My fellow readers out there will know how this happens~ you read one good book and glance at the bibliography, then you’re off on a marvelous wandering journey.  This is how I came to be reading “Salmon in the Trees”.  I thought it would be a scientific discussion about nutrient cycling.  It is, but it is so much more.  Artwork and essays by a myriad of people accompany gorgeous photography.  It has been a feast.

I’ve learned a startling thing from this book that I want to share with you.  There is evidence that the native tribes have lived in the Tongass area of Alaska for about 10,000 years!  This is much longer than I was taught in college.  In this incredibly rich area, these people lived in harmony with their world all this time without depleting it.  For example, baskets were woven from the roots of spruce trees.  They were always careful not to take so many roots that the tree would die.

By contrast, think of Easter Island.  It is interesting that throughout time, in one place after another, the pattern of human civilization has been to strip an area of it’s natural resources and then move on.  And yet, the peoples of the Tongass didn’t.  Although their culture faltered when white people descended on them, they rallied and today their culture is alive and well.

So about the Tongass that I keep mentioning.  For as long as I can remember I have received pleas to write letters in defense of the Tongass National Forest.  I generally did, although I never planned to visit it.  Turns out it is a really, really big old-growth forest.  It may well be the only intact ecosystem left on the planet.  How exciting that there is a place where no species have been lost, where streams run clear enough to support salmon and bears and eagles and wolves and….trees.  The trees are fed by the nutrients from dead fish, and in turn the trees create the right kinds of streams for the fish.  The bears carry salmon into the woods, take a bite and leave.  This seeming waste is what feeds the forest.  It is an incredibly elegant  loop, and we haven’t wrecked it!

Today, increasing numbers of people are moving there to escape what we’ve created in the lower 48.  While I find this sad, it cheers me to read their determination to follow the lead of the native peoples and take their living from the land without hurting it.  It isn’t too late to restore the rest of our states, and raise our quality of life into the bargain.  I think we need to beware the economists who measure our well-being in terms of growth and new-housing starts.  That simply cannot go on forever.  At some point we as a people are going to have to stop racing “forward” and start being stewards of this amazing land.  Just think of it- doesn’t the thought of all of us collectively slowing down lower your blood pressure?  Maybe we could build more bike paths and fewer box stores :).

Which brings me to rootedness.  I think few of us can trace our lineage back 10,000 years in one place….I suppose few would want to if it comes to that.  But I like the idea of planting my flag and saying, “here.  Here is where I’ll stay.”  And learning the rhythms of a place, and finding my spot.  There is no one place my family is from, which leaves me the dizzying choice of where to land.  Hmmmm…..

Published by melissabluefineart

visit me at to see my original paintings available for sale.

16 thoughts on “Rootedness

  1. Please see the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council web site at We are the only coalition of conservation organizations working in the Tongass. We have been trying to find the balance between sustainable village economies and preserving the way of life for over 40 years.

    1. Thank you for writing to me and directing us to your website. I worried that I was painting too rosy a picture of the struggles that have taken place in the Tongass, and which will likely continue. You have my sincerest gratitude and respect for the work you have done.

  2. Please visit the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council web site at We have been working in the Tongass for over 40 years trying to find the balance between sustainable economies in the villages and protection of the forest and people in it. The state of Alaska is very pro-development and does not recognize the sovereign rights of the Native people.

  3. Absolutely beautiful post…and artwork. Thank you. I love the wisdom of the Tongass native tribes, the collaboration with nature, the respect and sacredness of who and what they are. You share so beautifully the connection between all Life there – the trees, the salmon, the bears.

    Just this weekend my husband (who works in banking, so follows the ‘economic growth’ in ways I do not) and I were having a conversation about what it means to be ‘prosperous’ and ‘successful’ economically. I share your perspective – that there are times and ways in which that striving to ‘grow’ becomes a vast raping of the grace, beauty and wisdom of our lands…and so…of who WE are.

    So glad you visited and commented on my post today. I’m delighted to have found your beautiful self. xoxo

  4. I live in a large city in TX and have always wanted to live someplace else. Because of jobs, friends, and our house, that’s simply not feasible at the moment. I suspect many people feel this way. However, as long as we’re still here, we’re doing our best to live as simply and “off the grid” as much as possible. We’ve started a compost and vegetable garden, installed subsurface irrigation, work and shop in our neighborhood, walk rather than drive as much as possible, and recycle everything that we can. Sadly, we’re one of the few. Most of our neighbors and friends are much more materialistic, basing their quality of life on the size of their houses and the cars they drive. We’re trying to live on less and have discovered that less truly is more, and we have enough to be happy. I think things are starting to change in our country, and that our tough economic times will actually turn out to be a good thing for all of us by forcing us to scale down and rethink some of the choices we’ve made in the past. We can certainly learn a lot from the native American cultures in that respect.

    1. Thank you for your response. I envy how well you are living your values! I agree so much, that this economic downturn will turn out to be a good thing in the long term. Our Forest Preserve District has been able to buy land that it never could have otherwise, and I see people walking or riding bicycles every day, even in the snow. Extended families are living together more, now, too which seems like a good thing. We in America prefer to think of ourselves as independent but the truth is we need each other. Where would you like to live, if you had the choice?

      1. I would love to live somewhere out west. My daughter lives in Portland, and I do love Oregon. The trees are so amazing. I also love Wyoming, but I think the long winters would get to me. I would like to live someplace where I am close to the mountains, where I can hike or run on trails. And someplace where it isn’t 100+ degrees for 69 consecutive days would be nice, too!

      2. Oh, yeah, I was in Texas two summers ago and I couldn’t believe how HOT it was. Me too, I love Portland. I think they are doing promising things there. I miss seeing mountains and hearing surf. Maybe one day…


  5. I love this post! I can’t even fathom being able to trace my lineage 10,000 years back to one place. To have that kind of deep sense of where you come from, that kind of rootedness, must feel incredible (that’s an assumption since I can’t begin to relate to that kind of feeling).

    Your point about how civilizations tend to follow this pattern of overusing the land called to mind Angkor Wat. I’ve never been there, but when I see pictures of it my initial reaction is of disbelief that a civilization capable of building such marvelous structures and exploiting the land in such innovative ways finally died off. But that was always the problem: they were exploiting the land (even if they didn’t want to destroy it), and their ingenious water management and farming technologies failed them in the end. It sounds so cynical of me to say this, but isn’t it more likely that the last hundred years of breakneck development and technological advance is an exception rather than a new norm? I guess one way or another we’ll have to change our ways. I just hope we’re smart about it.

    1. Thank you! I have read about Angkor Wat, too, and am also amazed but the scale of their development. I have to agree that the way we are going is worrisome. It sometimes feels like we are racing toward a brick wall as fast as we can! Still, I am encouraged by the growth of solar and wind energy programs, and a growing trend in “green” architecture. Best wishes for the holiday weekend~melissa


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