by Matt Love, February 25, 2016 12:28 PM
The premise of my debut novel, The Great Birthright
, is that a Los Angeles developer wants to privatize Oregon's publicly owned beaches, and only one washed-up detective and self-published writer can stop him. That writer would be me, writing about myself in the third person just like Norman Mailer and Caesar!
I've been writing about the sacrosanct great notion of Oregon's publicly owned beaches for years, but wanted to take a new run at the subject and have a little fun with it by sending up the detective genre with all sorts of twists, feints, digressions, primary sources, and blasts of metafiction. I also wrote the book to promote the upcoming 50th anniversary of Oregon's famous 1967 Beach Bill, one of the most important pieces of legislation in the state's history. Actually, "promote" is the wrong word; it doesn't go nearly far enough. In reality, I am massing a great Oregon army to celebrate the Beach Bill.
The army is leaderless as far as a single individual goes. The leader is the people of Oregon. Anyone who has ever enjoyed one minute on the state's publicly owned beaches is a soldier in the army. That means dogs, too...
by Matt Love, November 1, 2013 10:30 AM
Thanks for joining me on my discursions on Oregon's greatest cultural asset — rain. The rainy season has rotated our way and the lakes will soon begin colliding overhead, perhaps as you read this. Are you ready? Are you rapturous at the thought? As Jack Kerouac wrote, "The taste of rain — why kneel?"
Rain thoughts keep falling on my head. Some final observations:
• Invariably, when a new book comes out, a few days, weeks, or months later I discover (or remember) a fantastic story about the subject of the book that obviously won't be included.
It happened again last month when I purchased a 35-year-old pamphlet for $3 at a Lincoln City bookstore. The pamphlet is titled "Orygone III, or, everything you always wanted to know about Oregon, but were afraid to find out." The first sentence goes, "...it was Sunday and it was raining and it was in Oregon."
I read that sentence and felt dumbstruck: I had forgotten to include in my book about rain perhaps the greatest Oregon Coast rain story ever captured in literature, one I had read a dozen times over, one written by a Nobel Prize–winning author whose working editorial mantra was: "An American writer has to know his land and the people if he is going to write about America." (By the way, my working editorial mantra is: "An Oregon writer has to know rain if he is going to write about Oregon.")
That sentence was written by John Steinbeck in 1960 and appeared in Travels with Charley, the greatest dog book of all time. My favorite scene in Travels with Charley is Steinbeck's anguished description of blowing out a tire during a deluge on the Oregon Coast and how an elderly and laconic garage owner improbably rescues him with new tires for his custom-made camper. Steinbeck never mentions the name of the town, "After forty years in the painful wet desert with no cloud by day nor pillar of fire by night to guide us, we came to a damp little shut-up town whose name escapes me because I never learned it." (I believe it was Tillamook.)
It's a wonderfully rendered story of a black rain veteran aiding a green rookie bewildered by a deluge, and Steinbeck was grateful: "I hope that evil-looking service-station man may live a thousand years and people the earth with his offspring."
Who knows, this story might even be true, although you would never know in Travels with Charley because apparently much of the book was fabricated, pure fiction. Did Steinbeck lie about Oregon rain? Does it matter?
• When I was writing my book on rain last spring, I never had the courage to listen to Kenny G's song about rain. But I knew where it was, the Pick of the Litter thrift store in Newport, in the wall of cassette tapes, each one a quarter. I nearly purchased it months ago but couldn't bring myself to hear rain murdered.
The other week, that tape mysteriously called out to me and I ventured to the thrift store to claim it as easily as someone might explore a deep, terrible place in one's soul with a mediocre psychoanalyst. Naturally, it was raining.
It was gone. No tape! I felt stunned, cheated, deprived of soft impotent jazz interpreting hard erect precipitation. Nevertheless, I knew what I would find next. Rain is like that. I reached out and randomly grabbed a cassette and knew it would contain a rain song I've never heard before. It would either be a liquid nugget or sheer mud.
Rain delivered. I beheld Sonny and Cher's All I Ever Need Is You, a 1972 release from the oddest collaborative enterprise in the history of pop music. The cover photograph appeared almost Gram Parsons flower power in nature. Was this a psychedelic country album? The year was right. Did Sonny and Cher drop acid?
I read the back of the cassette. There it was, of course, second song: "Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling." I bought the tape and ran out to the truck. I smashed the tape into the cassette player and prayed to the gods it worked after 41 years in the moldy wilderness.
A song came on. Cher belted it out as only Cher can. I mean she was murdering, giving it a bath as the old Vaudeville performers used to say.
Rain, let it rain
Let it wash these muddy waters
Rain, let it rain
Pour, let it pour
And while these muddy waters raise
I'll be staring into your eyes
Out of the rain
What? I didn't get it. They did take acid! Then Sonny started singing something about crystal clear. Who cared? Give me more Cher on rain or give me death by dehydration!
But wait. It occurred to me that this wasn't "Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling."
I ejected the cassette, scanned the songs, and saw one titled, "Crystal Clear/Muddy Waters." Sonny and Cher had two rain songs on one album. Sometimes I miss the 1970s, variety shows and sane Republicans.
• A few days later, as rain fell lightly on the cabin, I found a poem I wrote in one of my old college journals:
Walking to Class in the Rain — Random Thoughts (U of O 1984)
How ever I die, I don't want it to be in the rain.
The rain covers, soaks and rusts away a friendly disposition.
Nature seems to be saying — I am depressed, therefore, so will you.
I trudge on, bored, irritated, distracted.
Rain is a very cynical experience, especially before class.
As I return to my naïve and immature days when the Duck football team routinely and happily finished 4-7, I really have no idea who I was then. I wanted to become a writer but had no language to express this desire except English. That is never enough.
Some 15 years later, I found the necessary language after relocating to the Oregon Coast. Rain was an instrumental part of acquiring this language.
• I have never fancied myself a poet, but I read poetry all the time. The other day, after mowing the irrelevant lawn in maddening sunshine, I retrieved an anthology of poetry and sat on the deck to relax. I opened the table of contents and knew a rain poem would randomly be pouring there. It was, "The Rain," written in 1959 by Robert Creely. I'd never read it.
The last two stanzas:
Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out
Of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
with a decent happiness.
I ripped the poem out of the anthology and flung it across the deck. Damn you, Creely. In two stanzas you conveyed what I tried to convey in 50,000 windy words on rain. You undercut and amplified me; you humbled and reduced me, too. You mastered the semiotics of rain and let rain wash away the "intentional indifference" or what I call the insidious malaise known as whatever.
• Some last random notions of rain:
Poets are the unacknowledged meteorologist
by Matt Love, October 31, 2013 10:00 AM
A disease is haunting Oregon — the disease of a cultural infantilism. It's here, again, and the infection this fall is stronger than ever. We need rain and more rain as the cure, or at least to make enduring the sickness a little more interesting.
The disease is exhibited by adults in connection to the fortunes of the University of Oregon's and Oregon State University's football programs. And infantilism it is, naked, bawling, obnoxious, crushingly boring to witness. I would ignore its irritating presence if I could but cannot since it constantly invades my cultural space. Can Oregonians talk about something else, like rain or their sex lives or the death of rock?
It all brings to mind something I read by the Italian author/intellectual Umberto Eco, "Sports debate is the easiest substitute for political debate." He wrote that before the onset of ESPN and the Internet. Let me also loosely paraphrase something else Eco wrote: those who watch and obsess over spectator sports are not playing sports. They have lost the ability to play or an interest in sex, too.
UO and OSU football used to entertain me with its futility and Nikeless innocence. I pine for those halcyon days and manufactured homes for training facilities... such as November 19, 1983, when the most fascinating game of college football ever played took place in Eugene, Oregon. It made football history because of rain.
A fierce storm blew a driving rain across the field every second of the game, now known as the Toilet Bowl. Rain provided the offense, defense, and coaching staffs for both teams. I remember listening to the game on the radio and hearing the announcers use a form of the word "rain" 10,000 times during the broadcast. That, too, was a record. According to a newspaper account, here's what happened:
Both Sides Retreat in the Civil War
It had everything 33,176 football fans wanted in an Oregon–Oregon State game — except points. In one of the most bizarre games in the 87-year-old rivalry, the Ducks and Beavers bumbled their way to a 0-0 season-ending Pacific 10 Conference tie Saturday afternoon in Autzen Stadium.
Announcement of the final score probably had them rolling in the aisles at press boxes along the West Coast but the humor would have been lost on lovers of fine-tuned offense.
Two hours and 46 minutes of slapstick comedy produced the sixth scoreless tie between the two teams and the first since 1931.
The game film single-handedly could bring back Fractured Flickers to television. Oregon and Oregon State fumbled 11 times, lost six fumbles, threw five interceptions, missed four field goals and were penalized 13 times.
Rain made the teams gloriously inept and made sports history that afternoon. The outcome marked the last time a college game ended scoreless. This distinction will remain as long as Americans play football because overtime and sudden death scoring began in the mid-1980s and ended any possibility of a tie, which I find sort of sad. Finishing in a tie is often a good lesson in life.
Beautiful ineptitude, in rain nonetheless! On a slick gridiron with rippling lakes for pay dirt! Who doesn't want to see that? Thus, it came as a complete shock to me not long ago when I learned that the University of Oregon's athletic department, which owns the only known film of the entire game, will not allow a filmmaker to use the footage when he pitched the idea of a documentary on the Toilet Bowl.
Can't let those potential Florida and California recruits see that or gothic cheerleaders. Bad for the brand.
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the rain falls on Duck football anymore. I give it five years before it all implodes, and I will relish the destruction and return to sanity, or at least the business of being a university and educating young people to do more with their lives than watch corporate-sponsored spectator sports.
But for now, the disease festers, spreads, waiting for the Civil War game in December to finally kill all rational public discourse and decent civic impulses.
I pray for a Civil War storm of Noah's Ark proportions. I want those blow-dried ESPN anchors soaked to smithereens and cursing Oregon. I want rain so torrential that completing a pass is impossible. I want three-yard dive and sweep plays and a cloud of rain. I want some faux Johnny Football recruit in the Sun Belt to watch the deluge on prime time and decide right then that he'll never join a college football program here. I hope the little prick tweets it 10 million times
by Matt Love, October 30, 2013 10:00 AM
How many of you have a story of lust or love or a date in the rain? If you live in Oregon, you most certainly do. Here's one of mine.
March rain sheeted across Highway 101 in such ridiculously daunting waves that no technology known to the universe could keep a person from becoming drenched after sprinting 20 feet from a vehicle to a restaurant. Meteorology has no term for this type of rain. Deluge is totally inadequate.
She was barely wearing any clothes, certainly not a coat. Coats do impair mystery sometimes. I don't think she owned one.
There was a distinct possibility the storm would blow her polka-dotted dress right off her nimble body. I wanted to see that. Who doesn't? Rain equals attractive skin, and umbrellas are the chastity belt of the Oregon Coast. I have heard that eunuchs love them, too.
A week earlier, she had magically appeared out of Newport rain on my birthday and helped obliterate the residual longing for a woman of the sun who dumped me from California dreaming. She came bearing a piece of writing that she said I inspired her to write. She had no idea it was my birthday. We hadn't seen each other for two years, or perhaps three.
I read the piece right in front of her, as rain pounded the windows of the Barge Inn on the Bayfront. I'll never forget her wordlessly placing her hand on the glass and tracing raindrops trickling down the pane. It was about the most sensual indoor thing of nature I'd ever seen in my life, and she had no idea she was doing it. I think I subconsciously conceived the idea of a weatherless book on rain right there.
The piece was about the desire to become a writer, and it astonished me with its passion and quality. We talked and talked and drank black beer. I loved her laugh and love of dives like the Barge Inn, self-proclaimed home of "winos and dingbats." She was transmitting life on so many frequencies that I couldn't tune all of them in, although I was trying.
Our unique yet finite collaboration began that afternoon, in rain, and now we were sitting inside my truck parked in front of the Lucky Thai Elephant restaurant in Newport and laughing at the prospect of how wet we would become after a three-second dash to the front door.
There was no way she wasn't going with me, although I did offer to retrieve the order myself.
The sprint commenced. We ran together in rain and burst into the restaurant as if hitting the tape together at the end of an Olympic 100-meter final. She won. The dress survived, barely.
I paid the check and she gathered up the bags. I beat her back to the truck and we instantly fogged up the cab. I blasted on the heater and she sampled the shrimp.
This was our first date.
Rain would not define us. In fact, my most vivid memory of her is of the sun and that same skimpy dress coming off before we dived naked into the ocean, which of course is full of rain. But that is another story
by Matt Love, October 29, 2013 10:00 AM
My unique and eccentric relationship to Oregon rain began, I think, in the summer of 1973 or 1974 at the Lost Lake campground in the Mount Hood National Forest when a family friend, Katie Green, matriarch of a gyppo logging outfit, Green Brothers Logging from Hood River, the kind of hearty woman Hank Stamper should have married instead of Viv in Sometimes a Great Notion
, a woman who was married to a logger named Melvin, the Hank Stamper of Oregon's share of the Cascade Range, a rugged yet gentle man who once saved my life by chasing off a charging Doberman pinscher with an ax, yes, it was Katie who took my family camping with her in a fifth-wheel trailer, no, not the fancy behemoths you see today, with preposterous names like Arctic Fox or Vortex Traveler, but a little rounded one made of metal and wood, yes wood, that slept four although there were five of us on the trip, including my older sister, and we ventured there for three days to hike, wander, bushwhack, swim, skip stones, fish, split wood, boat, build forts, pick huckleberries, sit around a campfire, and roast marshmallows, and it rained every minute of every hour, of every day, and I mean a hard rain that fell so hard that it dented the trailer and permeated the branches of the gigantic conifers, the towering green trees the Green Brothers didn't get around to clear-cutting, a record amount of rain for the middle of August, the wildfire season, something like 5.6 inches (I looked it up on the Internet), an amount so utterly astonishing that it chased away all the campers — except us — and we virtually never left the trailer and did nothing but listen to Katie tell these fantastic forest stories (one of them about her rock-solid belief in Bigfoot), play a combination card and board game called Tripoley, piece together the same puzzle, a medieval castle on the Rhine River, I think, and read, read, read, because there was no radio, tape player, guitar, harmonica, telephone, television, or electronic devices, and I read military history and sports biographies, including, I think, Instant Replay
, a football memoir by Jerry Kramer, the great Green Bay Packer pulling guard who helped the perpetually hungover golden boy Paul Hornung run to daylight, and I can recall only one line of dialogue from this entire noncamping camping adventure and it was something I started saying before each new round of Tripoley, "Ante in before you rain out," a phrase I must have uttered a thousand times in those dank 72 hours when we played for matchsticks and candy, butterscotch, I think.
We never camped again
by Matt Love, October 28, 2013 10:06 AM
What inspires a book? Invariably, this is the first question asked of the author when it comes out.
My new book is about rain, particularly the year it rained 89.97 inches in Newport, Oregon, where I live. Despite unfolding during the second wettest year in recorded history, my story has very little to do with weather.
Inspiration began unexpectedly one Sunday in January 2012 when I learned that someone I loved was leaving me for someone else. She told me over the phone prior to boarding a plane flying to the sunniest places on earth with, presumably, her new boyfriend.
That afternoon, rain moved like a gray phalanx across the yard. As I looked out the window, I felt crushed. I had never seen this coming and was shocked how my intuition had betrayed me. At first I asked, How did it come to this?, which is the dumbest question in the universe. If you ask it, then you already know the reasons why.
I knew the reasons. The story now, however, was not about recrimination, but how to advance, always advance, and learn new lessons and a new path.
Rain called to me that Sunday in a way I had never heard before. It was a recruiting pitch and I enlisted into a leaderless and mysterious association of rain. I left my room, donned the pea coat, and walked directly into the phalanx. I knew a discovery of the utmost importance awaited me out there. "One must go oneself to know the truth," wrote Peter Matthiessen in The Snow Leopard, perhaps the most influential book I have ever read. In his remarkable journey of personal discovery and healing, Matthiessen had the Himalayan Mountains; I had Oregon Coast rain.
I walked a loop around the neighborhood, down to the beach, and back to the house. I repeated the loop three times, something like 10 miles. I did the same thing the next night and the night after that. It rained 4.65 inches in 24 hours on one of those days.
During these walks, I tried emptying my mind by contemplating a koan I devised: "Rain falls everywhere — why not here?" I utterly failed at emptying anything and just kept walking and thinking. This went on for a month. I never ran nor listened to music. I never wielded an umbrella. I virtually never slept. I never once considered talking about it with anyone else. Rain and I talked. It's called an ablution.
Not long after I started walking in rain, I stood facing the whiteboard in my classroom. Behind me, 37 seniors in my English class at Newport High School watched me prepare to demonstrate a prewriting process I call "stream of consciousness outlining." I encourage students to try this activity prior to beginning their personal research essay, a 2,000-word "descent into one's self" assignment where they assay the ultimate exploratory question of their lives.
The process begins with the student writing the subject he wants to explore on a piece of butcher paper. In some cases, the word might be "divorce" or "depression." The student begins writing or drawing anything related to the subject that comes to mind. If it rolls out with linearity, fine. If not, so be it. Follow the tangents. Just don't stop, don't block, and keep talking to yourself aloud during the process. The ultimate question may emerge, or it may not.
I wrote the word "rain" on the whiteboard. Then I started manically sketching rain, trying to render all the multitudinous ways it falls in our region. Questions arose: What is rain? Why do I love it? How much has fallen on me in 15 years residing on the Oregon Coast? What happens if you drink it? What's the greatest song about rain? What's inside a box of rain? Can you see purple rain? What does rain do to people here? Why is Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion the greatest book in the history of literature on the subject of rain?
Next, as I sang Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Who'll Stop the Rain?" I jotted down imaginary rain-themed organizations, competitions, affiliations, offices, distinctions, and awards, such as: First Team All Rain, Umbrella Eradication Project, League of Wet Dogs, Legion of Rain, Order of Rainy Day Women, Live Rust, Monochrome Adventure Club, and Rain Anonymous. After this came spontaneous comparisons to the sun, writing in a style previously unknown to me:
I want to overthrow the hegemony of the sun. Rain is born to run, the sun born to sit in a soft chair. Rain is wanton, exciting, the sun constant, boring. Rain gallivants, the sun merely beams. Rain ruins guns, the sun keeps powder dry. Rain invites prestidigitation, the sun casts mere shadows. There is no map of rain; the sun is a cartographer's dream. The sun compels people to pay for dangerous indoor tans. Rain pays you a good Gothic pallor. Rain plays chess and solitaire with you at the same time. The sun plays no games. Rain exudes perpetual ruth; the sun often shines ruthlessly. Rain is the rank outsider, the sun a cozy lobbyist. The sun speaks in monologues while rain always dialogues.
This went on for 10 minutes and then I stopped, stepped back, stepped forward, and wrote my research question: "What happens when you walk in rain?" I think my students thought I had lost my mind, and maybe I had.
Two years later, I published a book that completes the assaying of that question. I don't necessarily recommend walking in rain as a method to write a book or recover from a severe emotional loss, but it worked for me one winter on the Oregon Coast. My timing was
by Matt Love, April 10, 2013 2:00 PM
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 manifested because I live in Oregon, and long ago the state decided to forge an exceptional path by protecting its ocean beaches, its "great birthright" as former Oregon Governor Oswald West defined it, from prudery and privatization. That exceptional path also guaranteed public access to the beach — by law.
A couple years after relocating to the coast, I started going to the beach with my three big dogs, in relentless fashion, at all hours, in all weather, using all senses, usually clothed. Strange and wonderful things unfolded at the beach, and I heard the "old voice of the ocean," as the poet Robinson Jeffers called it. In hearing the "old" I began hearing something new: a passion for living, caring, and creating that I never knew existed within me. I also began writing about these very things.
By the way, I've never paid a cent to use the great birthright, a tradition I hope never changes. If it does, Oregon is surely doomed and we already know the culprits — plutocrats who never visit the beach; they only want to own it.
I intended to stay one year on the Oregon Coast. Now, I'm enjoying my 16th year in residence, and I estimate that I've rambled the great birthright close to 10,000 times and written a million words about my experiences. I've run into coyotes, sea lions, deer, sages, prophets, madmen, magic forts, marijuana dealers, eagles, herons, pelicans, whales, Ken Kesey's ghost, 50 shades of stratus gray, holy fires, mermaids, and a Sea God's sculptures. I've inhaled salty fog and hurdled over rotting kelp. I let a million gallons of rain erode the procrastinator I was in Portland. I saw everything through the keyhole of a limpet. I learned the definition of beauty and art and met the hardest of hardcore Oregonians walking in slanted sleet. I found myself and a literary voice.
Oregon's beaches can help you find yourself too. It all depends on what you seek: privacy, creativity, recreation, rain, solace, escape, confession, unpretentious family time, God, god, gods, contemplation, inspiration, transfiguration, transmogrification, an agenda-free zone, forgiveness, redemption, simplicity, passion, connection, maybe even a little fun, hardly ever the sun. Or perhaps you seek the unknown and want something unexpected to unfold in real time. Oregon's beaches offer that as well, especially in the winter. Really, anything is possible because guaranteed access makes it possible and access guarantees something tactile can happen.
Something wonderful always results when something tactile happens at the beach. But for anything to happen, you must walk upon the beach. Looking at it from a moving vehicle or the comfort of a living room pales in comparison. In fact, it's not even worth comparing.
by Matt Love, March 27, 2013 11:00 AM
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 young man in awe and in love with Oregon nature, totally free, away from the city and lectures, a "vagabond," as he called himself. Of course, in that era, he was unaffected by popular youth culture because capitalism hadn't invented one yet. He decided for himself what was cool and what would engage him, and at this point of his life, briefly, before class politics took over, what engaged him was taking on a wild place without gadgets and writing lyrically about everything he saw, felt, and intuited.
Every now and then, I've had the privilege of teaching students who remind me of Reed in "From Clatsop to Necarney." You never forget them. They change you. The most recent one was named Asher Doyle, an expert on culinary mushrooms who founded a mushroom appreciation club a few years ago at Newport High School, where I teach. Asher would often bring me chanterelles he picked and sauté them in butter on a little propane stove set up in the parking lot. These were the best school lunches of my career, and I might have been the only teacher in the country to enjoy such free haute cuisine served on a paper plate.
I think a young John Reed and Asher Doyle would have got along famously.
What a magical story Reed tells. Resting by Elk Creek near Cannon Beach with two friends, he wrote: "stretched upon our backs, and dreaming under the old, old trees, while the spell of the place and the bright strong day took hold upon our hearts." They revived and continued walking down the beach, where they "ate lunch, and smoked a fragrant pipe." Nearby in the trees, a few squatters lived, "many of them alone, silent men for the most part, filled no doubt with the hush of great spruces and the stars, and the sonorous silence of the sea."
Later, toward evening, Reed and his buddies caught eight trout, "which we devoured ravenously." They snoozed around a campfire until dark and then, "stripped and dashed into the surf." After a short swim "came a long run up the beach and back, racing along naked in the dark, thrilling with the starlight and the firm white sand, pagans again and star-worshipers to the bottom of our souls."
I believe very few men or women can go wrong with experiences in youth like John Reed's on the Oregon Coast. I just wonder: Are we doing enough as a culture to create more John or Jane Reeds? I'm not talking about procreation.
(To see where John Reed frolicked, head to Oswald West State Park and take the Necarney Creek
by Matt Love, March 13, 2013 10:00 AM
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."
In this era, Oregon could boast of many political innovations, most of them nationwide firsts: protection of beaches from privatization and development, a law dedicating one percent of highway funds to bicycle and pedestrian paths, a mandatory five-cent deposit on returnable cans and bottles, an effort to clean up the polluted Willamette River, visionary land use planning to preserve farm and forestland, a forest practices act, an open public meetings law, penal reform, decriminalization of marijuana, a state-sponsored rock festival to forestall violence (Vortex 1), and an astonishing level of voluntary energy conservation promoted by the state government that inspired many citizens to do the same.
Everyone who has ever spent any time in Oregon has benefitted from the bold bipartisan accomplishments achieved during the McCall era. In effect, they led Oregon to become one of the most desirable places to live in the country within a single generation and quite clearly laid the foundation for the later creation of Portlandia.
When I hear the name "Tom McCall," I like to imagine an alternate (better) American history where he was the western Republican governor who became president, not Ronald Reagan. McCall believed that intelligent government with foresight could enhance the lives of people. Reagan convinced an immature electorate otherwise, that government was the enemy. McCall's entire political career was a complete contradiction of that disastrous lie.
President McCall. It has such a wonderful ring to it. Just think where this country would be today after two of his terms in the White House as opposed to Reagan's. I do all the time. In fact, I'm going to write a historical science fiction novel with that exact premise. I plan on calling it McCallandia and yes, it will differ from Ecotopia, Ernest Callenbach's classic 1975 novel. In that visionary book, a progressive and sustainable Pacific Northwest has seceded from the United States and bars any visitors. In McCallandia, a progressive and sustainable Oregon merges with Washington and Northern Californian and invades the rest of the country not with a military but with... a... well, you'll have to wait for the book. Jerry Brown's in the mix too.
In my decade-long unearthing of numerous McCall anecdotes, one humorously stands above all others as exemplifying the great spirit of the man. It came to me courtesy of Depoe Bay resident Jay Nicholls, who was a high school friend of McCall's son Sam in the mid to late 1960s and later became friends with McCall. I'll let Jay tell the tale:
In 1977-78, I was a young greenskeeper at Devil's Lake Golf Course in Lincoln City and Tom used to come out and play golf. It was just after he finished his second term. I lived in Roads End and Tom had a second home there. He was kind of a hack but had a lot of fun and always played with the salt of the earth type guys, no politicos. Audrey (his wife) would drop him off and I would often take him home in my 1964 Volkswagen bus, a model notorious for not starting at times.
During our rides, he would ask me my reflections on today's youth and we'd talk about cheese. Tom loved cheese! He'd always invite me in and we'd drink a cold beer. He loved it ice cold, in a bottle.
One day Tom needed a ride home, but the bus wasn't starting. I said, "Okay, but we need to give it a push." So we both got behind the bus and gave it a push. We got it rolling down the fairway and I got up in the front and jumpstarted the thing. I threw open the passenger door and Tom came running up, hopped in, and said, "Jay, they can never tell you I'm not a man of the people."
Happy 100th birthday, Tom McCall. I'm going to the beach now to walk the old husky. I'll draw you a cake and decorate it with a hundred driftwood candles and relish the idea of how hard I plan on celebrating your birthday party at the Jack London Bar in Portland on Saturday, March 23, at 8:00 p.m. The weird cool folks from the Dill Pickle Club and Kick Ass Oregon History will be on hand to help me out. And a lot of hungry hussies too.
by Matt Love, February 27, 2013 10:00 AM
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.
You will often find Sonny the husky and me leisurely doing our own thing near the bench. I stare at the undulations while she sniffs around a grassy kingdom of gopher holes.
Sometimes while sitting or reclining on the bench, I'll whip out a notebook, close my eyes, listen to the symphony of the incoming cannonades, and begin to write whatever comes to mind with the intent or non-intent of purging linearity because the various movements in concert with the surging sonic ocean defies narrative convention. All I can say is that if a person sits on the bench and can't escape a linearity of the mind, well, I feel sorry for that person.
My latest waves of consciousness:
Did you know that one of Napoleon's first acts as dictator was banning the teaching of creative writing in French schools? Albert Einstein once wrote, "A society's competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity." Einstein also wrote, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
Before dropping out of Reed College, the late Steve Jobs of Apple fame took a course in calligraphy. It reportedly influenced his aesthetic sensibility and inspired his elegant ideas for the Macintosh's simple design.
As a fourth grader attending Mt. Pleasant Elementary in Oregon City during the 1970s, I took a required calligraphy course. It was the great modern era of American calligraphy, taught for no practical reason other than the fact that it was ancient, tactile, and the quintessence of understated beauty in black and white. Calligraphy certainly had nothing to do with standards or testing or preparing me to serve the country's global economic interests more efficiently. My Oregon public education had nothing to do with that — ever. Things have changed, as Bob Dylan once sang, and I see absolutely no evidence we are any better as a culture as a result.
So what if a high school boy spent half his day working in the auto or metal shop? Next year, that boy has to earn three credits in math at the Algebra 1 or higher level to graduate.
That requirement is totally insane. Who brooked that insanity?
My so-called mathless generation turned out okay. In fact, we led the way to America becoming the world's leading producer of creative media, easily our number-one commodity export. Interestingly enough, I did hear that there's a cool calligraphy app for my new iPhone. A couple of my artistic students rave about it.
Speaking of my new iPhone, after using it for two months, I have discovered that it has had no discernible positive effect on my life, which contradicts everything everyone who owns one told me. I have a mind to throw it in the ocean but don't want to bother the whales.
On the subject of whales, in the last three months, I've read about a dozen books on them. Apparently, they might be the most advanced creatures in existence. According to some researchers, whales practice true democracy, have organized religions, and compose orchestras for one another. They also had the good sense to abandon the land and continue their evolution in the sea. Moreover, in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the greatest whale movie of all time, aliens visited earth long before the advent of human beings and established first contact with humpback whales. They became friends and grooved on ecology together. The aliens returned millions of years later but discovered their cetacean friends had gone extinct. Thus the aliens... well, see the movie for yourself, at least for the memorable scene where Spock's mind melds with a whale.
One day, assuming any whales survive the Age of Man, they most likely will inherit the ocean because the meek will have nothing left to inherit of the land. Idea for bumper sticker: "Make Whales Not War." Would they sell that at the whale-watching shops?
I gave a literary presentation at the West Linn Library a month ago. After the event, an elderly woman came up and asked, "Do you recognize me?" I looked at her for exactly one second and remembered. How can you ever forget one of your best teachers? Ms. Katie Sauber, sixth grade. Here she was, some 40 years later, supporting her former student.
What an editor! She taught us art every day! She was the queen of teaching with tactile methods. Some days, recess lasted for hours and she went back inside. She demanded utter excellence in everything and never accepted any response from students that smacked of the dreaded malaise known today as "whatever."
I asked what she recalled of my 12-year-old self.
"Very opinionated," she said, smiling. She bought three books and I warned her of some profanity. She smiled about that too.
Tom McCall's 100th birthday is Friday, March 22. Have you laid in enough Cutty Sark for the occasion? We're celebrating in grand style at the Jack London Bar in Portland on Saturday, March 23, at 8:00 p.m. I'm teaming with the Dill Pickle Club and Kiss Ass Oregon History to take this celebration over the top. I hope to see you there for an unforgettable lesson in Oregon history. I plan on making it tactile.
Idea for bumper sticker: "Make Tom Not