‘Piano Tide’ offers a story of environmental ethics in Southeast Alaska

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‘Piano Tide’ offers a story of environmental ethics in Southeast Alaska

Category : Alaska

“The characters just walked into my life laughing, so what can you do then?”

• Contact Capital City Weekly managing editor Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@capweek.com. Axel, for instance, represented the anthropocentric point of view, she said. ‘PIANO TIDE’ AND ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS
BY MARY CATHARINE MARTIN
CAPITAL CITY WEEKLY
A woman with a piano, a dog, and not much else ferries into a tiny Southeast Alaskan village. She’ll be reading in Juneau at Hearthside Bookstore in the Nugget Mall at 6 p.m.. That’s the premise of “Piano Tide,” environmental ethicist and writer Kathleen Dean Moore’s first book of fiction. There’s a beautiful passage in which Moore draws parallels between the tuning of a piano and the environment. “It’s not that we can’t fish, but we can’t fish out the breeds. “And it seemed to me I really needed to know what that meant. I spent years and years making these people into people the readers would care about, until I couldn’t write about them without laughing and crying.”
Moore said the point she considers most important is that “there has to be a better way.”
“It’s not that we can’t cut trees, but we can do that honorably,” she said. How do people do that? She first came to Southeast Alaska as a writer in residence at the Island Institute in Sitka in 2006. Later she’ll be reading in Anchorage, sponsored by 49 Writers. Moore is now working on the sequel to “Piano Tide.”
“I didn’t think I would,” she said. Initially, each of her characters represented a different theory of environmental ethics. “For a long time I’ve been writing books and speeches and harangues about stopping climate change and extinctions, and it’s all been very abstract, and I’ve been saying really abstract things like ‘stand strong against the corporate plunder of the planet,’” Moore said. What does it cost them? The townspeople — a grumpy, shouting philosopher in a wheelchair; a burly, jobless, fix-it-all man; a teenage would-be bear guide with a secret girlfriend — watch the woman arrive and help her haul her piano onto the porch of her cabin. Juneau musician Linda Buckley will perform with her. Much of Moore’s knowledge about music is due to her friend Rachelle McCabe, a concert pianist, Moore said. “I wanted all my characters to be complex that always, they were trying to do the right thing…. The two have been touring together on a program about extinction. Then Axel, a local businessman, decides to dam a salmon stream and cage a wild bear for a tourist attraction, and the woman with the piano, and her new friends, have to decide what they’ll do about it. “She has taught me so much about music,” Moore said. We need to find a way towards a sustainable, honorable harvest, which is entirely possible if we start questioning our presupposition about who deserves what.”
Home is a central theme in the narrative, as is the consequence of taking action, and music itself. How do they make the plans? “It’s been thrilling for me… I see things differently.”
The art on the cover is by Juneau painter Dick Zagars. What regrets will they have?”
Moore, until recently a professor of environmental ethics at Oregon State University, spends her summers on Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska (her author bio says she “writes from a small cabin where two creeks and a bear trail meet a tidal cove”). Also, “Because there’s so much music in the book, I’ve been trying to bring a musician to the stage” when she reads, Moore said. Other reading locations haven’t yet been decided. Some of Moore’s books are “Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water,” “Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World;: “The Pine Island Paradox,” “Wild Comfort,” and “Great Tide Rising.” She’s won the Pacific Northwest Book Award, Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award and Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction. She worked on “Piano Tide” for 8-10 years, she estimates. (An anthropocentric view is one that “regards humankind as the central or most important element of existence, especially as opposed to God or animals,” according to an online definition.)
But “as soon as I started to get these characters fleshed out, they refused to be pigeonholed,” Moore said.