Everett 10-year-old helps share 2014 with future generations

Imagine sending a message to the future. If you think that’s something only for sci-fi, you’re wrong.

Science-fiction writer Greg Bear, who lives near Lynnwood, is keen on sharing our world with people living 375 years from now in this place we call Washington. It’s not a plot from one of his books, though. It’s real.

If all goes as planned — a big if — you can send your own message, and future folks will read it on microfilm for the 500th anniversary of statehood. That will be in the mind-blowing year 2389.

Bear is one of the organizers of the state’s Centennial Time Capsule, a project of the Washington Centennial Commission. Along with Seattle writer Knute “Skip” Berger, Bear was involved 25 years ago with creating a concept that’s more than a container filled with things.

“It’s the only time capsule of its type in the world,” said Bear, a prolific author whose “Darwin’s Radio” won a Nebula Award. “It’s a living time capsule that relies on the passage of information from one generation to another.”

That’s why 10-year-olds from all over the state are in on the project. They’re called Keepers of the Capsule. More than 100 strong, they include an Everett girl.

Elisabeth “Bette” Olney, a fourth-grader at Everett’s Emerson Elementary School, signed on to be a Capsule Keeper after reading about it in The Herald. Earlier this year, she launched a coin drive for people affected by the Oso mudslide.

On Nov. 11, the state’s 125th birthday, Bette and about 100 other kids were in Olympia for a ceremony with Secretary of State Kim Wyman that included a “Keeper Oath.” Original keepers were also there.

Erica Gordon, 35, was a 10-year-old keeper in 1989. She learned about the program in her Spokane Camp Fire group. The Seattle woman is now recruitment director for Capsule Keepers.

In Olympia, Bette got an up-close look at the Centennial Time Capsule. It’s a 3,000-pound green safe visible to the public at the south entrance of the Capitol building. Inside are 16 separate stainless-steel time capsules, one to be filled every 25 years.

“The one for 2014, all the keepers held it,” Bette said. “It was really, really fun. We got to see the Capitol and met the governor.”

Bear, 63, said it was Berger’s idea to have a capsule “not sealed away forever but part of the community every 25 years,” and to involve children in passing the project along, one generation to the next.

Berger writes for the Crosscut website under the moniker “Mossback,” and is editor-at-large and a columnist for Seattle magazine. Through research, Berger learned that time capsules often disappear. “Maybe instead of burying it, put it in plain sight,” he said.

The project is overseen by the Secretary of State’s office. Berger said a nonprofit group was created to fund it. A donation of $3,000 from U.S. West Inc. got the project started, he said.

In early 1990, Berger, now 60, and Bear went to Hanford, where the first capsule was sealed. It’s filled with argon gas, which is chemically inert and meant to protect the contents.

And those contents? People from all over Washington are asked to send “Messages to the Future.” Those will be put on microfilm and a flash-drive device. The 2014 capsule will be sealed at a ceremony in Olympia on Feb. 22, George Washington’s birthday.

It will contain an Amazon Kindle loaded with books by Washington authors, and some written about the state. Astrid Bear, Greg Bear’s wife, is seeking publisher permission. Among the books will be works by three poets who have been recognized as Washington Poet Laureate. Also included is “The Boys in the Boat,” Daniel James Brown’s true story of the University of Washington crew team that won at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. There will be native plant seeds and glass art.

Berger has no idea if anyone will know what a Kindle is in 2389. “For all I know, they’ll think it’s a ceiling tile,” he said. Astrid Bear said there will be clear instructions.

When the big green safe was opened this month, the sealed 1989 capsule was kept closed. But there was a gift box for the 35-year-old keepers. It contained bottles of wine from Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.

Berger remembers poignant messages contained in the 1989 capsule. “We had thousands,” he said. “Some write apologies. Some write their life stories.”

Ozone and oat bran were buzzwords back then, and the CD-ROM was hot technology.

The 1989 capsule has a fun message from author Tom Robbins, “riffing on why he thought ‘Louie Louie’ should be the state song,” Berger recalled. There was a message from a man saying he was a participant in one of the first AIDS vaccine studies.

Berger loved a message from a kid who wrote: “My favorite band is Metallica, which I’m sure you will consider to be classical by now.”

A message to the future is one tough assignment. Bette managed to write one for the 2014 capsule. “I hope there will still be trees left, and clean air,” the 10-year-old said.

If you want to add yours, Berger has a suggestion. “Write what’s in your heart. Tell your story,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Messages to future

The state Centennial Time Capsule project seeks “Messages to the Future” to be sealed in the 2014 capsule. The plan is to open it in 2389, the 500th anniversary of statehood. Deadline is Jan. 1.

Send messages via email to: message2389@sos.wa.gov

Or print and send this form: www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/archives/FINALMessagesPrint.pdf

Information: www.capsulekeepers.org/home.php

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