to present these objections to the group, and Stevens said no, you do it.

Then they went back to the meeting and, as one participant remembers it, Gravel said, "I'll buy everything you guys have done so far, but I have a few things I want." He outlined several points -- a new dam that had long been a pet project of his, better access to oil drilling and mining sites, a ban on the federal government taking any more of Alaska's land in the future. These demands came as a complete surprise to everyone but Gravel.

That night, aides to the participants in the meeting stayed up all night trying to work out wording that would satisfy Gravel. The next day, Friday, Gravel and the other participants came to an agreement on everything but the access provisions. But the House members, in the meantime, had come in with a list of seven new demands of their own, on which they apparently were prepared to give in if Gravel would give in on his. By the middle of Friday afternoon, it was clear that the compromise just wasn't going to be worked out.

Two other things happened before the group broke up. Udall said he was going to mount a last-ditch effort to extend their deadline to come up with a bill for one year, until December 1979, as a final gesture of the spirit of compromise.

And Stevens started talking about Nick Begich, the Alaska congressman who died in a plane crash in 1972. Plane crashes are the occupational hazard of Alaska politics, Stevens said, because campaigning for statewide office means spending a lot of time in tiny planes and rough weather. He said he often felt as if one's number had to come up eventually, and even though he had been a fighter pilot in World War II, the prospect of flying around in his campaign frightened him. Then he turned to Udall and said, Mo, if I don't come back this time, remember my positions when this bill comes up again next year.

That night, the House passed Udall's extension of the bill for a year, and it was rushed over to the Senate in the early morning hours Saturday. Jackson got up and explained what the extension would do, tactfully omitting that the only reason for it was that Gravel had killed the compromise that afternoon.The other senators who had been involved in the conference stood up and urged the passage of the extension. They were bone-tired and deeply disappointed that their laboriously worked out compromise was dead. "I feel like a father who has gone to the delivery room," Stevens said, "only to be told that his new son has been stillborn."

Then Gravel, in his most infuriating manner, got up and killed the extension. He said he knew the other senators had worked hard on the compromise -- "in fact, it frequently astounded me how members could meet so much on a subject that affected someone else's state." However, he said, he had been willing to rise above this and work on the compromise, even though much of it was "anathema to what I thought was right and in the best interests of Alaska and the nation." Gravel went on and on, talking about the bill in a way that someone who knows him well explains this way: "Mike deals in emotions, not logic."

Eventually Durkin got up. "There may be somebody asleep in the gallery who the senator is fooling," he said, "but the whole chamber knows what the senator is up to. He is out to torpedo this bill."

"I will not admit that," said Gravel, and went on until Sen. Robert Byrd, the majority leader, took the bill out of consideration.

At that point the senators abandoned all pretense of civility. Gravel tried to keep talking. Stevens got up and said Gravel's version of what happened was untrue and that his actions would result in Andrus and Carter withdrawing millions of acres of Alaska from development.

Finally Durkin got up again. "We worked out an extension to protect Alaska," he said, "and he is torpedoing that now. I hope the press is listening as well as every village in Alaska so when the secretary invokes the Antiquities Act there will be no ticker-tape parade. Short-term expedience is torpedoing both bills today. The people of Alaska should know that this compromise foundered on two words, after 47 markups, and those two words are 'Mike Gravel.'"

Gravel's own explanation of why he killed the compromise is that he never said he'd support it. He says his letter to Stevens shouldn't be read that way, that what he was really promising was to support Stevens, not the compromise. Therefore, he says, when Stevens wouldn't present the Gravel objections to the group, Gravel was free to bolt. As far as can be seen, the only person in the world to whom that explanation makes perfect sense is Mike Gravel.

There are several other theories as to why Gravel killed the bill. One is that he did it just to torment Stevens. Another is that his brief support of it was an aberration brought on my intense pressure from home-state politicians. Yet another is that the compromise was favorable to the timber interests but that the oil and mining interests, whose support Gravel values, really didn't like it.

What most people believe is that Gravel killed the compromise as part of his own reelection campaign stretegy. "Mike wants to run against the lands bill," says one lobbyist. "The only problem is, his race is in '80. So why should he want the issue resolved in '78?"

Naturally, the death of the bill did nothing to improve relations between Stevens and Gravel. Stevens told the Alaska press that Gravel had broken his word. "My mistake was in trusting him," he said. Gravel retaliated by adopting his usual public stance, that of the righteous maverick. "Stevens was prepared to sell out too much," he said. "I couldn't stomach it, and that's why I wouldn't go along." Stevens then called Gravel "an international playboy" and suggested he "needs some psychiatric help." He went on: "What he was thinking of when he killed the bill God knows, and I'm not even sure if God could fathom his thinking."

At that point Gravel, who says he had been planning to lie low in Japan during the fall campaign, decided, he says, that "I had no alternative but to use my campaign money to educate the people." So he went back to Alaska to try to get Stevens beaten.

Stevens' opponent was an obscure electrical contractor from Anchorage named Don Hobbs, who was making his first bid for elective office. Stevens' campaign fund was $325,300; Hobbs' was $2,500. But Hobbs supported Gravel's killing of the Alaska Lands Bill, so Gravel backed him strongly -- in fact be became the major asset of Hobbs' campaign. Gravel's campaign organization, Friends of Mike Gravel, spent $24,000 on an advertising campaign aimed at attacking Stevens. The ads told voters that the election was really a referendum on the proper way to oppose the environmentalists on the lands issue:

"If we want both our senators to fight their hardest on the D2 issue, then either we change Ted's mind, or we replace him.

"In short, we send him a message: Toughen up or we'll get rid of you . . .

"We can send a message to Washington on D2 by how we vote on Ted Stevens . . . for Ted Stevens, meaning compromise . . . against Ted Stevens, meaning fight."

The Republicans have since filed a complaint against Gravel, which the Federal Election Commission is looking into, alleging that the ads amounted to a campaign contribution to Hobbs far in excess of the legal limit. Gravel says the ads were just a statement of his opinion. In any event, Stevens won overwhelmingly -- and was even angrier at Gravel then he had been after the session ended.

Now the date when Andrus' hold on Alaska's lands would end was fast approaching, and it would soon be clear whether Gravel's fight-it-out approach was going to work.

On Oct. 27, reporters asked Gravel if he thought Andrus would really withdraw much of Alaska's land temporarily, to prevent it from being developed after his hold expired. "The secretary of interior can't lock up Alaska," Gravel said. "It's a bluff -- bullyism and intimidation. Isn't it something that the federal government is going around bullying and intimidating its citizens?"

On Nov. 16, Andrus, acting under section 204(e) of the Federal Lands Policy Management Act, withdrew 110 million acres of Alaskan land for three years. Two weeks later President Carter withdrew 56 million of those 110 million acres by declaring them national monuments under the Antiquities Act, which had been enacted in 1906 to preserve sites of archaelogical value. Carter's withdrawals were permanent. Then Andrus withdrew 13 million more acres for two years. Now there were more acres of Alaska withdrawn from development than there would have been had the bill passed.

Gravel continued to say that the choice facing those opposed to the environmentalists was compromise or fight. Most Alaskans agreed with him; for them this was one of those issues so freighted with moral implications that it transcended tactics. It was like Reconstruction in the South: Either you stood up or you gave in. But the withdrawals certainly made it look like the real choice was compromise or lose even more land by executive action. Stevens' reaction to the withdrawals was to renew his efforts to get a compromise through the Congress.

On Dec. 4, 1978, Stevens had a meeting scheduled in Anchorage with the leaders of Citizens for the Management of Alaska's Lands, the major pro-development, lobbying group. That was also the day Alaska's governor, Jay Hammond, would be inaugurated in Juneau for his second term, and Stevens wanted to be there. So Tony Motley, the head of CMAL, arranged for a friend's private plane to pick them up in Juneau after the inauguration and fly them to Anchorage for the meeting.

As Motley remembers it, the plane was just three or four feet above the runway at Anchorage when it was hit by a sudden, violent gust of wind. The plane was flipped around so that it pointed straight up in the air. The pilot pulled back the throttle, and the plane stalled and fell back to the ground. The last thing Motley remembers is thinking that it was about to hit directly on its tail.

Ted Stevens and Tony Motley survived the crash. The other five people aboard the plane -- including Stevens' wife of 26 years, Ann Stevens -- died.

By all accounts, Stevens had one of the Senate's happiest marriages, and his wife's death hit him very hard. At the time of the crash Gravel was on one of his trips, in Saudi Arabia, and he flew back for Ann Stevens' funeral. Afterwards, Gravel told one of Stevens' aides that he'd like to express his condolences personally. The aide disappeared and a moment later came back and told Gravel that Sen. Stevens didn't wish to see him.

When Stevens came back to Washington, he seemed bitter and in terrible emotional pain. He began to drop hints, in Washington and Alaska, that he felt the only reason he was in that plane in the first place was that he had to piece the effort for a land bill back together, and that the only reason he had to do that was that Mike Gravel killed the bill. Most of his remarks in this vein were tactfully not printed by reporters, who saw them as the musings of a man half-crazy with grief. But one incident survives in the public record.

On Feb. 6, 1979, Stevens was testifying before Udall's House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, which was just starting to reconsider the lands bill, and he brought up the plane crash.

"It was on that trip to Alaska to reconstitute the efforts for the coming year that I and Tony Motley, who passed away in an accident, were involved in an accident," he said, apparently forgetting for a moment that Motley had survived. "The trip was neither spur-of-the-moment nor stopgap. It was and is to me the beginning of this year's effort to achieve an acceptable D2 lands bill.

"As I am sure you realize, and many of you can imagine, the solution of the issue means even more to me than it did before." He talked a little about the bill, and then he said:

"I don't want to get personal about it, but I think if that bill had passed, I might have a wife sitting at home when I get home tonight, too."

This fall, the Alaska Lands Bill is still before the Senate, and the interplay between the ideological battle over the bill and the political and personal battle between Alaska's senators continues. Gravel, up for reelection in a year, in trouble in the polls, almost surrounded by his enemies, stands firmly opposed to any bill this year.Stevens, after all the trauma of last fall, is determined to get a bill and determined to get Gravel beaten in 1980.

Early this year, the governor of Alaska and several other state officials held a "unity meeting" with Gravel and Stevens at which it was agreed that the two senators would present a united front to the public, because their bickering was hurting the Alaskans cause in Washington. Stevens would not talk to The Post in connection with this article, saying he had to stock to the agreement. He issued a statement that says: "I have made a commitment to the governor, the state legislature, and the people of Alaska that I will not become involved in a public confrontation over the Alaska lands issue."

This truce has led to less mention of the feud in the Alaska press, although Stevens has not adhered to it absolute. On June 6, for instance, he called a news conference to deny that he and Gravel were now cooperating on the lands issue. "I don't want to mislead Alaskans into thinking Gravel and I are working together," he said. "It's impossible to work together. Sen. Gravel is unwilling to work together."

In private, Stevens is working hard against Gravel. Knowledgeable sources say he has been calling prominent Alaskans and asking them not to contribute to Gravel's campaign. And he has been in touch with possible opponents to Gravel, including one Democrat.

The Democrat is Clark Gruening, whose serious candidacy is largely a product of Gravel's talent for alienating people. Gruening, the 36-year-old grandson of the man whose career Gravel ended when he was elected to the Senate in 1968, is a popular state legislator. Gruening says he has discussed his candidacy with Stevens.

Among Gruening's major backers is Barney Gottstein, a wealthy Anchorage businessman and developer who was for years Gravel's leading financial angel. Gottstein is a strong supporter of Israel, and was horrified at the idea of the United States selling fighter planes to Saudi Arabia. He let Gravel know he would much appreciate a vote against the sale. Gravel not only voted for the sale, he made one of his emotional speeches on the Senate floor attacking the anti-plane sale forces. That was when Gottstein started looking for a new senator.

On the Republican side a strong opponent to Gravel has yet to emerge, but Stevens is said to be urging Tony Motley, the other survivor of the plane crash that took Ann Stevens' life, to run. Motley will say only that he has discussed the race with Stevens and that he is "not a candidate at this time."

Having these and other powerful enemies leaves Gravel with only one workable campaign strategy: a direct appeal to the people on the grounds that he is their champion in Washington. The centerpiece of that appeal is his opposition to the lands bill. "I can only speculate that he has decided his best change for reelection is to play to that part of the populace that feels surrounded and oppressed," says Udall. "People love the image of the leader standing at the pass, guns blazing, to repel the invaders." If that is indeed his strategy, then Gravel has to make sure the bill is delayed another year, regardless of the consequences to Alaska.

Gravel sees it differently. His reason for delaying the bill, he says, is that after the 1980 elections the political climate in Washingtonton might be more favorable to Alaska. "Maybe with a different president and Congress we might have a different situation," he says. "We'll know that in 18 months. Suppose Connally were there. It's preposterous to think we might have to foreclose those options. Why rush to get a bill because of a phony threat? I see everything to be gained by waiting." He says Stevens' position gives away more than is necessary.

Either way, Stevens is now totally committed to getting a bill and Gravel to not getting one. Early in the year Stevens resigned as ranking minority member on the Senate Commerce Committee to get a junior seat on Jackson's Energy Committee, from which he could shepherd through a bill. Gravel wouldn't give up any of his other committee assignments and so didn't get on the Energy Committee.

Then, after the House passed a version of the bill in May that protects even more of Alaska's land than last year's bill did -- 125 million acres -- Gravel came before the Senate Energy Committee and asked it to hold hearings on the bill in Alaska. Stevens said wearily that he had organized trips to Alaska for 26 senators already, that Gravel had never gone on these trips, and that if Gravel got his way and there were hearings in Alaska it would take so long that the bill would be delayed for another year. The committee voted not to hold the hearings, but just asking for them made Gravel look good back home.

In September, with the bill moving very slowly, Secretary Andrus got back into the act. He appeared before a Senate subcommittee and said he was considering invoking another section of the Federal Lands Policy Management Act to change some or all of his three-year withdrawals into 20-year withdrawals, so that along with President Carter's withdrawals there would be more than 100 million acres of Alaska withdrawn until the next century. That is exactly what Alaskans don't want and exactly what Gravel says he is fighting against with all his heart and soul.

Andrus' announcement was aimed at Gravel. If Congress produced a bill, Andrus said, he wouldn't extent the withdrawals. Not only that, he and Carter would release the land they withdrew last year. If Congress would produce a bill (meaning, if Gravel would allow it to produce one), then Congress could decide the fate of Alaska. If it would not, then Andrus and Carter would decide, and they would be much tougher on the state than the Congress would have been.

Gravel appeared before the same subcommittee hearing as Andrus. The Alaskan television cameras were grinding away. He looked grim and determined, tired from his long fight but absolutely set on continuing it. Of course he wasn't going to let this latest threat by Andrus change his position, he said. It was a matter of principle. "Regardless of how strongly the president or the secretary may feel about something," he said gravely, "it does not give them license to misuse a law. I thought that Watergate had made that clear in our society."