A Reluctant Environmental Activist is Born

On this perfect Independence Day—70°, beautiful blue sky, mild breeze drifting down the Salish Sea, the Olympics glowing on the horizon—there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than wandering by myself in a quiet forest glen, taking pictures of warblers and Cooper’s Hawks. Perhaps coming back later to do some writing: a blog entry or the draft of a new article. Yet here I am in my study, setting up group Facebook pages, reading about tragedies in unregulated industries, planning protests and organizing people to go to meetings.

View of Olympic Mountains across the Salish Sea from West Seattle

Forest glen, Lincoln Park

It all started exactly a week ago, when my friend Melanie emailed me that my beloved city—that same city that’s known nationwide for its environmental bent—has been working for a year in secret on a proposal to establish a for-profit commercial “zipline adventure” in one of the most densely wooded parts of our park. They were collaborating with a UK company peculiarly called “Go Ape,” hoping to allow Go Ape to destroy 9 acres of habitat and serenity (and in the process, earn potentially over $2 million a year) in exchange for approximately 50¢ city revenue per neighborhood resident.

What? How could I have missed this?

That same day, Melanie alerted our wonderful neighborhood news source, the West Seattle Blog. The WSB’s editor scoured the Internet to see how, with her consistently diligent scouting for West Seattle-related news items, she could have overlooked this…and found nothing about the discussions, anywhere. Turns out that there’s not only been no public notice, but not even any mention of this idea available online at all for the past year.

The editor broke the story publicly the next day; it generated 245 comments, remarkable for our little community. (WSB’s further updates are here and here.)

I don’t like getting angry, I don’t get a thrill out of conflict, I dislike the us-versus-them mentality that so often goes along with political activism, I resent the pressure to take a side and call it the Way of Truth and Justice, with those who disagree becoming Those Awful People Who Represent Everything That’s Wrong With Society.

I don’t wanna fight City Hall.

Yet here I am.

We birders and naturalists, we who love quiet walks in nature or sitting peacefully beside a stream, tend to be introverts. We often don’t like muss and fuss and would frequently rather just stay out of the fray, letting the extroverts lead meetings and talk with the press and get videotaped for the 11:00 news. I’m very happy to research and write quietly about the importance of our connection with nature, peaceful in my sweet little study beside the balcony burgeoning with birdfeeders, but it’s hard for me to work up the extroverted energy necessary to organize and contribute to group activities. So it can take a lot to get people like me “riled up,” as one newspaper article put it.

However, it looks like the prospect of having 3,000 people a week swinging and screaming and swearing their way through my forest’s canopy is enough. I’d rather have them in my own back yard than terrifying baby hawks, alarming eagles, scattering warblers. And I’d rather my city had asked me earlier.

How do I argue effectively for protecting wildlife and urban contemplative natural space while not vilifying those with other perspectives? What compass can I use to wind my way through the complex alleyways of activism while maintaining lightheartedness and joy? How can I help my forest while staying grounded in peace?

St. Ignatius, by whose thought I’ve been deeply influenced, emphasized contemplatio in actione: contemplation in action. That is, he believed that a deep reflectivity (prayer) could take the form of acting in the world; action thus grounded could then in turn become a path to God [1]. For me, action has always seemed to detract from a contemplative way of life—but maybe now’s a good time to learn otherwise.

Continuing adventures of a reluctant environmental activist, here we come.

Peaceful Lincoln Park – for now


11 responses to “A Reluctant Environmental Activist is Born

  1. Reblogged this on What it's like and commented:
    Please read–

  2. This is so lovely and so heartfelt! I agree, agree, agree! I’m with you too!!

  3. Beautifully said…and I agree with you totally. But, I have to believe there is a silver lining to all this. Maybe when all this nonsense is over, those of us who know nature as a lifeline to well-being will have a stronger voice in the community. I think when something so appalling like this almost happens, then people see they must demand it neverhappen again. Then, we can go back to our studios, and enjoy our walks in forest solitude. Maybe there will be a few more of us wandering around in the parks…but I think that’s a good thing. Hang in there! You’re not alone!

  4. Denise, thank you for your inspiring comment. I do believe you’re right!

  5. Erica H Meade

    Trileigh, Thanks much for organizing and for sharing the, thoughts and photos! Lincoln Park is so well utilized just as it is, by birders, picnickers, joggers, photographers, artists, swimmers, cross country runners, kayakers, beach combers, paddle boarders, fisher-folk, kite fliers, dog walkers, bikers, fitness groups, school groups, family groups and more. I’ve seen wedding vows exchanges there, and heard prayers offered complete with drum beats at the water’s edge. I’ve watched school kids meet their first clam up close and personal when the tide is low. Lincoln Park serves the public beautifully, just as it is, while providing a home for beloved wildlife. We do not need a tourist attraction to create traffic problems and destroy habitat! See you at the meeting Tuesday.

    • Thank you, Erica, how kind. Of course it’ll be wonderful to see you on Tuesday for this issue that means to much to so many of us (human and other)!

  6. So very well said. I sympathize fully, and struggle in much the same way when it comes to things like this.
    Do you have links to the facebook page?

    • Green Woman, thanks so much. It’s really good to know there are others out there who experience this tension.
      The Facebook group page is currently at http://www.facebook.com/groups/373385586060418/. Some of us are thinking it would make sense to change the name of the group to a positive one aimed at preservation rather than stopping the current problem – which we did! So stay tuned.

  7. Pingback: Saving Place | Natural Presence

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