I committed this month of December to walking my dogs 50 miles to raise money for St. Jude's Foundation. I don't really have a great passion about the non-profit, although they do great work. I just wanted a reason to continue to walk my dogs, and it seemed like a great motivation. And if I can raise a little money for charity while I am it, so much the better.
But 17 miles into the month, and I am seeing something that really bothers me.
A forest of trees, with no branches or leaves, or roots.
Nothing but weather-worn stumps left over from a by gone era when cash was king and the forests and seas of the Pacific Northwest made men rich without giving a single shit about the damage they caused.
In truth, these stumps stopped being trees long ago when they were felled to create an intricate dock system for a money hungry industry of logging and fishing that put Washington State on the Map.
The industry that created these hazards to navigation raped the landscape for all it was worth in the 19th century and when it dried up in the mid 20th century, shuddered the mills and canning factories, laid off the workers and walked away leaving an intricate framework of abandoned docks to be reclaimed by the tide and a slightly less intricate social problem of homelessness.
I first saw the remnants of the logging and fishing industry in the Southeastern Alaskan Rainforest. The derelict pilings in quaint little, rundown fishing villages that once bristled with masts and stunk of rotting fish corpses.
In Alaska, the boom of the 1800 and early 1900s, created dozens of outpost canaries and mills that were abandoned late last century and left to be washed away by the 30-foot Alaskan tide.
In Aberdeen, WA however, where I now make my home, the boom created not dozens, but hundreds and maybe thousands of mills and fish processing plants that burned down or were washed away decades before, after their owners cut their losses in the face of government regulation and natural resource depletion. The only remnant left of this once bustling economy is the banks of the rivers and harbors of The Olympic Peninsula, lined with the derelict pilings that once supported the families of this area.
Much like the Army of Homeless who pitch tents just shore-ward of these bristling lines of abatis defending against the enemy of public water access, these pilings stand for all to see as testament to the 20th century economic collapse of America. The ramshackle homes built of cardboard, tarps and wood pallets offer contrast to the well-ordered even spread pattern of rotting pilings emerging at the water surface on the low tides.
One imagines, that if they did dislodge the pilings from the muddy banks, you would unseat a toxic soup of heavy metals and pollution that has rested under an insulating layer of mud since the last century. That soup would likely mirror the runoff from the lives of the wretched souls who call these forests home, were we to untangle their chemical addiction and mental illness.
The Government no more wants to address the problems of the homeless than it wants to address the problem of the derelict pilings, due to apathy and fear of failure. So both sit and line the shores of the mighty Chehalis River for all to see, and ignore.
I moved here with a notion that I might start my voyage of exploration, sailing the West coast as I did the East coast. But alas, sailboats don't belong in Aberdeen. No more so than jobs, health care or homes for the poor do either.