In our metaphorical book of ENVS 350, we have now begun Chapter Three. Chapter One was about environmental theory and Big Words, Chapter two was our exploration of reality, knowledge, ethics, and politics, and now in Chapter Three we have the opportunity to apply our studies to the real world. Over spring break, we did a smattering of readings about Douglas County, Oregon, where we will be spending two days and one night. It’s a seemingly random location in rural Oregon except for the ties that Jim has to that land and community.
In class we discussed a few things, including the challenge of doing research in a completely new place, specific characteristics of Douglas County’s landscape and community, and logistic details for our upcoming field trip. It was interesting to discuss the particulars of Douglas County — it’s characterized by a dominant timber industry, a tight knit community recently faced with a mass shooting tragedy, and a constant pull between polarized political views.
We have a big task ahead of us to come up with and complete praxis projects within the next three weeks. One of the biggest challenges we face is having no sense of what Douglas County is really about. We’ve read various articles and news stories about it, but none of us have ever been there before. In class, Jim acknowledged this challenge, but also noted that sometimes going in with an open mind and a sense of unfamiliarity can be an advantage. Thinking back to our recent field trip to Willapa Bay and doing research in New Zealand, I agree with this sentiment. It is scary and disorienting to be in such a foreign place for the first time, but you gain insights that an “insider” might be too accustomed to to notice. I think the most important thing to do in this situation is to observe and take in the environment — people, nature, culture, infrastructure, everything.
I will be doing that with the lens of a possible project about cosmopolitanism in Douglas County. I’m intrigued by the connections between community members, and also the demographic and economic change that has been happening recently in the area. I’m excited to be thrown into this new situation, and I’m wondering what this project (or “obsession” for the next three weeks as Jim called it) will turn into.