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Archive for the 'On Oregon' Category

On Oregon / Finding Myself at the Ocean

Readers, thanks for checking out my On Oregon blog the last four years. It's been a great run of something like 100 or more posts, and I am also thankful to Powell's for letting me run with my Oregon ideas. Here's my last post, and, fittingly enough, it's about the most important Oregon thing in the world to me: our publicly owned beaches.

In the spring of 1997, not long after my 33rd birthday, I awakened in my Portland loft to the reality that I craved a total revolution of my mind, body, and spirit. Truly, I was lost as a human being and unable to envision a path to fulfilling any of my dreams. On a whim, I accepted a teaching job at a small rural school on the Oregon Coast, needing to believe something transformative might happen to me. I honestly felt this was my last shot at doing something important with my life.

Something did happen after heading west. I met the beach, we fell in love, and it has since become the greatest creative, spiritual, and sensual force in my life. But my transformation only ...


John Reed Running

As an adolescent growing up in Portland and when on summer break from Harvard, John Reed frequently visited the North Oregon Coast and wrote about these experiences in some of his first published work. This was a few years before he rode with Pancho Villa in Mexico; consorted with Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin in Russia; wrote Ten Days That Shook the World; and became the country's most famous romantic revolutionary and radical journalist (and the obsession of Warren Beatty, who starred as Reed in the classic 1981 film Reds). Reed died in 1920 and is the only American ever buried in the Kremlin Wall.

On one trip in 1908 when he was 21, Reed, a native Oregonian, described the north Oregon Coast as a place of "wildness and desolation that cannot be imagined." In his essay "From Clatsop to Necarney," he sketched the story of a September hike from Seaside over Tillamook Head to the base of Mount Neahkahnie and the beach at Oswald West State Park.

In this piece (and a few others recounting or fictionalizing outdoor adventures), Reed always described what it meant to be a ...


Happy 100th Birthday, Tom McCall — From the Oregon Story to Portlandia

Were he alive, former Oregon Governor Tom McCall would have turned 100 on March 22, 2013. This is a birthday worth celebrating, and many of us are doing exactly that because we want to honor an Oregon politician who immeasurably improved our lives and had the temerity to say something like, "Oregon is demure and lovely, and it ought to play a little hard to get. And I think you'll be just as sick as I am if you find it is nothing but a hungry hussy, throwing herself at every stinking smokestack that's offered."

Skeptical of such an outrageous claim that McCall improved our lives? Just amble down Oregon's publicly owned beaches at no cost and you must surely agree. Back in 1967, McCall helped protect them from exploitation by his impassioned support of the Beach Bill, eventually signing it into law after a hard-fought legislative victory where he bucked his own party's leadership.

During his two terms as a maverick Republican (1967-1975), McCall and a largely bipartisan legislature collaborated to implement a series of progressive governing initiatives that McCall collectively called "The Oregon Story." McCall described "The Oregon Story" to one national reporter as one of "innovation and regeneration that can actually be used anywhere. We're trying to export the hope and the formula."


One Man’s Beach/Waves of Consciousness, Part Three

During the winter, I like watching anything undulating in motion with the ocean. That might be seals or surfers. That might be mermaids or drift logs. That might be skinny-dippers or coils of kelp.

My favorite day to watch is Sunday. Call it going to church. My favorite place to observe the winter undulations is sitting on a bench overlooking the roiling surf at Rocky Creek State Park, just north of Cape Foulweather. The bench, at the westernmost part of the park, is utterly alone and surely rests there because some closet poet in Oregon State Parks chose the site.

One Man's Beach


The Kelp Fountain

Question: What's the most memorably creative use of kelp you've ever witnessed on tan Oregon beach?

My candidates:

  • Jump rope
  • Photographic subject for greeting cards
  • Harness for a driftwood sled pulled by huskies
  • Rotunda fort
  • Telescope
  • Whip for practice S&M
  • Teenage fashion statement
  • Dog toy
  • Trampoline
  • Riding crop
  • Percussion instrument
  • Coiled decoration on a pagan monolith
  • Typography for a love letter in the sand
  • Pointing directions to a secret hideaway

Excellent candidates all of these, but none of them compare to the wonder I discovered not long ago.

It was a rare rainless afternoon in late November, and I was walking my neighbor's dog, Crazy Country Maddie, down the beach after a big storm. We dodged dozens of huge entangled piles of kelp at the wrack line and they vaguely reminded me of creatures from a Jules Verne novel.

A quarter mile into our jaunt, something distant to the north captured my attention: a strand of kelp originating at the base of a cliff that snaked 75 yards westward to the ocean before ending atop a drift log partially submerged in sand.

Curious, I jogged over to investigate. Five minutes later I found myself sprinting back to the house with Maddie ...


The Promised Sand of Oswald West

To lay hands on the Rock is to feel inspired and imbued: inspired to believe that a politician with vision can enhance the lives of all his constituents, and imbued to never give up fighting for the great birthright and soul of Oregon — our publicly owned beaches — which undergo constant siege by the dark forces of prudery and privatization.

Actually, the Rock is a lot more than a mere rock; it has a plaque attached to it and overlooks one of the finest views on the West Coast:

Oswald West Plaque

The plaque reads:

IF SIGHT OF SAND AND SKY AND SEA
HAS GIVEN RESPITE FROM YOUR DAILY CARES

THEN PAUSE TO THANK
OSWALD WEST
FORMER GOVERNOR OF OREGON (1911-1915)

BY HIS FORESIGHT
NEARLY 400 MILES OF THE OCEAN SHORE
WAS SET ASIDE FOR PUBLIC USE
FROM THE COLUMBIA RIVER ON THE NORTH
TO THE CALIFORNIA BORDER ON THE SOUTH

THIS MARKER IS ERECTED AND DEDICATED
BY THE GRATEFUL CITIZENS OF OREGON
TO COMMEMORATE
THIS OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT
IN THE CONSERVATION OF NATURAL RESOURCES

In 1912 Oregon Governor Oswald West rode his horse from Cannon Beach over Arch Cape and Neahkahnie Mountain and into ...


Oregon Deep Throats

I've had three Deep Throats in my Oregon literary career. Each put me on to something incredible that enriched my recounting of modern Oregon history.

For the uninitiated, Deep Throat was the code name of the legendarily secret source who helped Woodward and Bernstein unravel Watergate and overthrow a paranoid criminal in the White House, Richard Nixon. It's also the name of the infamous pornographic film released in 1972 that was the subject of countless legal battles for many years.

In my mind, a Deep Throat is a person in authority who is uniquely and intimately connected to a fantastic story and is willing to share but does not want to go on record. Background only. Hints. Leads. Names. Allusions. Documents you can inspect but not keep.

I met the latest one in August 2012 in the parking lot of the Newport Starbucks. We had intended on drinking tasteless corporate coffee, but an electrical fire had temporarily closed the place, so we sat outside on the patio while streams of people walked away visibly angry when they learned the horrible truth.

Deep Throat had two folders of papers in his ...


Riprap and Rainbows

I stood in a downpour on my deck and looked across the street. The sun was throwing a narrow spotlight on my neighbor's dry roof. This meant it was raining like the Battle of Stalingrad: moving block by block, house to house.

Normally, I would venture to my local beach near Newport and watch the rain collide with the ocean, one of the more serene applications of nature and completely unavailable to download to any phone or computer.

But in recent months, visits to my beach had enraged me, and I absolutely loathed returning from my walks in such a vitriolic state. I let go at the beach, never take up. I didn't like this unpleasant reversal.

A six-letter dirty word, the most profane word on the Oregon Coast, was the culprit: riprap — or revetment, as it's officially called. A new riprap project near my home approved by the somnolent stewards of Oregon's unique legacy of publicly owned beaches had tainted my walks, because I couldn't stop photographing the desecration. Documenting the desecration of Oregon's quintessence is hardly uplifting. Indeed, it makes the soul sick.

Never heard ...


A True Christmas Mermaid Tale

It had rained nearly four inches in 24 hours as Christmas approached. Portland weathermen had gone deep into their online thesauruses for novel and moronic adjectives (e.g., "wicked") to anthropomorphize a routine coastal storm. Wind had whipped through the neighborhood, toppling trees and lawn gnomes. Everything was puddled and reflecting. Reflections generated from rain are the most beautifully mirrored images in the world, especially when they involve Christmas lights.

Did you know that famous crime novelist Elmore Leonard once cautioned aspiring writers to never use the word "suddenly" in fiction when something dramatic instantly occurs? He said it was pure cliché. Hackneyed.

This is a romance story in the rain, so...

SUDDENLY I felt a call to visit the beach.

Yes, I hear that call four times a day, but this sound was different, new, original, sort of like hearing Sgt. Pepper for the first time even though the album is nearing 50 years old.

I loaded Sonny into the truck and we drove to the beach. Rain peppered us like a spread from a shotgun blast. The waves rolled a hearty brown and blue, and sea foam scurried north ...


On Oregon Blog Book of the Year: Brave on the Page

I'd like to announce the winner of the fourth annual Powell's On Oregon blog "Book of the Year" [see last year's winner]. I'm the sole judge, I live in Oregon, and the book I pick has to be about Oregon in some way, either as a topic or through the setting. It could be a new release, a forgotten classic, or totally obscure. It could come from a national publisher or printed by a local copy shop. Whatever the book's origins, I simply happened across it in my routine fixation of all things literary Oregon, and it blew my mind. After reading the book, I felt an intense desire to share it with others.

There are no nominees — just a winner. I may know the winning writer or I may not. He may have handed me the book in a bar, drunk. She may have flung it at me in a post-coital rage. Who cares? This process is probably a lot more honest than those that determine most regional and national literary awards.

This award carries no monetary prize. There is no certificate. Maybe I'll scrape up ...


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