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January 10th, 2017

Today press author, Dr. Derek Larson, joins us to discuss his book, Keeping Oregon Green. Larson guides us through the making of his book, including his inspirations and the influences in his life that inspired him to pursue this endeavor. Larson also provides us with an interview that was conducted just after the book’s release in November of 2016 by the Jefferson Public Radio, highlighting the environmental legacy built in Oregon “before green was cool.”

Click the link below to be directed to the Jefferson's Public Radio website to listen to Larson's interview.

http://ijpr.org/post/oregons-environmental-golden-age-remembered-new-book

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It was hard to avoid environmental debates in Oregon in the 1970s. Even schoolchildren like myself were aware of looming threats to air and water quality, controversial efforts to preserve wilderness, and the obvious impacts of urban sprawl. When they showed a film called “Pollution in Paradise” in our classrooms, it made us worry about the future. But Oregon, we quickly learned to our pride, was leading the nation in addressing the environmental crisis. We knew this from reading newspaper headlines, from the educational segments broadcast between cartoons on Saturday morning TV, and from parents who told us we were lucky to live in a state blessed with natural bounty and not yet overrun by concrete or choked by smog.

It wasn’t until much later that I began to wonder what it was that made Oregonians take action to protect the environment when other states did not. What were the origins of the distinctive “Oregon way” I had witnessed as a child in the 1970s, when the state was routinely featured in the national media as a bellwether for environmental protection? The roots of my book Keeping Oregon Green began with this question and the answer turned out to be more complex than I’d initially imagined.

Environmental history and the history of the American West have been staples of my teaching since the late 1990s, which offered frequent opportunities to explore the broader context of Oregon’s environmental era. Summer and sabbatical travel offered time to dig into archival collections, to conduct interviews, and to explore the history of the national environmental awakening that culminated with the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. In the process it became clear that Oregon emerged as the national leader in environmental protection when it did for a number of reasons, not the least of which being rapid growth in the 1960s and its proximity to California’s famous smog, sprawl, and unplanned growth. But perhaps most important was the belief that Oregon had more to lose than other states, and thus its residents had greater reason to act.

Ultimately I decided to frame the book around the definitive victories of Oregon’s environmental revolution: the Beach Bill, the Bottle Bill, the revival of the Willamette River, and creation of the Land Conservation and Development Commission. To illustrate the pace of change I prefaced those events—all of which took place between roughly 1969-1974 –with a study of the failed effort to establish a national park in the Oregon Dunes a decade earlier. Collectively the stories of these environmental conflicts tell us a great deal about what made Oregon different in the environmental era, why these advances were not easily replicated in other states at the time, and what it might ultimately take to build a strong political consensus around environmental protection again. Today Oregonians enjoy the benefits of advances made over forty years ago but the coalitions that made them possible have dissolved, leaving the state’s environmental future uncertain and its status as national leader resting more in its past than in its future promise. It was my hope that a deeper look at these once familiar stories might serve as a sort of orientation to younger and newer residents while helping anyone concerned to better understand “how things came to be this way” in Oregon and perhaps even how they might work together for a brighter—and greener –future.

In the 1950s Oregon was just starting to show the impacts of its wartime industrial boom and post-war population growth. Political leaders were concerned more with economic growth and luring migrants into Oregon than about environmental quality. When Richard Neuberger, the state’s junior US Senator, began a push to have a second national park designated in Oregon his approach was couched in pride as much as preservation: Oregon, he argued, deserved another national park. After all, both California and Washington had several, and their landscapes were no better than his state’s! Neuberger explored park possibilities in Hell’s Canyon and on Mount Hood, but quickly settled on the Oregon Dunes near Florence, one of the nation’s longest stretches of natural sand dunes and a relatively undeveloped area that was already partially managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Joining forces with Massachusetts senator John Kennedy and Texas senator Lyndon Johnson, Neuberger co-sponsored a bill that would create a new category of federal land called a “national seashore” under the aegis of the U.S. National Park Service. The ultimate failure of the bill despite Neuberger’s efforts to rally support for the park in Oregon illustrate a lack of widespread concern over environmental issues prior to the 1960s.

Things changed quickly soon after. The publication of Rachel Carson’s indictment of pesticides in the book Silent Spring rang an environmental alarm bell for the nation in 1962, coincidentally the same year a Portland news reporter named Tom McCall produced a television special called “Pollution in Paradise” for KGW-TV. McCall’s documentary awakened Oregonians to the reality of environmental decay in their midst: sewage-choked rivers, smoke-filled skies, and escalating waste problems that belied the state’s reputation as a clean, uncrowded, natural paradise. Carson’s book is often credited as the launchpad of the American environmental movement, shifting attention from traditional conservation issues like parks and wilderness to quality of life concerns that impacted people where they lived. McCall’s local expose did the same for Oregon, while also raising his profile with the public; he was elected secretary of state in 1964 and governor in 1966. McCall’s political reputation would center around the environment more than any other issue.

During two terms in office—serving from 1967 through 1975 –Tom McCall helped lead Oregon to national prominence in the environmental arena. Pledging upon his first election to clean up the fetid Willamette River, he oversaw a public campaign to reduce the flow of industrial and municipal waste that culminated in a National Geographic cover story in 1972 headlined “A River Reborn.” Campaigns to reduce litter by targeting disposable beverage containers and to secure the state’s beaches for public access also drew national attention, as Oregon became the national leader in progressive environmental legislation and McCall became the nation’s “environmental governor.” At the outset of his second term in office McCall charged the legislature with its biggest task yet: developing a plan to manage growth in the future so Oregon did not end up like California, which he often used as rhetorical shorthand for the collective ills of unmanaged population growth and environmental decline. The result—the Land Conservation and Development Commission –remains the nation’s most successful and studied land use planning system, as well as one of its most controversial.

At the heart of Keeping Oregon Green are the stories behind these environmental advances. The laws themselves are important, both for their impact within the state and as national models. But more interesting to me is the cultural context in which these political acts were fashioned. Once awakened to the declining quality of their environment, Oregonians of varied political backgrounds collectively called for change. Their state, it was thought, was special. It was their duty to protect it, both for future generations and out of respect for their forbearers. Allowing it to be consumed by litter, clogged with sewage, and choked with smoke was simply unacceptable. The arguments they made, be they within the halls of the state capitol, on the editorial pages of the region’s newspapers, or in letters written to Governor McCall, were most often framed in personal terms and expressed concerns about specific places that were important to them as individuals or families. When the governor called for sacrifice, as during the 1973 energy crisis, most people willingly complied. This collective sense of place was a powerful weapon against environmental decay, one that bridged other differences and helped produce a consensus in support of actions that would have been inconceivable in many other parts of the country then or now.

Those of us who were in Oregon in the 1970s likely remember many of the changes wrought as a result. We started picking up bottles and cans along the roadsides and returning them to stores for pocket change. We walked the sandy beaches of the Oregon Coast secure in the knowledge that nobody could fence us out or proclaim part of “our” beach to be private. We watched the wigwam burners go dark and their smoke drift away for the last time, smelled the fresher air in towns with paper mills, and watched the salmon return to the Willamette. Even more important is what we didn’t see: Oregon did not plow under its farms for subdivisions, nor pave its forests for highways. While growth did come, it came in a managed fashion that helped keep Oregon green. All of these things are the legacy of a relatively short period of time and a remarkable series of political (and cultural) events that made Oregon the envy of the nation’s environmental advocates and at times the bane of the “growth at any cost” crowd who would put economics before all else. Through exploring the stories behind these events and their broader context I was finally able to answer the questions I raised years ago—why Oregon? why then? –while also gaining some insight into what might be required to address some of the environmental challenges we’ll face in the 21st century. Keeping Oregon Green, in the end, is an ongoing project that requires renewed dedication with each generation. The stories of Oregon’s first environmental era should serve simultaneously as inspiration and warning: quality of life in the region is high but it will take significant commitment to keep it that way in the future.

 

December 2nd, 2016

Today we are joined by Mike Mix as he guides us through the journey of writing his new book, Leaded. Taking place in the Silver Valley of Idaho, Mix explores the exploitation of the land and the many troubles faced in his research concerning the trials and errors had by the mines in the area. Having a personal connection with the area lead to his initial interest in the Silver Valley and the concerns that came with it.

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Idaho's Coeur d' Alene Mining District, today known as the Silver Valley, was one of the foremost metal producing areas in the world for almost a century. From 1884 to 1980, its mines produced quantities of lead, silver, and zinc worth almost $5 billion. Yet, the immense wealth came at great costs in environmental devastation and adverse human health effects. In Leaded, I trace the history of those consequences from Silver Valley mining operations and the causal factors responsible.

My interest in this project originated when I was a child growing up in Spokane during the 1950s. Each July Fourth, family members from Idaho and Washington were invited to a picnic at my great-aunt Lucy's home on Coeur d' Alene Lake-- a palatial mansion where she spent her summers. Her magnificent summer home was built in the 1920s after she married on of the owners of a fabulously rich mine-- the Hercules-- in the Silver Valley, 70 miles east of Spokane. In December 1958, I made my first trip to the mining town of Kellogg as a member of the North Central High School basketball team. I retain vivid memories of being defeated by a Kellogg team that won the Idaho state championship a few months later, their enthusiastic fans, and stepping off the bus and inhaling acrid smelter smoke when we arrived. I learned more about the mining district while working summers in 1962 and 1963 at a sawmill in Coeur d' Alene and talking with men who had once worked in the mines and smelters. Their stories about the hardship of working in mining operations, the close-knit communities, and the pervasive industrial culture, were often lively and educational in different ways.

Subsequently, after graduate school, I was a professor at Oregon State University for thirty-five years. During the 1960s and 1970s, I occasionally traveled through Kellogg, observed industrial activities and degraded landscapes, and, as the "environmental movement" was gaining speed, pondered what the future held for Silver Valley mining and smelting operations. The answer became generally understood by 1981 when Bunker Hill, the largest mining company in the district, close, in part because it could no longer comply with new federal environmental and occupational laws and standards. Two years later, in 1983, the Bunker Hilll industrial area was listed as the largest Superfund site in the United States; the total cost of cleanup activities was estimated to be over $1 billion and it would take decades to complete.

Because of my historical interest in the Silver Valley and experience in studying chemical contamination, I began doing casual research in the early 1990s on the large-scale environmental problems and their underlying determinants. Two questions guided my studies: what accounted for the transformation of a pristine wilderness area to a Superfund site in less than a century? By the late 1990s, after acquiring partial answers to my questions, I began to engage in deep research with an ultimate goal of writing a book about the environmental history of the Silver Valley. Consequently, I faced significant challenges in identifying and locating relevant information resources to write an accurate account of my complicated Silver Valley story. Along the way, I conducted extensive interviews with State of Idaho personnel, miners and smelter workers, EPA staff, newspaper reporters, lawyers, and local activists involved in ongoing activities related to Silver Valley children and their health. Conversations with these people were a highlight while working on my project. Additiona sources included: historic records published in the 1800s; scientific articles on lead poisoning published early in the twentieth century; original peer-reviewed articles in science and history journals; government documents from the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control, and others; and Bunker Hill Records in Special Collections at the University of Idaho Library. I also obtained period newspaper articles from many local and regional papers that were essential in writing about events and life in the district. The greatest difficulty in acquiring critical information sources, however, lay ahead.

In terms of historical importance, the 1970s are conceivably the most significant period covered in this book. During that decade, events revolved around a lead-poisoning epidemic of Silver Valley children and related developments involving state and federal government agencies, the Bunker Hill Company, and district residents that are described in Chapters 5-7. Originally, my primary interest was focused on a landmark lawsuit brought against BUnker Hill by children who had been harmed by lead smelter emissions in 1973-1974. To accurately discuss the case and the trial, I wanted to locate the offical court records and exhibits obtained through formal legal discovery prior to the trial, which turned out to be a major ordeal. After the trial in 1981, the court records and exhibits were sealed and stored in Boise, but later unsealed in 1990 and sent to the Federal Records Center in Seattle. In 2001 and 2002, I, along with two attorneys, examined those unsealed records and, after carefully comparing the available records with the ofical trial records/exhibit list, concluded that many vital records and exhibits were missing. Eventually, I gained access to all relevant case documents from the principal lawyer in the case who had them in storage at his law firm in Seattle. Ultimately, I examined seventy-eight large legal boxes containing those materials, and copied and analyzed hundreds of relevant documents. Those records were not only vital in recounting the case and trial but also in broadening discussions of significant related developments through the 1970s concerning: increasing scientific knowledge of lead health effects on children; exposing lead industry practices that had deterred scientific lead health research for decades; the absence of federal laws regulating lead concentrations in the environment and workplace; the subsequent passage of effective federal environmental and occupational laws; and judgments and actions (or inactions) of EPA, state, and Bunker Hill decision-makers from 1970 to 1981.

This book concludes a stimulating project that I started many years ago but, for me, the journey continues in following events in the Silver Valley. I also occasionally make trips there to visit with people, travel through the towns again, and observe and photograph the ongoing environmental restoration activities funded by Superfund monies. I am astounded by landscape improvements in the Bunker Hill Superfund site-- the indusrial area where the lead smelter, zinc plant, central impoundment area, and the Silver King School once stood, and the towns of Kellog and Smelterville-- which began in the 1980s and was mostly cleaned up by 2000 at the cost of $215 million. In an unexpected development in 2002, the EPA was obligated to expand the original Bunker Hill Superfund Site to include the entire Coeur d' Alene Basin, from Coeur d' Alene Lake to Mullan. It was estimated that it would take at least thirty years to complete the Basin cleaup at a cost of $750 million. However, since then, from recent analyses by the National Research Council, it is now understood that the scope of the cleanup as originally defined will be only a first step in achieving environmental and human health protection goals; further, "the volume of mining wastes in the Basin is so large that it is doubtful that complete removal can ever be attained." Thinking about the two original questions that guided my research and writing, I sometimes reflect on those enormous costs of the environmental devastation but for adverse human health effects, there are no cost estimates.

December 1st, 2016

Author and outdoors enthusiast James Thayer joins us today to introduce us to the many hiking opportunities available in Oregon's northern Coast Range. Thayer runs a popular blog called Forest Hiker, that served as a starting point for his new book, Hiking from Portland to the Coast. This book includes extensive details about 30 different trails, including access information and historical anecdotes about the places hikers will pass along the way. In today's blog post, Thayer shares the sense of excitement and adventure that he found at the end of Belding Road.

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Hiking from Portland to the Coast is a unique collection of 30 never previously published trails in the North Coast Range of Oregon. These are the result of seven years of hiking these mountains and extensive local research. Alongside each hike you'll find a linked story, making this more than a guided trails book. It is also a unique anthology of stories, events, and folklore about all the people and places along the way.

"What else is there to know about any of these places?" my friend asked, gazing out across the Salmonberry Gorge. It was a blank slate to him. For me the view captured a myriad of perspectives and stories which, taken altogether, give these places their own unique resonance. The result of this "mash up" is the blending of the sundry oral histories, newspaper clippings, railroad histories, logging chronicles, personal papers and community newsletters. What emerged was a two-sided effort: 30 short stories to accompany the 30 trails.

The Chaos at the End of Belding Road

I've been attempting to get to the bottom of the Belding Road.

The Belding Road is an old logging road that descends way down to the Salmonberry River. No one I know (and that includes forestry types) have been down this abandoned road that crosses back and forth for 11 miles as it sinks nearly 2,500 feet in elevation down into the Salmonberry River Canyon.

Some people get a kick out of climbing up things. In my world the rivers run along the bottom of deep canyons and I'm descending from above. Because the only roads out there are logging roads, they all lead to nowhere in particular. In fact, they're everywhere-- but only along the ridge tops.

Sometimes, to get out into the really remote rivers, you have to drive a labyrinthine route that unspools itself along the mountain spines. Ridgeline roads built to carry heavy loads of timber snake out along the heights pushing ever outwards until the very last ridge has been traversed. The Belding Road is one of these sinuous and convoluted trails cut into the steepest slopes along the Salmonberry Canyon. It is both primally beautiful and terrifyingly brutal at the same time.

This close to the Coast the landscapes become fiercer: precipitous ravines with towering timbers growing off the cliffs. One of my favorite eyries is a place called Windy Gap. From there, on a good day, you can see the ships sailing up the coast. But when the gales came in 1955 this was no place for mortals. That winter it blew Lee Carrigan's cabin right off the mountain.

When the big expected gale comes roaring ashore tomorrow, these slopes will be the first landmass they encounter. The barometer is dropping, there is an edge in the air, the elk are hunkering down, and the doug firs are clenching their roots. There is a promise of violence in the air that Coleridge would appreciate.

In 2006, a gargantuan logjam blocked the Salmonberry River at Tunnel Creek. Caught in the tightly twisting canyon, the river breached its banks and poured through the train tunnel. A roaring brown whirlpool swept back up the valley pulling the steep slopes down upon itself.

I bet that by tomorrow when the first storms are due to hit, the river will churn once again. This once placid stream will be transformed as the heavens open up, the storm roars up the canyon and the syrupy brown water is whipped and churned with great chunks of wood and rock. As the storm intensifies the Salmonberry will froth and thrust forth gouts of muddy water. Tossing rocks and limbs as much as 50 feet above the river, it will scour the cliffs of vegetation.

Now can you understand why I want to descend the Belding Road to see the chaos at the end of the road?

November 30th, 2016

We are joined by author Kurt Fausch today in celebration of his being awarded the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award (SONWA) for his book, For the Love of Rivers: A Scientist’s Journey. Today we get an inside look into how close to home this award hits and the experiences building his career in conservation biology—serving as the acting Director of the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology at Colorado State University (CSU) and also as a professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at CSU.

Dr. Kurt Fausch receiving the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award from Dr. Mark Peterson, Director of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College, Ashland, Wisconsin

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I have never forgotten the sound of the loons, and of waves lapping ashore at night just before one drifts off to sleep. I grew up making annual peregrinations between the suburbs of the megalopolis of Los Angeles where we lived and went to school, and north central Minnesota where we spent summers building a cabin on a small piece of shoreline of a pretty large lake. My parents were natives of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and my mother loved lakes dearly. They both knew that we all needed respite from the choking smog and frenetic pace of southern California. A clear memory is sleeping on a cot in the walkout basement, hearing the haunting high forlorn calls of loons, and looking out across the bay to see the moon’s reflection being jostled in the waves. The sound of those waves is the last thing you hear before sleep swallows Kurt Fausch on the bench at the Listening Point cabinconsciousness.

Back in California one year, when I was about 13, I noticed a book on my parents’ shelf titled Listening Point. I had never heard of Sigurd Olson, butI was immediately attracted to the beautiful drawings that graced each chapterheading – pictures of canoes and campsites, loons and portages, and long vistasdown lakes in the border country between northern Minnesota and the vast Canadian Shield to the north. We had visited that country for a week every year, because my father’s sister owned a small cabin perched on the north shore of Lake Superior, a steep, rocky shoreline dashed by waves and shaded closely by spruce and fir. From there we ventured berry picking and fishing in the lakes that bordered the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). I fell in love with the cold, crisp air and the stark rocks and waters of this lonely land, so recently scoured by glaciers which left many deep cold lakes, and swift streams tumbling south into the largest lake in the world.

Olson wrote not only of the adventure of canoe trips deep into this wilderness, but also of reverence for this land and these lakes, and why they are important for the human spirit. My first reading of Listening Point, and then other books of his like Runes of the North and The Singing Wilderness, left me entranced with the idea of canoeing in this vast wilderness, traveling along routes plied by voyageurs 300 years earlier. The romance of paddling through these chains of lakes, camping along their shores and fishing in pristine waters led me to work for an entire year at age 15 to earn enough to buy my own canoe. I papered my bedroom wall with the entire set of maps of the BWCA, and pored over the canoe routes through the chains of lakes. I knew that “when I grew up”, I wanted to study fish and become a fisheries biologist. Lakes in northern Minnesota would be the perfect place.Sigurd Olson’s cabin at Listening Point

My chance to start this adventure came in 1968. On our way to my aunt’s cabin on “the shore,” we visited the campus of the University of Minnesota in Duluth (UMD), where my older brother was considering attending college. He chose elsewhere, but I knew that Duluth was where I wanted to attend college when I came of age. After my sophomore year at UMD, I landed a summer job as a fisheries biology technician in the BWCA. My partner and I were responsible for surveying the fish and habitat in about 30 different lakes. We spent an entire summer traversing those waterways with boats and canoes, setting nets to sample fish, measuring water chemistry, and mapping shoreline habitat. The next year I did similar work on Lake Superior and several large lakes, focusing primarily on lake trout. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

And in those same years, I purchased and read all nine of Olson’s books, seeking in his writings a deeper understanding of the history and meaning of this wilderness and its lakes and rivers. In my reading since, I learned that Olson was a contemporary of Aldo Leopold, and indeed turned down a chance for further graduate study with him to earn a Ph.D. Instead, Olson returned to the North Country, taught at a junior college, and focused on advocating for this wilderness and writing essays about its values. He was at the forefront of those who fought to prevent roads to every lake starting in the 1920s, and in the 1940s to prevent aircraft flights that would bring anglers and canoeists deep into the wilderness. He knew from long experience as a canoe guide starting in the early 1920s that this wilderness had great value for the human spirit, but that these values could only be accessed through the hard work of paddling and portaging and camping in primitive places. He saw doctors and businessmen and lawyers and judges transformed from their harried state to people who could appreciate solitude and sunsets, and who pondered again the ancient ideas that only wilderness can evoke.

One day during my senior year in college I attended a talk on wilderness. I recall taking a seat near the back of an auditorium. Looking to the side, I was amazed to see sitting two seats away the man I recognized as Sigurd Olson, a man I would have given anything to talk to. Being rather shy, I didn’t say anything, but felt privileged just to be near him as we both listened to a talk that was probably like many he himself had given. I later realized that Sigurd Olson was in his late seventies then, and passed away six years later, while snowshoeing in the land he loved.

Kurt Fausch at Sigurd Olson’s Listening Point, near Ely, MinnesotaI now realize that Sigurd Olson’s essays have always been a touchstone for me, and for the career that I myself have created as a fisheries ecologist. My opportunity to study fish was not in lakes, but in streams, and so I now have a deep love for both. My journey led me throughout much of the West, and to northern Japan. As a scientist, I have seen many rivers, learned their inner workings, and developed a philosophy about why they are essential for humans. But my recent reading of Olson’s early essays on the meaning of wilderness, unavailable to me during my college years, has revealed that he arrived at many of the same ideas far earlier than I. In fact, his idea that modern humans seek habitats like those in which early humans evolved may have formed the basis for some of the theories advanced by other scientists, on which my work is based.

On Earth Day 2016, the book I wrote, For the Love of Rivers, was honored with the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. I am still utterly astounded by this. I can’t imagine a higher or more meaningful honor for my work. But only after re-reading Listening Point, and traveling back to Ashland, Wisconsin to speak and receive the award at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College, did I realize how much the course of my entire career, and my approach to writing this book, were influenced by Olson’s essays and books. I even spent an entire year working with artist Kristine Mackessy to create the pen-and-ink drawings that grace the chapter title pages, showing her the images from Olson’s books as examples of what I sought.

Who knows how what one writes or speaks, or what actions one takes, will affect others? Every professor like me has the chance after a long career to see their legacy through students who were influenced by things they said or did – often not realizing what different messages each person would draw from one’s teaching, writing, or working. Sigurd Olson influenced several generations of people through his best-selling books during an era when the environment came to the fore, and influenced both presidents and policies that conserved many tracts of wilderness, including the BWCA Wilderness. But he also influenced me personally, and for that I am forever grateful. If the book I have written can influence someone else to seek their own path forward and cherish lakes and rivers, especially those in wilderness, then it will have been an amazing success.

 

©by Kurt D. Fausch, all rights reserved, 27 November 2016

 

 

November 18th, 2016

 

Author and photographer Tim Palmer, author of Rivers of Oregon, joins us again today to share his experience travelling down the Chetco River, which provides a lively contrast to his journey on the gentle waters of the Willamette. The Chetco runs an expanse of approximately 57 miles. However, much of the river runs wild. In today's piece, Tim gives readers the chance to encounter the sights found in these 57 miles, allowing us to glimpse into the often-unseen wild of the Chetco.

 

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At the beginning of my book, Rivers of Oregon, I reflected on a journey down the Willamette River, gently winding through the heart of Oregon's most populated valley. Plentiful flows whisked me past shores constrained by farmland but still green with cottonwoods. The riparian artistry that I found will enchant anyone who drifts with the current and notices what's there.

For a counterpoint to the Willamette's welcoming ease of travel, I journeyed with my wife, Ann, and a small group of friends to one of Oregon's least tamed and most remote rivers, the Chetco.

While upper reaches of that coastal stream are all wilderness, and visiting requires a long hike, an isolated mid-section can be reached by a rough road leading to a remote riverfront. There we unpacked our inflatable kayaks, strapped a waterproof bag of supplies onto each, and began to paddle-- not downriver-- but up. We wanted to see the nature of an extraordinary canyon, and our boats offered the only way to go.

We paddled through pools that were crystalline and so deep we could not dive to the bottom. Then we dragged our gear over boulders and gravel bars up to the next pool, again and again. We passed the mouths of tributaries feeding pristine waters into the river. We encountered cliffs and tangles of fallen cedars as we pressed onward for several miles to Boulder Creek and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness-- among the first Wilderness Areas designated in America and the third largest in Oregon. We camped on the gentle slope of a gravel bar where evergreens shaded our tents and where the Chetco shimmered past, its music entertaining us from rapids both above and below. While the Willamette had offered me a comforting tour through Oregon's heartland with farms and towns along the way, the Chetco was as wild as it gets.

The next day we began our descent, passing our put-in point and continuing downstream for another two days through lower canyons. We dropped over dozens of rapids that would have been threatening in the flush of springtime, but on low summertime runoff we slipped through, or bounced off rocks in our forgiving air-filled craft, or clamored over slippery rocks, lugging our gear and pairing-up to push and pull our boats.

Two impressive bottlenecks required portaging over boulders the size of cars and busses. The first was an extravaganza of maroon, white, and gray-striped rocks in a rapid called Radiolaria for the microscopic creatures that had fossilized to create those rocks undersea prior to the Coast Range uplift. Then Conehead's radical drop-- shaded by two pointed monoliths and clogged with logs-- demanded that we line our craft through narrow chutes and a slot barely boat-wide.

Downstream from that last canyon, a more casual Chetco is easily reached along a forest road. Its refreshing riffles and deep green pools-- alive with spawning salmon in winter and swimming children in summer-- are no less beautiful than the wilderness above. It's a riverfront, like many in Oregon, where you can see a free-flowing waterway connecting mountains to sea, forests to fish, and people to the natural world around them.

For other wild scenes and remarkable river adventures in Oregon I traveled to the Salmonberry, North Umpqua, and Collawash; the Metolius, Imnaha, and Wenaha. Whether we go exploring at these or the Willamette-- or any of the hundred rivers and thousands of streams in between-- Oregon is a wonderland of waterways. The rivers flow all around us.

November 16th, 2016

Now through December 31st, enjoy 25% off these selected titles when you order directly through the OSU Press website. Enter the promotion code 16HOLIDAY at checkout. This special holiday discount is valid on these titles:

A School for the People

A School for the People

 
Hiking from Portland to the Coast

Hiking from Portand to the Coast

 
Wild in the Willamette

Wild in the Willamette

 
Reporting the Oregon Story

Reporting the Oregon Story

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A School for the People: A Photographic History of Oregon State University by Lawrence A. Landis; Regularly $50.00 – SALE PRICE $37.50


State of Giving: Stories of Oregon Volunteers, Donors, and Nonprofits by Greg Chaillé and Kristin Anderson; Regularly $24.95 – SALE PRICE $18.71


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Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, 1867-1957 by Terry Toedtemeier and John Laursen; Regularly $75.00 – SALE PRICE $56.25


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November 9th, 2016

Guest post by Marcy Houle, author of One City's Wilderness: Portland's Forest Park

 

Last September, something truly amazing happened in Portland’s Forest Park. It was an achievement never before attempted. And, at its conclusion, it stands as an inspiration for many more to follow.

One City's Wilderness

On September 4 and 5, Alex Schay, set out to do a goal he had made for himself. He wanted to hike the entire Wildwood Trail, that winds 30 miles through the largest urban wilderness in the United States, and do it in two days. 

 

Other people have set and achieved this goal. Alex was not the first to do it. But one thing makes his goal unique, and never before attempted.

 

You see, Alex Schay is blind.

 

What’s more, the guide dogs for the blind, one of which is Alex’s faithful companion, Clifton, are only trained for city streets.

 

Alex, who loves the outdoors, knew this was an important objective he wished to accomplish. With his beautiful and smart guide-dog, Clifton, they worked together, hiking easy places at first, then more complicated, to get Clifton used to exploring native trails. At last they were ready. 

 

Alex contacted me to ask if OSU Press might provide him the Word documents for my book One City's Wilderness: Portland's Forest Park, so he could follow the trail descriptions written for Wildwood.  He wished to use the book to get a better understanding of the trail, and information on trail crossings and connections. The Press gladly consented. Before long, Alex set off, attempting to walk the trail only with Clifton, as his companion and assistant.

 

Alex also used a GPS-based app called Blind Square, to help him be aware of and navigate various trail crossings in Forest Park.


 Alex Schay and Clifton on Wildwood Trail. Photo: Wesley Mahan, NW Examiner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Caption: Alex Schay and Clifton on Wildwood Trail. Photo: Wesley Mahan, NW Examiner)

 

On Sunday, September 4, Alex left the zero-mile marker for Wildwood Trail, at the Vietnam War Memorial.  He covered half the park, contending with “washed-out bridges or sections of trail, overhangs, and roots and rocks too numerous to mention.” On Monday afternoon, September 5, he  successfully reached Wildwood’s conclusion at NW Newberry Road, near Sauvies Island.

 

He reached his goal, hiking 30 miles of the nation's longest hiking trail in any city -- Wildwood Trail.  He hopes his terrific and brave success will only be the beginning.  He encourages other blind hikers to attempt the hike, using the aides he did,  and find the great satisfaction of facing a challenging goal and connecting with the beauty of nature.

 

Congratulations to Alex! Below is a letter he sent to friends and supporters after the hike. Alex’s story is also featured in a recent NW Examiner article.

 

***

 

Hello:

 

I thought that some of you might be interested to learn that on Sunday & Monday, September 4th & 5th, my guide dog, Clifton, and I made a successful independent hike of Forest Park’s Wildwood Trail. We began at the Vietnam War Memorial near the Oregon Zoo on Sunday morning, and came out at NW Newberry Road near Sauvies Island Monday afternoon. At just over 30 miles in length, the Wildwood Trail is the longest contiguous urban trail in the United States, crossing numerous watersheds.

 

Many tools and techniques enabled a successful hike. First, I used textual descriptions about the Wildwood Trail, taken from Marcy Houle’s book, One City’s Wilderness, to get a general understanding of the trail, as well as an understanding of some of the trail crossings and connections. Thank you to Marcy! Mike Yamada from the Oregon Commission for the Blind may also be gratified to learn that Blind Square, a GPS-based app that helps blind people navigate and understand their surroundings, may be used to determine the proximity of various trail crossings in Forest Park. Blind Square can also announce upcoming trail crossings, which can be quite helpful. I was also able to consult with other hikers to confirm that I was on the right track, or to get back on track. And of course, Clifton did an amazing job focusing on details, like washed-out bridges or sections of trail, overhangs, and roots and rocks too numerous to mention.

 

 I am revising Marcy’s textual description of the Wildwood Trail so that it can be an even more effective tool for blind hikers, giving more blind people access to Portland’s remarkable Forest Park.

 

In the event you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to give me a shout

 

Warm Regards,

Alex

November 3rd, 2016

Dr. Robert Michael Pyle, author and lepidopterist, shares with us today an essay that wasn't selected for the final draft of his new book, Through a Green Lens. With the book spanning his entire career as a writer, difficult decisions had to be made concerning which pieces would and would not reach republication through the Press. The piece we share with you today, Ripples Through a Pool of Meltwater, explores his experience with the Northwest Forgotten Language tour in the Columbia River Gorge. Pyle provides readers with insight into the choice not to include Ripples Through a Pool of Meltwater and a reflection on the essay itself.

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Through a Green Lens: Fifty Years of Writing for Nature brings together 47 essays selected from my entire life's work as a writer, to date. All but one (the first, just out of high school) have been published previously, and almost all in the periodical press. A few came from anthologies or books for which I wrote forewords or chapters, but none from my own stand-alone books (a reader drawn from these will comprise a future collection). As there were many more pieces to pick from than we could possibly include, it was necessary to make hard choices. We wanted both coherence and diversity, without too much overlap or repetition. We wanted to include only pieces that could argue for themselves that they had a reason to live on. We wanted the whole to be concise enough so as not to suggest a telephone book.

This meant that there would be a good many out-takes. Some of these were judged to be too ephemeral, dated, or narrow for general interest. Others were held back for another book of longer, philosophical essays. But there remained a residue of pieces I might have liked to share again with a broader audience than those who saw them in the first place.

One such essay was called Ripples Through a Pool of Meltwater. It was originally published in 1995 in a pre-blog newsletter associated with Orion Magazine called the Orion Society Notebook. I rejected it from the book partly because of its length, although we did include some other very short pieces; and because its subject, the late, great barnstorming whistle-stops conducted by shifting knots of Orion writers to celebrate literature and the land seem a little narrow without an explanation of its history (such as its name, which came from W.S. Merwin's poem, Witness). But rereading it now, I find I still like some of its words, its images, and its conclusion--which captures, I think, just what we were trying to accomplish on those occasional magic carpet capers. It is short enough to include here in its entirety.

 

Ripples Through a Pool of Meltwater

When consummate Cascadian naturalist David Lukas led the Northwest Forgotten Language tourists up the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge, the deep green mosses and the canyon's tracheae of ferns and liverworts breathed a moist awareness of life and regeneration into all of us, writers, students, and guests. When we reached the waterfall, sunstruck that February morning, I felt a distinct connection between the readers and the listeners, the text and the field, the Tour and the world. At the base of the plummet, rough ripples spread through a pool of meltwater. Days later, recuperating from the sweet rigors of the minstrelsy, that image returned to me. I realized that, as the wavelets went out into Eagle Creek, so spreads the gentle impact of the Forgotten Language visits: barely noticeable in the general clamor, yet insistent and cumulative in their influence far beyond the source.

In all the stops where I've been privileged to read for the Forgotten Language Tour, the field forays have affected me as much as the readings and the interchange they bring. I think of a remnant of old-growth forest as deep in rain as moss, on a bluff above Willapa Bay. A reclaimed urban landfill in Seattle, once again a vibrant habitat. A hardwood copse in western New York, colored like melted crayons heavy on the red. A Sonoran arroyo studded with saguaros, daubed with orange mariposa lilies and black buckeye butterflies. We've engaged the ground at least a little everywhere we've gone, even on horseback in Monument Valley, where our Navajo guides sang a prayer as raven circled overhead.

Yet these are no junkets; the field trips refresh from grueling schedules, but comprise in themselves a key component of the Tour. Absent contact with the land, the words become sterile. Composted by the green tissues, brown soils, and moving parts of the biome, fine writings come alive, able to move others and make them care.

This is what I hope we bring to those who hear us: a keen sense of the power of a language that must not be forgotten after all, and a parallel understanding that the words grow out of the land, where we must return to give them meaning. Beyond that, I believe our visits have the potential to stimulate action--application of the ethic implicit in the bond between the Orion writer and reader, reader and listener-- in direct ways that honor communities and help to preserve the fabric of the landscapes on which they depend.

In The Gift, Vladimir Nabokov tells of physical sensations that are "utterly incomprehensible, like the words in a forgotten language." It is the job of these itinerant storytellers to render the world and its parts comprehensible, to find the land-word bridge to understanding. If we can help a few people to remember the language we need, they will tell it to others... and who knows what could happen next?

October 27th, 2016

Tim Palmer, author and photographer of OSU Press's new book, Rivers of Oregon, joins us today to share a brief interlude from his time exploring Oregon's Willamette River. Rivers of Oregon contains beautiful photos of the scenery on and around Oregon Rivers -- both east and west. The photographs allow readers to look beyond themelves and into the landscape they inhabit. How has the landscape changed? What have we done with it? What has become of the vastly wild and beautiful land that was here before us? In today's blog post, Palmer provides vivid imagery, helping the reader to see what he saw and to feel what he felt on his journey down the Willamette.

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As I paddled down the Willamette, with its western shore ramping up toward the Coast Range and its eastern bank climbing toward the higher Cascade Mountains, I thought of this river as the metaphorical keel of Oregon- a balancing feature that all the rest depends upon. Without the Willamette's watery path headed northward- along with the valley it shaped and the runoff it delivers- few people would ever have settled in the most populated corridor of Oregon. Portland wouldn't be there.

I knew also that the Willamette was the supply line on which salmon, birds, beavers, and hundreds of other creatures depend. More whimsically, and more personally from my own cherished experience, the Willamette is the Huck Finn river of the Northwest. Its riffling current made it possible for me to set out on a revealing expedition of two weeks, traveling 189 miles from upper reaches down to tidewater.

My fluid route and ticketless transit touched cities, farms, and wild remnants of the original Oregon in a way that brought all these elements together into a sojourn that -- though tame relative to other wild rivers nearby -- was spiced with adventure and discovery. I had to be alert to the swirls and boils, to currents and headwinds, to seductive back channels that drew me to explore but could serve me up to logjams or wooded swamps with no pleasant way out. But lacking steep drops -- except notably for the largest cataract in the West at the upstream edge of Portland -- the Willamette drifts at a gentle pace that's suited to many people in canoes or other craft. It invites us on a quintessential "beaver-state" outing. In my unbridled fantasies about education, paddling the length of the Willamette would be a coming-of-age ritual for every boy and girl in Oregon.

The Willamette has been affected by two centuries of efforts to tame and subdue an awesome and primordial force that's inherent in the simple conveyance of water from source to sea. But a certain magic remains, and I felt it in every view of the river bending in front of me, in the rise of great cottonwood trees at the shoreline, and even in the dark of the night. Lingering on a spacious gravel bar at my second campsite where cold undertows of the McKenzie River joined the larger flow, I watched stars fall into a navy-blue sky. Then moonlight streaked the river in white while the curent bubled its song to my ears. From the top of a cottonwood, a great blue heron -- aroused by some mystery in the dark -- squawked like a bird-call from the beginnings of time. A great horned owl resonantly hooted from a roost deeper in the floodplain forest, telling me that this place was his. A beaver, inexplicably aware of my presence though I hadn't moved a muscle, smacked its tail on the water's surface and dove to swim underwater as it passed.

There on the Willamette, just a few miles from Eugene, my world was reset to the milllennia of days, nights, seasons, floods, droughts, and deep passages of time as the river has carved its course and as life has evolved in the watery depths and along the shores. The river took me back to a universe that's lasting and real. In setting out on a paddling adventure to a place I had never been, I felt like I had come home. And I also felt that my home had grown much larger. The river opened the door to new acquaintances with everything that lay downstream.

Each day I drifted farther. I enjoyed both solace and excitement from the rhythms of river-life: sunrise followed by high noon and then sunset, morning calms followed by afternoon winds, pools followed by rifles, over and over in what hydrologists call the pool-and-riffle sequence. Each evening I took my camera in hand to capture sunset's glow on animated currents. Every night a big dome of stars and cottonwood limbs arced overtop my camp. Every morning in the tender light of dawn I watched for the wake of an otter or mink, the whistling flight of a merganser or wood duck, the dive of a kingfisher, osprey, or eagle. 

The Willamette is the largest stream flowing wholly within Oregon, but it's just one of hundreds, each with its own purpose and path, its own charm and appeal, its own intrinsic worth.

I wanted to see them all, and so I set out to write and photograph Rivers of Oregon.

 

October 14th, 2016

Today, Dr. Ellen Eisenberg will share an excerpt from Chapter Six in her new book, The Jewish Oregon Story, 1950-2010. Religion may not be the first thing a person thinks of when they think about Oregon. However, Dr. Eisenberg has provided an eye-opening, thought-provoking book, allowing readers to delve into the history of Judaism in Oregon and how Jewish identity has been affected by the progressive ideas in this ever-changing state.

Before diving into this Chapter Six excerpt, Dr. Eisenberg shares some of her inspiration for the chapter, as well as giving a brief view behind this particular anecdote.

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From the moment I began thinking about a book on recent Oregon Jewish history, I imagined a chapter on “Jewish Portlandia.” Inspired by my own impressions of differences between the East Coast Jewish communities I was raised in and those I’ve encountered in Oregon, I wanted to explore what is distinctive about local Jewish culture and identity. How does the Oregon Jewish community reflect, embrace, and shape the state’s image as a trendy, progressive, innovative, quirky center? If the Pacific Northwest is the “none zone,” the part of the country where residents are most likely to check “none of the above” when asked about their religious affiliation and where they are more likely to identify as spiritual than religious, how does that affect local Jewish communities? How do regional sensibilities about politics, style, food and sustainability impact Jewish identity?

Drawing on archival sources as well as current expressions of communal identity through websites, public programming, and institutional innovation, Chapter Six explores the connections between contemporary Jewish communities and twenty-first century Oregon sensibilities. It opens with the story of Mayan Miriam, a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath), used traditionally for purification prior to conversion or marriage, and, monthly, by women to mark their transition back to a pure state in which marital relations are permitted. The mikvah, housed in a yurt in a backyard in Eugene, is an apt symbol of twenty-first century Judaism in Oregon, with its embrace of place, innovation, environmentalism, inclusion, spirituality, and do-it-yourself ethos.

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Libby Bottero first immersed in a mikvah when she converted to Judaism in the late 1960s, just before marrying her first husband and bearing their child. The marriage was short-lived, but her connections with Judaism and with the ritual of the mikvah were not. She found that first experience “transformative,” and made a point of visiting the local mikvah wherever she traveled for many years afterward. Although it would be over four decades before Mayan Miriam took shape, she recalls, “I always had this dream to build a mikvah where anyone could come.”

In 1968, after visiting a variety of synagogues to explore different streams of Jewish life, Libby and her young son moved into the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco. Founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who would later become a major figure in the Jewish Renewal movement, the House of Love and Prayer was known as a “Jewish hippie commune,” which was, in Libby’s words, “both Shomer Shabbat [Sabbath observing] and a source of certain mind-altering substances.”5 There she met Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of Renewal Judaism, and Aryeh Hirschfield, who became a major figure in Eugene Jewish life in the 1970s and early 1980s. After his ordination, Rabbi Hirschfield served Renewal congregations in Ashland (Havurah Shir Hadash, 1985–1995) and Portland (P’nai Or, 1996–2009).6 It was during her time at the House of Love and Prayer that Libby began regular visits to the mikvah in San Francisco’s Mission District.

After moving from San Francisco to Corvallis, Libby met and married her second husband, Joseph Bottero, also a convert to Judaism, and became involved in the community, first at Beit Am in Corvallis, and then at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene. Relocating to Eugene, the Botteros began thinking seriously about building a mikvah. For women such as Libby, who found deep meaning in the monthly ritual of immersion, the only options at the time were to drive the four-hour round-trip to the mikvah in Portland, or to immerse in a natural body of water, such as the Willamette River. For much of the year, the latter was an uncomfortable and unsafe option. The Botteros first established a natural pond mikvah in their Eugene backyard, but soon began talking about building a more lasting structure. Inspiration came from Rabbis Carlebach, Schachter-Shalomi, and Myron Kinberg of Eugene’s Temple Beth Israel, as well as from The Jewish Catalog, a 1960s-era popular guide that “encourage[d] ordinary Jews to be empowered with the knowledge to do mitzvoth,” such as hanging a mezuzah or building a sukkah. When it became clear that Beth Israel was not going to incorporate a mikvah in its plan for a new synagogue building in the early years of the twentyfirst century, the Botteros moved toward fulfilling their long-held dream.

While taking care to fulfill all the specifications for a kosher mikvah, they were also committed to making the mikvah experience welcoming to all and available for diverse, often nontraditional, ceremonies. Along with conversions, monthly, and prenuptial immersions, Mayan Miriam has been the site of a variety of life cycle and healing rituals: marking a clean start after a divorce or a miscarriage, ritual cleansing before or after cancer treatments, and many others. The mikvah has been used, as is tradition, by brides to be and also by same and opposite-gender couples immersing together in advance of their vows. It has been the site of women’s Rosh Hodesh (new month) ceremonies and women’s minyanim (prayer groups). Although not a large pool, it has hosted a rather crowded group immersion by a local women’s minyan. In 2015, the mikvah was the site of a ceremony to mark the conversion of twin boys carried by a surrogate mother from Oregon for a gay Israeli couple (because the surrogate mother was not Jewish, an immersion ceremony preceded the baby boys’ bris). Libby Bottero recalls that the two Israeli men, each of whom was biological father to one of the twins, “wrote the most beautiful, deeply moving essay in Hebrew and English, explaining the names, what it meant to them to be fathers. . . . We were all in tears and hugging. . . . It was so deeply meaningful to them and to us who were witnesses.”

   

Eisenberg, Ellen. "Chapter Six: The Jewish Oregon Story." The Jewish Oregon Story, 1950-2010. Corvallis: Oregon State UP, 2016. 208-10. Print.  

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