Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Beautiful Summer, With Losses

Should I feel guilty? I feel grateful. While most of the nation, and even friends who live a few miles away, are suffering through a very hot summer, the weather in Arcata has been magnificent. We've had sunshine and cool air. The strawberry crop this year is terrific (though it looks like the heavy spring rains suppressed the tomatoes), the hummers are humming, and we've just spotted a butterfly.

But the summer hasn't been without loss of prominent members of the North Coast community. Both were unexpected. The most recent, the one that is affecting a lot of people at the moment, is the death of Tim McKay, who began the North Coast Environmental Center more than 30 years ago, and has been a stalwart of the environmental community ever since. He died of a heart attack at 59. But at least he was doing something he loved--birding--and in the company of someone he loved.

I met him only a few times. I was a guest on his radio program once. But his Center was so important to this place that it is inevitable that it plays a role, known and unknown, in our lives here. Sometimes in unpredictable ways. I first knew that the Seventh Generation Fund was here, for example, when I read a summary of one of his many interviews with Chris Peters, its director. Seventh Gen became my entry to learning more about the Native community here and elsewhere.

McKay was a giant of this place, and his influence was felt beyond it. A short summary of his achievements is in the Press Democrat; John Driscoll of the Times Standard provides more context and memory. The North Coast Journal collected reminicences for its cover story. Through the voices of people who knew him well, a portrait of the person begins to emerge. Sid Dominitz, long time editor of ECONews (who I did meet in the first year I was here) quotes McKay's philosophy of activism: "Persistence is victory," and the methodology of "endless pressure endlessly applied." McKay lived it, though his persistence was not angry and blaming but centered. It strikes me that it takes someone with the temperament of a birder to make that work.

Earlier this summer, Eric Rofes died of a heart attack at age 51. Christina Accomando, a colleague at HSU, wrote this about him in the North Coast Journal. Again, I met him only once or twice, in connection with the very valuable Education Summit he organized at HSU every year. I was surprised to learn how much of a national figure he was, and well-known in one of my old stomping grounds, the Boston area. So the Boston Globe article on him was quite a revelation to me.

I don't want to project my own ignorance on the rest of the North Coast. Yet I wonder if our provincialism didn't give less value to Rofes than he deserved. Certainly I thought the importance of that unique Education Summit was not appreciated as it should be, and I know that frustrated him. What will happen to it now?

Of course a lot of people are asking, what will happen to the North Coast Environmental Center? Whose voice will replace Tim McKay's at meetings, on the radio, in hearings and in Congress? These are very great losses for this community. Let's hope the example of these two men inspire others to come forward and continue their work.