Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thinking about Local

Barry Lopez, About This Life, The American Geographies, Page 134

"In forty thousand years of human history, it has only been in the last few hundred years or so that people could afford to ignore their local geographies as completely as we do and still survive."

I wouldn't say that people in the Pacific Northwest completely ignore their local geographies but it is something to think about. I sometimes see in the Local Food movement a tendency not to ignore maybe; but a lack of effort to really deeply understand local. It's easy to get caught up in techniques and practices that are shared throughout the country and believe that networking at a national scale will bring a game-changing idea to Seattle. That's not completely unlikely but I wonder if, when that technique or practice is used, how deeply anyone is focusing on what is uniquely here that we need to accommodate. The geography of a place includes the people, wildlife, plants, topography and, realistically, all the human modifications that have made it. To think local, I think it is important to retain the unique aspects of the place-- not in a Luddite or reactionary effort--but because each place really is unique and we forget that.

For me, kingfishers and Orca whales define the places west of the Cascades in Washington. For others it might be a certain butterfly; for others a building style or a neighborhood. Whatever it is now defines it and we can't completely turn back the clock. But when we start something new and are not mindful of what we might change by adding something new, we lose things without realizing it. I see the effort to use the best practices from other places doing this. That is what has occurred in the US since it was founded but it seems contradictory to the movement for local, smaller-scale networks. I'm not saying we shouldn't learn or change; just that we should stop and think.

Standing in one spot, looking around, breathing in the smell and listening to the sound of a place is worth doing. It's a subjective experience and can't be completely static but I think that there is a human need to feel rooted and connected. In a rush to get something done we sometimes lose that. It's something to think about.

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