My wife Carolynne and I travelled to Eastern Oregon to get away from our daily chores. Joseph was our chosen destination, with its environment and ethos so different from our own. I remembered a trip I took in 1997, with my late wife Audrey. We were about to move to Japan for two years, and expecting limited contact with home. Wallowa Lake was perfect for our last memories of Oregon. We stayed in an old lodge with no telephone service, no internet, no television; yes running water, lighting and heating. The deer grazed on the grass, among the tall trees fronting Wallowa Lake, a wonderfully peaceful and relaxing sight.
Now 2019 at Wallowa Lake, I searched around to find where we stayed. We walked down the road, and there it was, 22 years on, unchanged! We stayed an extra night in the area so that I could experience the lodge again.
My situation was so different from my first visit. The younger me was about to take on a major challenge. Now I am retired, older, wanting to recapture again this precious environment, which like so many are in danger of being irreversibly changed.
So, what had changed? For me, nothing. The environment, the focus on nature, still no TV or pets on site, however the lodge does now have Wi-Fi.
We had the good fortune to be there when a walk and talk about the lodge was offered. Silas, an elder in the Nez Perze tribe, and James, from a nonprofit organization that was part of the wildlife and fisheries organization, gave us a tour of the site that the lodge occupied and its history. It was a life-changing event. The tour involved walking around the land surrounding the lodge and sharing its history and current status. They explained that this site was the focal point for returning this area back to its habitat before the land was settled. The wetlands had receded, the habitat for the indigenous wildlife at best was diminished, at worst gone. Without healthy water in rivers feeding the lake the fish population had disappeared, so, the birds went elsewhere for food, and so the cycle of life changed and the environment was changed potentially forever. Over the last decade, thanks to the efforts of the local tribes and conservation nonprofit organizations working with the various government departments, there has been a remarkable recovery of the local habitat. Wetlands are recovering, the streams restored to their natural state, allowing algae to reappear, encouraging the indigenous salmon to return to their original habitat and, of course, other animals are returning as their food sources reappear. It is a miracle of nature.
This brought us to the moment of choice: Did we care? We witnessed the enthusiasm and joy on Silas' and James' faces as they talked about the return of indigenous life. I could see that they did not care about how far they still needed to go. They celebrated each victory as a step towards the final goal. We were enthralled and became members to the cause to bring the area back to where it could be self-sustaining again.
My mind drifted back to my home in Belfast, a relatively new industrial city in an old land that has long since lost its original indigenous character. A good or bad thing? The landmass of Ireland is tiny compared to America, and parks have been set aside but, because of its history, they do not reflect its indigenous past. The Irish elk, grey wolves, the medieval forests are all gone. Yes we have our parks, but not the untouched original lands like the ones that exist in America.
Take care that they too do not vanish.
I believe that the Native American attitude to all living things demonstrates the way to respect Mother Nature in our lives and help everything — humans, plants, animals — to flourish for many generations to come. Then our children and our children's children can continue to be spellbound by the miracle of Mother Nature.
Roy Houston is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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