Saturday, December 11, 2010

Should nature have a price?

The Economics of Estuary

September/October 2010 issue - IN 1915, when my grandmother Mildred was a teenager, her older brother Ray left home and went west to find his fortune. His trail can be traced today by lining up the increasingly dramatic postcards he sent back to the family in Michigan: Illinois, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho. Eventually, he wound up in Washington. He sent a view of a purple sunset over Puget Sound to his father. “Well, what do you think of this?” he wrote cockily on the back.

My grandmother kept those postcards all her life. She married my grandfather and they stayed in Michigan on his family farm: eighty acres of flat, hard clay with a tiny woodlot at one end, a wormy orchard at the other, and a foot-deep creek hurrying across the middle. They had dairy cattle, chickens, and pigs; they grew wheat and corn and most of their own food. They raised seven kids, six of whom made it to adulthood. The last of those was my father, who eventually bought the 160 acres next door. I learned the word for the country where I grew up after I left it—hardscrabble. By the time I escaped to college, family farms like ours were either sinking into Steinbeckian decrepitude, selling out to agribusiness, or subdividing into postage-stamp lots. {continued}

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