Chapter 5. Be Patient, but Waste No Time
When [the West] fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery. [Stegner 1969:37–38]
I have always felt fortunate to have been born in the Puget Sound area. I went away for college and stayed away for seven more years, but reached a point when it was time to come home. In the St. Louis apartment where I lived at the time, I had hung a large watercolor painting over my bed of my favorite view from Seattle, looking out over the sound to the Olympic Mountains from Discovery Park. Friends who saw it asked incredulously, “That’s in the city?” It was, in fact, about two miles from where I grew up.
I hope my children share my deep attachment to this area. Like all parents, I worry about the world they will inherit. Taking action to conserve our natural heritage will not protect them from every worry I have, but it is not irrelevant to others on my list. It can build relationships and institutions useful for addressing many other regional challenges. It can be a counter-example to the failures of our politics, and inspire us to address other needs. It is one of the best things we can do to strengthen our regional economy over the long term. Where it offers no direct help, it can still preserve, for our corner of the world, one of the most valuable and necessary sources of consolation we have.
We are as well-positioned to conserve our natural heritage as any region in the world. We are wealthy even by American standards, with an extraordinary concentration of philanthropic assets and a fundamentally strong economy based on knowledge-intensive industries such as software, aerospace, biotechnology, and health care. The natural beauty of our region inspires its own political support for protection. Even basic geography favors us, as Puget Sound dilutes and flushes out regional wastes and minimizes the environmental impacts of highly urbanized areas outside of their own individual river basins. Tribal treaty rights also give conservation in our region some unusual legal advantages (see Chapter 13), potentially providing crucial legal powers unavailable to most of the rest of the country.