Sunday, October 28, 2001

A chilly, greyish afternoon disoriented by the time change. So much to sort out. I feel that writing everything out will help to order my thoughts and shape the events of of the last few days, but I still hesitate to reveal the randomness and inchoateness of my state of mind in this public place. Two external factors are pressing at the moment: unpacking tomorrow at the new office location 45 miles away and the 60 + mid-term exams I need to review and critique (but, thankfully, not give final grades) by Wednesday.

Today's Los Angeles Times Magazine featured an interesting (long) article by Barry Siegel about Waldron Island, one of the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state. It is a study of the society that exists on an island with no electricity or public services and that wants to stay isolated from the mainland, especially from its tourists and developers. It's about the struggle to define the boundaries of a community that is dedicated to tolerance: "Everyone is allowed and accepted. Yet...that tolerance is Waldron's greatest problem. People [on Waldron] have trouble intruding and imposing their will. Making judgments is hard, as is setting rules." A marijuana raid focuses this dilemma.

A thought-provoking aspect of the article is the author's self-awareness that, by writing a story about a community that doesn't want attention from the rest of the world, he brings about that very attention.
My presence has convulsed Waldron, pitting neighbors against each other....[I]t feels as if I've activated ancient fault lines that might otherwise have lain dormant.

Some here welcome such a prospect. This is good for the island, they maintain. This forces people to address issues, to define Waldron. The debate over my presence has swollen into yet another of Waldron's elemental, never-ending quests for survival.

I was especially intrigued by the article because of my experience in my first job after college. I worked for a social service agency in a remote community in NW Washington that struggled with similar issues and disputes. On one side of the street was a tavern frequented by out-of-work loggers sporting "Eat spotted owl soup" bumper stickers on their pickups. On the other side was the tavern run by the "Save the spotted owl" crowd. Of course, as the article points out, the sides are never that defined, and people cross from one side to the other.

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