Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

REC - Resources, Education, Compassion

September 4, 2017

Tags: Bainbridge Island, resources, education, compassion, Harvey, refugees, climate, Comprehensive Plan

Mount Tahoma and ferry from Bainbridge during the eclipse
Like many of you, I have been watching the news and worrying about friends and family in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. People are struggling to keep their families safe, and circumstances are bringing out the heroic in others. Meanwhile, the recent wildfires in British Columbia and the Western United States have produced the worst air I have experienced since leaving Southern California in the 1970s, when the air in my home town of San Bernardino was so thick you could not read the exit signs on Interstate 10.

Resources: Whether you think it is the result of climate change or just an especially bad run, weather events are happening here and now. Bainbridge island will continue to be the destination of many refugees. Whether famine, flood, war, religious persecution or good fortune brought your family here, most of you would not be here if things had not shifted where your ancestors originated.

Our cool, rainy maritime climate has the most naturally occurring foods of any climate in the world. We have our own fresh water and arable land. The island has been logged over at least twice, and the shoreline degraded to the point that few salmon return. The land and Sound are remarkably resilient, but that doesn’t mean we should take it for granted.

Education: Bainbridge is not only blessed with an abundance of resources, it has at least one expert in just about every topic you can imagine. We have people who know how to till the soil and gather seafood, as well as people who remember the old stories, and know how life has been sustained here for over 10,000 years.

Besides a wide knowledge base, Bainbridge has many people capable of teaching others about how the weather works, how food is grown, how to generate power, and how to share knowledge across time, space, and from generation to generation. All the resources in the world cannot sustain us if we fail to understand how these systems work together. In the last hundred years or more, financial systems have dominated our way of treating the land, to the advantage of a few and the degradation of the land from forest to farm to housing development.

But who are we to keep people out? Making the island exclusive only aggravates the financial incentives to buy and hoard land, and keeps out people with knowledge and resources of their own. A balance needs to be struck between natural lands and shorelines, farming, and places for people to live. Over the next hundred years, it’s going to get cozy here in our sweet maritime climate. The State of Washington mandates a Comprehensive Plan for every community, which allows us to designate, not if there will be growth, but where the growth will go on the island. If we plan carefully, we can preserve what little forest is left, while keeping people close to the plumbing, power, and roads that modern living demands. We can talk all we want about sustainable living, but few of us are willing to get out of our cars and walk across the island on a regular basis like live-aboard Dave Ullin. But we can put our heads together and work on public transportation and the clustering of services.

Compassion: Now I’m going to talk about compassion, and I see your eyes rolling. So I will skip that part. Some of you are naturally compassionate, and some of you are not. Most of the Texas delegation voted against providing Federal disaster funds to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans a few years ago. Let’s see how they vote on Harvey’s visitation of Houston. Instead, I will ask you this: When the time comes, who will offer you compassion?


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With Cowichan Elder Hyamiciate, Della (Rice) Sylvester at the The Living Breath of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Indigenous Foods and Ecological Knowledge Symposium


Selected Works

Creative nonfiction, memoir, environmental sustainability.
Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
Creative Nonfiction
Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
"Kathleen Alcalá's Spirits of the Ordinary is an enthralling book..."
–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

"This book entered my dreams."
–Alberto Rios
Short Fiction
"Thoroughly satisfying."
The New York Times Book Review

"By turns touching, entertaining, and surprising, and uniquely her own."
Publishers Weekly

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