Photo by: John Levesque

A Letter from Forterra

By Gene Duvernoy

With this 6th issue of Ampersand, we have now collected 72 stories about the people and surrounding landscapes that make this the Pacific Northwest we love. Stories about what makes the place tick and stories about people working to make sure it never stops.

I’ve set myself a job to connect the dots between some of the latest of these stories—those appearing in this edition. They’re my connections; you’ll have different ones, but no matter, together they sum to a vibrant resiliency for this place, which is what Forterra is about.

I opened a pre-print draft of this Ampersand and with its first story instantly I was back in 1983—or maybe 1893… didn’t know it was a time machine—but good stories do that. I was backpacking to Horseshoe Basin in the Pasayten with my wife Carolyn in August 1983. We spent a cold night—so cold our water bottles froze—surrounded by the unnerving sound of bells and rustling. Not a bird-in-the-bush rustle (or a dozen or twelve dozen birds either), more like the sound of an army on the march. What the hell was going on?

Next morning, cold, stiff and bewildered, the answer came. A huge flock of sheep had passed through overnight. Differences between then and now? Few, I think. The shepherds then were Basque; today they’re Peruvian. Otherwise same animal and same timeless job of shepherding. Like I said, 1983 or 1893.

Our region’s evolution over the last four decades is reflected in the very next article on Seattle’s Higo. Carolyn and her friend Gei visit today’s Higo—now called KOBO—regularly. It’s a place with the flavor of old Japantown, the style of modern Japan and the verve of today’s Seattle. I remember years past when the Murakami sisters ran the place. To the west was a pawn shop run by an old-world couple. On my lunch hour we would banter across their collection of hocked watches. The pawn shop space is now MOMO, a ready companion to KOBO.

This same old couple—or perhaps it was their parents—while running the pawn shop, watched over the Jackson building and the Higo store for the Murakami family during World War II, when the family was interned in Minidoka, Idaho. An endearing wisp of family-to-family kindness in stark contrast to our massive national mistake. To me, this tiny corner of the International District has successfully pivoted to today’s city—and it’s worth pondering why. Surely part of the reason is that it stayed in scale and character. It both honors and refreshes its past.

 

A sustainable region is a place where its people can set roots deep. It's these roots that in turn commit its people to the region's sustainability.

Lake Serene is a more complex, freighted connection. Several years ago I was with an old friend and a new one, hiking off-trail to Serene and then up a snow route to Index Peak. The new friend had a minor accident, so I stayed with him whiling the time by tracking my old friend crossing steep snow fields to the peak above. I understood then and there that we were not made the same way—perhaps even from different subspecies. Traverses that would take all my concentration and meager ability, he sashayed across as if strolling in Volunteer Park. A few years later he was swept away by an avalanche that had no right being where it was.

I could continue spinning this web of connections, rivaling an orb-weaving spider. Here’s just one more. The Station on Seattle’s Beacon Hill clearly is a great third place—know the term? In the same way a salmon run signals the health of a stream, third places are the indicator species of healthy, cohesive neighborhoods. They’re where we gather as a community to share, grouse and dream. We have a few in our neighborhood: Capitol Hill. One is a restaurant a block away where we often spend part of a Friday night. Have for years and so have many other neighborhood families while Marty and Jorge keep it humming. Marty keeps us posted on his Greek dance group and Jorge on his kids’ latest victories and travails. Neither office nor living room, it’s a third kind of place, which beckons us heedless of the dismal rain or blazing sun. It helps makes a collection of homes into a neighborhood—like The Station does for Beacon Hill.

These are my connections. You’ll have others. Or you will, if you stay in the region for any length of time. So what am I saying here? Two things, really. A sustainable region is a place where its people can set roots deep. It’s these roots that in turn commit its people to the region’s sustainability. I can’t divide the whole of this, this interdependence of people and place. I can only illustrate it by showing how I’ve personally intersected with many of these stories.

So there’s the ‘why’ behind Ampersand: to give voice to all the discordant, harmonious, enlivening and disconcerting stories of this place that somehow coalesce to make us the great Pacific Northwest—the great sustainable Pacific Northwest. We’re not trying to define the inchoate. We’re simply storytellers for that mind-boggling, irreducible mix of nature and people that make this the place we love.

Gene Duvernoy
President, Forterra

  • Gene Duvernoy

    Gene Duvernoy is President of Forterra. He’s spent more than 30 years working on land conservation and building community, founding Forterra in 1989 in his attic. Since then he’s led the organization to national prominence by creating bold, innovative and successful programs that improve the quality of life for all residents.
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