Last week I packed up my notes and a few copies of Downwind and drove an hour and a half north of Seattle in the wee hours of the morning. I was headed to the town where I grew up, to give a few radio interviews and speak to a local writers guild.
My parents still live in Sedro-Woolley, a small Pacific Northwest farming and logging town in the Skagit Valley, tucked against the Cascade foothills. Driving the backroads from their house to my first engagement, I reveled in the rippling furrows of freshly turned soil, the glassy and crooked Skagit River winding between the fields, the aging barns still standing.
I don't get back there as often these days. My life in Seattle is rich and busy and complex, a tangle of research, parenting, marriage, writing, editing, waitressing, home-owning, and community. Driving across the Skagit on the Francis Road a few miles from the community college where I studied over 15 years ago, I was struck by a realization:
The place I grew up, so distant from my current thinking, fundamentally informed my research and writing in Downwind.
From an early age, I was surrounded by the people and processes of agriculture and resource extraction. As kids we went to the dairy to get milk in glass bottles. My brother and I walked past tiny, dilapidated migrant worker shacks on our way home from the schoolbus. We picked raspberries every summer for spending money, uncomfortably aware that the families who labored alongside us were picking for rent and groceries rather than movie tickets. My sister and I shoveled manure for the chance to ride horses at the small ranch down the road. Our mother brought us inside from the yard when the pesticide sprayers arrived, and we watched the harvesting machinery from our kitchen table while we ate breakfast before school. Logging trucks rumbled down our highway, taking lumber out of the North Cascades, and our town hosted an annual "Loggerrodeo" to showcase the skills of its timber workers. Volunteers from our high school filled sandbags every winter to stem the floodwaters of the Skagit. Our parents still live in our childhood home across the street from the Mapes Farm, a family operation that has grown potatoes, carrots, and raspberries, among other crops, for decades. The rhythms and labors of agri-culture and resource extraction culture surrounded me as a young person.
When I found myself in the farming, ranching, and resource extraction communities of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, and Nevada, struggling to understand the impacts of nuclear testing and uranium mining, I drew on the language and the culture of my childhood to engage in conversations with the members of those communities. Familiar with the terminology and vernacular of the rural, I found common ground with my interviewees, becoming more deeply invested in their stories as a citizen and a scholar.
Despite my great love for the city in which I now reside, my roots will always stretch toward the rural. My concern for the people and places that produce our food and resources will always inform my work.
It was an honor and a pleasure to speak to:
Jodie Buller of Speak Up, Speak Out Radio (interview to air Tuesday, April 22 at 5 pm on 91.7/ksvr.org)
and Ann Bodle Nash of Skagit Talks Radio. (interview to air Tuesday, April 14 at 5 pm on 91.7/ksvr.org)