We pulled into the flow of traffic on I-5 at Stanwood, heading south to Marysville, Everett and Seattle. Eight lanes of headlights and tail lights. Top a rise and they extend as far as the eye can see ahead or behind. Who are all these people? Where are they going? What are they doing here? There may be something like a hundred thousand cars along the route on just this one trip, one way, into Ballard. I smile, remembering how it was on the Navajo Nation, where one could drive fifty or even a hundred miles and not see a single billboard or real estate sign, and maybe only a few cars. The contrast speaks to me as never before, on many levels.
We are sixty miles out from Seattle, yet we are in the larger metropolitan orbit. We happen to have moved quite a bit from one region to another, over the years. I have experienced the Southwest, the Midwest, California and Texas and have lived in the center of the largest Indian reservation on the continent. I have driven in or flown over much of America. It takes a while to know this country, if anyone ever really can.
We just moved up from Albuquerque, NM to Camano Island. We have traded great, flat vistas of geology that once were ancient ocean floors for vertical cuts between very tall evergreen trees and seacoasts with grey pebble beaches and a whole universe of life in another dimension under salt water. We lived here before, between 2000 and 2004, so it is a second start.
This place called Seattle (or Pugetopolis,) seems not to be quite like the other major metropolitan areas such as Houston or Chicago or New York. For one thing, it is a region of startling and magnificent beauty and environmental wonder. That affects people who live here clearly, but it is less obvious that it also affects the entire American ethos as well.
When the view breaks open on I-5 as we cross the high span over Lake Washington, in the distance, we see the Space Needle, and I feel very moved every time. It seems like a lighthouse beckoning from the shores of the future. At night it is brilliantly lit, glowing in bright white light.
This is an icon that began as a drawing on a napkin and was constructed even though the engineering for it had to be developed in the process of building it. This is a place where visionary imagining can turn into something excellent that literally lights the way to open possibilities. That is downright exciting when there is reduced expectation and a tragic lack of progressivism and sapped energy in all too many place across the country and the very zeitgeist seems depressed, angry, anxious, uncertain.
This pioneering spirit that refuses to drown in cynicism is probably due to this being the furthest point that one can progress to in moving West. The first settlers, arriving by boat in a cold rain shower, set foot on a grey beach lined with very tall evergreen trees shushing in the wind. On first sight, they felt that this was New York, by and by (Alki, in the Chinook language and thus, New York, Alki.) An amazing thing to think, given that they were looking at wet dripping trees, moss covered rocks and ferns.
That spirit seems to run through a lot that goes on in this region and to still be very much alive. One picks up on aspiration. The Occupy Seattle group began holding forth in generally the same place where the WTO protests were in 1999. At least metaphorically, downtown Seattle is an economic epicenter for the world.
I am confident that the young college age Occupiers will, in the fullness of time, become the heavyweights in the boardrooms up in the penthouses, the leaders in the legislatures of the land, and in Congress. They will be the leading lights of the international system that studies finance and in the long run, guides the economic theory by which all the institutions operate. In the short run, these will at least spur faster innovation and a speeded up evolution. Protest may not ultimately change all the many policies that need to be changed up and down the line, but they do begin new conversations that lead there.
You can see this promise of the future in the faces in libraries and schools and in crowds of people downtown.
What will surprise someone who has never visited here before is just how multicultural the Northwest coast is. The libraries print up basic materials in as many as a dozen languages such as Tagalog, Tigrinia, Amharic, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Japanese. You can see hybrid vigor in the faces of young people who derive from this melting pot. It may not be very many generations before the faces in the crowds on the downtown streets of Seattle or Vancouver today are the faces of America seen in downtown Cincinatti or Biloxi or Little Rock.
What is normally not emphasized in media coverage coming out of this region for consideration in other parts of the US is the extent to which economics and the culture here derive from being focused on the future prospects for the entire Pacific Rim, with its billions of people - really half of humanity's seven billion.
At present we can look at Wall Street and the banking industry and how mistakes could be made by people there that can bring economic ruin to many people across the American heartland and in countries across the world. Standing on the shore, looking out to the West where the next stop may literally be China or Japan, I feel that a silent but inevitable great tide is already turning.
The world will simply have to protect itself against being hurt by Wall Street and this means that a new paradigm of interconnectedness will evolve among the rising Pacific Rim countries and in cities like Seattle and San Francisco and their counterpart cities such as Tokyo and Singapore where all the trade centers are.
The Seattle City Council has been considering a proposed ordinance to ban plastic bags altogether in the city, and there are other coastal communities that have already enacted such bans. It doesn't matter if one initiative passes or doesn't this time around. The beauty of the snow capped mountains in the distance to the east and to the west, the sightings of Orca and Humpback Whales along the coast, the fresh clear water from melted ice, the fresh air that flows in over the Pacific, all make this a region conscious of the environment. That consciousness spreads because of the writers here and the activists who work in many dimensions.
When the salmon return, it is personal, visceral and motivating. Who can stand on the banks of a little stream that meets the ocean across a grey beach and not marvel at the struggles of the fish as they push themselves upward against the current, over gravel benches and rocks. Who can not consider how each of us can gain inspiration for our own upward struggle against obstacles and against the forces that push us backward, in order to achieve the fulfillment of our lives' purpose? This is an awesome and ancient spectacle. It should move us all to the core, to remember ourselves and our legacy as part of the whole upward movement of life on earth since the first amino acids were struck by lightning.
We get out on the highways and we are salmon returning home on streams of wet asphalt, lights gleaming and wipers beating back and forth.
The political struggles to understand how to move in practical ways to improve and better conditions mirror these natural cycles. Waves lapping at rocks on the beach don't appear to be having an effect, but in time, with storm surges that throw 20 ton cedar trees against the shore by the dozens and hundreds, change is inevitable.
We learned a long time ago to pay attention to the voices of those who are out studying nature closely and to not buy farmed salmon from the net pen operations in British Columbia. However, in places like Des Moines, Iowa or Albuquerque, NM as far away from the seacoast as they are, fresh caught wild salmon from the Copper River or from Alaskan waters may not be available at any price. Thus, consumers don't have much choice except to be in collusion with exploitative forces that are unconcerned about any impact on the planet. This is our general plight as humans trying to be more mindful. The same thing applies in many areas. our whole system creates and derives profit from a belief in illusions that we generally would rather not face, but ultimately will have to. These dilemmas have cruelly sharp horns
Having lived in different regions, it seems to me that the next great frontier is in discovering how to communicate about what is important in terms that might produce a truly sustainable future. I suppose that effort begins with exercises like this one. It is one wave lapping against the sand. One hopes that some energy might return in the form of conversation and learning. One wave, followed by another.
Does anybody here live in the coastal area between Seattle and Vancouver? Perhaps in the area around Stanwood or Marysville?
I'd be curious to know what kind of observations or thoughts you might have about this region or local conditions and concerns. Anybody have any thoughts on the deeper meaning of "Uff Da?"