Friday, April 28, 2017

Yakima Valley College

Yakima Valley with Antanum Ridge in background. Wiki media

Lewis and Clark were the first non-natives to visit the Yakima Valley in 1805. Their Corps of Discovery was searching for easy passage to the Pacific Ocean (it doesn't exist) and perhaps a living Jefferson giant ground sloth (they only found fossils). What they did find at this high mountain plateau was rich fertile basaltic soil and the Yakama people. 

The valley itself marks the beginning of arid flatland formed 14 to 17 million years ago by continuous lava flows from the Columbia River Basalt Group of volcanoes that make up the Cascade Mountains to the west. Basalt is a key word here, practically everywhere you look you find the aged volcanic rock still erect in columns, crumbling or weathered into soil.

Almost 212 years after Lewis and Clark, I had been invited to Yakima Valley College (founded in 1928 as Yakima Valley Community College) to present a series of lectures and talks about writing, nature journaling and natural history wonders shared by both Washington state and Tennessee. I also spoke of my second book Ghost Birds and its creation which is more than a book about a single endangered species. 

Ghost Birds captures an era, the 1930s, when the conservation paradigm was changing. The overriding question of the day: If we can save a vanishing species, shouldn't we? My visit was part of their YVC Reads celebration of Aldo Leopold and his seminal work: A Sand County Almanac and the college's Earth Day observance.

The student body at YVC is widely diverse, something I relished. My one-on-one conversations at their Earth Fest were heartwarming given the political climate we find ourselves in today. In the parlance of a paleontologist, as the modern day Age of pallid male Dinosaurs gives way to the Age of Mammals. In nature, change, growth and evolution are the natural order. You can resist and deny it but you simply cannot stop it. Roadblocks can be erected or threatened, but like the Berlin Wall, they cannot be sustained. Humanity is a molten entity. Just ask anthropology professor Eric Anderson who invited me in the first place.

Yakima Valley College is going through something of a rebirth itself. Many of the art-laden buildings are new. They surround a nascent circular courtyard or commons where I often sat during breaks to watch birds.

While in Yakima, I was the house guest of Anderson and his teacher wife Chandra. They were exceedingly gracious. Early every morning I had my coffee gazing through a wall of glass across the valley at Antanum Ridge and sometimes, if it chose to present itself, 12,276 foot tall snow-capped Mt. Adams (known by Native Americans as Pahto). Mount Ranier (Tacoma) and what's left of Mt. Saint Helens (Lawetlat'la) are within the same general vicinity.

In addition to the Andersons, I also thank the other professors I met who welcomed me warmly: Mark Fuzie, Dr. Heidi Shaw, Dr. Meghan Fitzgerald and Dr. Ken Zontek. 

And thank you Wilma Dulin and Amber Cliett for the behind the scenes arraignments that made my trip possible.

Peace to you, Yakima.   

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