Common Ground

A priest and a rabbi walked onto a dairy farm…

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it is actually the genesis of an amazing journey that continues on almost 50 years later.

Father William Treacy and Rabbi Raphael Levine bought the 200-acre dairy farm with contributions and founded Camp Brotherhood at Lake McMurray near Conway. Their mission was to promote understanding and common ground between different religions and cultures.

Rabbi Levine, born in Lithuania, and Father Treacy, born in Ireland, co-hosted a television series on KOMO-TV in Seattle for years entitled Challenge where they discussed both the differences and similarities of their faiths, never proselytizing.

Tragically, Rabbi Levine died from injuries sustained in a car accident in 1985. Father Treacy sat at his deathbed and vowed that he would keep the flame burning.

On Sunday, a memorial garden was dedicated at what is now called The Treacy Levine Center. Father Treacy, alert and articulate at age 96, hosted the event which was witnessed by, among others, 28 teenagers from Palestine and Israel and the United States as part of a Kids4Peace event that takes place on the site every summer.

Father Treacy shared the podium with the great niece of Rabbi Levine, Rabbi Daria Jacobs-Velde, who led a rousing song version of Hallelujah, which is a word in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Rabbi Jacobs-Velde’s husband is also a Rabbi and they have a congregation in Sebastopol, California.

In a more somber moment, Father Treacy told the story of a delegation from Pakistan that came to the site in June of 2009. On his return to Pakistan, one of the delegates was killed, allegedly by the Taliban. His name was Khial Akbar Afredi and a plaque in his name was unveiled on Sunday as part of the Memorial Garden.

The TLC has been successful in reaching out to Muslim leaders lately and Father Treacy stood in front of a Christian bible, a Jewish bible and a copy of the Koran.

The TLC hosts camps throughout the year celebrating mind, body and spirit. There are music and art camps, karate and soccer camps, a quilting symposium, a sound healing event and Reiki programs to name a few.

Next August, the TLC will host a four-day event, the 1World Music Festival, with performers from around the world joining local musicians to celebrate peace and understanding through their universal language. Tickets will start selling in the spring and out-of-towners will be able to stay on the premises. The TLC has beautiful hotel rooms and cabins and an excellent cafeteria as well as campsites.

A month later, in September, 2016, the TLC will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of a spiritual journey that is the enduring legacy of two very remarkable men.

Thomas Howell is the executive director of the TLC and can be reached at 360 445-5061 for any groups wanting to hold an event in this idyllic setting.

TLC event

concept of water conservation in America

Perhaps you read my last column in which I mentioned what to so many is an unmentionable: we are in the middle of a serious drought and we are going to have to make adjustments in the way we go about our daily lives.

Now, we can all continue to stick our collective head in the sand, and Lord knows, there’s more and more sand around us every day, OR we can start to take a few easy steps down the great road of reason.

There are those of you who believe this is just the normal ebb and flow of a pattern that has included Ice Ages and Dust Bowls, but almost 100 percent of scientist think that mankind is exacerbating this problem and I’m thinking, maybe we should err on the side of caution and do what we can to slow the devastating destruction of our environment.

Here’s some simple steps to get started:


That’s right, get rid of your lawn. Whether the world we live in was Created by God or is the result of millions of tiny little miracles happening in just the right sequence, much of the American Southwest was evolved, or designed, to have very little of the color green. California had those wonderful Oak Trees but almost everything thing else that was green and grew in the ground was trucked in from somewhere else.  Palm Trees for sure, but even the giant Eucalyptus trees were brought in from far away climes.

This of course includes your front yard. I go crazy when I see a bunch of built in sprinklers pop up out of the ground to water a tiny little patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street. Look around and you might notice that some of your neighbors are doing the right thing and ripping out the sod and replacing it with beautiful desert landscapes of clay and native plants.

I played golf recently at Wilshire Country Club, and the people who maintain this historic course have replanted the fairways and greens with highly durable grasses and all of the areas surrounding and outlining the fairways are brown and dry and it looks pretty cool. There is some understandable snickering out there—can we really even afford to maintain so many golf courses and that very well could be an issue in the years to come but at least the golf industry is awakening to the fact that something’s gotta give.


That’s right, we use up a tremendous amount of water flushing our toilets. Many of you have already installed low flow toilets and that definitely helps, but we are still flushing way too much away. I love to pee outside, I feel a oneness with nature, and that’s easy for me to say because my primary residence is a house in the woods in Northwestern Washington State.

We probably don’t want to drive down Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California and see lots of people standing behind the hedges shaking it out and zipping it up while the smokers stand by and chortle. And that would be even tougher, although not impossible, for women to pull off, both anatomically and culturally. Still, give it your best shot. It’s actually fun to surreptitiously case the immediate environment and sneak a pee!


So the next best thing is to consolidate when you are forced to use a toilet. If you’re just making a number one, don’t flush the toilet every time you use it. I’ll leave the math to you, and I know the sensibilities will differ from fraternity houses to private homes, but just be aware that we can definitely improve on our performance.


Of course, if you’re dropping a deuce, doing a number two, going potty, pooping, or whatever delicate terminology you want to use for doing something that all mammals must do, then flush away and peace be with you.


This is a fun one, or can be. Maybe it will even freshen up a stale relationship. Whether you’re going solo or not, keep it short: no more singing arias while the water is running.


Recently, I was in Cambria, California, where they have been issuing a waiting list for building permits depending on the availability of water. Cambria also was one of the small communities that had the foresight to develop its own system to re-use waste water and the new system is getting high marks and making an immediate difference so that new building permits can be issued, although slowly and carefully.

If you are reading this column in Washington State and you are surrounded by lots of green, don’t get to smug. Our governor Jay Inslee has declared a drought here and implemented emergency measures because last winter’s snow pack was minuscule and the rivers are at all time lows and the farmers are having a tough time providing enough water for their crops. So this is not just a California issue or a Washington issue, it’s a global issue and we are all going to have to make adjustments in the way we consume.

We are expecting an El Niño winter and we might get hit with a lot of rainfall on the West Coast, but it won’t be enough to make up for four years of drought. Rainfall itself doesn’t do much good because we aren’t set up to collect and re-use it. Most of it runs through drains out to sea. A lot of snow in the mountains would help enormously because the snow melts slowly, filling our rivers, lakes and aquifers throughout the dryer seasons.

We know for sure that we can’t just leave this up to Mother Nature. There are lots of little things we can do to try to protect the land we are passing on to our children and grandchildren. Whether it’s the way we use water, how well we recycle, how much gasoline we use, how we implement reforestation and sustainable agriculture, we need to do whatever we can to be good soldiers of our Earth.

Waste not, want not, and remember every little bit helps.




When are we going to learn that bigger ain’t always better? And oftentimes, less is more!

Unfortunately, I’ve had a front row seat from which I could view the decline of two of the great cities in the world.

I left New York City in the early 70’s at a time of despair, when crime and drugs and poverty were taking a tremendous toll. It was at a low point in that incredible city’s amazing history.

Then came two great years in Colorado where I discovered mountains and elbow room and clean air but my ambition to become a filmmaker led me to Los Angeles.

LA to me is a prime example of a failing city but because I’ve been fortunate to have a 40 year career—and counting—as a director, I’ve always had to have a foothold there. Now that foothold has become a toehold and I’ve discovered the wonders of the Pacific Northwest.

Why the rap on LA? Because for some reason the city fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters seem to think it’s essential that an already overcrowded, choking city needs to continue to grow.

Recently I listened in astonishment as Larry Mantle, one of my favorite NPR hosts, discuss with his guests why Santa Monica needed to grow. The guests went on and on about how it was essential that the children and grandchildren of the families in that seaside city needed new affordable housing.

Some callers mentioned that there was already terrible traffic into, out of and around Santa Monica but not one person mentioned one other tiny little factoid: THERE IS NO WATER!

Yes, there is the Pacific Ocean, which is sight for sore eyes, but its water is not potable or drinkable, at least not without a tremendous investment in desalinization or sewage treatment.

The same is true of the whole Los Angeles Basin, and as you move inland from Santa Monica, there is another huge problem: even worse traffic and terrible air quality.

Yet, growth continues willy-nilly, building permits are easily obtained, and more and more people are paying higher and higher prices to squeeze into this basin.

And did I forget to mention: THERE IS NO WATER! Estimates are that there is a year’s supply of agua in the city’s aquifers and then everyone is doing a collective rain dance and hoping for an El Nino this winter that will magically undo a 5-year-drought.

This pattern is happening throughout California, which had it’s largest population gain in twelve years and now claims 38 million residents, far more than all of vast Canada.

Leading the way is the tech sector, which has made San Francisco the most expensive city in America and Santa Monica pretty pricey as well.

It puzzles me that these tech wizards don’t see what I see coming: the bursting of the California real estate bubble. Maybe those smarty pants are working on a Rainfall App!

Right now, you can buy the same house in awesome Portland, Oregon for about one-quarter the price of a similar house in LA. No kidding.

One of my sons is moving there along with several of his boyhood friends. They’ve been priced out of LA and they see Portland as having a lot of the excitement and “chill” factor of LA without the smog and traffic.

Of course, they’ve been warned about the wet and gloomy winters of the Pacific Northwest, especially for people who grew up in California sunshine.

But they are also betting that abundant water will be a plus and not a minus in the years to come. And they won’t be slaves to their mortgages and they can even afford to get out of Dodge occasionally to find some sunshine someplace.

Recently I drove from my home in Bellingham, Washington, near the Canadian border, through Central Washington, to Portland, San Francisco, and on to Los Angeles.

What I saw in Washington and Oregon were bounteous rivers and streams. As soon as I crossed into California, I was struck by how little water there was in the Mt. Shasta Basin and how truly brown and parched everything was compared to the Evergreen Northwest.

In California’s parched Central Valley, which is sometimes called America’s Salad Bowl, there are signs everywhere supporting the right of farmer’s to continue to use most of the State’s dwindling water supplies with the threat that food prices will rise dramatically.

When I learned that it takes one gallon of water to produce one edible almond, I realized that we are going to have to change the way we eat because the cities aren’t going to let the farmers keep hoarding the water.

There are lessons to be learned here, but I doubt that will happen. This week an official in my hometown decried the fact that Bellingham wasn’t growing fast enough.

His point was that there wasn’t any room for new housing in Bellingham, and the new generation of homeowners wouldn’t be able to live within the city limits.

So what! They can live in the county outside city limits or in nearby Ferndale and Lynden and drive fifteen minutes to visit Mom and Pop.

Or Mom and Pop can downsize and move into exurbia and create more housing for the next generation to raise their kids and send them to Bellingham’s wonderful high schools.

What Bellingham doesn’t need is more infill and more traffic, and if they don’t believe me, they need to take a road trip down the coast like the one I just took.

As for those of you still living in the Golden (read BROWN) State, my advice is sell your house now, at the top of the market, and buy two houses to replace it, one in the Pacific Northwest and one wherever you want to getaway occasionally in the winter.

And you’ll still have money left over. It’s a smart move and you should bet the ranch on it!


Rachel styling at 94

My mother Rachel Damski passed away with family at her bedside Friday, May 15, and it was the perfect ending to an amazing journey.

At 94 years old, with failing health and increased confusion, Rachel decided it was time to go and checked out to reunite with my father and older brother. The official cause of death was “enough already.”

Rachel’s remarkable journey began in Berlin, Germany. Her heroics in getting her parents and younger brother Harry Rosenfeld out of Berlin are documented in Harry’s book, From Kristallnacht to Watergate.

She arrived in New York City in 1939, never seeing herself as a victim and never looked back. She met my father Leo in 1941 and they did their best to re-populate the Jewish race, having four children when the norm at the time was 2.1. That has increased geometrically and Rachel leaves behind a very large extended family.

Rachel was an incredible patriot. She never let her children forget how America was her savior and she was a USO volunteer until her 92nd year.


She became an artist in her late 80’s and recently sold a painting at an art show in La Conner, WA. Trever McGhee, gallery owner, said “Rachel was an awesome living example of how it’s never too late to follow your dreams”.


Rachel donated the money from the sale of her painting to the Palm Springs USO, which had chosen her to put a stitch in the 9/11 flag that toured the country.

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She was the first feminist that I ever laid eyes on and worked her entire life, starting as a teenager in her parents’ fur shop. She worked with Leo in their jewelry shop and was an award winning salesperson at the Jordan Marsh department store.

As if that was enough for a wife and mother of four, she dabbled in real estate and made hats in our small basement, which she sold to some of the more fashionable ladies in Roslyn, Long Island, where we grew up.

Like her second son, me, she sometimes was impatient with people who didn’t do business the way she thought it should be done and she declared herself “a woman of the world”. In fact, she and Leo were truly world travelers and spent almost as much time on the Great Wall of China as Chairman Mao.

Against all odds, she bounced back from enormous challenges and she managed to have a long and productive life.

Rachel will be laid to rest at the New Montefiore cemetery in Farmingdale, Long Island alongside Leo and his parents Paul and Sonia Damski and her parents, Solomon and Esther Rosenfeld.

Sadly, she was pre-deceased by her first son Fred, but she leaves behind three children, Janice Kaminsky, Mel and Peter Damski, 11 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, all of whom adored their GG!

A memorial service will be held in Palm Springs on Sunday, June 14th. Donations in her memory should be made to the Palm Springs USO.




Took Mom out for lunch the other day. With my sister.

If you have an elderly parent or grandparent, you know what a mixed blessing this is. Any time spent with Rachel, who just celebrated her 94th birthday, is borrowed time.

It’s amazing to have her around and somewhat ambulatory. I say somewhat because she is too vain to use her walker and that means at every step there is the danger she will fall.

Usually she’s waiting downstairs in front of her Assisted Living facility, which concerns me, so I hurry upstairs and knock on the door and she says “come in”. The door is locked and I can hear her shuffling my way to open the door.

This woman is still beautiful and still concerned about how she looks when we go out, so she apologizes for only having on lipstick and no mascara.

And she’s hooked up to her oxygen tank, which makes me happy because it’s a necessity that she sometimes rebels against but it’s also a stark reminder of her declining health.

Rachel gingerly walks towards my car, and she approaches the curb as if it is a mountain. With her arm on my arm, she looks down with failing eyesight and steps ever so carefully down the four inches to street level.

She only manages to get halfway onto the passenger seat and I boost her over the rest of the way and say “Whoopsie Daisy” just as she always said to us when we were kids and the roles were reversed. I help her onto the seat safely and I reach across her lap to fasten her seat belt.

Janice, my amazing sister—she lives near Rachel and sees her almost every day–is waiting in front of the deli with a huge smile on her face because there is a parking spot right in front of a place that is always crowded.

Mom doesn’t eat much and doesn’t say much. The truth is she can’t hear very well, especially in a crowded restaurant, and she won’t invest in a really good hearing aid because she doesn’t think she’ll live long enough to amortize the extra expense.

I had a secret pact with the audiologist to quote Rachel half of the full price and when I asked if he thought that was weird, he said it happens all the time with family members of elderly patients.

Even at half price, she wouldn’t go for it, and so we are reduced to shouting. In the car she asked me why I was mad at her the day before when I called her to tell her what time I was picking her up.

I explained that I wasn’t mad, it just sounded that way because she can’t hear me and I had to keep repeating the pick-up time, each time raising my voice until she acknowledged that she heard me.

Truth is, I WAS a little ticked off and she probably heard some of that along with frustration.

Janice and I didn’t want to shout in a restaurant so we talked in normal voices and Rachel checked out, her mind going to who knows where.

After lunch, she asked if I would take her to the Dollar Tree. Absolutely, I said, knowing that this is her happy place and I myself cannot get over what you can buy for a dollar these days.

Whoopsie Daisy, she is in the car, a short drive, Whoopsie Daisy we are out of the car and Rachel almost flies up onto the curb, just a mole hill now, excited at the prospects. She grabs a cart and uses it as a de facto walker and she is a woman on a mission.

We spend a lot of time in the candy section. She emphasizes that the candy is for guests only and the truth is that this woman has a lot of callers, from sons and daughter to grandchildren and great grandchildren and just people who find her life story fascinating and her point of view refreshing.

She admires some glassware, marveling at the value of an elegant wine glass for a buck, but acknowledging that she doesn’t need any more.

I overrule her on a colorful candy tray, knowing full well that there isn’t one vacant inch of counter space in her small room.

She insists that I buy something and I need some hangers and who can turn down six for a dollar!

She buys two colorful small rubber balls for her great granddaughters.

We check out and a cartful comes to just under $20. Rachel beams at me, like she just pulled off a jewel heist. I don’t dare tell her about the 99-cent store or we’ll be driving across down to save even more money on our purchases!

She has a little catnap during the ten-minute ride back to her place, exhausted but happy about the outing. When we get to her room, we unload the bagful and I help her move things around because all of the precious possessions of a lifetime have been reduced to whatever can fit into 250 square feet.

A huge hug, because I’m heading to New York for a gig and I won’t see her again for a month.

Or ever.

And that is what makes each of these little outings so so precious and these partings such sweet sorrow for me!

I slide into the driver’s seat and I’m a bit wobbly as the enormity of all of this washes over me.

Whoopsie Daisy! I steady myself and off I go.



Even though I always looked like my father, comparisons usually ended there.

We had very little in common. He was a scholar with no interest in sports. I was a jock who really struggled with my studies.

He was patient and sedentary, an avid reader and crossword specialist. I can’t sit still, I’m impatient and I can only read newspapers, magazines or listen to books on tape when I’m on a long road trip,

Leo is very much on my mind this week because it’s my father’s Yahrzeit, the Jewish anniversary of his passing. He died 18 years ago, at the age of 79.

His father, Paul Damski, was a famous boxing promoter in Berlin and the sporting DNA obviously skipped a generation. Leo never once came to one of my games, from Little League to high school football, wrestling and baseball. Paul would drive 20 miles from Manhattan to watch me wrestle on Long Island and then go out and play golf the next morning.

Despite economic challenges, Leo was a shirt-off-his-back, pick-up-the check kind of guy, qualities that he inherited from his more successful, more expansive father.

My father was happy sitting in his jewelry store all day, schmoozing with customers and reading Michener novels and doing the crossword puzzle when nobody was around. His world revolved around my mother Rachel, and he had very few friends or interests that didn’t include my Mom.

He was easy going and had a very bearable lightness of being. Even now, my Mom, almost 94, is understandably suspicious and untrusting—after all, she lived through the the depression and the holocaust and Kristallnacht before escaping in 1938.

Dad left Germany three years earlier, before things got really ugly, and if anything, he was trusting to a fault. He loved the creative side and social aspects of owning a small town jewelry store, but the business challenges eluded him.

He was a great listener and happy to schmooze or offer a fair price to a customer, but my mother had to often step in to look after the bottom line.

His favorite hobby was collecting coins and stamps. During my sophomore year of college, I wrote a short story entitled The Stamp Collector. It was about a man who escaped from real world problems by subverting himself in his stamp collection.

My professor liked the story but unfortunately my father came upon some files in one of my drawers and read the story. I’m sure he was very hurt, but he couldn’t really bring himself to discuss it with me but he told my mother and she told me.

Before there was Google, there was Leo. You could ask him anything about World History and he would have a ready answer. He had gotten a solid enough education in German Gymnasium—their high school—and he continued to self-educate himself. After he arrived in New York, he had to work to help support his parents and younger brother and wasn’t able to apply to college.

After working as a traveling salesman, Leo ended up working in a airplane parts factory as part of the war effort—although he was now an American citizen, he had a punctured ear drum and wasn’t able to serve so this was his way of contributing to the country that saved his immediate family from extinction.

His father Paul got out of the boxing business—he said it was mob controlled and didn’t want any part of that— so he opened a jewelry business in midtown Manhattan. He invited Leo downtown one day, saying he had a surprise for him. There on the front window of the 47th Street Jewelry exchange was the sign “Paul Damski and Son”.

Leo was no match for his charming and powerful father so, despite my mother’s warnings, he joined Paul in the jewelry business. Eventually my mother convinced him that he needed to breakaway and together my parents opened a store in Long Island, where they had moved so that we kids could grow up with some trees around us.

He settled into what must have seemed like an idyllic life, especially knowing how tragically early life ended for his whole extended family in Europe.

He was proud of his kids, but left us to navigate on our own. My mother was his world, and his only escape was the fellowship of his Masonic Lodge. Otherwise, it was all about life’s simple pleasures.

He would do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, and he would fill it out as if it was a form, from top-left to bottom right, almost never having to jump ahead to look for an easy one further down on the puzzle.

When he died, there was his last puzzle, in ink, half-finished, by his bedside. I’ve framed that puzzle and it is one of my most prized possessions.

Now that I’m mellowing out, I’m finding more Leo in me. I definitely inherited his schmoozing gene, and my family always says that I’m a pushover when it comes to any kind of negotiation.

My love of music is definitely from my Dad. We would drive around and listen to WNEW and play a game to identify the singer, whether it was easy, like Sinatra, or challenging, like Dinah Washington.

When Sirius Satellite radio replaced my 40’s on 4 Channel with the Billy Joel Channel, I wanted to burn their house down but luckily some other old coots must have complained and it was Bye Bye Billy Joel and Hello Benny Goodman.

I finally got brave enough to attempt crossword puzzles and on-line Scrabble even though I’m lucky if I can finish the Wednesday NY Times puzzle—in pencil, with a well-used eraser.

The greatest gift my father gave me was his incredible curiosity and fascination with the way the world works. It’s why I’m glued to NPR and BBC, read a lot of newspapers and constantly think how nice it would be to call Leo to discuss how this all came to be.



Climate change is becoming less abstract and more real for me as I am spending a lot of time lately working in California. The Golden State is looking very parched these days and there are great many stories floating around in the media and around the dinner table about just how much this phenomenon will affect our lives and livelihoods.

I don’t spend too much time thinking about whether this is made by mankind or Mother Nature or some inexplicable cosmic force. I figure let’s err on the side of caution and do what we can as humanoids because what else can we do?

I’d rather find out twenty years from now that we didn’t really have to stop pouring aerosol spray into the atmosphere than to find out we should have.

I think a lot about the future because it is my nature to ponder but I also have a more practical stake in these outcomes: five kids and hopefully some grandchildren and I want them to enjoy their lives as much as I am.

Oh, and let’s not forget the rest of the human race, which doesn’t exactly have a perfect track record, but has definitely done some magnificent things.

I’m not above crowing about how smart I think I am for leading a migration to the Great Northwest, where the trees are still green and bountiful. So far only one of my kids has actually followed my lead, so I decided to consult someone who knows a lot more about these things than I do.

His name is John Yearsley and he has a lot of fancy letters after his name, one of which is MIT. That means he’s smart and John’s particular field of expertise is water.

I figure if I’m going to keep telling anyone who will listen that they should take advantage of affordable real estate, excellent public schools and yes, it rains a lot and we are damn proud of the fact that we are surrounded by water, then I better back that up with some science.

So John was nice enough to take some time to answer some questions about our water and our future.

Mel: Do you have any short term concerns about the water supply in Bellingham?

John: Yes and no, of course. The likelihood is low that I or any of my friends or neighbors will not see water coming out of the tap whenever we turn it on in the next five years. Nevertheless, there is uncertainty about the reliability of the two sources for Bellingham water, the Nooksack River and the Lake Whatcom watershed. The Nooksack River has many competing interests for its water including irrigated agriculture, dairy farms, municipal drinking water supply, industrial water supply, in stream flow requirements and tribal rights. Furthermore, extraction of groundwater from permitted wells and exempt wells has an as-yet unknown impact on Nooksack River flows. (Did you know that you can withdraw an unlimited amount of water from a permit exempt well for watering livestock or for watering your lawn?) Lurking in the future of the Nooksack River watershed is the specter of climate change. Climate models for the Cascades predict more precipitation falling as rain in the winter at mid-level elevations (3000-5000 feet), resulting in less runoff from snowmelt in the summer.

The reconveyance of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land to Whatcom County was the one bright spot in the future for Lake Whatcom. Earlier this year, the DNR transferred (reconveyed) 8800 acres of forest lands, much of which includes the Lake Whatcom watershed to Whatcom County parks. It’s been logged, of course, and I believe there are some conditions under which it can still be logged. However, it is a great acquisition and could do much in preventing further development in the watershed. Both Portland (the Battle of Bull Run) and Seattle have interesting histories of logging in their watersheds which could well be resurrected in the event there are proposals to log the Whatcom property. The forest provided funding for the Mount Baker School District when it was under the jurisdiction of the DNR and some out in the county cried “foul”. The county settled with the school district for something under one million dollars, as I recall. There was also a law suit, but good sense prevailed. Ironically enough, it succeeded because it had the support of a previous council member notable for her staunch conservatism.

The rest of the story is not so good. In 1998, the Washington State Department of Ecology listed Lake Whatcom and many of its tributaries as impaired for nutrients and coliform bacteria under the Federal Clean Water Act of 1972. This is supposed to initiate planning and, eventually, implementation of a program that results in improved water quality in the lake. Much studying has ensued, but no action as far as I can tell. Hence, the clogged water intakes in the summer from algae prompting the city to ask for voluntary water conservation.

Mel: What should we be doing about this?

John: No easy answers here for the Nooksack River. The Water Resource Inventory Area No. 1 (WRIA 1) project is working on a detailed implementation plan for managing water in the watersheds included in WRIA 1. Meanwhile, the farmers are forming water districts for projects that would “provide more water for farmers, particularly those whose use exceeds their rights and to pay legal fees” and so on. It won’t be easy and it won’t happen soon. One of the quickest steps in the right direction, however, but also difficult, would be to close the permit exempt loophole.

The same goes for Lake Whatcom. The City of Bellingham’s use of a body of water for water supply that has 6500 homes in the watershed, (many of them on the shoreline with questionable wastewater treatment, motor boating, human and animal swimmers and construction) is probably not unique. I imagine it’s a lot better than Calcutta’s, but water supply sources like Seattle’s or Portland’s are more like what I think of as appropriate.   The reconveyance helps, for sure, but even that was something of a battle. Checking the bottom of boats at Bloedel Donovan isn’t going to solve the water quality problem and it may not even solve the invasive species problem. Something the city and county could do, however, is to buy properties as they come up for sale and tear them down; or at least look at the cost of that compared to other solutions. As is, the lake is getting worse each year according to the Department of Ecology. It will probably continue to do so as population pressures increase.

Mel: I asked you this once before. If I were to suggest a place for my 30-something kids to move to that will still have abundant water in their lifetime (perhaps the next 60 years), and you told me Marblemount. Why Marblemount?

John: Marblemount is, except for City Light’s company town at Newhalem, the last community on the mighty Skagit River. It’s also at the confluence of the Cascade River with the Skagit. Rainfall there is copious and water use by the few who live there is minimal, although there are a few farms that probably irrigate in the summer. It’s basically upstream of all water users in the Skagit, the biggest river in the Puget Sound basin. Plus, it’s only 50 miles from I-5.

Mel: Whether climate change is mostly caused by mankind or not, what can we do, if anything, to stop it?

John: Here’s what I believe (the Nicene Creed for climate scientists): I believe in all the conservation laws (energy, mass, momentum and all the others). I also believe that committed, intelligent scientists use these laws to simulate the effects of mankind on the climate and these simulations, with their associated uncertainty, show that, yes, mankind’s burning of fossil fuels is changing the climate. Furthermore, these results are consistent with observations and analyses of the real world. I would recommend caution in believing this is true simply because 99% of the science says it is. There are examples of cases in which 99% of the scientists said it was this or that, but it turned out to be something different. Think of phlogiston, for example, as a scientific theory explaining combustion. Discovery of the role of oxygen in combustion did in phlogiston. However, as of yet, the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that mankind is altering the climate. Hansen, Sato and Ruedy have a Scientific American-level article, “Perception of Climate Change” that is useful in this regard.

Although it would take a long time (decades) to reverse the effects of fossil fuel consumption on the climate, there are many things that could be done to make this happen. Most all would have benefits other than simply reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The list is long, but comes under the general category of consuming less.

Mel:  Yes, we can definitely do a lot more as consumers to be more responsible stewards of our planet.

I’m wondering if there are specific suggestions you would make or have made to our elected officials in terms of regulatory steps that would really have an impact?


Mel, The problem is systemic and universal.   I don’t believe necessary regulations could be developed, implemented and reinforced.  Regulations are not the answer, is a better way of saying it.  According to a survey by Ipsos MORI, 46% of Americans either don’t know or don’t believe man is changing the climate.  Count several of our prominent legislators in that group.  The rest of us are not behaving any differently than the 46%.  Consider all the people who believe that spending $90,000 for a Tesla electric car is saving the planet.  Ironically, the largest percentage (93%) of people who believe man is changing the climate are Chinese.  The Chinese government would have no problem enacting regulations (and enforcing them).  But they’re not.  Europeans seem to me to be the most aware and willing to address the problem at a personal level.   But it would require more than that and it would have to be on a global scale.

Mel:  Yikes.  Marblemount, here I come!!!

fish out of water



Born in Bismarck, North Dakota. Graduated Mount Vernon High School. Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master Degree in Geology and Geophysics (Oceanography) from MIT. PhD in Water Resources University of Washington.

Environmental Scientist US EPA Region 10 1970-2004

Affiliate Professor University of Washington 2006-Present

Research Interests: Ecosystems Modeling, Impact of Climate Change on Stream Temperature

Interests: Gardening, birding, hiking, biking

Organizations: Nature Conservancy, American Geophysical Union, Whatcom Chorale, Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee

There is a reasonably good photo at my University Web site:


First Run Credit: Bellingham Muse


Boy was I wrong!

You might remember a column I wrote suggesting that the South should rise again and secede from the Union after all. And this time we won’t put up a fight.

My thinking was based on the perception that American was a Purple, not Red, country and those people in the Deep South would be happier living in a place that reflected their values, a one-man-one-gun, anti-abortion, country where gay marriage and legal pot would be forever banned.

Last Tuesday was a wake-up call for me and a lot of others. America is trending red, partly because left-leaning voters are too damn busy blogging and face booking and texting and smoking weed to vote in a measly mid-tern election.

Turns out I had it backwards. We are the outliers here on the Left Coast and we are the ones who need to secede and form our own country.

It’s going to include Washington and Oregon and California, Hawaii and Alaska and it’s going to be called Pacifica.   The Alaskans might resist joining but they will benefit by having wealthy neighbors who could definitely use their oil and natural resources.

Not that we will need much oil. We’re going to be a solar-powered nation with lots of electric cars and charging stations everywhere.

Marriage equality and freedom to smoke weed will be constitutionally protected rights. Gun ownership with be sensibly regulated.

We will be bi-lingual with Spanish as a second language, but we will also have a sensible immigration policy. Our border with Mexico will be much shorter and much easier to patrol and will put the Coyotes and drug smugglers out of business. There will no longer be a flood of illegal immigrants but there will be adequate opportunities for those who qualify.

We won’t proclaim ourselves the greatest country in the world—we’ll just settle for being a wonderful country. We’ll start with 48 million people and the seventh biggest economy in the world.

We’ll be superstars in the tech world, including Silicon Valley and Microsoft. We’ll boast Hollywood and Boeing, world class ski areas and amazing surfing beaches.

And we won’t be slouches when it comes to professional sports, including the last Super Bowl and World Series champions.

Our universities will be nothing to sneeze at either, and Harvard will become known as the Stanford of the East.

You might be asking yourselves why the United States would just sit back and let us go but I’m hoping the Bush Doctrine is still in place. If we believe in bringing democracy to the Middle East, we certainly have to support it in the Far West.

Each state will retain its own capital and the national capital will be Melvindam. You read about that Utopic place right here in an earlier column. It will sprout on the California Coast between Santa Barbara and Buellton and will house one million residents, all of whom get an ocean view from their subsidized housing. We will be creating a national capital just as Brazil created Brasilia.

I’m expecting very cordial relations with our neighbors in Canada, the United States and Mexico, so we will have a very small military budget. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but I’m assuming we will eventually join NATO and we will likely send troops to support NATO missions but we won’t be arrogant and lead the charge.

I’ve left a message for President Obama because I know he religiously reads this column and I would rather tell this to him personally, man to man. He grew up in Hawaii so I realize that Donald Trump is going to say “I told you so—Obama wasn’t born in America after all”. Hopefully I’ll hear from the President before you are reading this on Wednesday.

Basically, I’m going to say it’s nothing personal, he’s got a great country there, and we are going to live as neighbors in perfect harmony.

In fact, we will offer him dual citizenship because he now owns a home in Palm Desert, California.

In case you are wondering what my role will be in this new country, I would be proud to be considered a Founding Father and I certainly expect to be one of the signers of our new constitution, but I’m categorically saying I will not run for Premier or Prime Minister or whatever we’re going to call that person.

I’ll be too busy between getting Melvindam up and running and making the occasional golf outing to Palm Desert with other world leaders.

If you are planning to stay in the original 46—yes, you’ll have to redo your flags—we want you to know that we would love you to visit our Purple Mountain Majesties and our beautiful white sandy beaches and the aqua waters of Pacifica.

This will be an extremely colorful yet color-blind nation.




Good news, bad news.

The good news is that now that we are no longer filming Psych, I’ve lined up some jobs in Hollywood.

The bad news is that I have to be in Los Angeles for extended periods of time.

This is a real struggle for someone who loves the Northwest, especially during an extended drought that is turning the Golden State into the Dust Bowl.

Locally, the smog is horrible and the traffic is in a state of permanent gridlock. There is no longer a rush HOUR in LA—the freeways are always jammed and the overflow has spilled into all of the local streets.

You take your life in your hands just walking around because pedestrians are regarded as at best irritants and at worse easy targets.

If this sounds cataclysmic, that is exactly what it is. This place has reached a critical mass and the city fathers and mothers just keep issuing more building permits to grow the tax base.

As you all know, the Zookeeper is all about solving problems and not just complaining about things. Taking the bull by it’s horns.

Sometimes the best solutions are incredibly easy. The population of Los Angeles is a shade over 4 million and I have found a way to reduce this number by 25 percent.

I am forming a new city—let’s call it Melvindam (think Amsterdam)—that will take one million residents of the LA Basin and move them to a wonderful breezy location along the California Coast. It’s a 30-mile stretch between Santa Barbara and Buellton.

There are a great many people who live in Los Angeles who don’t need to be there. They aren’t working in the movie industry or the aerospace industry and they mostly have service jobs that could easily be transported to Melvindam.

If you are a doctor or a merchant or in any of the service industries, a city of one million will give you lots of patients and customers and clients.

If someone has to commute, I am installing a high-speed commuter train along existing tracks that run along the Pacific Ocean. Those lines will be able to connect to the new Metro subway system that is crawling towards completion in Los Angeles.

After scouting many locations, I chose this stretch to build my city because it is primo land that slopes down to the ocean and it is very sparsely inhabited. There will be very little disruption to the very few existing residents, and while we will remove those residents using eminent domain, we will certainly reward them at a reasonable rate.

If they don’t like it, too bad. How do they think the railroad and every interstate highway was built in America. Steven Spielberg and James Cameron and the others who are rumored to have big beautiful ranches up there that they hardly ever go to—get over it. Think of the greater good. Take one for the team, the big team—Planet Earth.

One of the great things about this location is that the housing will be built in a sustainable cluster and virtually every residence will have an ocean view. The lack of really high end housing will keep away a certain, shall we say, elite type of buyer who might prefer to have a big house somewhere behind a wall.

Water won’t be a problem because I am running a pipeline from an Arctic iceberg directly to Melvindam. This might sound outrageous but the city of Santa Barbara actually researched just such a solution during the seven year drought in the 1980’s. True.

All the cars and trucks and buses will be either electric or run on natural gas and hydrogen as that becomes more readily available. Needless to say, if you a regular reader of the Zookeeper, you won’t be surprised to hear that leaf blowers will be banned.

Imagine, a beautiful location overlooking the Pacific Ocean with wonderful westerly breezes and no smog and no noisy combustion engines. Every once in a while the whoosh of a high speed train going by.

And don’t worry. If we sell out before you can get your act together to make the move, I’m already eyeing a lovely stretch of Oxnard farmland for our companion city, Meltopia.



My name is Mel and I have a problem!

I am addicted to caffeine. But my addiction has developed into a very expensive habit. I love coffee—very good coffee.

Recently a study showed that half the coffee drinkers in American would be satisfied with the freeze-dried varietals. This made me sad.

I guess I just identify with the high class users. I feel sorry for those poor fools who are addicted to the buzz but don’t care about taste or freshness or color or terroir.

My life took a very definite turn for the better when I discovered, via a recommendation from a friend, an amazing coffee roaster who lives ten minutes from my house in Bellingham.

It’s in the boonies, and you drive down a long dirt road to a little settlement where you are greeted by a lovable Yellow Lab.

Inside a small log building, on the second floor, is an amazing roasting machine that was developed on nearby Camano Island.

Here, a gifted man, let’s call him Rodrigo, demonstrated to me the art and the science of coffee roasting. The beans come from the best growing regions in the World, all along the equator but spanning the globe from Central American and South to Africa and Asia and back via New Guinea.

Rodrigo would pop the beans like pop corn and listen for the second crackle to know that the bean had reached it’s full potential.

I took a few bags of beans—real coffee drinkers grind their own beans every morning because freshness is paramount!

When I went through two pounds in about a week, all I had to do was call Rodrigo and leave word designating which varietal I wanted and when I would pick up the small sealed bags.

The beans are roasted to my specifications the next morning and I pick them up any time after 1 PM. If Rodrigo isn’t around, I find my bags on a short bench with an open tin can where I deposit $15 per pound.

Rodrigo always leaves $5 bills in there for change of twenties and he’s never been ripped off—ever.

The ceremony is only beginning. The next morning I wake up under a cloud, grumpy, negative, unable to put a whole sentence together.

I grind the beans, pour over heated filtered water, and magic happens. Minutes later, I am sipping optimism, I am sipping personality, I am sipping articulation. The brew, with a little half and half added, is the color of Shari Belafonte and it is the nectar of the Gods.

Very often, I have a song stuck in my head and I start singing it to myself. It might be something I heard on the car radio the night before or a song that came up in a conversation and graciously I keep it to myself and sing it under my breath.

Off I go, ready to take on the d-bags and save the world and perhaps even create something wonderful.

Thankfully, I have some self control so I only allow myself to have one big cup in the morning and one big cup in mid-afternoon. The afternoon cup is always away from home and it’s not from a chain! It’s from one of the wonderful coffee shops in Bellingham that take this just as seriously as I do.

There is an inherent challenge in this process: how to make a great cup of coffee when you haven’t had your coffee yet. The other day, I was scheduled to play golf very early in the morning. I woke up, ground the beans, flipped the switch and jumped in the shower.

I had forgotten to put the coffee pot under the cone and I came back into the kitchen ten minutes later to witness an industrial disaster. There was a pool of hot coffee on the counter and it had dripped into all of the open drawers below it and of course onto the floor.

I called my amigos and bailed on my golf game and spent the next 15 minutes cleaning up before my wife woke up.

Each drawer had it’s only little coffee flood but I managed to mostly make the place look presentable. Luckily, coffee is a smell I love because there was an aromatic reminder of my little disaster for the next few hours.

You see, I have a problem. I am addicted to caffeine…