For the past two years, I have served on The Olympian Board of Contributors. This is my 18th and final column, and I decided to use it reflecting on the themes I explored in the previous 17.
Many of my columns dealt with our neighbors here in Southern Puget Sound. We are blessed to have several Indian tribes in our area. These Native Americans contribute mightily to both the richness of our culture and the wealth of our local economy. Billy Frank, a Nisqually Indian who died in 2014, lived a life of service to the greater good that was an inspiration for all of us.
I also wrote a column about our recently arrived neighbors, immigrants, and how vital they are to our area. They may look and speak a bit differently, but don’t be afraid. As I wrote a year ago, just say “Hi, how you doing?” You’ll be surprised what you learn — they are really us.
Several columns touched on the great outdoors and “nature deficit disorder.” We live in and near a nature paradise, yet our young people (and the not-so-young as well) seldom experience it. We humans mark the seasons with a series of calendar events, but the changing of the seasons happens outdoors. Now it’s winter, leaves cover the trails, and the birds are scrambling for food. But soon things will change. I encourage you to periodically take a young person, or just yourself, outdoors to watch. Part of our Northwest paradise, of course, is our great natural parks. They are a legacy, left to us by previous generations. Are we doing our part to maintain and enhance them?
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Several of my columns discussed threats to our nature paradise, and to us. Oil trains still pass through our county daily, and, since I wrote about them, there was an oil train accident and fire along the Columbia River. It’s a constant worry. And then there’s climate change. Denying climate change in order to avoid taking substantial action is not a winning strategy. The Pacific Northwest could take a lead in reducing atmospheric carbon. Will we?
As I have written, our civil servants and their contributions are unrecognized and under-appreciated. They work tirelessly to protect and enhance the public’s interests, whether it’s clean water or child protection. As I like to point out, every weekday I experience a small miracle — a government employee visits my house, bringing the mail. What a service.
Much of what we take for granted is available to us because of government and its dedicated employees. Think about it. Clean safe water delivered to your house and wastewater taken away. Good roads connect you to wherever you want to go. Do you have a problem? Call 911 and life-saving help is on the way. And how about education? You and all the children in the neighborhood have the opportunity for a first-rate education. And, with this good education, they will have the great chance to better themselves, and our entire community.
Probably the most insightful column I’ve written, although I didn’t realize it at the time, was the one about different perspectives on time and how difficult it is for some people, particularly politicians, to think about and act for the long term. That’s one of the biggest impediments to action on climate change and many other things, the notion of authorizing and paying for substantial changes now that will only have substantial benefits much later.
It’s ironic, I think, that we demand that children enter into and vigorously pursue a 12-year educational cycle, plus possible additional years of advanced education. Yet we citizens, acting through our elected representatives, seem unable to pursue and fund long-term public actions, including adequate funding for that same educational cycle.
And here’s a final basic truth: We get only what we’re willing to pay for. Parks and nature refuges, clean water, basic protection, great education and all the rest, they come to us for the price of the relatively few tax dollars we contribute to our governments. What a bargain!
George Walter is the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s environmental program manager, and is a member of The Olympian’s 2016 Board of Contributors. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org