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‘It is Time for an Exhale’

Photo by Justin Bailie


Dear friends,

Breathing. It is both an inhale and an exhale. Exhale. Do you ever feel like you only inhale, inhale, inhale? I don’t think we are encouraged to exhale as much as we need to. But I was recently inspired by a close colleague to remember to exhale. And when I did, boy, did a flood of thoughts and feelings come with it. The overwhelming one being, “Oh my gosh, we need a collective exhale.”

Because of your amazing and sustained support over the past six years, North Coast Land Conservancy was buoyed in our mountainous climb to the top of the Rainforest Reserve, and now we are hiking back down.

You know how coming down the mountain is, in some spots, just as hard as or even harder than the ascent? You need your walking sticks to support you, you’re really tired, you slip and twist, and you’re still huffing and puffing.

Purchasing the Rainforest Reserve was a monumental effort, literally and figuratively. Together, we ensured that majestic mountain range could exist as its most abundant self for all of time. And adopting the Marine Reserve Program added to the size and meaningful impact of that feat. But that was just the beginning. We now face the monumental task of caring for them, lovingly and responsibly, forever.

Conserving and sustaining such monuments—and the dozens of others we have protected on the Oregon Coast through the decades—is an immense task into which we pour our passion each day. We could never do it without you.

We’ve been inhaling, inhaling, inhaling—the whole time. To establish the Rainforest Reserve, we inhaled. To survive COVID-19, we inhaled. To support our kids in school, we inhaled. To keep moving forward during very jarring social and political times, we are inhaling, inhaling.

It is time to exhale. A deep, long, focused, intentional exhale. For without the exhale, we suffocate. And if we want to keep our pledge of “forever,” we cannot suffocate! We must continue to care for the lands and waters, our organization, and one another. You, me, our staff, volunteers, colleagues, parents and children, whales, trees and bees—to keep on keeping on, we need the nourishment the exhale provides.

I’ve been asked over the past year, “What’s next for NCLC?” And my gut reaction is often, “Gulp… What do you mean ‘next’?” It seems our culture wants us to continuously push for the next new thing, to acquire more and more. But I want to ask you all to support the critical work we’re already doing. It’s not time for NCLC to move on to the next new thing. Rather, it’s time to nurture all that’s been conserved so far, to sustain it, to ensure its resilience. It’s time to dive deep in our caretaking of the Rainforest Reserve; of you and all the people supporting our mission; of the land and the ocean on the Oregon Coast. Creating new habitat reserves is an awesome part of our work. But the “forever” part of our mission is the caretaking and stewardship of those habitat reserves.

We own and manage more land than Oregon’s largest state park, and those places need us to care for them. Your support ensures our stewardship of the lands and waters in the years to come.

One morning back in July, I managed to escape the computer and spend a morning pulling invasive knotweed at one of our reserves on the banks of the Necanicum River. What a wonderful exhale that was. Working outdoors always stokes my endurance! Plus, I was in excellent company. Among the Weed Warriors working that day were Penny and Vaughn, longtime NCLC super-volunteers. While we yanked at the tall stems, they talked about a recent trip they made to Mount St. Helens.

They visited the mountain before the 1980 eruption, and again not long after. To return this year, 42 years later, was a stunning and hopeful experience. “You know, the Earth itself—the dirt and the rocks—even it is alive and ever-changing,” Vaughn said. “It’s easy to think it’s stagnant, but seeing St. Helens reminds you the entirety of the planet is a living, breathing, ever-moving and evolving force.”

His comment struck me deeply. Wow, even the Earth needs to erupt in a massive exhale from time to time in order to set the stage again for evolution, change, growth and resilience. This is the real meaning of conservation. It’s not about stopping change. Rather, it’s about allowing a place to fully thrive, to grow and to change, forever. Living and breathing, in and out, not suffocating.

Your gifts are what enable us to support this dynamic system and help it thrive, in perpetuity.


Photo by Jamie Swick


Did you know fossil records suggest that about 50 million years ago, there was a group of animals called pakicetids, with long snouts, large teeth and pack behavior similar to that of wolves? Over time, as conditions on our planet changed, pakicetids had to adapt their way of life in order to survive. Geologists and paleontologists tracked the animals’ ancestry back to whales. What?! Wolves to whales? Yes! In fact, whales are more closely related to wolves than they are to walruses and all other marine mammals. It blows my mind.

Over millennia, they moved from land to estuaries to oceans—an evolution made possible because of the natural connectivity between the land and the sea at the time. If the world hadn’t been in a state of connectivity, that evolution couldn’t have happened. The species would have gone extinct.

Your support of NCLC makes it possible to protect and connect places so species may do just that: Adapt to environmental pressure, evolve and flourish. Inhale, exhale, change and thrive.

Well before we adopted the Marine Reserve Program in February, I talked with you about the land-to-sea connection on the Oregon Coast and the powerful impact of planning for connectivity as part of our conservation mission. Since then, I’ve begun thinking of that connectivity as more of a responsibility, not just a strategy. We have the privilege of experiencing, firsthand, the dynamic winds, waters and earth that shape our beaches, forests, wetlands and prairies. And with that privilege comes the responsibility to care for those amazing natural systems. Connectivity is our key principle, and it was the motivation behind our adoption of this ocean-focused program. A few months earlier, we had purchased the Rainforest Reserve, which is connected to Oswald West State Park, which is connected to the rocky shoreline of Cape Falcon Marine Reserve. So many connections that create essential habitat!

Thanks to your support, we are augmenting NCLC’s core vision with education and advocacy efforts in the marine reserve—walking the talk of connectivity at all levels. Inhaling and exhaling the life forces gifted to us by the forests and ocean and advocating for their protection.

Now we’re approaching the end of our first year of having expanded our vision to encapsulate efforts on the land and into the sea. We’ve been able to continue several outreach and education programs at Cape Falcon, such as the summer Tidepool Ambassador Program (TAP) and a Land-to-Sea Community Science BioBlitz. We also helped facilitate sea star surveys, contributing to much-needed science about Oregon’s oceans. It has been exhilarating, and exhausting. I think even the sea stars need an exhale. With adoption of the Marine Reserve Program, NCLC itself continues to evolve. What hasn’t changed, though, is our commitment to nature and to expanding its capacity to thrive in this constantly changing world. Your steadfast support through your donations is key to our success. Thank you.

In the months ahead, we will be putting our hands into the soil to nurture the lands back to health. We will be connecting with you and with new people to gain a larger collective wisdom about how to best plan for future scenarios and address change, connectivity and climate. And we will be exhaling, recovering our strength and nurturing our creative souls so that we have the endurance and resiliency to continue with this most important of long games: Protecting our Mother Earth.

With your help, we will put these plans into action for our community. Thank you for supporting this mission—a world where people, plants and wildlife all thrive.


Katie Voelke

Executive Director


I thank my friend and colleague, Jayne, for pointing me to the need for exhale and to the Waldorf pedagogy on the benefits of a deep exhale. I hope it comes to you as a gift as well.
“The idea is to balance linear thinking—which requires intense focus—with creative thinking, which is borne out of idleness. Switching between the two modes seems to be the optimal way to do good, inventive work.” ~ Stanford’s Emma Seppälä


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