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.

4 thoughts on “Why I’m serious about Decay Preserves

  1. Offices use *less* paper? Really? I am under the impression that offices use more — because they can. It has become so easy to print any old thing that we do just that — reams and reams of often useless bulletins, copies, pages. It seems that burgeoning use of paper would be in response to burgeoning bits of information…. If I think about all that questionably useful stuff being printed out, I might consider the home printer, and many office printers as unofficial decay preservers — putting into solid form that which should have melted into the cybersphere….

  2. Another comment — I read an interesting article in the NYT this morning about an EPA supermessed up site in Kansas. This little town is so messed up that they wanted to raze it and start over. But two people aren’t leaving, so the Dept of Health has to abandon their project, meaning that these two people are de facto guardians of decay. The slag heaps and sink holes left from mining lead can continue to contaminate and undermine the town in peace.

  3. What a coincidence! Today is the 32nd Anniversary of the day Mt. St. Helens blew its top, and it is also the day that I discovered your amazing (if twisted) blog advocating the Preservation Of Decay… and your prime example is, of all things, Mt. St. Helens and the aftermath of its destructive (and ultimately transformative) eruption. How very… coincidental… Good luck with your initiative. It’s got a million to one chance–but it might just work!

  4. Charles Dickens pondered a kind of decay preserves that led to new life in his book Bleak House, Ch. 18 … a beautiful but poignant commentary on life and destruction and several kinds of relationship… “The lodge was so dark within, now the sky was overcast, that we only clearly saw the man who came to the door when we took shelter there, and put two chairs for Ada and me. The lattice-windows were all thrown open, and we sat, just within the doorway, watching the storm. It was grand to see how the wind awoke, and bent the trees, and drove the rain before it like a cloud of smoke; and to hear the solemn thunder, and to see the lightning; and while thinking with awe of the tremendous powers by which our little lives are encompassed, to consider how beneficent they are, and how upon the smallest flower and leaf there was already a freshness poured from all this seeming rage, which seemed to make creation new again.
    Charles Dickens
    from Bleak House, Chapter 18 entitled Lady Dedlock

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