Tag Archives: nature writing

‘Splendor at Risk’ still the refrain for Hood Canal

Twenty years ago today, the Kitsap Sun published the first story in a yearlong series of articles about the Hood Canal ecosystem. The following year, 1991, we compiled the series into a book, “Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk.”

All these years later, I still hear from folks who tell me that the book has given them a better understanding of natural systems. They say it has helped them realize why Hood Canal remains a special place to visit, to work and to live. I’m always pleased to hear from Hood Canal residents who tell me that this book retains a special place on their coffee tables or bookshelves.

With the hope that “Splendor at Risk” still has relevance today and to offer it free to more people, we are making the original publication available to read online (Scribd) or to download one chapter at a time (PDF).

Thinking back to the origins of the book, it all started with a notion by Mike Phillips, who had just become editor. He wanted to launch a big project to bring the staff together, so he solicited ideas on a broad range of topics. The idea to focus on Hood Canal came from Craig Darby, a reporter who had been pushing for a Hood Canal series even before Phillips arrived.

Until then, I had been reluctant to endorse Craig’s idea. I believed a comprehensive look at the entire Hood Canal ecosystem was too ambitious for one or two reporters, which had been the limit of our collaboration at the time. But when I heard that a dozen news reporters would be involved, I became enthusiastic. In the end, management of the project was turned over to City Editor Jeff Brody and me. We came up with an outline for a series of articles every month for a year.

We covered water resources, water quality, wetlands, fish, shellfish, forests and related jobs. We also covered human activities, such as places to visit, the Navy’s submarine base at Bangor and the rapid growth of housing development.

The one topic that we failed to anticipate — since the problem was not well understood — was Hood Canal’s growing low-oxygen problem.

Every news reporter on staff at the time played some role. I ended up writing about half the stories over the course of the year.

I still remember how I escaped from the bustle of the city to spend time in remote areas. One part of my mind focused on the science, while another tried to capture the mood for each environmental story. Each monthly series began with a scene-setter noting the specific time of year.

Gary and Celia Parrot, caretakers of the Klingel Wetlands outside of Belfair, helped me articulate how it feels to embrace the wildness of a place — something I wanted people to understand right up front. From the introduction published 20 years ago today:

It’s as if the human heart yearns for a more primitive experience, away from the cluttered pattern of modern life, says Celia Parrot, caretaker of the property.

“The reason I go out two or three times a day is not just to walk the dogs,” she said. “It’s like a refueling. I go out to get another dose of that intimate feeling….

“We have to get to know our forests and our marshes, so we know what we cannot do to them…”

The Sun’s designer/photographer at the time, Theresa Aubin, came up with a headline for that introductory piece. She called it “Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk.” The name stuck as the title for the entire series and the book.

When the project was finished, we thought we were done. But there were calls for reprints, and we conceived the book project. Jeff Brody reorganized the stories into logical chapters. We got help from the staff at Washington Sea Grant to design the pages and coordinate the publication. I undertook the tedium of creating a topical index.

Some 6,000 copies were produced in two printings, sold mostly through advance orders. And then the book was out of print. Thanks go to Phil Best of the Hood Canal Environmental Council for his continued interest through the years and his willingness to scan the pages into digital format so that everyone can read this book online.

We never submitted the book itself for any awards, but the Washington State Library System noticed it, and we were honored with a Governor’s Writing Award presented by Booth Gardner, governor at the time.

On the five-year anniversary of the series, I returned to the broad subject of Hood Canal and updated some of the major topics, but the connections of place and time were missing. Regular readers know that I frequently delve into Hood Canal issues in some depth — but not across the landscape that “Splendor at Risk” represents.

At the end of each monthly series, we offered a list of things that people could do to help Hood Canal. In the book, the list became a chapter unto itself, and it is interesting to read that now. Many of the suggestions call for people to learn, get involved in projects and demand action from their government. If I were to make such a list for Hood Canal and Puget Sound today, it would not be much different.

At the time we wrote the series, a project of this scope was highly unusual for a newspaper our size. In the newspaper business today, with shrinking staffs, such a project seems even more remote.

I want to add that I’m proud to work for a publication that encourages environmental reporting. Thinking back to 20 years ago, I realize that this yearlong reporting effort infused me with insights that have stayed with me and grown through the years. Here is how I expressed those thoughts in the preface to the book, written 19 years ago:

Hood Canal has changed me. Even though I’ve worked for The Sun for 14 years, I am not the same writer I was a year ago. Even though I’ve lived in the Northwest for 21 years, I am not the same person.

It isn’t so much the beauty of Hood Canal that has me enchanted. At some point, it’s best to get beyond the pure splendor of the place. Call it an appreciation that the wildness of nature still exists, one small life linked to another, all struggling to survive, humans included.