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  • Editors’ Note
  • Trevor Carolan and Frank Stewart

Languages and literature—primarily poetry, song, and narrative, whether oral or written—bring us close to the truth of a place. In Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World, they help us to experience the bio-cultural region called Cascadia. The name for this region was made popular in the 1970s, when it was used by geologist Bates McKee. It was taken up in the 1990s by William Henkel, who in his article “Cascadia: A State of (Various) Minds” noted that thinking in terms of ecological regions, such as Cascadia, had inspired a group of loosely associated philosophers, poets, biologists, conservationists, and social activists—all referred to now as bio-regionalists. Influenced by First Nations, eco-spiritual activists, and trans-Pacific thought, this diverse group has stimulated an international appreciation of the region’s languages, literature, ecological practices, and environmentalism. As Vancouver Island poet Kim Goldberg has pointed out, their writing is not so much “nature-minded” as “ecologically sensitive,” meaning that their ecological aesthetics and poetics are socially, politically, and spiritually engaged.

For decades, thinkers such as agronomist Wes Jackson and poet Gary Snyder have stressed the importance of regional languages in building bio-cultural communities, networks, and coalitions. Poet John Carroll, of British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, says that writers attuned to the ecology of the Pacific Northwest come together through the “tradition of a shared vocabulary . . . ; like rain absorbed into the soil, it becomes intimate with the essence of the land.” Olympic Peninsula sculptor and poet Tom Jay writes that “A word is a clipped breath, a bit of spirit—inspire, expire—wherein we hear the weather. Our ‘tongues’ taste the world we eat.”

Many Cascadian poets and writers belong to an intercultural literary ecology—what poet, linguist, typographer, and translator Robert Bring -hurst refers to as an eco-linguistics for the global age. In their work, these authors give palpable meaning to concepts of place and seek to create conversations that nourish, fortify, and prepare our communities for the inevitable cultural turns ahead. By blurring artificially constructed political borders—while remaining mindful of an old world heritage—they are fostering a new world ecological awareness that is fundamentally a spiritual awareness. In The Tree of Meaning, Bringhurst reminds us that [End Page ix]

Cultures don’t mingle by watering each other down. They mingle by thickening the soup, infusing one another with a richer store of references and models, adding facets and dimensions to each other.

Geographically, Cascadia’s western boundary begins in southwest Alaska, follows the coastline of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon, and terminates at Cape Mendocino, in northern California. The southern border snakes northeast, back into Oregon, then bends southeast into Nevada and eastward into Wyoming, according to David McCloskey, founder of the Cascadia Institute and regarded by some as the “father” of Cascadia’s bio-region. Though Cascadia’s precise eastern border is disputed, McCloskey and others suggest that it follows the Continental Divide northwest, into the region that includes the salmon runs in the Yukon River.

Recently, Washington State poet Bill Yake elaborated on the understanding of Cascadia as a cultural region in Alfred L. Kroeber’s 1939 book Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America:

[Kroeber] imagines the northwest coast as cultures ranging from the Tlingit of southern Alaska to the Yurok, Karok and Hupa of the lower Klamath River drainage of northwestern California. These cultures grew out of settings that provided similar foods including salmon and other sources of marine fat and protein and natural materials: mussel shell knives and harpoon valves, a similar range of forest materials including cedar, medicines, berries. There would undoubtedly be similar approximations from other geographic regions around the Cascadia-Pacific world.

Yake also notes that Gary Snyder defines the region by the range of the Douglas-fir, which he calls “the definitive tree of the Pacific Northwest.”

This outline, [Snyder] says, has its “northern limit...around the Skeena River in British Columbia. It is found west of the [Cascade Mountain Range] crest through Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The southern coastal limit of Douglas Fir is about the...