For what it’s worth | Guest Column

By Steve Ulvi.

I am fascinated by stories of deep evolutionary history and human cultural adaptations. As a young man in 1974, more poorly prepared than I imagined, my life’s partner of five whole months, my brother and I built a small cabin on the Yukon River. Eyes wide open, tentative; two steps forward and one back on the steep, unforgiving learning curve. Getting around at first was simple and severely limiting; walk, snowshoe, ski or paddle. My preparatory experiences, troubled mind and college studies were at first sorely mismatched with the huge landscape, thin animal biomass and their big seasonal or decadal fluctuations. Did I mention BRASS COLD? Hardly a real hunter, recently a lacto-vegetarian, my woodsy temperate zone orientation was chock full of misconceptions.

As the months grew into years and then decades my life’s narrative was rewired by the harsh lessons and thrills of the subarctic. My life was rebooted; family and a park preservation career unfolded. I began to think obsessively about the gritty lifeways of people who came before and left behind little lasting evidence of their passing. A troubling disdain for modernity and a non-conformist streak had smoldered since my teens.

The tragic story of Ishi the last Yahi Indian who survived the California genocide disturbed me. Not a day passes without mulling over the pernicious ramifications of Manifest Destiny. Now I “see” the ghosts of drastically altered landscapes, pioneers and decimated indigenous nations everywhere. Alternate histories of “what could have been,” intrigue me.

A central element coursing through my life has been water. I revere water – magically transformative as vapor, liquid, and ice – as avenues of travel, inspirational beauty, place of fish and as a tenacious landscape-altering force. Water is the embodiment of mythical Shiva the Creator/ Destroyer.

This place is a scenic saltwater world; now unconscionably thrashed. Nowhere were silver hordes of salmon, the nourishing red blood cells of a subcontinent, more existentially important. Few in the madding crowd pause to think beyond today or realize the forever cost of our generational greed; the “sliding baseline syndrome” concept is all about stories of previous abundance. Amnesia. I’ve been told I missed the good times by 30 years, everywhere.

I like stories – fattened with humor, irony, quirky facts and fiction- that explore human nature and the innards of community and place. Kinda like wielding a “social proctoscope.” We enjoy a collective sense of being fortunate; but why? Do we really have a “culture” on San Juan Island? Without a cohering culture, a place like this becomes but a tattered flag swinging in the tempests of mindless growth.

Can “we” become intentional and wise about our local economy toward real self-reliance or just bottom feed on tourism crumbs tossed our way? Many of us are recent immigrants; more will arrive. Today “normal” is in flux. How are we markedly different from the chaotic Pugetopolis mainland? Will we create a resilient future in the most existentially threatening era in global history?