Why I’m serious about Decay Preserves

I am told that I should introduce myself, in order to give a face to the Decay Preserves movement. That sounds uncomfortably like I should offer myself as the face of decay, but my adviser (my son, Devon) tells me this must be. Thus: I am Skid Buckham, and this is my story of decay. Preserves. How decay really does preserve, and why decay preserves deserve a place in the sun.

Thirty-two years ago yesterday, in less than a minute, part of Mt. St. Helens—which had been called America’s Mt. Fuji for the symmetrical beauty that suggested eternal calm—was transformed into a speeding river of superheated debris that flattened and buried 230 square miles of forest. The rest of the pulverized mountain became a vast cloud of ash and pumice, crackling with lightning, that covered thousands of square miles with ash. While survivors were still coming to terms with the devastation, forces were in play to leave untouched the great damaged heart of the forest around the mountain. Three decades along, and you can visit one of the largest decay preserves in the history of the world. The landscape of National Volcanic Monument is still dominated by ash, but life is spreading, taking its nourishment from death and decay.

This ravaged and recovering landscape is the very image of decay’s power to preserve the cycle of life, by enabling the creation of new life.

If such an immense area should be left untouched in order to preserve a state that started with the nearly total destruction of all life, maybe there’s something to be said for setting aside decay on a smaller scale, even if it hasn’t the grandeur—or, some are sure to object, the beauty—of a volcano’s blast area.

Decay preserves might change how we see things. My thinking here is shaped, too, by the software industry. Back in the day, we really believed in the revolutionary potential of PCs and Macs and their software. You may have heard the story of how Steve Jobs recruited one of the executives at Apple. The guy worked for a soft-drink company. Jobs asked him, “Do you want to sell sugared water, or do you want to change the world?”

How much did we really change the world? I have seen the best minds of my generation devote themselves to creating software that would make them a ton of money or dominate a niche. Only a few even thought of changing the world. Bill Gates’s vision was a PC in every home. Did that really make any fundamental changes in how people live? What else have we produced? Angry Birds and smart phones.

Software’s fall from the grace of ambition—you might call this fall a kind of decay—left me to look elsewhere for making a difference. What kind of change would really reach to the bottom of how we live? Asking such a question points one at changing how people see the world: how they value it, how they color it, how they scale it, what comparative weight they give it. Thus decay preserves: If people can look at decay differently, what other valuations might they reconsider?

Trying to change society, we are assured by a thousand voices, is foolish, futile, and grandiose. I don’t accept that. Rather than thrive within a fallen vision of possibilities, I choose to continue to shoot as high as the sun, higher even than Icarus flew. Why not?

So, when people ask, “Why decay preserves?”, my response is, “Why not?”

Join the Decay Preserves movement. Give decay a chance—give Washington a chance.