Interview with David McCloskey about Cascadia

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David McCloskey, a former sociology professor at Seattle University, is credited for defining the term ‘Cascadia’ in the early 1970’s while examining the distinct geographic, cultural and ecological boundaries that make the Pacific Northwest unique. He now lives in Eugene, Oregon and runs the Cascadia Institute ( We also thank Paul Nelson for transcribing this interview. He operates SPLABS ( in Seattle, which held a bioregional Cascadia Poetry Festival earlier this year. The initial interview was done by KLCC from Eugene, Oregon.

Transcribed by Paul E Nelson

KLCC – David McCloskey is the Founder of the Cascadia Institute, among other things, known as the “Father of Cascadia” in this bioregion. A region he’s brought attention to through maps and all sorts of other ways of presenting this ecoregion to us and he is with us at KLCC. Thank you, David, for being here.

DM – Thank you.

KLCC – Well, how do you define Cascadia as a bioregion? What are its boundaries in a physical sense?

DM – From the Coast to the Crest, from the Pacific Coast to the Continental Divide, and from Northern California and the Great Basin, to Southeast Alaska. So the three corners, which are extraordinary places, are Cape Mendocino on the coast, Yellowstone on the Continental Divide, and Icy Bay and Mt. St. Elias and the glaciers hitting the sea up in Alaska.

KLCC – And if you had to define the region in terms of character, what kind of characteristics do you see coming through this region?

DM – Well, everyone would know it as a common landscape. It was once known as the Oregon Territory, or the Oregon Country. But clearly the forests. (It’s) the first thing people see. I just saw the salmon parade go by my talk and it was swimming upstream.

KLCC – How appropriate!

DM – And we were just talking on the way in about the removal of the Elwha Dam. And the Condit Dam and how fast those salmon are coming back. In a couple of months they’re back. So they’ve been doing that for millions of years. So, the two icons, the forests and the salmon are the most identifiable, but there are a lot of other dimensions.

KLCC – Any particular dimensions you’d care to highlight?

DM – Well, sure. I mentioned Cape Mendocino in California. That’s where the San Andreas Fault runs out to sea. That’s where our own earth plates begin. That’s where the Cascadia Subduction Zone begins. We’re one of the few bioregions in the world that has our own earthplates. That geology continues to ripple and create, through the whole region, all the way to the Continental Divide.

KLCC – I see you mention “respectful acknowledgement” of that area. What does that mean exactly?

DM – For many years we’ve still been in an imperial mindset. The colonialist mindset. And we’ve had all these different names for the region: Caledonia; New Spain; New Georgia; all the rest of these things. But the first name that’s true to the spirit of the place is Cascadia. And it’s named not after the mountains, but the waters. And it’s what the waters do, or what the mountains do, is cascade. That image of cascading waters is what the place itself literally does. So it’s the first name true to the spirit of the place, because it says what it does and does what it says.

KLCC – Is there acknowledgement of this region outside of this region at all?

DM – In terms of the bioregional movement (that’s) been going on for quite a while, Cascadia by far is the most mature consciousness and self-designation in all of North America. The map’s right in front of you. I’ll show you an example of that. Also, I want to say, by its own strange alchemy, Cascadia has passed into regional consciousness here, far more than any other place. There are literally hundreds of groups, companies &c who call themselves Cascadia. That’s an extraordinary process.

KLCC – One of the things you talk about is “sparking the imagination” and “helping people get their feet on the ground.” What’s the relationship between imagination and groundedness?

DM – Well, you can have an imagination that is not grounded. And we’ve often had that when we bring in identities from elsewhere. But when you begin to sing the place, for instance, and the spirit of the place infuses that and you get that spirit, then you begin to get grounded and you begin to – what I’m trying to do is call forth a new culture here.

KLCC – Well, how is that manifesting in a new culture in terms of the institute itself? What are you active in with the institute at this point?

DM – The purpose of the institute is education about the character and consciousness and context – you have to use the old phrases like Greater Northwest as a distinctive geographic, ecological and cultural region. So that’s what we’ve been doing for a long time. The maps are a good example. This talk is like that. And I help, I don’t know how many people week in and week out try to clarify, get their feet on the ground, (as to) what the region is. Actually, most people don’t know the region very well. They know the I-5 and I want to say Cascadia is not an I-5 conceit. That’s a mistake.

KLCC – How would you correct that mistake?

DM – Well, you just think of the Cascades. We love all these mountains, but they have a west side. That’s where the I-5 is, but there’s an east side. And if you’re in Bend you have this INCREDIBLE panorama, of those peaks. You see six, eight peaks. On the top of Middle Sister you can see Shasta, you can see Adams and Hood. So there’s two sides to that. About seventy percent of the regional population lives within sight of a Cascade volcano. Most people think it’s the I-5 side, the wet (side). No, it’s the other side as well.

KLCC – The east side and the west side are so completely different in terms of environment, but you’re saying that they’re the same.

DM – No, well the Cascades and the BC Coast Range, they create the rain shadow. So the dry east side is a creation of the same mountains. What people don’t understand is that they go over there and they see the lava, they see the basalt and they see all that dry thing and they think “ooh, this is a different world and I don’t like it.” That world is created by the same geological forces that created the whole region. They’re not different. They’re part of the same formative process.

KLCC – And so how is your participation and your work being presented here at the Fair? What are you bringing to the Fair this weekend?

DM – Well, I gave a talk; just finished a little while ago, called Coming Home to Cascadia. And besides Cascadia, it’s that image of home and what it means to be welcomed home. The place is a gift. The question is how we receive that gift. We need to learn how to receive that gift in a much deeper way than we’ve been doing.

KLCC – Is there any particular key to receiving that gift, in terms of our spiritual openness or, what helps us to receive better?

DM – The three laws of Moral Ecology would help. Number one: The Gift has a spirit of its own and so what we need to do is honor that spirit. The second one is The Gift must move. And the third is that you have to give as you are given. Now, if  THAT became the basis of an ethic, a regional ethic, that would then put us back in, actually the only true spirit of the region, and that’s the potlatch spirit which is a giveaway and the giveaway starts with the land itself and that’s signified by the Cascades. Because that’s what they do, they give themselves away. The water flows through us.

KLCC – And we are very much made through water more than anything else. It is the water of Cascadia.

DM – We are, yeah. (Laughter.)

KLCC – We’re talking to David McCloskey of the Cascadia Institute. You can find more on the Cascadia Institute website: And thank you so much for your presence here at the Fair on KLCC, David.

DM – Thanks very much.


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