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KEEN Connects: Gratitude for our Place in the World

As much as I do it to educate others, I work with KEEN to educate myself about the environment. We live in a very special place. The Cascades, the Yakima River, the shrub-steppe and its plant and animal life, the rocks and the soil, the labor of generations of farm and ranch families and farm workers, and the commitment of teachers and citizen conservationists and dedication of talented resource managers make our place in the world especially beautiful.

I am always grateful for this when my family and I take our annual Christmas road-trip to Tucson. More than any other place, the Sonora desert holds my heart. Each time I visit my family and friends there, a little more of my heart is broken. Unsustainable development consumes more and more of the desert and its precious resources. I see it out the window of the car and in the faces of the people there, whose health and economic well-being are impacted by contaminated water and air and the stresses of driving in a city with a poorly-designed transportation network. On the other hand, I am encouraged by what seems to be increased awareness of the need for more sustainable development and of the preciousness of the desert ecosystem by those who live there.

We go south through Idaho and Utah to visit my husband’s family on the way, and then drive north through central California on I-5 to come home. Seeing the drought-stricken farmland and orchards from the driver’s seat, breathing the ever-present stench of industrial dairy farms, and navigating the intense semi-truck traffic make for a harrowing experience. Once past the severely-depleted Shasta Lake and as we head into the Pacific Northwest, I breathe more easily. The drive through Oregon, up the Columbia River Gorge, and into Washington is always a reminder of how fortunate we are to live here.

It is ever-more important that we, as a community, come to better understand why our place is one of the best places in the world to live. We cannot afford not to. Economic development, our health, and our happiness depend on it. We need to conserve and preserve our water, our air quality, our soil, our wildlife – the precious environment we love and depend upon. We need to keep our place livable with well-considered sustainable development. All of us need to better understand the challenges, the benefits, and the blessings that come with doing it.

As 2017 begins, I resolve to do more to educate myself about what’s happening here in Ellensburg and Kittitas County that impacts the environment and guides development. I resolve to pay closer attention to decisions being made locally and in Olympia, how they are made and by whom. I resolve to become familiar with opportunities citizens have to participate in decision-making. I resolve to more carefully observe the outcomes of policy-making affecting our community. It occurs to me that doing these things requires no special expertise. It occurs to me that it is not something that I can do alone. It occurs to me that working on it in cooperation with others must be a priority in our lives. It is as important to our well-being as our jobs, our educations, our ministries, and the other things to which we dedicate our lives. It can bring us together. It can make us happier in the new years to come.

Stefanie Wickstrom has lived in Ellensburg off and on since 1986. She has served on KEEN’s board since 2008 and now works as its treasurer. She graduated from CWU in political science in 1988, and went on to get an MA in Latin American studies at the University of Arizona, and to finish a PhD in political science at the University of Oregon. She worked as a professor of environmental studies and politics at Green Mountain College in Vermont and, in recent years, as a senior lecturer at CWU in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, Department of Political Science, and in Latino and Latin American studies, environmental studies, interdisciplinary studies, and women's studies. She has worked in Spain, Panamá, Chile, and México.

KEEN Connects is a monthly column produced by Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) board members and volunteers. KEEN’s focus is on creating an ecologically and environmentally literate citizenry who connect and engage with their surroundings. Our goals include establishing the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center, restoring native habitats at Helen McCabe Park, and helping our community make lifestyle and behavioral decisions that support the ecological integrity of our region. You can find out more about KEEN at

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