Small Towns and Big Fish

Update (August 21st): The article got picked up by the AP, and has traveled to small towns in the Kenai Peninsula, Texas, Illinois–and San Francisco…! 

This week I somehow made the front page of the Daily Sitka Sentinel, which exemplifies the joys of living in a small town: everything is news! All Fellows will be featured over the coming days.  My interviewer Tom is a freshly-graduated Wyoming transplant. (Did you know that Wyoming has a smaller population than Alaska?)  He and I chatted about natural resource management over a cup’a’joe at the cherished downtown Back Door Cafe, a place happily inhospitable to cruise ship tourists. I reckon this town will be hard to leave.

‘Fellow’ Ponders Island Half a World Away

by Tom Hesse, Sentinel Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Camila Thorndike is spending seven weeks in Sitka, latitude 57 degrees north, to contemplate the environmental challenges facing Chiloé, a Pacific island at latitude 42 degrees south.

Thorndike is one of eight Sitka Fellows on the Sheldon Jackson Campus this summer. While some of the Fellows’ projects are more tangible, such as a writing a novel, Thorndike’s project involves, among other things, a long period of rumination.

“What I came here to do is work my way through some big questions, essentially,” Thorndike said.

Thorndike’s goal is to translate the academic ideas of environmentalism and sustainability to practical application on a 3,200-square mile island that is part of Chile.

“I’ve been thinking for the last year about how to apply the skills I’ve accumulated in my short life to some of the issues that I see,” said Thorndike. She grew up in Ashland, Oregon, and presently works in Arizona, as outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Imagine Greater Tucson.

Her mother is a native Chilean and in Chiloé Thorndike sees opportunity.

“It’s a really beautiful place with intriguing issues in the natural resource management, environmental policy  and community development realms,” Thorndike said. “There’s a lot of really interesting parallels between here and there.”

Like Southeast Alaska, Chiloé has one of the earth’s few temperate rainforests.

Apart from 99 parallels that separate Sitka from Chiloé on a globe, Chiloé also has a big salmon industry, Thorndike said. She is hoping to find a way to apply the lessons learned from areas like Sitka and the western lands of the lower 48 states to a developing Chiloé.

Such a process involves running a lot of ideas through a lot of filters. This, Thorndike said, is where the other Sitka Fellows become helpful. The program was designed to include an array of disciplines, and she says this has proved valuable to her in her project.

“I really appreciate these late night chats we have,” Thorndike said. “We find ourselves wrestling with some of the same questions: How do I contribute at this critical time in history with the tools that I have?”

These chats have led to business and philosophical advice, and everything in between, for her project.

The form that Thorndike’s work will ultimately take is yet to be determined. A Chiloé-based roundtable, creation of a small business or a seminar series are all possible ways that she has considered for collecting and utilizing knowledge in Chiloé.

While certainly ambitious, Thorndike said she bristles at the notion that she is trying to save the world or save Chiloé. She’s trying to find a way to do her part for the greater effort to make communities of all sizes better and more resilient, she said.

“It’s a crucial time for Chiloé and for the world, really,” she said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to try and merge various thoughts and help Chile take advantage of the position it’s in.”


Not featured in the Sentinel, some cabin porn from Cahuelmo fjord in Chile (credit: Michael Schwartz)

 * * *

Radio Interview on KCAW – Sitka’s “Raven Radio”

Humanities can steer environmental change

by Robert Woolsey, KCAW |  July 31, 2012 7:11 pm

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