Several years ago at a garage sale, in the midst of my long and ongoing strange stint of researching Oregon history in the 1960s/70s, I leafed through a February 25, 1974 edition of The New Yorker. To my astonishment, it contained an article titled "Letter from Oregon," written by E. J. Kahn Jr.
A few sentences early in the second paragraph caught my attention: "In the last seven years, they have become accustomed to all sorts of innovative and bizarre goings on. They have laws so progressive that, by comparison, many other states look doddering...the Oregon legislature, which unblinkingly confronts social and environmental issues from which many state (and national) legislators would recoil…"
Some six thousand words later, I had read — while standing at the garage sale — Kahn's lively first person account of the state's unprecedented governing initiatives under the leadership of departing Governor Tom McCall, then near the end of his second and final four-year term in office because the state's constitution prohibited a governor from serving three consecutive terms.Had McCall run for a third term, the fact that many newspapers referred to him as "Tom" in headlines suggested he would have won easily.
McCall called the initiatives, collectively, The Oregon Story, and the national media, including the Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, PBS, NBC News, and 60 Minutes had paraded to the Pacific Northwest to cover it and profile McCall. He'd even flown to New York to appear on The Today Show to spread the message. Later, McCall's biographer Brent Walth would tally almost forty national newspaper and magazine articles written in 1974 alone about The Oregon Story. I'd read many of these but Kahn's lengthy piece was not among them, and totally unknown to me until the discovery at the garage sale.
By 1974, Oregon could boast of many recent political innovations, most of them nationwide firsts: protection of ocean beaches from development, a law dedicating one percent of highway funds for bicycle and pedestrian paths, a mandatory five-cent deposit on returnable cans and bottles, an effort to clean up the polluted Willamette River, a government open meetings law, visionary land use planning to preserve farm and forestland, a forest practices act, a state-sponsored rock festival to forestall violence, decriminalization of marijuana, penal reform, and a level of voluntary energy conservation promoted by state government that, had it been pushed with similar zeal at the federal level for the next decade, would have precluded every act of American violence perpetrated in the Middle East the last twenty-five years.
In effect, these initiatives led Oregon to become within a generation one of the most desirable places to live in the country, if not the entire world.
Kahn quotes McCall: "America is beginning to open up. We've got an inherently good system. We've just got to get the right people to make it work. If I had to run for President to sell the Oregon message — to encourage more innovative and daring actions, that is — I would do it. But that will depend on a lot of things, and in any event the message is more important than the messenger."
That message, the Oregon political message heard 'round the world in 1974, in my youth growing up in Oregon City overlooking the Willamette Falls, I had heard it. It must have imbued me.
After reading "Letter from Oregon," I suddenly became seized by one of those purely clarifying moments some of us are lucky to experience. It occurred to me: as a forty-something adult residing at the Oregon Coast, I think I live my life reflexively as a direct consequence of The Oregon Story's message. I think I turned out distinct, special, from a peer who grew up in, say, North Dakota or Nebraska. I feel I live better.
How do I live the message today? I wear a sweater inside the house to save energy. My ex-wife once labeled me the Heat Master in reference to the frigid thermostat setting. I don't flush after every piss. Wherever they lie, I pick up discarded cans and bottles, redeem them, and pocket the beer money. The notion of buying bottled water repulses me. I bicycle for recreation. I obey the speed limit. I try to conserve Oregon's natural world. In the last decade, I had a hand in planting nearly 25,000 trees in Oregon's denuded coastal watersheds. I could care less if people smoke marijuana in my presence.My frequent time romping with my three dogs on Oregon's publicly owned beaches bears a strong resemblance to a religious practice, as does having sex in broad daylight there. I take a vast array of cultural advantage from logging roads in regenerating forests protected as forests, where in other states trophy homes would dominate. When I read a statement from Tom McCall such as, "I think you'll all be just as sick as I am if you find (Oregon) is nothing but a hungry hussy, throwing herself at every stinking smokestack that's offered," the statement resounds like scripture and I act accordingly upon it.
But that name — The Oregon Story — left me totally unsatisfied. It struck no literary chord. It didn't ring royal and that era demanded such a quality in a name. Thus, I felt compelled, seemingly moved by a higher spirit, to discover a kingly new name for The Oregon Story, an endeavor not unlike the prophet Samuel who stood ready with a horn of oil to anoint a new King of Israel. If he could find one.
Nothing remotely worthy manifested itself, until one day during my investigation into the legend of a notorious 1970 Oregon rock festival called Vortex I, a rare priceless media artifact from the Tom McCall era surfaced. Actually it was mailed to me, unsolicited.
In the summer of 1971, a twenty-five-cent newsprint magazine called the Stoneygonian landed on the streets of Portland, Salem, and Eugene. Its editorial creed announced: "We hold that the divisions set up between young and old, straight and hip, hard hat and long hair, man and woman, and parent and child are based on false premises and therefore no longer exist for us...so be it. Let it be."
Bill Wickland, formerly of Portland, now of Reedsport, was the founder and editorial impresario of the Stoneygonian. His staff didn't comment on what divided Oregonians. Instead, "We sat around and smoked on Oregon, and said, 'Let's present the positive on what brings people together.'" I know Bill Wickland said this because he told me after I looked him up after learning he was the person who had mailed me a copy of the Stoneygonian after he heard I was writing a book on Vortex I. As I later found out, there are two extant copies of the Stoneygonian. Wickland owns one; I own the other.
As for the origin of the magazine's title, Wickland wrote in the inaugural issue: "This state is stoney, you can feel it when you cross the border...Oregon gets people stoned. Oregonians are stoney people; the mountains and the valleys and the rivers and the lakes and the streams and the high country and the sand dunes and the ocean and the clean air and the pretty towns get Oregonians high.An Oregonian is anybody who wakes up one morning and digs how lucky he is to be waking up here, and says, 'That's it; I am an Oregonian.' We like that. Hence the name."
The first issue of the Stoneygonian ran in August of 1971 and the cover leapt out as supremely bizarre because the printer forgot to use black ink. The graphic outcome of the blunder resulted in a faded yellow-submarine tinted photograph of a one-speed bicycle that ended up being an accidental work of gorgeous psychedelic art.
Just some of the magazine's contents included a photo essay called "Have a Nice Day," a full-page poem titled "Sioux Prayer" in the style of William Blake, and a story on Oregon State Penitentiary inmates receiving furloughs to umpire Babe Ruth baseball.
The second issue came out in December and featured the entire groovy 4,500-word statement by Governor Tom McCall before the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. And then the Stoneygonian folded.
Today, of course, most Americans associate the verb and adjective forms of "stone" with marijuana use. No doubt Wickland had this in mind (and tweaking the Oregonian, the state's largest newspaper,) when he came up with the name Stoneygonian.
But the word connotes so much more.
After reading the Stoneygonian, I instantly became curious about the word "stone" and consulted the The Oxford English Dictionary.
There is "stone" defined as "occasionally as a mere intensive (= very completely)" as in stone asleep, stone cold, stone deaf, stone dumb, stone hard and stone naked.And, of course, there is "stoned" as in, "being extremely intoxicated, incapacitated." However, that definition doesn't necessarily have to reflect the effect of a drug. Think "Stone Free" by Jimi Hendrix, "Stone Love" by the Supremes and "I Am Stone in Love With You" by the Stylistics.
I mixed those definitions together, let them brew, and played the wordsmith: Intensive in its quest for originality. Very completely progressive. A condition that compelled extremely intoxicated citizens and legislators to protect their state and enhance its livability — then and for the future. Residents incapacitated by love of place and faith in an ideal.
My search for a new name to supplant The Oregon Story was over. Call it The Stone Oregon Era. That's it. I am a stone Oregonian. I like that. Hence the name.
÷ ÷ ÷
Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain