As humans, understanding the complex environments and timeline of change is something we are ill-equipped to do, given our short lifespans and the complicated interactions that define ecological systems.
The Southwest Washington coast is exceptionally dynamic and fundamentally defines this place. We have selected two points of entry to understand this remarkable ecosystem. Each is a complex web of energy systems in constant motion. One defines the region with a time horizon of 100 years and the other illustrates dramatic annual change. This is the context for the relationship between the environment, individuals, and communities.
The first, coastal temperate rain forest, with its summer fog, is the foundation of this place and its identity. Everything springs from this exceptionally rich biological system of nutrient transfer from forest to sea and back. It is why this place has been occupied for millennia. It provides nourishment and economic development. It defines the way humans engage with infrastructure, and it creates a potent place connecting humans with regional identity.
The second is a specific site, Washaway Beach and the adjoining cranberry bogs, where the collision of ocean and terrestrial systems results in the loss of 50 to 100 feet of beach every year. The loss of the beach and dune systems equals the future demise of the bogs. A galvanized community of homeowners and cranberry farmers is engaged in an ongoing experiment, working with the coastal systems to restore the beach and dune ecosystems. Here, the small community has engaged in close observation and experimental stewardship in partnership with a dynamic living system.
Through these two conditions, our intention is to provide access to an impossibly complex topic. Comprehending the critical thread between things creates a web of understanding, placing the pieces of the environmental puzzle in a larger structure. Both conditions illustrate the importance of paying close attention to place, with respect and curiosity for the environment. This creates a relationship of caretaking and humility founded on observation, interdisciplinary thinking, risk-taking, and knowledge that our approach to cohabitation might fail. The dynamic power of the landscape is intrinsically enmeshed in community life and creates a unique opportunity to understand the connections between complex ecosystems and community vitality.