By, Peter C. Fisher
Einstein said that everything in the universe is connected. If matter and energy are different forms of the same thing, then could “beauty” be a function of matter in a sublime state and might “spirit” be a tentative label for the mysterious forces connecting us to our surroundings?
In 1984 Madrona Point, a peninsula that was once a burial site for the Lummi people, was planned for development into a residential enclave. After reading the news, I went with my camera to begin documenting this prominent and scenic asset, endowed with significant local history and fragile nature, before its impending demise.
Sometimes I experience a feeling of direct connection to the world by sensing an energy that flows freely between myself and the environment. My sadness at the idea of this special place converting to a dense condo and housing project opened my heart with a strong feeling of empathy for this endangered natural landscape.
With my inner ear I heard the land speak: “If I go, you go, we all go. This sacred site is the omphalos of Orcas, the spiritual and geographic heart of the island. The proposed development would harm our essential cultural connections to the past and desecrate the burial grounds stolen from the cemetery association in 1890. An Eastsound without Madrona Point preserved will have lost its most valuable spiritual, aesthetic, historic and natural feature.”
To create awareness among islanders to buy Madrona Point, we organized an art exhibition in 1986 and over 20 local artists participated. I created a handmade book with photographs honoring the quiet beauty that exemplifies what is special about the point. It used cattail leaf handmade paper, Cibachrome prints, and covers with Madrona Burl veneer.The art show attracted attention to the cause and many people volunteered to help protect it from development.
In 1989 we obtained $2.2 million from US Congress through the Department of the Interior to preserve Madrona Point. The experience of combining my artistic vision, interest in community action and love of nature to help preserve Madrona Point was gratifying. What explains why people care so deeply for special places? How could scientists explore the mystery of why sacred sites (a special view, a spectacular rock, a magnificent tree), just like certain works of art, are valued so highly by so many people and deemed essential?
The following photographs, original art and documents are pieces from the extensive personal archive Peter C. Fisher has diligently preserved in honoring and remembering Madrona Point.
An idea slowly forms along with an image in my head. I’m questioning where it came from? I’m thinking there are connections and trying to see what they are. I have a need to try and create it.
From a David Hockney essay….
We do not look at the world from a distance; we are in it, and that is how we feel. The moment you make marks, they begin to play with the surface. Space is made out of these marks. Create a different type of illusion of space on a canvas And even edges then begin to fascinate you. They do me.
First, I ask how does water feel when I am in it? I am thinking about edges. My edges. I am in the ocean, it surrounds me like a cape. It supports me. I can feel the movement under me as I float on my back looking up at the unencumbered wide open sky. I hear only my inner sounds; my breath, my heartbeat, my thoughts, and everything else is quiet around me.
And when I go deeper and below; what happens to me?
Immediately and steadily my hands and feet float away from my body. My hair pulls away from my scalp no longer laying still and hanging down. My water cape squeezes tighter around me as I sink down below the surface. My body feels heavier than the water around me, smaller too. I am not as heavy as I feel on land. I am closer to the weight around me than I am on land. I am more equal here. My edges, my skin. When I am in water I have no perception of my edges like I do in air. My boundary is blurred.
What do I see now?
Looking through a thick slice of liquid lasagna an array of alternating blurry light layers and dark viscous textures, a shiny smooth liquid mercury layer at the very top looks impermeable. Looks like nothing is on the other side except the no-color of the sky.
From an interview with poet David Whyte…
I began to realize that my identity depended not upon any beliefs I had, inherited beliefs or manufactured beliefs, but my identity actually depended on how much attention I was paying to things that were other than myself — and that as you deepen this intentionality and this attention, you started to broaden and deepen your own sense of presence. I began to realize that the only places where things were actually real was at this frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you.
Long swirling blades tracking the movement of the water’s motion that I feel. A circular whirlpool dissipating. Pulling the water cape further around me. Not like wind, but like wind would feel if the air was thicker. Roundish shapes bob and weave breaking through to the no-color sky. Smooth round thick tubular trunks orange and green and yellow and red mysteriously disappear into the darkness below me, changing to an every-color black as I watch them disappear. I no longer focus on myself. Streaming now; How far do these underwater trees go? How do they feel? Where did they come from? Where are their boundaries? Do they know that I am here? Remembering now; What do I feel now? What do I see now? It is this back and forth quality I like and am drawn to. Like being on a see-saw, up and down. Me – not me – me – not me…me not me. It is in these places that I can find the question and seek the answer.
What is me and what is not me?
Once I heard this question – it hounded me. I think a question like this has been hounding me for a very long time. I think that I have tried to answer it in many ways, through many avenues, for many years. I want to do something with it. I want to depict it somehow. I want to share it so others will find themselves asking themselves the same question. It is a good one. I find it best to focus long and hard on the the natural world around me to get closer to an answer. It seems obvious to do this. I feel more awake when I think about how I might begin. I feel more in touch with what seemingly matters the most. The more I comprehend about the natural world, the closer I think I can become to knowing something about what it means to be me. I will then finally be able to forget about what is me, and think more deeply about what it means to not be me. This seems important and relevant.
Color Prints By, Shawna Marie Franklin
TO KNOW A PLACE
Balancing an Acceptance of What is With an Understanding of the Past
By Samantha Martin
Many of us know there is a story that comes before our own, yet we can easily become immersed in the sound of our own footsteps. And, isn’t this beneficial in some ways? Even encouraged spiritually? To be in the moment, to live here in the present, to accept what is. To see all Nature as beautiful. Yes. And, also…how can we as the current dwellers of a place also ensure that we are not responsible for the inadvertent degradation of the natural world due to a lack of understanding of the past? The cycles of time within the natural world expand much farther than those of our own human bodies and, once something is gone and there is no one left to tell stories about it, we may not even realize what has disappeared while we were busy being in the moment.
It takes time to know a place. Decades, centuries, millennia. Though people of Coast Salish heritage still live in the islands today, many of us are new here. It is more common for residents, like myself, to be the first generation of people who call the islands home. As a result of the pandemic, more newcomers are coming to the islands with their own ideas of what this place is, or what they want it to mean for themselves. Like I did. Yet, when we overlap the continuation of newcomers with the perceived absence of the people who have been here for thousands of years before us, a strange sort of amnesia can happen. In some ways, many of us are simply babies on the landscape–with little knowledge about the land and its history. This makes it easy to live in a fairy tale.
How many of us have a grandmother who can tell us where the chocolate lilies grow… or the best places to pick berries? With the lack of any land designated for Coast Salish people, and very little obvious indigenous cultural presence in the San Juans, we can be fooled into thinking this place is wild and pristine, and miss the signs that the islands have been inhabited and actively managed for thousands of years before smallpox tore through the Americas.
In a recent study published in Ecology and Society, researchers in British Columbia describe the persistence of “forest gardens” along the coasts of British Columbia. They documented the occurrence of plants that do not normally grow together in certain geographical locations, such as hazelnut and crabapple. These pockets of food resources near old village sites have persisted for over 150 years and contain a much higher amount of biodiversity than nearby coniferous forests. They represent the possibility of people interacting with the natural landscape and increasing biodiversity as opposed to creating more homogenous landscapes (such as young, crowded forests or wide expanses of Eurasian pasture grasses which can contain very few flowering plants). They are also a small remnant of the work that indigenous people have done in this region, and beyond, to tend the land. The trees have persisted in some areas, though the understory plants are much more ephemeral and vulnerable to change.
The San Juan Islands are home to over 1,400 different species of plants. This impressive list makes up about 30% of all plants found in Washington State. So, to put a scale on the biodiversity we find here in the islands (technically there are over 400 distinct islands), the San Juan Islands make up less than 1% of the total landmass of Washington State, but are home to 30% of all species found in the state.
As a forest and grassland ecologist who has been working in the islands for about 15 years, I am trained to name things and to manage landscapes. I was taught to be somewhat of a landscape detective—to look for clues of how the forest and grasslands have changed over time, to characterize native plant communities, and to work to protect rare species. What plants are able to survive the deer? What flowers do the pollinators have access to? This is captivating work that offers lifelong learning. The drawback is that it can also be a constant study in what has been lost. In 2019, interested in cultivating a different relationship to the land around me (and out of curiosity), I became trained as a forest therapy guide. Forest therapy is sometimes referred to as “forest bathing,” a term that was coined in Japan about 50 years ago, but is a practice humans across the globe have practiced for millennia.
During the eight-day intensive training on Vancouver Island, one of the biggest challenges for me was to notice the world around me without managing it, without naming everything in scientific terms. And also, to try to not dwell on the effects that Euro-American culture has had on these landscapes. What a relief… and what a challenge! Since then, I have been looking for the middle way. How can we balance these two lenses? I believe they both have value.
Early European settlers (or shall we say invaders?) brought with them a desire to tame the wild forces of Nature and to stop what they may have seen as elements of destruction, such as apex predators and fire. This is understandable. They saw it as progress. However, 200 years down this road, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking we live in a place that is in balance. It is the rub of this existence, it seems — that sometimes it all has to burn or something has to die for things to be reborn, and for some species to just persist. To purely live in the moment and accept what is (which is also accepting the ways that the dominant culture has affected the islands through logging, development, farming, etc.), is a quiet, fairly innocuous continuation of colonization…one that we may not even see as humans trying to simply love a place. We may not even see the species that used to be here because there are very few stories about them. Two springs ago, I think I saw one of the last fawn lilies in the Foster Point area of Orcas (where the road heads south near Killebrew Lake). Does anyone else know? I went to look for it again this spring and couldn’t find it. How do we know what has been lost if we don’t even know what was here to begin with? Has anyone seen a Columbia lily lately? Great camas?
During my year-long training as a forest guide, I so wanted to learn how to Just Be in the natural world again without mourning the losses. But I still wanted to apply the knowledge that I have gained in my life. I kept pondering this question:
How can we as the residents and present time stewards of a place, often as descendants of people who have not been here for very long… how can we both be in acceptance of What Is and see the beauty of What Is, but also be informed enough to know that the plants that have sometimes come along with us, do not always leave room for the plants that are considered indigenous? And how is this reflective of the human cultural landscape?
As I continued mulling over this question in my mind (acceptance vs. active stewardship), I came across a chapter in Robin Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass. It came to me like a gift, a chapter titled “In the Footsteps of Nanabozho: Becoming Indigenous to Place.” As an ecologist herself, with a spiritual connection to the natural world, Kimmerer’s words helped me begin resolving this question.
What Kimmerer helped clarify for me is that this question, like Nature itself, is obviously not absolutely one way or another. Complexity is inherent in the work that I do as an ecologist. It is not “accept everything as it is” nor is it “remove all plants we consider not indigenous to this place.” It is a more nuanced conversation that can only be had when we have spent the time developing a connection to and understanding of the land where we live. And there is no solution that is appropriate for every location. It is a very site-specific task. The dynamic relationship of fire and weather and disease and cycles…how can we possibly fully understand? Like Georgia O’Keefe’s sentiment about flowers:
“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time—like to have a friend takes time.”
To know a place—it takes time. Especially within a culture and time when people are more transient (yet also like to build permanent homes), in a place where new people are arriving all of the time, and many properties are merely second homes for people who may never really have the time to get to know it.
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer writes about the plant, Plantago major. The people of her tribe, the Potawatomi Nation who speak the Anishinaabe language, and many other tribes in America, call this plant “White Mans’ Footsteps.” It was given this name because it followed the white man wherever he (and she) went. It grows low to the ground and is rounded in shape, almost like a footprint. Also known as plantain, this plant contains helpful, every-day medicine and also tends to leave room for others. Conversely, a plant like Scotch broom (initially brought to stabilize soil next to highways), taken out of its native habitat, can completely take over prairies and rocky balds- which are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. They are also some of the rarest. In her discussion about plantain in terms of indigenous plants vs. immigrant plants, she writes:
Our immigrant plant teachers offer a lot of different models for how not to make themselves welcome on a new continent. Garlic mustard poisons the soil so that the native species will die. Tamarisk uses up all the water. Foreign invaders like loosestrife, kudzu, and cheat grass have the colonizing habit of taking over others’ homes and growing without regard to their limits. But Plantain is so prevalent, so well integrated, that we think of it as a native. It has earned the name bestowed by botanists for plants that have become our own. Plantain is not indigenous but “naturalized.” This is the same term we use for the foreign-born when they become citizens in our country. They pledge to uphold the laws of the state.
Maybe the task assigned to Second Man [newcomers to a place] is to unlearn the model of kudzu and follow the teachings of White Man’s Footsteps, to strive to become naturalized to a place, to throw off the mind-set of the immigrant. Being naturalized to a place means to live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and feed your spirit. To become naturalized is to know that your ancestors lie in this ground. Here you will give your gifts and meet your responsibilities. To become naturalized is to live as if your children’s future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do.
Perhaps as current stewards of the land, we can use the lesson of White Man’s Footsteps to show us how to become “naturalized” to an area. How to leave room for others, how to provide medicine, and how to take care of a place. It is important to understand the differences between various plant species and their effects on native species. And, in addition to understanding the dynamics of individual plant behavior, so too should we be aware of the different types of habitats (forests, wetlands, prairies, rocky balds) and the important functions that all of these habitats play in maintaining a diversity of beings.
Though there is a great deal of talk about trees being important for carbon storage, a study published by researchers at UC Davis in 2018 postulated that, in a time of rampant wildfire, grasslands may be a more reliable carbon sink than forests. In some instances, depending on soil and aspect and water availability, it may be better for the Earth for us to sow native grass and wildflower seeds than to plant trees. This is why it is crucial to learn as much as we can and to reach out to people who have developed a relationship to a place, through time, in order to better understand the natural world around us. What is the right thing to do for species diversity and climate change resilience may be different on two different sides of the same mountain.
Before Europeans came to Washington state, there were vast prairies and oak savannas that extended south of Seattle, near Tacoma and south of Olympia. The Willamette Valley of Oregon was home to huge native prairies containing species now considered quite rare—species of butterflies, flowering paintbrush, and multitudes of birds that rely on these habitats. Within these amazingly diverse ecosystems of grasses and wildflowers (and soils that can store massive amounts of carbon), grows a plant called camas (Camassia quamash). Camas has been an important food source for native people in the Pacific Northwest, especially before Europeans arrived. A member of the lily family, it provided an important source of carbohydrates to the people here and was actively cultivated for thousands of years. When Lewis and Clark first came across a field of camas, they mistook the blueish-purple flowering plants for water. At first glance, they believed they were looking down on a body of water.
In the San Juan Islands, one is more likely to see its larger cousin, great camas (Camassia leichtlinii). Though our culture has vast supplies of carbohydrates at the ready, not knowing what camas is or what it looks like, I imagine might be like someone living here in 300 years that does not know what an apple is nor has ever tried one.
Like many wildflowers, camas needs an open habitat in order to survive. It needs sun, just like madrona and Douglas-fir seedlings. Most wildflower species need disturbance, which historically often meant fire. The indigenous people of this region used fire as a tool to keep meadows and oak savannas open—not only for camas production, but for a myriad of reasons such as providing better edge habitat for deer and for making travel easier across land. As Europeans moved in, well, as soon as the diseases they brought began to utterly decimate indigenous communities, the fires became less and less frequent (and in some places stopped altogether); the forests marched into the prairies and so did non-native pasture grasses, sheep, agriculture, and eventually highways, strip malls…and non-native plants.
South of Olympia, Washington, a stretch of native, mounded prairie became completely overtaken by Scotch broom by the early 1990s. The Nature Conservancy, realizing the immense loss of species that was occurring, began Saturday work parties where volunteers removed Scotch broom by hand. After about twenty years of work parties and sweat and labor, the expansive prairie in that area is mostly cleared of Scotch broom now and indeed looks like water when the camas blooms in May. Local tribes are returning to this prairie and holding traditional ceremonial feasts where they harvest camas and sing traditional songs. I use this story as an example of what can happen if we accept all plants as having “a right to be here,” and what can happen when actions are taken to remove a plant to preserve significant biodiversity as well as culturally-significant native foods.
In a time when there is a greater willingness to honor indigenous cultures and perhaps, for some, a hunger for a different way of life, we can honor these cultures by protecting the biodiversity that still hangs on in areas where the deer can’t reach, but was once likely far more abundant across the landscape. We cannot go back to a certain time or rewind the clock, nor should we. For we are here now. But we can work to maintain habitats for certain species. If most of the rocky balds which have historically been home to wildflowers and grasses get built upon, perhaps we should be creating more open habitat in other areas. I say this as a descendent of Europeans living in unceded Coast Salish territory in what we now call the San Juan Islands of Washington state, where my culture is so very new to this part of western North America. There has been very little time to understand the complex, dynamic interplay of plants and animals, fire and weather, and human needs. Perhaps just realizing this is the first step.
Going through the training of becoming a forest guide offered me a very welcomed opportunity to be present in Nature in a way my heart craved. For me, the practice of staying in the moment, noticing What Is, and not trying to change it has been a true gift. It is the work (or rather, the non-work) I needed to do to feel more connected to the world. I also think that we as island dwellers are stewards of the land, and this means being informed and developing a deeper understanding of how human actions affect the more than human world around us—something that may take more than a lifetime to really develop. Therefore, we need to lean on elders and writers and people who have studied a place, whether it be the member of a local tribe who carries traditional knowledge, a scientist that has studied the ecology of a given area, or an elderly resident who has walked the same trail for forty years. The gift I received during the training is the relearned understanding that I can sit in the forest without naming, and without managing, and hear the silence and the song underneath it all, and to feel the expansiveness one can find in liminality; and that I can also walk through the same forest, the same meadow at a different time as an informed steward—with a protective eye to the native species who were here long before I set foot on the island.
Samantha Martin is an ecologist who has been visiting the San Juan Islands since 1995. After living on Shaw Island for 5 years, she and her family relocated to Orcas Island where they currently live. Sam received her Master’s Degree in Forest Ecology and Soil Science from the University of Washington in 2008, and has studied forest and prairie ecology in the Pacific Northwest for twenty years—with a keen interest in rare wildflower species. Sam currently works for the Ecostudies Institute, a non-profit based in Olympia, WA, and also runs a small consulting business, Field & Fern, which was created to help private landowners in the islands better understand and manage native species on their property. She is a mom of two and is also the founding member of the Orcas Island Huntress Guild. In 2019, following a daydream of walking in the forest and drinking tea with others, she became a certified forest therapy guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. You can find her at orcasfieldandfern.com.
References for To Know A Place by Samantha Martin
Armstrong, C., J. Miller, A. C. McAlvay, P. M. Ritchie, and D. Lepofsky. 2021. Historical Indigenous Land-Use Explains Plant Functional Trait Diversity. Ecology and Society 26(2):6.
(Soil Carbon in Grasslands) Pawlok D., B. Houlton, Y. Wang, and D. Warlind. 2018 Environmental Research Letters. 13 (7).
(Braiding Sweetgrass) Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: [indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants]. First paperback edition. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed Editions.
(Reference for plant data in San Juan Islands)
Dunwiddie, Peter. Plants on Islands: Floristic Studies in the San Juan Islands. March 4, 2021. A virtual presentation given through the WA Native Plant Society’s website. https://www.wnps.org/wnps-annual- events/virtual-event
(Reference for camas info) MacKinnon, A., Pojar, J., & Alaback, P. B. (1994). Plants of the Pacific Northwest coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Richmond, Wash: Lone Pine Publishing.
Photographs + Words by, Grace Willis
Hi, how are you?
I’m doing well.
Where in the world are you now?
I am on Maui, Hawaii.
I am up country, have you been here?
I’ve only been to Maui once, but I’ve spent more time in Kauai.
So we have a home up, way up high, like 4000 feet. It’s really spectacular. Our rooster…our hen just gave birth to 10 little chicks, and I’m watching them all learn how to eat.
So precious. I was over at the Lum’s the other day and they have so many baby goats everywhere. There were triplets born while I was there. “Tis the season.
It’s really special isn’t it?
It’s magical here.
I heard that it is nice and warm.
Yeah, it has actually been quite hot here, and starting Friday evening we got rain and it rained all day Saturday.
Not a heavy rain, just a light soaking in rain, throughout the whole day. We got a little break on Sunday, but it rained almost the whole day.
That’s so great.
It is kind of humid, the sun is out and the clouds are big. The ground is happy.
When I was told how hot it was, he asked can we get the sheep sheared? Oh my god, that was two weeks ago and I thought, that is the earliest ever…
Oh yeah, we don’t shear until end of May.
Yeah, but just how you said, we got a little rain that makes me super happy. By May the water has pretty much stopped. It used to be that it didn’t subside until July 4th. It’s that cornerstone you know. But now… well I am just so happy we got rain in April, because it is so telling that we are going to be okay you know?
Yeah, I was getting a little worried. And I don’t really know. My small experience here, just not having rain in April, was alarming. If it stays like this we are in trouble.
Yeah, May can be like that. It can be super super dry. June it can rain a little bit, and then we really suffer all the way through September. And that has been a pattern on the island because we are really on stone. It is really shallow sub soil. There is not a lot of soil. It just sheets off. Unless you collect, sometimes I think, that is why there are so many ponds. They catch off their roofs, the wells are shallow. We have run out of water on the farm at least 20 times, but we catch. Oh God yeah, we catch. I think you and I talked about this before. And we are super conservative. I think it is when you have groups up there of young people and they don’t really know how to conserve yet so that is all part of the teaching. So when we run out, we give them this whole story, and we do a math lesson. This is 14 year olds, They convert it, and they do all of it themselves. Then they get here, and if they don’t do what they learned and we run out, they learn that no one is showering for a week.
Right. Driving in the lesson.
And they go home grateful. It is uncomfortable for them to imagine that water isn’t going to come out of the spout. But I think as more and more people move to Orcas we are going to run into more and more issues, and I think you are already sensing that.
Yeah, defiantly. I’ve attended a few meetings around the housing situation and water has been brought up in that conversation because again, kind of how you are saying about the 14 year olds, you have people that come from other places where water maybe a little more plentiful, or they just don’t have the knowing of the place, how to conserve water, or that it is even an issue. It just hasn’t been worked into their practices, so when they come and visit and they use unknowingly.
It is such a catch 22 also, what has happened in a lot places, and now including Orcas, is that they depend on tourism and once that happens, you don’t want to give tourists an idea, and this is pre-Covid, because now it is completely over now. Now everything is bought up and they are drilling into the aquifer. But pretend that is not there. On the conversation side, it’s really hard, you don’t want to scare people, yet what makes places like this and that so healing is that the vibrations are so high, and that is consciousness and that is practice. Like you said. The air bnb and hotel, all that has somehow lost track of water.
Yes, and just bringing that back into focus.
Michael Noonan is an independent filmmaker, living on San Juan Island. He volunteers his services to the San Juan Preservation Trust (SJPT), and to the San Juan County Land Trust. Over the winter of 2021, he helped the SJPT develop a series of Just-A-Moment videos. These films provide glimpses of nature here in the San Juans, as seen through the eyes of local experts. This is the series that included a short segment about Jenny DeGroot’s work at Cascade Creek. The overall goal of the series is to inspire a love of nature in members of our local community, thereby promoting a conservation ethic.
At present, he is working on a longer film that celebrates the accomplishments of the Land Bank in preserving the unique beauty of the San Juan Islands. It is this longer film that will include extensive coverage of the ongoing work being conducted at the Coho Preserve by Jenny DeGroot and Peter Guillozet. As the only creek in San Juan County that hosts a wild population of breeding salmon, the importance of Cascade Creek could not be overstated. That single location on Orcas Island not only exemplifies the many challenges that wildlife face in this modern age, but it also illustrates the conservation successes that dedicated organizations such as the Land Bank can accomplish.
FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS FROM SOURCE TO JENNY
Note: Jenny is answering this outside of her work capacity as a consultant for the SJC Land Bank, and her answers are hers alone. She is also not a water rights biologist nor a hydrologist so is answering these questions to the best of her ability.
Can you expand on the importance of keeping water flow in Cascade Creek for the Coho salmon?
Coho salmon need year-round flow in Cascade Creek like other watersheds within the Salish Sea to survive. It may seem obvious that fish need water, but most people don’t realize that Coho Salmon and other wild fish like Coastal Cutthroat Trout spend a good part, if not all, of their lives in freshwater and need year-round flow to rear and spawn successfully. Salmon need enough cold, clean oxygenated water to move up from saltwater to their spawning grounds to hide from predators, to feed on drift and to access different habitats within the creek at different times of their lives. Cascade Creek has the protection of Moran State Park in its upper reach and the San Juan County Land Bank (Coho Preserve) at its lower reach, but land protections alone don’t ensure that salmon have enough water to survive, since water is often withdrawn and consumed in the watershed well before salmon have a chance to access it. Sadly, I’ve seen the creek dewatered and documented the subsequent loss of more than half the salmon rearing in the creek at this time. Even if the creek isn’t dewatered, we have learned that there is rarely enough flow throughout the year for salmon to actually thrive, given today’s multiple demands on the watershed. This, ultimately, has repercussions throughout the watershed and the Salish Sea, as salmon are a keystone species, and other species such as orcas, American dippers, seabirds, etc. largely depend on them for their own survival.
Can you educate us a bit on the hydrologic cycle of the island and region?
Compared to Seattle and most of Western Washington, the San Juan Islands receive far less rainfall (roughly 10 inches less) throughout the year. The islands experience a rainshadow effect where precipitation cools and deposits on the mountainsides of the Olympic Peninsula to the south and Vancouver Island to the west, with less rain falling on the San Juan Islands. Less rain, locally, means less water for all our water uses and less water ultimately retained in our watersheds for salmon. We also don’t have the mountainous peaks that hold precipitation as snow pack and releasing water slowly as snowmelt over the summer months like other parts of Western Washington. Bedrock is also the predominant substrate in many parts of the islands, such as the Cascade Creek watershed, so water retention is also problematic. For islanders, this means we have to do a better job conserving our water, particularly with the projections of longer and drier summers to come due to projected climate changes, and to prioritize water with the idea that it is a finite resource.
How is water regulated in the county? Is it different for Orcas Island and in each community?
Water is considered to be owned by the public and regulated by the state. It is established in Washington State with a “first in time first in right” prioritization. Similar to old mining days, the first person to stake their claim on a water right is the first person with the senior-most water right for that watershed. For the Cascade Creek watershed, the senior-most water right is established from an 1880’s water right when Robert Moran purchased a lumber mill that diverted water away from its natural watercourse of Cascade Creek for pulp production, which Moran later used for power production. Today, this senior water right is still held by the current owners of the Rosario Mansion. Other water users within this watershed include those for the communities of Doe Bay and Olga.
How are water rights distributed and accounted for?
Water rights are distributed by the established first-in-time and first-in-right prioritization and through adjudication, legally resolved in the courts of the state. The water in Cascade Creek was adjudicated in 1978, well before anyone had a clear idea what all the needs of the watershed were, particularly for salmon, and what they may be over time (i.e. with climate changes).
What are some proposed ideas from the Water Advisory Board about how to negotiate our limited water source? Do you have any personal ideas on that initiative?
The San Juan County Clean Water Advisory Group, Salmon Recovery Group, the SJC Land Bank and local community members have all worked hard to seek funding for the purchase and retention of water rights in Cascade Creek. State funding is available to purchase additional water for the creek to be held within the state’s Trust Water Rights Program, but this requires a willing seller and buyer to negotiate. This has been done previously within this watershed and in other places across the state. It would ensure that Coho Salmon and other wild fish in Cascade Creek have enough water to survive within this watershed. The San Juans may be one of the few places in the state where a community might have enough influence to save the remaining wild salmon run.
Does the public have a say on individual water rights? Should we? How would we go about doing that?
Not that I know of. If the water of the state is truly public, I believe the public should have a say, especially if we have new information that we didn’t have previously or if they weren’t recognized previously. In 1978, we knew there were salmon in the creek, but we didn’t know how much water they needed. Suspecting salmon needed more water, WDFW and the SJC Land Bank undertook a study in 2018 to assess the amount of stream flow salmon actually need in Cascade Creek. We found that they need far more water, sometimes up to four times as much flow as they currently receive now to survive and reproduce. There are even times in the year that salmon don’t have a set water right, and community members have had to ask water holders to voluntarily release water for salmon. This happened in November of 2019 when Coho Salmon were attempting to return to their natal spawning grounds and they didn’t have enough water to move upstream. I’d personally like salmon to have established water rights.
Are there any water commons? What would that look like?
That’s a good question. I don’t know of any and would love to learn more about what that would entail.
Jenny De Groot is the owner and founder of Speckled Trout Consulting, LLC, a fisheries consulting company. She has more than a decade of work experience with governmental agencies (USGS, NOAA, USFWS), universities (UMN, UBC), county agencies (SJIs Conservation District, San Juan Local Integrated Organization, SJC Land Bank, SJC Public Works), and non-governmental organizations (Wild Fish Conservancy). She received her MS from the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia and her BS in Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota. Jenny worked on research projects in Alaska, British Columbia and Antarctica, studying sea otters, harbor seals, Weddell seals and coastal cutthroat trout, before making her home in the San Juan Islands. Jenny is also a member of SJC’s Clean Water Advisory Committee, a WRIA 2’s Salmon Recovery Technical Advisory, and is currently under contract with SJC Land Bank to monitor fish populations and stream flows in Cascade Creek. Jenny is also the Children’s Librarian for Orcas Island Public Library and a mother of three.
Earth, seen from space, backlit by the sun, coyly reveals herself, her atmosphere, seen in cross-section, the thinnest of veils.
If the Earth were held in front of us, the size of a beach ball, her atmosphere would be less than the thickness of a sheet of paper. Her oceans and mountains, thousands of feet deep and high, are just as thin. Taken together, they comprise Earth’s elemental skin.
And what of the other earth, her nutrient rich topsoil? We measure it in mere inches. A farmer in Iowa gazes out at her fields knowing she is losing a dime’s thickness of topsoil each year. She knows it will be gone in her lifetime. Unless…
Together, each of these layers – atmosphere, water, soil – comprise a sacred veil, enfolding the Earth, sustaining all life.
We have all probably heard the oft-quoted statistic that about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered – most of it in the form of oceans. Though it sounds like a lot, if we gathered all that water up, how much space would it take up? In the image below, the US Geological Survey (USGS) shows us that the answer is… not much.
The largest blue sphere represents all water on Earth – oceans, ice caps, lakes, rivers, groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you and your garden plants. Its diameter is about 860 miles, with a volume of about 333 million cubic miles. Though about 97% of Earth’s water is in the form of oceans, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth’s 8,000-mile diameter.
The middle blue sphere represents the world’s liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2.6 million cubic miles. The diameter of this sphere is about 170 miles.
The smallest sphere, barely visible, represents fresh water in all the lakes and rivers on the planet. Most of the water people and life on Earth need every day comes from these surface-water sources. The volume of this sphere is about 22 thousand cubic miles. The diameter of this sphere is about 35 miles. Yes, Lake Michigan looks much bigger than this sphere, but you have to try to imagine a bubble almost 35 miles high—whereas the average depth of Lake Michigan is less than 300 feet.
Global carbon emissions have tripled since 1960, spiking atmospheric CO2 to dangerous levels never seen in over 400,000 years of planetary history (see chart bellow ).
As climate disruption accelerates, how will it affect the water and land?
The surprisingly small sphere of fresh water shown above can help us understand how precious it is, in an increasingly thirsty planet of 7.8 billion people.
By 2025, 23% of people are expected to live in countries or regions with “absolute” water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under “stress” conditions (withdrawing more than 25% of its renewable freshwater resources). Climate disruption is accelerating water scarcity. Safe drinking water and abundant water for irrigation are in decline.
Oceans are absorbing heat much more readily than land, stressing the marine ecosystem. Earth’s oceans have absorbed 93% of climate heating compared to air (1%) and continents (3%). About half of the increase since 1865 occurred in the past 20 years.
This oceanic sacrifice may have bought land-dwellers some time, but we have squandered it. As many as one million species are now at risk of extinction, many within decades. To survive, species on land and sea are migrating to cooler environs.
Benign Climate Becoming Extreme
Over the 300 thousand-year arc of human history, we have benefited from a fairly benign equilibrium of Earth’s interdependent elements. But that is changing.
250 years of Industrial Age CO2 emissions are baking the planet, increasing the evaporation of water, jolting the delicate homeostasis between oceans, land, and atmosphere. The veil is torn. Extreme weather events are on the rise. New records are increasingly set for heat, cold, drought, wind and rain. Climate models predict a steady perilous increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.
Exploring climate disruption impact on rain patterns, Lloyds of London Emerging Risks Team and their Climate Change Risk Management researchers found a 900% increase in extreme rainfall events (greater than 40mm) (see chart below).
As climate change rocks the elemental equilibrium of the sacred veil, instability arises. We start to experience things that warn us “We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
The stunning video below offers an example of how elemental shifts push the Earth to a tipping point. In 2010, a hillside in Maierato, Italy suddenly releases as the soil becomes saturated with extreme rain. Liquefaction of the land occurs – the earth, rock, and soil flow like pudding, carrying trees, homes, anything on the surface, downhill. What we see is visually astonishing, heightened by the shouts of the townsfolk witnessing the melting of their village.
The March 2014 mudslide in Oso Washington provides another example, closer to home. The Oso slide, triggered by extreme rain, is the deadliest single landslide event in US history, covering an area of approximately one square mile, engulfing a rural neighborhood. Forty-three people were killed and 49 homes and other structures were destroyed.
These climate disasters have been 250 years in the making – beginning at the start of the industrial revolution with exponentially growing coal-fired economies followed by oil and gas. But with the enormous acceleration of CO2 emissions post World War II, the planet is convulsing.
It took centuries to get where we are, but we only have a decade to reverse the trend. Decarbonization is the key – rapidly shifting from fossil-fueled energy to clean alternatives. The chart bellow shows CO2 emissions rising to 2020 (black line). CO2 emission budgets that, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), correspond to limiting additional warming to 1.5 °C (red line) or limiting it to 1.75 °C (dashed line).
This requires roughly a halving of global CO2 emissions by 2030. While achievable, it is an extraordinarily challenging task, depending on global commitment and cooperation, agility, innovation, money and truckloads of can-do.
Having dithered till we are at the brink, some will be tempted to geo-engineer our way out of this, but that’s a Pandora’s Box, ripe with its own set of risks. As we fully awaken to the task ahead, each of us can find a way to do better, starting today.
Wendell Berry – elemental thought-leader and protector of the sacred veil, shines a light for us:
“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope”
The arrival of warmer weather means that our Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapter is gearing up for the Farmers Market. In an effort to raise citizen reparations and funds for aid to organizations run by and for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), we will have a booth on the last two Saturdays of every month this season, beginning May 22nd. We invite talented and charitable individuals to consider donating handmade goods to be sold at our booth for suggested donations. Goods to consider: ceramics, jewelry, art, flower bouquets from a home garden, etc. We are also looking for volunteers to sign up to run the table from time to time. For further details, please reach out to the Orcas SURJ chapter via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Water and Earth: Recognizing the Rights of Nature
By Julienne Battalia
The Salish Sea is a transboundary body of water that stretches from Olympia to the Johnstone Strait in British Columbia. The threats to this sea are multiple and varied. To be successful in a movement for the Rights of Nature, the Rights of the Salish Sea, we must build a coalition across counties, countries and with indigenous communities who have lived within the Salish Sea since time immemorial.
This movement will have the best chance for success if it begins at home. Orcas Island is located in the heart of the Salish Sea and has the potential to be a powerful beacon, catalyst and connector for that eventual wider effort. I believe that the idea that Nature has a right to thrive and reproduce her life cycles cuts right to the heart of the ecological crisis. Nature is viewed primarily as a resource, as property to be owned, used and abused. We are blind to the fact that Nature is a living being. This deep misunderstanding, that we are separate from Nature, has been a basic cultural assumption for generations. But now, within our culture and around the world a paradigm shift is happening. The movement to recognize that Nature has inherent rights holds a tremendous seed of promise. If our environment fails to thrive, we fail to thrive.
I have been politically active in several causes, such as anti nuclear weapons, individual environmental issues, and public health questions about electromagnetic radiation, but this action for the Earth and for the Salish Sea has set my heart on fire more than any other I have engaged in before.
On November 8, 2005, San Juan County became the sixth and smallest county in Washington State to adopt a charter form of governance. The SJC Home Rule Charter, as it stands now, is a document that provides structure and laws about the framework of our government. It provides a path for us to pass laws by initiative. The Charter does not explicitly state our values as a community. Now is the time to use the power of initiative to synchronize practice and ideals.
The Home Rule Charter is similar to a constitution; it has the potential to be expanded to include a Bill of Rights that includes human rights and the rights of Nature. This Bill of Rights would expand into something that states our values as a community. Our federal and state constitutions do this; they state our values and transform them into laws.
I think people in San Juan County want a real say in how the county is governed, and how development is allowed to happen. It is an ideal in this country that people should have rights; the right to self government, the right to protest peacefully, the right to enforce laws that we decide upon as a community. We have a right to clean air and water. So do the Cedar tree and the Salish Sea. Democracy is about people and communities pushing the edges of what defines freedom and rights.
Many assume the Comprehensive Plan provides enough environmental protection. In actuality, while the Plan articulates a vision for our county, it is dependent upon the interpretation of the County Council to turn that vision into law. Many of these laws are based on regulations that prove inadequate in sufficiently addressing the climate crisis. This failure is, in great part, due to the treatment of Nature as property and the legal barriers to protecting natural ecosystems.
Others ask about the enforcement of such rights. The Federal Bill of Rights has few details about enforcement, but this did not deter its authors from stating rights and allowing their enforcement to play out in the legislative process. When we empower a Home Rule Charter with a ‘universal’ Bill of Rights for Nature, it changes the status of Nature as property. This act provides protections that have a much greater potential to support the restoration of ecosystems.
Imagine if the Earth and seas were understood as the living beings they are. Imagine if humans understood, respected and acted responsibly from this truth.
Nature’s members—the Salish Sea, the orca, the salmon, the eelgrass, the marble butterfly, the hummingbird, the great cedar tree—have a right to breathe clean air, to absorb clean water, to have their life cycles continue onward into the future.
We live on beautiful, abundant lands, surrounded by the magnificent Salish Sea. Our neighbors, such as the salmon, the Southern Resident Orca, and the forests—need our help. They are on the brink of extinction and they need us to respond. Members from the Home Rule Charter Review Commission are intrigued by this idea. Community Rights San Juan Island (CRSJIM) has been asked to present before the Commission and a special sub-committee has been created to explore the idea further. This is an exciting time. Please join us by using your voice. Tell the Home Rule Charter Review Commissioners that you want a ‘universal’ Bill of Rights amendment in the San Juan County Home Rule Charter.
Home Rule Charter Review Commissioners expressed interest in the idea of amending the Charter with a Bill of Rights for Nature. They formed a special subcommittee tasked with exploring this concept further. Unfortunately, they were dissuaded by several attorneys’ interpretation of current laws to mean that Rights of Nature would not be viable in a Home Rule Charter. But let this not deter us. Presently, there are over 100 municipalities in the United States moving forward with Bills of Rights for Charter Ordinances recognizing the Rights of Nature. Let us join in this movement.
As residents of San Juan County, we can pursue a charter amendment recognizing the Rights of Nature through the initiative process. Help us create and pass an initiative that recognizes and protects the Rights of Nature. Please join us by educating yourself and using your voice. Explore what’s happening in other counties and in other countries around the world. Join our organization, Community Rights San Juan Islands. Form a chapter on your island. Talk to our County Council members and other organizations like Friends of the San Juans, the Land Bank, the San Juan Preservation Trust, the San Juan Island Marine Resource Committee, the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee, the Madrona Institute, New Deal San Juan Islands, the Orcas Women’s Coalition, Orcas Transitions Group and the Democratic Caucus. Let them know that you support an amendment to the San Juan County Charter recognizing the Rights of Nature.
Images bellow by, Elie Barausky of Ula Bontanic
Good afternoon, my name is Caitlin Leck and I will be speaking about the role of regenerative agriculture in the climate activism movement.
I want to begin by naming that at this time, conventional agriculture is one of the most egregious perpetrators in the climate crisis, and is riddled with human rights abuses that undermine even the most basic rights of human dignity. This is a reality I do not wish to gloss over, but rather offer up as an example of when the problem is the solution.
Done poorly, agriculture is a terrifying force for destruction. Plow-based agriculture has transformed the most fertile of valleys into deserts; sovereign peoples have been and continue to be stripped of their land and lifeways; farmers commit suicide by drinking the very pesticides that hooked them into a system of chemical-based farming, a debt-based system that steals land from families after generations and generations of reverent stewardship.
This is all true, and must be named and reckoned with. At the same time, we would do well to remember that, done well, agriculture is regenerative. People indigenous to Turtle Island developed sophisticated systems of interacting with and shaping the land around them. As some researchers suggest, the Amazon basin that our Western minds view as a “pristine wilderness” may in actuality be an ancient orchard designed by her original inhabitants. Humans are not inherently destructive to their environment. It is a choice.
Speaking today, I could remain in the realm of the intellect, stating any number of statistics to try and capture the vital role that regenerative agriculture has played, and will continue to play, in this climate activism movement. I could remain theoretical, comfortable, shying away from my own lived experience. But we don’t have time to dwell in the realm of comfort. Instead, I choose to speak from a place of vulnerability as an offering of trust and relationship-building with my community.
“Plants are the bridge.” Five years ago, I received this wisdom in sacred ceremony. “Plants are the bridge.” It was a concept that I felt in my bones all thirty years of my life up to that point, without having the words to describe it. It is a concept that has carried me forward and shaped my work as an activist-farmer ever since.
On my own life’s path, I can say with confidence that farming saved my life. As I think all humans alive at this time can feel, I experienced deep grief and despair. For me, this grief was made manifest in anorexia.
Perhaps it was solely the events of my one life. Perhaps it was genetics playing out the trauma of a child of the Irish diaspora, reenacting the state-sanctioned starvation that had forced my ancestors out of their homeland. Perhaps it was a combination of these things or perhaps it was more than I can know.
Whatever the cause, it was the time I spent as a Farmer in Training that built my bridge out of self harm and deep grief. The plants taught me about reciprocity, true nourishment and the abundance that surrounded me in every moment. Thankfully, I listened.
My journey continued at the Bullocks’ Homestead, where my unlearning deepened as teachers both plant and human shared their wisdom with me. My lifestyle was my act of resistance, and I quite literally dug in, envisioning myself as a farmer in service to my community.
After the 2016 election, a deep thunder rumble of truth rolled into my belly – at this time and in this place, I needed to marry my care of Earth with care of People in my community and beyond. I needed to show up as an activist. A garden project I had begun with my dear friends Kaj Enderlein and Patrick Bennett evolved into the Orcas Community Participatory Agriculture project, and I knew I had found my forum.
The OCPA project is a model where neighbors band together to reskill and build community while moving toward food and seed sovereignty. With Kaj as the Land Host, and Patrick and I as Anchor Farmers, we strive to create the conditions for learning to happen for our Participant families. But when it comes down to it, once again it is the plants who are the true teachers, acting as the bridge to remembering our connection to Mother Earth in all her glory and abundance.
Our hope is that, similar to the CSA model, the OCPA model will be strong enough to bend, that it can be adopted by myriad communities to shift and evolve to suit unique conditions. Our hope is that this model can offer one version of the map back to connection and right relationship.
In closing, I would like to take a moment to thank my teachers, the plants. I pray that I can act in a good way in service to my community, to my more than human kin. I honor my ancestors for instilling in me a reverence for Earth, and I honor the ancestors of this land who were beautiful in a way that I struggle to comprehend. Thank you all for being here, for showing up, and may plants be our bridge as we walk together in this climate activism movement.
Caitlin Herlihy Leck she / her / hers
- Food System Team, San Juan County, Coordinator
- Conservation Ag Resource Team (CART) – Coffelt Farm, Facilitator
- San Juan County Agricultural Resources Committee (ARC), Outreach Chair
- Orcas Community Participatory Agriculture (OCPA), President + Anchor Farmer
- Orcas Food Co-op Board + Member Engagement Committee member
- Orcas Women’s Coalition (OWC), Steering Committee + PACE member
- Art of Nourishment: Wellness from the Ground Up, LLC, Principal
Local Solidarity Economy, Farming Co-ops, and Domestic Fair Trade
2021 San Juan Islands Ag Summit
FOLLOW UP RESOURCES
Agricultural Justice Project Resources
Free Food Justice Farmer Toolkit (“templates, sample language, strategies, policies, plans, advice, and resources that will help your farm run smoothly in a way that is rooted in respect, fairness, transparency, and teamwork”)
Community to Community Development Resources
Cooperativa Tierra y Libertad
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PETER C. FISHER http://www.petercfisher.com
JAIME BEECHUM email@example.com
SHAWNA MARIE FRANKLIN shawnamariefranklinart.com
ANDREA BEARCE firstname.lastname@example.org
KELLY MARIA FRANCIS http://kellymariafrancis.com
BIANCA COX @orcasdancecollective
GRACE WILLIS @graceloveslight
TABITHA ROSE @insta_tab
ANNE FORSYTHE at The Waterfront Gallery
CIENNA I. RICHARDSON
SACRED SEA https://sacredsea.org
SAMANTHA MARTIN https://www.orcasfieldandfern.com
KAITLYN AURELIA SMITH https://kaitlynaureliasmith.com
LIBI GEDDES email@example.com
NIK SCHULZ @storiestarotwisdomhealing
LYDIA CHLOE @Lydiachloe.creations
JENNIFER MOONBRICK @moonbrickfolk
KATIE GRAY https://www.katiegray.com
NORRIS CARLSON firstname.lastname@example.org
SAN JUAN PRESERVATION TRUST https://sjpt.org
JENNY DE GROOT
JAY KIMBALL http://8020vision.com
LOUISA W.L. CROWE email@example.com
SURJ ORCAS @surjorcasisland
JULIENNE BATTALIA Wwfstories808@gmail.com
JOHN RAYMOND BERRY @johnraymondberry / Soundcloud: johnraymondberry /Distrokid: rainbearcollective /.johnraymondberry
ELIE BARAUSKY~ ULA BOTANIC https://www.ulabotanic.com
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