• Environmental Ethics

Living in an Ice Rink


Greetings from Holden! Here is an update on what we have been up to since Sunday, January 12.

The universe has a cruel sense of irony! Only a few hours after I posted about how beautiful the snow looks here, it began to rain! A lot of the snow began to melt, causing everything here to be covered with a sheet of ice. Apparently a phenomenon known as a Chinook Wind caused the end of the snow storm to get warmer and produce rain.

As a result of this storm, we had a power outage on Monday from a tree falling on the power lines. From about 5am until 4:30pm we had no electricity, no heating and limited hot water.  The Village handled this disruption with patience and a dose of “Holden Hilarity.” We had breakfast by flashlight, and we held class in the library instead of our normal classroom in order to have better natural lighting for reading. Kudos to the kitchen team for still preparing wonderful food for us all day in spite of the power outage!  The poor members of dish team had a lot of work to catch up on in the evening, since dishes had not been done all day.  The utilities team here at Holden also deserves a round of applause for working all day in the light drizzle to repair the power lines for us! Our accommodations here are very comfortable but the power outage and storm were good reminders that we are vulnerable living in a wilderness area, and dependent upon the sources of energy that bring us the comforts of daily life.

Unfortunately, because of all of the ice around the Village, it feels like we live in an ice rink and it has been more difficult to get outside and explore. However, many of us have braved the slick roads and trails to hike and snowshoe. There are roads that lead to the different levels of the mine which have been popular outings for many of us because they offer great views of the mountain peaks!

We all survived writing our first papers about the ethical decision of a family trying to decide whether to build a lake cabin, and considering the environmental and social impacts of their consumption. About half of the class brought their laptops and are typing their assignments, but the other half (and the students from Augustana and PLU) are choosing to save electricity and experience how it feels to write papers by hand.

In class this week we have been listening to our classmates’ presentations about various aspects of Holden Village. Everyone did a great job of being creative in their presentations! Holden Village has a “costume shop” in the recreation center building, and one of the groups dressed up in old mountain-men costumes to present a skit about how Holden Village was transferred to the Lutheran Bible Institute in 1960. A persistent man named Wes Prieb wrote two letters to the Howe Sound Mining Company over the period of two years inquiring about the price of the mine. By the third time he sent a letter, the initial asking price of $100,000 was knocked down to $0, and the Village, with all of its buildings and infrastructure were donated!

The mining legacy at Holden Village has had its impacts on the air and water quality of the valley. Iron oxide dust from the tailings pile would occasionally blow over to the Village, and the water quality next to the old mine site was degraded to the point where algae and macroinvertebrate life could hardly survive in the creek. Thus, another group presented about the plans to remediate the mine site. These plans are quite complicated! Basically, the gist of the plans is to move the tailings piles further back from the creek and decrease the angle of the slopes of these piles so that they are less likely to fall into the creek. The creek beds are also being diverted to be farther away from the leaching of the mine waste. This remediation work means that Holden Village will be closed to summer guests for two years during construction. Holden is taking advantage of this time without guests to make infrastructure improvements.  

Additionally, we learned about some of Holden’s sustainable business practices. The kitchen staff and volunteers work hard to reduce food waste by creatively using leftovers when possible (we had lots of rice for dinner on Wednesday, so we had rice pudding for dinner last night!). Also, they try to purchase local foods, especially during the summer, and many of the meals are vegetarian so that the Villagers are using less energy by eating lower on the food chain. Furthermore, all members of the community participate in “Garbology” (sorting waste) as a sustainable practice. This presentation led us into a great discussion about the extent to which Holden Village is truly sustainable. Although the village sends very little garbage to the landfill, is powered primarily from a hydroelectric dam, and is very conscious of environmental issues, it also takes enormous amounts of fossil fuels for all of the Villagers and guests to arrive via plane/train/car, ferry and school bus. Are the sustainability practices and information that we are learning in class (and will hopefully take home with us) worth the environmental impact that it takes for us to be here?

Another component of sustainability and justice in the Village is that every Thursday a simple meal of either potatoes or rice is served as a “hunger awareness meal.” Not only do we experience a bit of physical hunger later in the afternoon from eating this simple meal, the Village also donates the money that it would have spent on a normal meal to organizations that address hunger.

Last week the village staff pranked us good by serving us snow with coconut and raisins on top before revealing that the actual hunger meal was potatoes! We have been subject to other fun pranks since we arrived, including being told that we could only shower twice during our entire stay here. A wonderful part of Holden Village is that “hilarity” is in their mission statement, and all of the laughter we share is a great reminder to not take life too seriously!

Finally, today we heard a presentation about how the Village’s commitment to environmental stewardship is reflected in its worship life. Weather permitting, worship is frequently held outside throughout the year. When that is not possible, there are many ways that the natural world is integrated into daily worship, through songs, prayers, invocations, art, sermons, and the decoration of the physical space with items from outdoors.  

Throughout this week we have also been discussing readings from one of our textbooks, For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger. This author suggests a Christian perspective for understanding and responding to environmental issues by looking to scripture. He also asserts that Christianity offers people a set of virtues that, when acted upon, lead people to live more harmoniously with the earth. We have had great conversations about whether “doing” stems from “being,” and whether a virtue-based approach is effective in confronting environmental problems.

Our group continues to enjoy many leisure activities, including card games, ping pong, ultimate Frisbee and a Village-wide snow ball fight in conjunction with the Holden School’s PE class!  A few folks enjoyed hiking to a bonfire last night. Some people are taking advantage of the “Craft Cave” and are learning how to weave, make mosaics and do silk paintings.

That’s all for now—thanks for reading!

A prank of snow for lunch for the Hunger Awareness Meal.
The Craft Cave where many students are working on art projects
Using costumes to present the history of Holden Village
The tailings pile left over from Holden's mining days
Sunset over the snowy and icy mountain peaks