Editor’s note: The following is an edited excerpt from the book “Human/Nature,” published by The Nature Conservancy (hardcover, $32; available at amazon.com/dp/0578413825).
Across Washington, nature nourishes. We draw from the Earth and its oceans for sustenance — to feed lives and livelihoods. However we enjoy our state’s vast bounty, we share a responsibility to respect and steward these resources.
The Backstory: How a lifelong love and respect for nature and its inhabitants developed from a toy camera
Apples are the vibrant hearts of Washington’s harvest. World-renowned and unsurpassed, Washington apples fuel an economic engine and support entire communities, within and beyond our borders. Thousands of workers, the majority skilled migrants who return each season, pick every Washington apple by hand. The harvest is demanding yet delicate: early mornings, firm grasps, quick twists and the daylong, gentle pour of full bags into pallet upon pallet.
Reefnets stretch across swathes of sea in Puget Sound. When a lookout spies a salmon school, fishermen and -women furiously launch into action, haul in hundreds, shift them to underwater pens and return bycatch to an intricate food web.
Once the captured salmon settle, ice awaits to preserve their fresh flavor. This ancient method mirrors the sustainable fishing tradition of Coast Salish tribes, which honor the salmon and its central role in culture, food and society.
A P-Patch in Seattle welcomes gardeners at the end of another workday. Green sanctuary and fresh vegetables await at UpGarden in the heart of the big city, seeding community alongside heirloom varieties. Several plots also grow food for donation, to share sustenance across neighborhoods.
Father and son stomp Pacific Coast sand to hunt razor clams on a cold, December day. A crowd takes to the beach armed with clam guns and shovels to trap sunken treasures. Some can already taste them: butter poached or lightly sautéed. They must dig deep to emerge the victor, foraging food and living a Washington tradition deliciously.
Agriculture yields community in the Methow Valley, where a pig farm houses a neighbor’s cattle in return for gentle mowing of the fields. Tamworth hogs munch a morning apple treat, while goats softly bleat a few acres over. Across the forest, a new generation of Guernsey kids greets its keeper, and matriarchs share their milk. For a small farm there is space enough for pasture among the pines. Happy goats supply stellar cheese.
Thousands of years of culture intersect with crowds and cars as the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay convenes a family reunion every August. The tribe welcomes back far-flung members and honors tribal veterans, inviting all of Washington to celebrate. Generations of tribal members mingle with visitors from across the region to enjoy salmon smoked on the beach as the age-old scent of alderwood fire drifts through the air.
From glacial mountaintops to old-growth giants, Washington’s nature offers dramatic departure from our daily lives. Whether we are hiking in the forest, cruising a lake, even glancing out the window on a daily commute, the beauty of nature around us invites reflection and escape.
Washington’s winter forests present a frosty palette. Evergreens and snowy white drifts are abundant, and the sky can be a misty gray, sometimes a vibrant blue. Hikers lend splashes of color: a bright orange beanie or purple paths dotted on a digital map. Laughter and shared stories provide warmth and, in quieter moments, slushy steps are the only sounds.
Nature in our neighborhoods can transform a moment or mood. Deep in urban environments, nature’s riches are less accessible — but they are just as essential: the river that cuts through downtown Spokane, birdsong in a Duwamish Valley park along industrial corridors. Such sanctuary strengthens our spirits, bodies, minds and communities.
Vibrant blooms are the backdrop as visitors pass the afternoon in Spokane’s Manito Park. A pair of friends escapes from city streets via grassy paths toward a manicured English garden. In the humid greenhouses, tropical and exotic botanicals inspire awe. Tendrils curl and stretch to sip moisture from the air, and in the hush, a couple angles a smartphone to capture the colorful bursts.
Where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the power of the Pacific, father and son follow footsteps of their Makah ancestors along the bluff above. They tread no particular path yet are attuned to the life of the forest around them. Here are salmonberries, which arrive like clockwork each spring; here is a licorice fern with its edible, medicinal root. Massive stands of Sitka spruce once neighbored bustling longhouses. Today they oversee a quiet landscape that prompts reflection on time and tradition.
To grow beauty is both a job and a dream. Foxglove and zinnia demand close attention, but they reward with colorful splendor. A gardener transplants seedlings on her flower farm in the Methow Valley, her young son at her side. She brings life from the Earth to support her family and to one day brighten a local celebration.
The Tieton Canyon offers dramatic displays in any season. As months pass in this recreational corridor, Garry oaks change their costumes, and the river ebbs and swells. Green and yellow lichen color basalt columns, impossibly high until a thrill-seeking climber takes them on. Farther south, climbers clamber up Frenchman Coulee. Awaiting the brave? A bird’s-eye view of ancient plateaus below.
When we see nature as a part of who we are, we are inspired to protect it. Only when we take care of nature can we reap its greatest rewards. The ways in which we prize and conserve our environment define the legacy we will leave.
Horses, dirtbikes, quiet trails and a rushing river fill a ranger’s day in Riverside Park just outside Spokane. His shift sees moments of solitary reflection and conversations with day-trippers. At times he skirts the periphery, keeping close watch on the rules that keep the park safe and rewarding for a range of visitors. He protects nature by building relationships through a shared commitment to this cityside treasure.
A starter gun sounds, and paddles slice the sea in synchronicity. Teams of tribal members launch cedar canoes much the same as mariners set out centuries before. These wooden vessels are central to Washington’s coastal tribes — for fishing, hunting, building connections with neighbors. Today’s canoe races span generations and genders, bringing competition to age-old communion with the tides. Friends and family cheer from the shore, their voices carrying far across the water.
Thorny cactus, dry sage and stark plateaus are not the lush green and deep blue we often conjure when reflecting on natural grandeur. But for many, the shrub lands situated midstate are precious. Once comprising more than one-third of Washington, much of the historic shrub-steppe, along with its flora and fauna, is gone. Dedication to this underdog landscape brings volunteers out on a dry May morning to help recover a land preserve scarred by wildfire and nurse this harsh habitat back to health.
Winter settles in the Yakima Valley, and Rocky Mountain elk migrate in search of shrubs. Deep in the valley, farmers’ fields tempt with cold-weather crops and fallow fruit trees. Biologists keep the herds from venturing too close, though, providing plenty of hay at sites along the slopes. On neighboring Cleman Mountain, they feed California bighorn sheep. Both herds are transplants, introduced to repopulate Washington’s wilderness. Efforts today protect not only the animals’ future, but the valley’s agriculture, too.
Several steps straight up, out the hatch and suddenly above. Prairies below and turbines all around. An engineer ascends to service and maintain silent giants that draw power from the very air. With a vantage atop a windmill, he sees the morning sky transform through pink and blue. At the intersection of technology and conservation — where people and nature connect — he helps safeguard our future, as clean energy powers thousands of homes.
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