PENINSULA WOMAN: Nurturing the seeds of happiness

PORT ANGELES — Dale Holiday has traveled far, in body and spirit, from her south New Jersey birthplace.

Her most exotic foray, though, was to the land where “gross national happiness” is monitored, measured and striven for: In spring 2010, she found herself a job as a consultant in Bhutan, the Switzerland-size country bordered by China and India.

Holiday holds degrees in environmental planning, community planning, psychology and sociology, and her current job is with Clallam County Health and Human Services as a substance abuse prevention specialist.

It might not seem obvious how a month in

Bhutan relates to life in Port Angeles. But Holiday says the trip, while more than a year ago now, continues to enrich her days. Not that it was Shangri-La — she worked in the capital city of Thimpu, where poverty and alcohol abuse are among the problems — but rather that her colleagues there also became friends. They reminded her that life’s sweetness lies in simplicity.

This Independence Day, Holiday is reflecting anew on her Bhutanese experience and on her life as an African American woman.

And in a high point in her career, she has an article about her work in Thimpu in the July issue of Planning magazine, the American Planning Association’s flagship publication with a circulation of 60,000.

In “An Interlude in the Himalayas,” Holiday writes of the gross national happiness idea, something the Bhutanese consider an exceedingly important form of wealth.

“The GNH concept is based on the premise,” she notes, “that human society advances when material and spiritual development occur side by side.”

In Bhutan, Holiday met Geley Norbu, Thimpu’s chief city planner; they have stayed in touch, and he sent her his recent paper, “Urban Planning and Happiness,” which explores how rampant economic development without regard for people’s well-being can result in injustice, such as huge homes for some while others have substandard shelter, or fancier cars for commutes that take time away from family and friends.

“Bhutan is literally on the other side of the world from my home on the North Olympic Peninsula,” Holiday writes. Yet there are striking similarities: rural landscapes, sensitive lands, and, she says, a “struggling economy with a bias toward development.”

Holiday believes Americans can learn from the gross national happiness model. And after living in Port Angeles since 2006, she speaks of already-existing ingredients for regional happiness.

Of all the places where Holiday, 56, has lived — Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Arizona, Seattle and Olympia among them — this is where she’s found the most happiness.

It has to do with the land and the people: In Port Angeles, she says, residents appreciate natural beauty. They revel in the mountain and water views, and whenever possible, they immerse themselves in the outdoors.

“I think that’s one bond here,” Holiday says.

And for her, the town’s smallness means a high quality of life. Holiday can walk to work at the Clallam County Courthouse; when she and her husband, Port Angeles City Council member Max Mania, moved here, they found a small house and garden that fit their desire to downsize from the larger place they had in Olympia.

Just as important is how the couple has found good friends through their involvement in community theater and the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center.

“I lived in Olympia for 12 years,” Holiday adds, “and I never had this nice network of friends.”

Other things that make life sweet here include the year-round Port Angeles Farmers Market, which Holiday calls “incredible.” She loves fresh food, since both she and Mania love to cook, and pairs that with a lot of exercise at Fitness West downtown.

“We have good services for our elders here,” she adds.

This is part of why four years ago, Holiday helped her mother Dorothy Toomer, 83, move to Port Angeles.

Holiday herself had worked as a research investigator at the state Department of Commerce in Olympia. Here, she first went to work as an associate planner for Clallam County, and then moved to Health and Human Services last December.

As prevention specialist, she coordinates the Port Angeles Healthy Youth Coalition, which is striving to reduce alcohol and other drug abuse among teenagers.

One of the coalition’s projects, said chairwoman Gena Royal, was an alcohol purchase survey, in which young-looking 21-year-olds were sent out to buy alcohol at convenience stores.

“Seven out of 10 of our stores were right on the ball,” asking for proof of legal drinking age, Royal said.

The coalition has also cosponsored parenting classes and advertisements promoting the fact that most Port Angeles parents don’t consider teen drinking to be acceptable.

It’s all about fighting the “everybody’s doing it” perception about teenage alcohol use, Holiday says. And while the coalition’s educational efforts are this year focused on alcohol and marijuana, 2012 will mark a shift to prescription-drug abuse.

“Dale is a joy to work with,” Royal says. “She has a really positive attitude,” along with another trait — flexibility — which is indispensable when coordinating the volunteer coalition members’ meetings and projects.

In addition to her paid work, Holiday has served as a volunteer on the North Olympic Land Trust board and worked at Streamfest, the annual land trust fundraiser set for July 31 this year.

“I am really happy here,” Holiday says of Port Angeles. And of life in the United States of America on the weekend of its 235th birthday, she offers positive reflections.

“We have the good fortune to live in a country where we can vote without harassment,” she says, “and express our political opinion without fear of deadly reprisal.

“As a woman, I am particularly grateful to live in a country where I can acquire education, own property, travel freely, own a business, vote and make choices about my life . . . There are so many places in the world where women and men can only dream of such freedoms.”

Holiday hopes to keep seeing women, young and old, exploring career options outside the traditional.

“There weren’t many women in urban planning when I first started out,” she adds.

Higher education was the key; she and her sister, Cynthia Toomer, were the first in her family to earn postgraduate degrees.

Holiday is also an avid traveler and a seeker of new angles on life. Her essay about one of her favorite expanses, Eastern Washington and Oregon, appears in the anthology Go Girl! The Black Woman’s Book of Travel & Adventure. In the piece, “Homegirl on the Range,” she writes of bitter and sweet experiences.

“My sanity depends on spending time in places where I can be alone with nature . . . deserted meadows, forgotten river banks, and range land traversed by county roads — deep blue ribbons stretched taut and clear out to the horizon,” she writes. She finds herself “intoxicated by landscapes, light and clouds . . . I love rugged country. I feel close to the truth and close to God in these places.”

But when she has to stop in town for provisions, Holiday sometimes faces a particular discomfort. Often, she writes, whites greet her with surprise, and stare at her muscular, brown arms.

“The discomfort I’m referring to is the all-too-common situation that many blacks experience,” she writes, “of being made to feel just so very damned conspicuous.”

Yet Holiday savors moments of connection. In “Homegirl,” she recalls a heart-to-heart conversation with a woman who had lost one of her sons in a logging accident, and then, more recently, rescued her other son after he’d shattered his ankle out on the road, hundreds of miles from any services.

“I have no children, but it was not difficult to imagine her fear and anxiety for her son. It is a concern for loved ones that we all share, no matter our color or culture.”

It’s the wide-open space that feeds her.

“I travel these wild places because I crave to understand myself and the purpose of my life — as small as that might be. My need gives rise to a never-ending journey through this vast universe, which begins, for me, on the open plains.”

There’s another key, then, to Holiday’s life of exploration: her sense of possibility. A shining example of this came in her trip to Bhutan. The seed of it was planted in November 2009 when she saw something in Planning magazine. It was a tiny notice from the nation’s Department of Urban Development and Engineering Services, or DUDES, that said, “We need planners for six to 12 months.” Holiday couldn’t leave her Clallam County job for that long, so she emailed DUDES Director Rinchen Dorji and said, “How about one month?”

“He said yes,” much to her happiness.

“It was an honor and a privilege,” to work with Thimpu’s urban planners, Holiday says now. And “despite half a world between us, I hope that we will remain friends for life.”

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