Opinion

Why would we spoil the place to which we’re connected?

Do you ever Google yourself? Check to see if you’ve done anything new that you should be aware of, a la Tyler Durham?

OK, sorry. I won’t give you anymore “Fight Club” references, but seriously, have you done that, Googled yourself and your family and friends?

It’s a pretty cool time-waster, especially if you’re up late already waiting, as I was, for a teenage boy to get home from a party.

I chanced to Google my father’s name and up popped a brand new genealogy Web site I had never seen before, linking my mother to seven generations of her family.

I couldn’t help myself. I reached up and ran my fingers over the chart on the screen, gently stroking the names.

“Look,” I called to my younger son, “I have a great grandmother and she has a name.”

“Of course, you have a great grandmother and she has a name,” he said. “Everyone does.”

But there they were, all connected to each other and to a place – Zvecanje in Split, Croatia, where there is said to be a church that lists the baptisms of a 1,000 generations of my family. (Which, upon reflection, seems mathematically improbable.)

I e-mailed the Web site creator and he sent back a picture of the church.

After the teenager made it home safely, I went to bed thrilled, realizing that I was connected. As someone who has always been chronically lonely, it hit me that I wasn’t floating all alone in time and space; I was bonded to these people and to this particular place.

It was beautifully reassuring.

Do you have a hunger for that? I always have. It’s like a deep, aching longing to know that your bones are made from the dust of a place and you harbor it — and it you.

I had resigned myself to believing that the longing couldn’t be quenched, that the hunger to belong, to fit, and the resulting alienation and loneliness was all pervasive, a natural, systemic part of our culture.

And then they walked in, some bringing three generations of a family, filling the Old Waterman Hall on Farmer Dell Road 70 people deep on a wet, windy Friday evening.

They spoke. Their stories bursting forth, the full force barely contained, like the energy of the children who struggle to sit still in their seats.

“My grandfather homesteaded here,” said Sue Hyde Plumber. “This place has always been home,” she said, referring to the Beaver Creek area of Port Orchard, where she lives.

“I’m a fourth-generation Washingtonian and proud of it,” she boasted. (She didn’t try to claim 1,000 generations, but really who could?)

“My parents came here in 1942,” continued Sandy Olson. “I was born here in 1945. This is my home, too.”

“I feel,” shared Celia Johnson, “that living here gives me a connection to my past. I know my neighbors as my friends.”

As more stories tumbled out, the people brought together there by the Beaver Creek Conservation Group alternated between being angry, mystified, puzzled and confused. “How was this happening?” they wondered aloud. “How was it possible?”

Why didn’t the government they had sworn to defend, the very country they were defending, protect them? The one in which they pay their taxes to?

Why was someone allowed to invade, like the soldiers who marched through my grandmother’s village forcing her to hide under floorboards and ultimately flee to the United States, and take from them that which they value?

They asked. They have questioned countless county officials, who seem content to violate their own laws, rewriting or stepping over rules that get in the way. They even approached Darlene Piper, the developer who first proposed building Woods View, a 72-home housing development on a 12.6-acre, densely forested plot right over a salmon stream that feeds into Puget Sound.

“What about the DNR permit for clearing that requires 50 trees greater than 10 inches in diameter and 50 trees less than 10 inches be preserved per acre? What of the Critical Areas Ordinance that requires buffers and stream mitigation?

What of the Growth Management Act and the rural designation of the area that allows for only one home per five acres? What of the rights of homeowners and taxpayers?”

They would like to speak of the eagle-nesting trees they saw removed (which were “unfortunately not noted on official county-designated eagle tree maps,”) and how much they ached to see the forest destroyed, but they can’t.

They can no more express these sentiments to the powers that be than I can talk to the coyote that came and picked off my beautiful long-haired gray kitten, the prettiest of the litter.

I wish I could have explained that it was the bravest, spunkiest, most playful kitten and that the value of what he had stolen – a mouthful of fur and bones – wasn’t equal to what he had taken. But I can’t.

They know that a transfer of wealth will occur — like the coyote eating my kitten, nothing new will be added. Where the developer will make money, they will lose.

Their schools will overcrowd, traffic will congest and their stream will be lost.

They don’t even want to think about what would happen if the LOSS (Large on-site sewer system), unapproved by the State Department of Health for rural areas, would fail.

It’s not as if they don’t believe in the value of affordable housing or welcome newcomers. They watch over recent resident, Jackie Miller, whose husband Jeff, a full-time South Kitsap fire fighter and Army National Guardsman, serves as a Black Hawk pilot in Iraq.

They just know that bending the rules for sewer systems and allowing building on “legacy lots” (originally sold as picnicking spots) would have reverberating effects all across the county and state.

They know that Jefferson County has dealt with the issue by not recognizing substandard lots and that residents of Illahee and beyond are watching.

As Gary Dirks, a former state worker, tells the crowd, “It’s all so sad and unnecessary. We will be violating our own state laws with somewhere between 12 to 15 violations and losing what we value. Is this a precedent we wish to set?”

Sometimes you lose things that really shouldn’t be lost. Which reminds me, my name really isn’t Mary. That’s an Americanized version.

Marija was the name conferred upon me at baptism, the name my great grandmother carried, the one that binds me to a people.

To reach the Beaver Creek Conservation Group contact them through kitsapkonnxtion.typepad.com/beavercreek/ or e-mail or call Garry Mahan at (360) 871-2815 and garrymail24@yahoo.com.

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.

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