Published October 06, 2012
Soundings: Look near home or in wild for lessons about geographyJOHN DODGE
In a span of one week, stretching from the Glacier National Park in Montana to the Phoenix Inn in Olympia, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the discipline of geography. Knowing what I know now, I might have majored in geography in college. First, here are a couple of definitions of geography that go well beyond those roll-down maps of the world we studied in eighth grade. “Geography is a mother lode of sciences. It’s the hub of a circle from which other sciences and studies radiate: meteorology and climatology, ecology, geology, oceanography, demographics, cartography, agricultural studies, economics, political science,” Kenneth C. Davis describes in his highly entertaining book “Don’t Know Much About Geography: Everything You Need to Know About the World but Never Learned.” Or how about this definition offered up by The Evergreen State College’s academic vice president and provost, who just happens to hold a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Chicago: “Geography is an interdisciplinary discipline – a way for non-scientists to understand what science is all about,” Evergreen’s Michael Zimmerman said in a welcoming address at the Phoenix Inn, which the Pacific Coast Association of Geographers was using as home base this weekend for its 75th annual meeting. Zimmerman clearly was preaching to the choir. At the invitation of event organizer Martha Henderson, an Evergreen geography professor and director of the college’s master’s program in environmental studies, I joined Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum and longtime Evergreen professor Helena Meyer-Knapp on a plenary panel designed to give our visiting geographers a taste of the host city. I pointed out the Phoenix Inn sits on what used to be a sandy spit that marked the end of the peninsula that jutted into Budd Inlet – the southernmost inlet in Puget Sound. This was before commerce-driven civic leaders ponied up their money to dredge and fill some 434 acres of mudflats to form much of downtown Olympia and a deepwater port, beginning more than 100 years ago. Admitting my love of irony, I told the 40 or so geographers from 10 Western states that if sea-level rise predictions hold true – and Olympia city officials do nothing to hold back the water – the area of downtown that will be most flood-prone in the years ahead is the area built on dredge spoils. In other words, the old shoreline will be the new shoreline, at least during extreme high-tide events. My audience of geographers ate it up. A week prior, we were in Glacier National Park with fellow fun-seekers Steve Wall and Sandy Wall, who happens to have a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Idaho. We arrived in this more than 1 million-acre slice of heaven on earth just days before the park shut down lodging and tourist activities for the long, northwestern Montana winter. One major drawback: The Going-to-the-Sun Road that cuts through the park was closed for roadwork between Avalanche Creek and Logan Pass. It meant our cabin at Lake McDonald Resort was only a few miles as the crow flies from Logan Pass. However, we would have to drive more than 200 miles round-trip to reach the park’s east entrance to get to Logan Pass from the other side, home to a couple of our desired trail heads for the Hidden Lake and Highline trails. A week ago Wednesday we did just that, leaving our cabin in the pre-dawn darkness and arriving at Logan Pass about 10:30 a.m. Misty fog and clouds blanketed the peaks and alpine vistas, and the temperature hovered around 35 degrees. Bundled up in rain gear, sweaters and gloves and with daypacks equipped with bear spray and trail food, we forged ahead on the Hidden Lake Trail, hoping the clouds would burn off. They did just that in a slow, seductive way, revealing Clements, Reynolds and Bearhat mountains and receding glaciers, morraines, alpine meadows in fall colors, and more. Within an hour, it was a glorious blue-sky day. The second hike of the day took us along the Continental Divide on a narrow, rocky path hugging a ridge line to the east and plunging down to Logan Creek below. I don’t know who enjoyed this hike more, geographer Wall or me. As I explained my column topic Friday to editor and colleague Dusti Demarest, she seemed unusually sympathetic to my attempt to weave it all together with the thread of geography. Maybe it’s because she minored in geography while pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Northwestern University.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444