What I Learned About Community at the Grand Coulee Dam


There’s some truth to be found in the places we’ve been, the things we’ve built. The Grand Coulee is a reminder of the magnitude of community buy-in. It was, along with similar projects of The New Deal and Works Progress Administration, a bit of a Hail Mary for the Roosevelt administration. Projects of this magnitude could hardly be considered viable today due to the crippling stinginess in Washington. We aren’t willing to invest in each other for the sake of national investment. Maybe it’s just as well.

Imagine how the Great Depression had destroyed the backbone of the upper class while raging dust bowls in the Midwest and Northwest had ravaged the middle class. Following years of teetering on what must have felt like the very end of American identity, a new vision emerged so preposterously large and elaborate that one couldn’t help believe in it. To believe in the Columbia Basin Project was to accept the fate of “now-or-never.” A certain direness is prevalent in the outlook for our world today. So too are we on the cusp of losing our identity, and not just our nationalistic pride, but as humankind on planet earth.

Mother Earth and Father Time will exist past the existence of our wild, impressive species. As the laser show at the Grand Coulee Dam says, speaking in the voice of the Columbia River, “Through chaos I was born. Throughout time I have raged.” Though we have been brilliant to irrigate and hydro-electricize our society, the rivers will flow past and beyond us.

The essential function of evolution stares humanity square in the eye: evolve or die. Are we fit enough to survive?

No longer are our grand schemes bound in the shackles of nationalism. America will not survive on its own, on an obliterated planet devoid of mineral and sustenance.

We must invest in our global community and continue to build projects that transcend the boundaries of government bureaucracy. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, microloans and the like are the conduit for this global knowledge. For those of us whose cup overfloweth, we share. We put our excess to work, hoarding neither knowledge nor sustenance.

In the bestselling book Freakonomics, Ste(v/ph)ens Levitt and Dubner attribute the petering out of the KKK to its only asset being secret knowledge that, once unmasked, left it without any true value. We have eclipsed the Age of Information, the authors confirm. We now know, or have access to, nearly all of the things that are known in the universe.

I ascribe to the developing Age of Insight, of constructing complex systems that account for what we know about one thing and apply it to another.

Our mind, body and soul are available on loan to the right cause. We are abundant. For those of us that have more than we know what to do with, it is no burden. We give and give, and then give some more. And so it is, that the only way to reclaim our own natural wonder is to collectively build our future. There may be an unnatural wonder about what we can accomplish using technology and intuition. But have no fear, human accomplishment will never outshine the majestic artistry of divine nature. The Grand Coulee is, in itself, an ugly slab of concrete. The glory of the fertile Columbia basin is the canvas upon which it shines: the healing waters of Soap Lake, the cascading canyons…

Man may construct the Coulee Dam but he cannot carve the Grand Canyon. Both are wondrous reasons that should shake the spirits of the suicidal, the already-given-ups, the pessimists and the non-believers.

Now is the time to dam up your doubts and irrigate your soul.

Work with the world around you and harness the awesome power of nature. Through chaos, be reborn. Roll on, Columbia, roll on.

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