Where are you from?
Forests of cedars and firs, rivers in rainforests and deserts, cold snowy mountains, and an itch to explore both. Mine is the world of seeking the unknown, a physical challenge, the mental and cultural exploration. Small towns, big cities named after people long gone but whose people are still alive. People with which to explore, a simple set of gear to go. Large egos who seek a conquest where many are content to be humbled by nature’s imposing beauty. The same snow-capped mountains provide thrills of Cascade cement skiing or cementing avalanches. Alpine lakes, heather meadows, and valley upon valley to seek something new. And books about all of the above.
Seattle, in Washington State.
Yeah man! Grunge! Nirvana! Pot! Toke up and stick it to the man, right?!
No, not really. But if you’re interested, I’ll share with you the part of Seattle I’m from.
Seattle is on the map for a multitude of reasons: Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft, REI, Amazon, grunge, and even the nearby nature. It seems like many want to meet a ‘real grunge person’. When they find out I’m from Seattle, they hopefully project a stereotype on me that I must listen to Nirvana and smoke marijuana. When I tell them that I don’t care for either, they either re-insist that I must like Nirvana, ask my age, or end the conversation. Sometimes they ask for ‘the hook up’. I think these stereotypes are partly because I’m white, of which is also largely true for the grunge movement. Although I had friends who liked the popular Seattle music scene, which included Nirvana, I related to a Seattle no less nationally recognized or less white. I grew up valuing who someone was as a person as much as what they did for work. For me, this was a crowd mostly affiliated with the outdoors, mountains in particular, and organizations with which to explore.
People who became involved in clubs and organizations operated within legal institutions. My great-grandfather, for example, foresaw the decline in salmon through the ‘tragedy of the commons’ mindset in the northern Pacific. As a lawyer, he negotiated salmon treaties between the North Pacific Rim salmon nations: United States, Canada, Russia, and Japan. Multinational treaty negotiations aren’t as sexy as a rock concert, but he helped to save a cultural icon of the Northwest. Such negotiations call for strong tempered, thoughtful persons. They project respect, deliberation, and humility: no one gets to stand on a stage to be showered with adoring fans. While not everyone can or should be involved in such legal proceedings, my point is that culture can benefit from institutions and their actions.
It was the mountains, specifically Mt Rainier, which inspired the creation of some of the most iconic institutions and culture in the PNW. There are numerous books about The Mountain. Check out local author Bruce Barcott’s book “Measure of Mountain” on Amazon (a Seattle company) for a cultural, biological, recreational, and glacial overview of Mt Rainer. Mt Rainer put Seattle at the epicenter of US mountaineering when the Whittaker brothers used it as their training ground for the first US led ascent of Mt Everest. Where else can one find an abundance of glacier-clad peaks? Organizations such as The Mountaineers, REI, and guide services have brought others to the outdoors through organized trips or written books so that others may experience the wilderness on their own.
Around my family table and socials, certain names made the rounds: Otto Lang, Bob & Ira Spring, Harvey Manning, Louise Marshall, Warren Miller, Helen Thayer, and of course, my grandparents and their friends. On some level, each of these was driven by a desire to explore the outdoors, seek adventure, and share either the trip or stories with others. The latter encompasses a key part of my upbringing culture: sharing with others.
Sharing involves considering others and humility to see oneself as part of a team or a member of humanity. This stands in stark contrast to the individualistic and rejection of organizations associated with some of the stereotypical Seattle culture. It takes humility to rely on another for climbing, consideration to be cared for by another at camp, and a realization and love for humanity to want to inspire others to enjoy the outdoors.
Similar to those mentioned before, my deepest and longest relationships were forged in the outdoors. Nothing builds camaraderie like hiking over mountain passes in a blizzard or a scenic float down a river. In the outdoors I’ve engaged in conversations, savor vistas, and enjoy a quiet that makes rustling leaves resonate like a cacophony.
Where am I from? Seattle. The part of the city that’s dominantly oriented toward the outdoors. However, this is a lot to talk about, and frankly, most people probably don’t care about where I’m culturally ‘from’. So when asked, I either say “Washington State” or “The Northwest”.
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