Big Ideas in the Middle of Nowhere


Novemeber 6, 2011

overlooking the Little White Salmon River
     Moving to Windward required that I adjust in many ways to a new way of life. Perhaps I was better prepared then most, given my rural upbringing and general disposition towards feeling most at home when my feet are on soft ground, I have dirt under my fingernails and I am woken by birdsong and wind. However, Windward is located in what one might call "deep country", more than just a stone's throw from "rural." And in this deep country, I have found the things I have had to adjust to are the very things that I have come to cherish the most.

     For example, when the grocery store is an hour drive away, the concept of "neighbors" becomes relative. A neighborly visit may extend for a few hours as we catch up on local news, share new insights and projects, discuss potential business endeavors or trades. And I am frequently impressed by the integrity of character, clarity of insight, the independence of thought that I find in our neighbors. It seems that if you are patient and know how to listen, you will find that the middle of nowhere attracts and/or breeds people that come up with some big, life changing, and really good ideas.

Hank showning Lindsay and Opalyn the forest he stewards

     We recently had the pleasure of visiting (and meeting for the first time) a neighbor of ours, Hank Patton, in Underwood, WA, which is about an hour drive from Windward. Hank stewards farm and forestland that overlooks the Columbia River Gorge, and his organization World Stewards offers educational opportunities for folks of all ages that want to actively engage in the preservation of ecosystems and local economies. Walking with Hank through the predominately Doug Fir forest that World Stewards is diligently restoring to oak woodland, it was clear that while firmly rooted in that rocky soil created by the very floods that shaped the Columbia River Gorge, Hank is committed to changing the world.

pausing to overlook the Little White Salmon

     Growing up in a society where the value of one's words and ideas were judged more by the professional initials tagged on to the end of one's name, or the prestige of one's alma matter, than the actual content of the words themselves, I get particularly excited when the very ideas that have the most potential to help us achieve a fundamentally better way of life emerge from the forests, canyons and mountainsides. This is part of what so attracted me to Windward: here were people in the middle of nowhere making real, with sweat and sometimes even blood, the concepts that underpin a more just and sustainable life that folks in the ivory towers and highly networked corporate nonprofits had yet to even consider. They were doing so with little money but a lot of love.

the remains of an old logging flume

     Hank's life work is inspiring. At this stage in his efforts, he is trying to bring to life Intergenerational Financing‒an economic tool that enables long term investments that ensure equitable wealth creation between generations while restoring the health of natural ecosystems. Hank has teamed up with environmental economist Amory Lovins to promote his idea, and for the last several years he has been doing what he can to bring this idea off the mountain and out of the woods, to the people that can bring it to life.

part of the old flume made into a picnic table

     Besides being a neat idea, how does intergenerational financing relate to Windward? There are two primary ways. The first being that Windward's community approach to sustainability is perhaps, at its core, best described as a very localized and personalized method of transferring capital and assets, knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. The second is that some of the research projects folks at Windward are working on are examples of truly whole-system projects that have the capacity to shift the foundation upon which our economic and stewardship practices are built towards one that can actually sustain a future. The types of projects that intergenerational financing could bring to life.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71