Have you ever gotten to know someone fairly well and then later met a sibling? It’s kind of fun, isn’t it, to look for their commonalities, to find out how they differ. That’s the joy of family. Some things are comfortable and familiar, while other things are out-of-the-blue surprises.

Last week, the city of Tahlequah joined into a “sister community” relationship with the city of Des Moines, Washington. On the surface, you have to wonder what in the world we have in common with a coastal community in Washington state. So how did we get here? I’m blaming Ed Brocksmith and his water quality supporters!

About two years ago, you may have caught the story in the national news of a killer whale who had a calf that died. Killer whales are a very endangered species, dependent upon shinook salmon for their diet. As the salmon struggle for survival, so do the whales. Every birth is celebrated by those working to save the species, and every death hurts. However, this story was more. This mother whale carried the body of her baby on her nostrum for weeks, mourning the death. Her pod, or whale family, mourned with her, following as she swam. This momma whale’s name is Tahlequah.

Recently, the whale delivered a new, healthy calf. In the joy of this birth, the idea of a possible connection between Tahlequah the city and Tahlequah the whale was formed. It was a few short steps from the whale to the organization that monitors the whales, to the city that is home to that organization – Des Moines, Washington.

So again, what do we have in common? Hmm… Des Moines is a little larger than us, with a population of around 30,000. Like Tahlequah, it is located in a scenic area about halfway between two major metropolitan areas: Seattle and Tacoma. Water, with its recreational and economical components, significantly influence both our communities. Tahlequah is actually a bit older than Des Moines, with a “birthdate” of 1839, as opposed to 1889.

Des Moines has a college. It also has a new medical facility under construction. Of course, its new hospital is designed for aquatic mammals, but still – it is medical, and an exciting development for the community.

I’m sure there is more in common physically between our communities. But now, consider how important water is to our existence, how the quality of water impacts our rivers, streams, lakes, and yes, oceans. Consider how keeping the ecological balance in check determines our health – and our economical success. In this, we are very closely aligned.

Des Moines and its partner scientists are well ahead of us in their efforts to educate their children about the environment and the important role we all play in keeping our world healthy. If you get the chance, pull up one of the Drain Ranger videos on YouTube and check it out. Hopefully, with our new “sister,” we will be able to follow their examples, and we can both be better for the relationship.

Sue Catron, former assistant vice president of Business and Finance at Northeastern State University, is mayor of Tahlequah.

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