“This much is clear to me. If I can’t change my own life in response to the greatest challenge now facing our human family, who can? And if I won’t make the effort to try, why should anyone else? So I’ve decided to start at home, and begin with myself. The question is no longer whether I must respond. The question is whether I can turn my response into an adventure.”  – Kurt Hoelting, author of Circumference of Home

We are excited to welcome author Kurt Hoelting as one of our keynote speakers during the NWEI North American Gathering this September!  He’ll be leading conference attendees through a workshop and address on Friday evening, September 16th at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, WA.  Kurt is the author of Circumference of Home, an inspiring book about one man’s quest for a radically local life.

Here is an excerpt from one of his essays, Dreaming of Salmon.  For the whole piece, please visit http://insidepassages.com/kurts-essays/dreaming-of-salmon/

I grew up by the shores of Puget Sound, dreaming of salmon. All my childhood summers were spent on Liberty Bay, in a cabin near Poulsbo. It’s where my strongest memories were wrought. Winters were passed somewhere in the confusion of the city. But with school’s ending each spring, we made a bee line for the cabin, and life began again. From earliest memory the waters of the Sound pulled me to them as inexorably as the tide.

There was magic in those waters, and nothing held more power in my imagination than the elusive salmon…We knew little, and understood less, about the true stature of salmon in the ecological and cultural heritage of our bioregion. But we knew our own yearnings. And the tenacity of our efforts to catch a salmon for ourselves, however futile, was testimony to the intrinsic power of this astonishing creature…

My own life is divided between two worlds, one to the north, one to the south, one of plenty, one of want. I am framed by the contrasts, unsettled by the collision of opposites. For years I have taken for granted the necessity of traveling long distances away from home to find what was once the heart and soul of my own region. I have become intimate with the waters of Bristol Bay and Southeast Alaska, while remaining a stranger to Puget Sound itself, even though more of my time is spent here than in Alaska. With the eclipse of the salmon in the Sound, the region slides toward economic irrelevance. Never mind that Microsoft is busy producing millionaires, and Boeing is filling the earth’s skies with ever larger jets. The salmon is gone, and with it goes the biological and cultural context that has held the region together since the retreat of the last ice sheet.

The cultural historian Thomas Berry has observed that our sense of the divine is linked inextricably to the diversity and splendor of the natural world. Nature provides the raw materials, the primordial soil out of which all imagination grows. As the exterior world shinks and decays, so goes the seed stock of natural inspiration. Perhaps it is our capacity for wonder that is the final victim of an unbridled devotion to progress. What does it mean to our collective imagination to gaze out on waters emptied of wild salmon? What does it mean to have scattered the cloud of witnesses – bear, wolf, orca, eagle, seal – who gathered so faithfully each year through the centuries to celebrate the salmon’s return? To my mind, nothing can ever replace salmon in the cultural imagination of the Pacific Northwest. The poet Gary Snyder is on the right track. He has suggested that we prepare a Ten-Thousand Year Plan for the Management of our National Forests. I propose a Ten-Thousand Year Plan for the restoration of wild salmon runs in Puget Sound. It’s a reasonable proposal, precisely because it offers a time frame that wild salmon understand. I’ll believe we have a chance when such a plan is proposed not by poets and philosophers, but by engineers and politicians. We will have reason for hope when, as a people, we understand that our endowment of the future extends far beyond the pittance of time that is granted ourselves and our immediate offspring. That endowment must include wild salmon, if we want it also to include children who dream.