Posted on January 5th, 2021
Eastern Washington is home to many, many small unincorporated towns which are basically just places which have some kind of historical reason for existing... a stop on a now-abandoned railroad or trail... an important business that used to be there... or maybe a place which intersects land owned by local farmers. And, to many of them, the nearest major city (usually Spokane) is 1 to 2 hours away. They usually don't have stores, shops, or restaurants to speak of (those being anywhere from 30 minutes to 45 minutes away). If they're lucky, there might be some kind of general store with a few edible staples and various sundries amongst the grain and feed, but there's no full-on grocery store. Instead they have to make their own meals from what they can get at the nearest grocery store when they go once or twice a month. That's just how it goes.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately.
Partly because I am sick to fucking death of seeing political maps of Washington State where the entirety of Eastern Washington is painted red making it look like a gajillion people vote red and it's unfair that "blue Seattle gets to dictate who runs the state." That's a pretty gross exaggeration. Some of these towns which turn counties red have like A DOZEN PEOPLE in them. And land doesn't vote. So Washington State is getting the political representation which is actually representing the majority of the voters in it, regardless of what story a map is presenting.
However... the other side of that coin is the fact that these small towns DO exist. These dozens upon dozens of rural communities and the people in them DO endure. Often times they are the people who farm our land and grow our food and have communities which MEAN SOMETHING. So having them wholesale ignored by our State government is fucked up beyond all reason.
Is what's best for Seattle always going to be what's best for little Benge, Washington with its 50 people? Fuck no. But the rules Benge lives by are the rules major population centers over the Cascades dictate to them. District and County governments are supposed to have power to make sure they get fair representation but, let's face it, their power is severely limited in the grand scheme of things. Ain't nobody with major political power speaking up for the good people of Benge...
Benge, WA as seen from Google Maps, ©Google
The red dot on this map points to where Benge is in Washington State...
Benge, WA as seen in relation to Washington State from Google Maps, ©Google
Now, I've never been to Benge. Odds are I will never step foot in this town.
But a part of me really, really wants to.
I would love to travel to all these small, so-called "nothing" towns that dot my side of the state as a way of acknowledging that they exist. That the people who inhabit them deserve to be recognized for the thankless work they do to grow our food. To remind myself that they are a part of Washington too, and that the lives of their citizens mean something when it comes to the rest of the state.
Even when they get lumped into politics of a city that's four hours away.
I dunno. Benge is 2-1/2 hours from where I live. However, it's an easy 35 minute drive off I-90 on my next trip to Spokane... so maybe one day? I'd like to think that Benge would have a kind word for a stranger passing through town. It's a nice thought to have, isn't it? I'm from a small, rural, Eastern Washington community too, after all.
I just won't mention that there's a grocery store ten minutes from my house. No need to flaunt my big-little-city luxuries like that.
Posted on December 23rd, 2020
One of my favorite things to do when I am not traveling is to do a little virtual travel via Google Maps and their "Street View" technology. As you can imagine, I've been doing a lot of armchair traveling in 2020. Earlier in the year I was making my way through a list of remote islands of the world. On that list was South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands. Back in November, South Georgia Island was in the news because a massive, massive iceberg called "Iceberg A-68" (which broke off of Antarctica) was on a collision course. The thing was larger than the state of Delaware and weighed around one trillion tonnes. Ecologists were worried that this would cause serious environmental problems for local wildlife, but there wasn't much that could be done. The iceberg was larger than the entirety of South Georgia Island itself...
Map from British Antarctic Survey
I've been keeping up with the iceberg and, fortunately, the iceberg has started breaking up. Now the largest part is called "A-68A" and the little ones (which are still quite huge) are named "A68B" through "A68F." Scientists are still concerned because that much fresh water being dumped into the local ecology could be damaging... but they are not as paniced as they used to be, thinking that South Georgia will not suffer any major catastrophe.
Surprisingly, thanks to cruise ships stopping by in the Summer months, there's actually Google Street View for the settlement of Grytviken on South Georgia...
If you look closely, you'll see that there's a Taco Bell and a Pizza hut... but not really. Grytviken is an old whaling station and is largely abandoned except during tourist season when the museum is open. People just think it's funny to put famous brands in ridiculous places. If you go further up the coast, you'll see that the island also has an Apple Store, Cold Rock Ice Creamery and Cryobank, IKEA, and (of course) a McDonald's...
And the businesses are changing all the time. Google will remove them, then somebody will come back and put entirely new ones...
It's sobering to think that even though South Georgia Island escaped disaster this time, Antarctica could send even larger icebergs its way in the future. Thanks to climate change, massive pieces breaking off of the seventh continent are prtty much a certainty, and the continuing impact of this on the world's environment can only be guessed at.
Alas, much of what scientists are guessing is not good at all, so I don't recommend going down a Google search rabbit hole on the topic unless you have a gallon of ice cream and some cake with you.
tl;dr... we're fucked. Happy holidays, everybody.