Paul Jacob

“Death spiral.” Quite a term for the national economy, eh? For all I know, Tony Lystra, a reporter for The Daily News in Longview, Washington, may be right. Perhaps the national economy is in a death spiral.

And caught in that vortex, as he explains, is one of that state’s smallest counties, Wahkiakum.

It used to be a farming, fishing, logging community. But not much farming, fishing, or logging goes on any more. It’s filling up with retirees, people who (for reasons known only to them) don’t mind lots and lots of rain.

The farmland is far from the major distribution center — Wahkiakum County is fairly isolated. Though I’ve traveled to the Pacific Northwest umpteen times, I’ve never driven through Wahkiakum. (I just have friends there, who keep me updated.) Naturalist Robert Michael Pyle calls it a “forgotten place” in the subtitle to his recent book Sky Time in Grays River.

The fish, of course, have mostly gone away. The salmon’s run on the Columbia has been physically hampered by numerous dams, and the waters are warmer, now, than salmon prefer (blame that on the dams, too, I guess . . . though when you think about it, we civilized people like warmth, and there may be heat spillover everywhere, for all I know). Fish runs in the local tributaries aren’t much any more, either, from what I hear — despite the work of state hatcheries.

The logging industry, too, has changed in the last 30 years. Huge fir and spruce and hemlock and the occasional cedar used to be pulled out of the forests, almost constantly, hauled out by train, tugboats, and log trucks. Now the trees harvested tend to be quite small, the kind Wahkiakum folk used to titter at when they visited places like Maine or Minnesota.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.