Spring 2012 : Here
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Spring 2012 : Here
Oregon Humanities: Spring 2012
I found out about the death of my friend and advisor Brian Booth while I was in the final stages of sending this issue of Oregon Humanities to press. I first befriended Brian when he served on the board of Oregon Humanities in the early 2000s, but our paths crossed often in the years that followed, and I was always glad to spend time with him.
“Every state has a legacy of ‘truths,’ ” write Ethan Seltzer, Michael Hibbard, Bruce Weber, and Beth Emshoff in Toward One Oregon, “those stories we tell each other to explain why the world is organized the way it is—and every successive generation has to live with this legacy.” Though Oregon’s truths are as complex as any other state’s, there is no doubt that logging the great forests of the Pacific Northwest is a central thread in the narrative. This history is, for some, that of enterprising pioneers settling an untamed wilderness. For others it’s corrupt railroad barons grabbing up free federal land and selling it to the highest bidder. It’s the story of hard-nosed and hardworking gyppo loggers—like Ken Kesey’s patriarch Hank Stamper in the Northwest classic Sometimes a Great Notion. It’s the story of massive clear-cutting by corporations with profit as the only bottom line. These stories help us understand our place and define who we are. They are why even metropolitan Portland has a soccer team called the Timbers, and why Portland itself is still known as Stumptown.
For two hundred years—from the earliest exploration by European and American mariners and fur traders, until 1975—the region made up of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia had a stable personality. This was a region that produced natural resources—fish, furs, forest products, fruit, electricity from flowing water, and wheat from fertile fields. This is the Northwest that H. L. Davis depicted in Honey in the Horn, Emily Carr painted from her Vancouver and Victoria studios, and Ken Kesey dissected in Sometimes a Great Notion. It is the Northwest that Molly Gloss and Annie Dillard revisit in their historical novels about pioneers, farmers, land speculators, and ranchers.
Recently, driving home from a soccer game in the pouring rain, I looked into the rearview mirror and asked my two young and very wet daughters, “If someone from another country asked you where you were from, what would you say?”
I set out for Oregon like many of the first immigrants, lured by the prospect of a new beginning. Until that point, I had lived only in cities in the eastern United States and had no reason to believe that the geography of my life would be defined by anything other than high-rise buildings and the anonymous press of crowds. But a month-long wilderness experience in the Colorado Rockies when I was twenty-eight presented a new landscape of possibilities. I arrived in stiff leather boots, a conspicuous novice on the trip, and the thirty days were a taxing blur of hauling, fording, glissading, and orienteering. But each evening, stomping my feet against the cold, I stopped to witness the urgent illumination of alpenglow that stretched the last of the day’s light in saturated pinks and yellows across the snowcapped peaks. I didn’t know it then, but in those moments my internal compass started to drift west.
A human face turns blue without oxygen. The skin grows slack and the lips turn berry-purple. I saw it happen out in the woods, about a mile inland from the coast, in Southern Oregon, on a hot Sunday in August, as I stood in a silty river up to my thighs. My sister was upstream. She and I, along with my husband, my brother and his wife, and most of our children—four of them between our three families—had gone for a swim. Others lined the banks, too: strangers with beer, chips, blankets, towels, and dogs. It was a party.
On a clear November night, volunteers with Portland Stock created a homey space in the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s commons, where about a hundred guests each paid $5 to $10 for a simple meal of savory pumpkin or bean soup, bread, chickpea salad, green tea, and cookies. Guests also received two ballots with which to vote for their favorite art project; the artists would present their project proposals over the course the evening. At the end of the night, the winning project would receive the profits from the evening’s dinner.
Before attending Idea Lab last summer, high school senior Jordan Reese hadn’t considered how something as simple as his cell phone affected his relationships and, in effect, his happiness. “I never thought about how impersonal sending a text to someone is,” he says. “It’s inspired me to be more, I guess you could say, ‘physical’ in how I talk and deal with people.”
In an election year like 2012, our thoughts naturally turn to the future. Candidates travel the nation and flood the airwaves with messages about where they want to take us. Oregon Humanities invites you to look ahead at the days to come with a quarterly series of Think & Drink programs focused on the ways technology is shaping the future.
Last summer, Debbie Davis was struck by a change in her daughter Lauren Spiegel, who’d just returned home from Oregon Humanities’ Idea Lab Summer Institute, then known as Happy Camp Honors Symposium. Every summer on the University of Portland campus, the three-day residential program brings together one hundred rising seniors from across the state, several Oregon high school teachers, and University of Portland faculty who together explore the pursuit of happiness and how it shapes our culture.
In late 2010, an interracial couple from the nearby Coast Guard air station was harassed in a Warrenton supermarket parking lot. In early 2011, minority youth from a job corps program got the same treatment on a local bus. In response, Astoria mayor Willis Van Dusen called a public forum in April. About seventy-five people attended.
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Oregon Humanities magazine examines topics of broad public interest from a variety of perspectives and approaches. Recent issues of this publication have focused on stuff, nostalgia, and civility. Through good and thoughtful writing, Oregon Humanities magazine enriches our understanding of important subjects and stimulates conversation and reflection among readers, their friends, families, colleagues, and neighbors.
Alex Behr is a writer in Portland. Her last piece for Oregon Humanities appeared in the spring 2009 “Nostalgia” issue.
Carl Abbott is professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University. A specialist on the history of cities, his recent books include Frontiers Past and Future: Science Fiction and the American West and Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People.
Dionisia Morales is a freelance writer and teaches writing at Linn-Benton Community College. Her essays have recently appeared or are forthcoming in CAYLX, Brevity, Cream City Review, and Silk Road.
Monica Drake is the author of Clown Girl (Hawthorne Books),which was optioned for film by Kristen Wiig. Her next novel, The Stud Book, is forthcoming from Hogarth Press in February 2013.
Tara Rae Miner is a freelance writer and editor, former managing editor of Orion magazine, and author of Your Green Abode: A Practical Guide to a Sustainable Home. She lives with her family in Portland.
Wendy Willis is a poet, Conversation Project leader, and the executive director of the Policy Consensus Initiative and the deputy director for Research and Development at the National Policy Consensus Center at Portland State University. Her book of poems, Blood Sisters of the Republic, is forthcoming from Press 53 in fall 2012.