Janet Thomas: New Year, New Life, New Hope
These times are complex in too many ways to count. As 2023 gives birth to itself I am struggling to rise to the auspicious occasion of this New Year in our lives. Where will it lead? Where will we lead it? Environmentally and globally speaking, we are leading far too many plant and animal species into extinction. The sacred balance of it all is being undermined by human greed and exploitation in too many ways to count. Whatever happened to the concept of interdependence? Whatever happened to our sacred connection to the natural wonders of the natural world?
More than 30 years ago I moved to San Juan Island to save my own life. I was facing the eruption of childhood memories that felt impossible to survive, even as I had no choice but to face them. I first came here to visit the brother of my partner at the time. We went to American Camp, and I instantly knew that it was a place that would save my life. The everchanging beauty of this National Park took me under its wing and over the years it nurtured my faith in life and took me along the road to recovery.
Our first home was on the shores of the west side, just north of Lighthouse Park. Our constant companions were the Southern Resident orcas. My first encounter with this astonishing species is non-stop alive in my memory and it happened when we first looked at the house as a rental possibility. There was an entire pod basking, playing, and quite likely eating salmon in the kelp beds just off the shore. Their playfulness was astounding, and the sound of their unique language was like music to my ears. I was utterly spellbound as I had no idea about the existence of this astonishing species. We immediately said “yes” to renting the house. The Southern Residents were there regularly and became an inspiring foundation for my healing body, mind, and spirit.
After a couple of years, the house went up for sale and so we moved. But the impact of living there in communion with the natural world and the Southern Resident orcas became a solid and revered foundation for my recovery. No matter what our personal struggles are, nature in all its manifestations knows best and becomes a beacon of healing in ways simple and profound.
Although we had to move away from our immediate and up-close connection to these extraordinary sea mammals, their impact knew no bounds and visits to the west side became regular and revered. I owe my unfolding healing path to the west side waters of San Juan Island and its Southern Resident inhabitants. My gratitude knows no bounds. Nor does my fear for the future as whale-watching tourism boat noise destroys the Southern Residents’ access to their food, to their ability to communicate and to navigate. Unlike the other species of whales in the Salish Sea, the Southern Residents do not eat other mammals. Salmon is their primary food. And yes, the dams need to come down and salmon restored. But in the meantime, the Southern Residents are facing extinction. They need their quiet waters back in order to access available salmon and survive.
These 30 years of living here on the island have unfolded with many blessings. I managed the San Juan County Fair for several years and it was a profound gift of connection to so many county residents. From artists to farmers to long-time residents to summer visitors, those years were a nonstop gift of connection. Then I got a job as editor of SPA Magazine and travelled inside and outside the country to visit spas and write about their gifts of healing, counseling, and retreat. During that time, I participated in the WTO demonstrations in Seattle, and it inspired the book, “Battle in Seattle--The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations.”
Then, my dear friend Thrinley DiMarco, who is no longer with us, told me she was taking a trip to India to visit the prominent Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Sakya Trizin. I immediately knew that I could not let her go alone and we began to plan the trip together. Sakya Trizin lived in North India and so we added a visit to Dharamsala, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, on our list. It was there where we discovered Deer Park Institute, a Buddhist-based center for workshops of all kinds—from writing and art to meditation and Buddhist philosophy.www.deerpark.com Much to my delight I was invited to teach writing workshops and ended up going to Deer Park annually for many years. The workshops included participants from all over the world and I learned far more from them than I could ever teach. The Deer Park staff was, and is, profoundly kind and oh-so-knowledgeable and skillful in so many ways. My gratitude knows no bounds. Unfortunately, because of Covid, my annual visits to Deer Park are now on-hold. I miss everyone immensely.
I am also profoundly grateful for our island community. As this year comes to an end and the New Year begins, the beauty of place and the caring of, and for, our island community is moving beyond words. My friend, Lee Sturdivant, is now living at The Village. She and her longtime dear friend, Louise Dustrude, are responsible for so many of the blessings we experience here on the island. From Sunken Park to Parks & Rec to the Home Trust, these two amazing women have served us all in too many ways to count. May their spirit of generosity abound.
And, as COVID has unfolded around us all, I am profoundly grateful for all our grocery store workers who have prevailed on behalf of us all. Their kind presence and ongoing service are nonstop gifts in these challenging times. Awhile ago, I started to tip the cashiers at King’s and Market Place….Just sayin’…..
There is far too much destruction prevailing upon this beleaguered planet right now. It is heartbreaking how many people are suffering due to exploitation of both place and people. Democracy is being consumed by Capitalism, and so is nature. May we all wake up in time to save the sacred nature of it all for ourselves, our children, and all future generations.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Janet Thomas has lived on San Juan Island for 27 years. She is the San Juan Islands Coordinator for Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance and was the Superintendent of San Juan County Parks when Jet-ski-whale-watching was prevented from launching from San Juan County Park, a decision ultimately upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court. She is an author and playwright whose work has been produced in Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Her most recent books are: "The Battle in Seattle--The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations" and "Day Breaks Over Dharamsala--A Memoir of Life Lost and Found."