Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

A Walk in the Park

July 10, 2013

The Bloedels saw nature as something too strong and rough to be experienced without the filter of a human sensibility
In the cool of a day predicted to get very hot, we walked through a gentle forest. Birds called and squirrels chittered at the small groups of visitors strolling the groomed paths.

The Bloedel Reserve was started in 1950 by Preston Bloedel, son of timber baron Julius Harold Bloedel. Julius made a fortune harvesting the huge trees of the Northwest and turning them into lumber.

Preston taught school in California until called back by his father to work in the family business. Preston managed to retire when in his fifties in order to devote himself to the reserve on Bainbridge, where he raised his children and lived with his wife Virginia in a French Provincial style home from 1951 until 1986.

“The Reserve is a place that offers the visitor a variety of experiences of nature,” says the brochure.

When we moved to Bainbridge in 1995, the reserve was open sporadically – one had to call ahead and make reservations, and we were turned away a couple of times with visitors who would not be able to come again.

In a style of garden that must hark back to European ideals, it is divided into several gardens, or rooms that evoke different moods and emotions – The Meadow, The Mid Pond, The Moss Garden. Oddly, the most naturalistic is the most formal of these gardens, that surrounding a faux Japanese teahouse, where the scale is still huge, but more in proportion to human beings, as opposed to the towering evergreens that mark our natural NW forests.

One can see how our idea of an “experience of nature” has changed over the years. The Bloedels saw nature as something too strong and rough to be experienced without the filter of a human sensibility. Nowadays, we buy expensive hiking boots and packs and go out looking for an “authentic” experience, one as unfiltered as possible. But the more human beings there are, the harder it gets to find nature that has remained unaltered by our presence. We are now hours away from any uncut first growth, and then only patches remain.

A garden offers a close-in experience, a place that is close in both miles and time, and that can be shared with children or even city slickers. Bloedel is now open to the public on a regular basis, and offers just such a place. Although second and third growth, there are still some impressive trees there – trees that the city would have taken down as unsafe or unnecessary. Soon, places like the Bloedel Reserve will have to substitute for an “authentic” experience. It currently hosts a wildlife shelter, but may not in the future.

One could say, “well if it really mattered to you, you would stop using all natural resources” – in other words, I would terminate myself. But people lived on this land for thousands of years without using up the resources. Yes, life was hard, and unmitigated nature is even-handedly cruel even today. But I think we can strike a balance. We can still build houses, but keep enough forest cover to recharge the aquifer. We can use power, but take it from a renewable source, like solar panels. We can walk more, and remember that we only choose to be slaves of time.

Modernization doesn’t mean we have to use resources even faster; it means that we have the knowledge and tools to slow down our headlong rush to climate disaster.

Next time: A visit to the Rock Farm
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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
Fiction
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
Booklist
"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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