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Entries in Oregon (18)


Blue Highways: Umatilla, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

For the first time since we started traveling with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), we go back into a state that we've already visited.  Okay, so a technicality might be when we passed through the Navajo and Hopi reservations from Arizona and back into Arizona, but the reservations aren't really carved out as separate states.  In my mind, then, this is a first and I attach to it some symbolic qualities of a new beginning in William Least Heat-Moon's journey, especially since he had been so emotionally low in Oregon before.  Where does Umatilla fit in the geography of the journey, take a look at the map!

Book Quote

"Across the Columbia at Umatilla, Oregon, and up the great bend of river into country where sage grew taller than men."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 10

From McNary Dam Overlook in Umatilla, Oregon. Interstate 82 bridges over the Columbia River in foreground, and Mount Adams in the background. Photo at the Columbia River-A Photographic Journey site. Click on photo to go to host page.

Umatilla, Oregon

Here is a first for LHM's journey in Blue Highways.  In the nearly 200 places that we've visited so far, he has never doubled back into a state after leaving it.  He may have meandered, and he may have wandered, but he has pretty much kept himself moving straight through states, seeing some of what they have, and then moving on without a backward glance.

So why does he dip down into Oregon again, crossing the border at Umatilla (pronounced yoo-ma-till-a - I live in a Southwest border state and my inclination is to pronounce it ooh-ma-tee-ya)) and then going up the south and east side of the Columbia River?

A simple answer is that it's where the road has taken him.  If you look at the map of the area, the road he has been driving upon in Washington, state route 14, ends at Interstate 82 across the river from Umatilla.  He evidently decided to cross the river on the interstate, and then pick up the Columbia River Highway (US 730) to continue his drive along a blue highway.

He also has tended, whenever possible, to avoid interstates.  An alternative route might have taken him up Interstate 82 to Kennewick, where he could have then taken US 395 across the river and then started making his way east on US 12 from there.  But he chose not to.  Instead, he dips back into Oregon.

I don't put a lot of stock into this, but just go with me for a minute here as I look at some possible symbolism of this return to Oregon.  It may be a bunch of crap, but all of my posts are my own interpretations of what I'm reading so far, so I can go out on a limb once in a while, like I have a few times in my posts.

Symbolically, it seems as if Oregon was a difficult state for LHM.  Really, beginning in California, he had some despair and began questioning why he undertook this journey.  He began to perceive life and our travels in it as an unending circle that just keeps bringing us back to the same point.  He didn't really see the utility of that, especially since that same point always seemed to be a low point.  As he moved up through Oregon, these feelings became more intense.  In Corvallis, Oregon he reached his nadir.  Sitting in Ghost Dancing, while it rained for days, he called his wife and she didn't want to talk to him.  At that point, he decides he wants to see "what the hell is next."  He continues to the coast of Oregon where Lewis and Clark reached the end point of their westward journey, and that association with the explorers seems to enliven him.  After touching the coast, he turns east and at Portland, he heads into Washington.  In Washington, he briefly flirts with a woman who fires his imagination.  Then he meets some hang-gliding folk who discuss the thrill of the unknown and the risks involved.  As we read, and travel with him, we can see his writing change as well - he gets back into the trip again and seems more excited to see what else might come his way.

Here's my stretch with the symbolism.  His dip back into Oregon seems to be a return to the same state where he once languished in turmoil and low spirits.  Except that now, he isn't languishing anymore.  It's therefore a return to a former area of weakness but now with strength and a groundedness that lets him move through and not get stuck.  It is a repudiation of negativity that put him in the blues before.  And, as we'll see, he stays forward looking, moving without pause on to Wallula and to points beyond as he heads back into the state of Washington.

I do counseling because I've dealt my whole life with being stuck in places that aren't necessarily the best places for me to be.  These are self-critical, self-pitying and ultimately soul-sucking places that want me to stay there.  I've learned that when I leave those places they don't just disappear, just like Oregon was not going to fall off the map once LHM left it.  Instead, my hard places sit there and wait for me, seemingly knowing that I'll come back by roundabout routes.  If I'm not paying attention, often I end up back in them.  Then I get stuck again.  But lately, I've been doing something different.  I've been visiting those places but in a different frame of mind and with a different reference point.  Sometimes, it's hard.  But other times, with a new vision and outlook, I can remake those places into something much nicer.  It becomes me deciding when, how and even if I will visit, not fate or life dictating to me where I go.

Another very important and real symbol - by "real" I mean not my imagination - in the passage above is LHM's mention of sage.  Sage has symbolized a number of positive concepts throughout history.  On this page, I learned that sage stands for or was thought to contribute to the following:

increased mental capacity
life creation
curative powers
spiritual cleansing
banishing of evil spirits

In addition, sage is at the heart of a Christian legend that relates how Mary and Jesus escaped from the soldiers of Herod after Jesus' birth.  They asked a rose bush to open its petals and shelter them, but the rose bush refused and told them to go to the clove plant.  The clove also refused and referred them to the sage.  The sage blossomed abundantly and sheltered them, and the soldiers passed them by.  Since that time, the rose has been cursed with thorns, the clove with flowers that don't smell very good, and the sage has been blessed by curative powers.

Since LHM drives into an area abundant with sage, it doesn't seem to be a stretch that he is driving through a cleansing place, a healing place, and a place where the bad and even evil of the past can be banished.  And maybe this is all a coincidence and means nothing.  Sure, LHM could have decided to take the interstate and avoid going back into Oregon again.  But he didn't, so you can draw your own conclusions.

So, that's my little foray into symbolic territory.  Perhaps I've overthought this, but that's the beauty of symbolism.  It doesn't have to be something that one plans out.  LHM probably never even thought of this - he was just looking for a blue highway rather than the interstate.  It was up to me to make whatever symbolic allusions that I perceived.  But, I can take these flights of fancy because I am an unique reader and I can interpret as much as I want and I can allow my thoughts to go whither they wish.  That's the beauty of reading, Littourati!

Musical Interlude

Once again, I had a song come to mind for this post.  I'm not sure why it this song wanted to come forward, but it did.  The title is appropriate to the post, and so enjoy Get Back by The Beatles in their famous last rooftop concert at their Apple Studio in London.

If you want to know more about Umatilla

Center for Columbia River History: Umatilla
City of Umatilla
Wikipedia: McNary Dam
Wikipedia: Umatilla

Next up: Wallula, Washington


Blue Highways: Dallesport (The Dalles), Washington

Unfolding the Map

I'm going to apologize in advance, because I get political in this post.  I don't usually do that, but sometimes a convergence of what I'm reading and society happens.  As you know, this blog not only maps the places in book journeys, but is also a chronicle of what goes through my head as I read the literature.  So, unsolicited, you get my opinion, just as in every post.  Otherwise, The Dalles appears to be a beautiful area, and if you open the map, you can see where it is situated geographically.

Book Quote

"At The Dalles another dam - this one wedged between high walls of basalt.  Before the rapids here disappeared, Indians caught salmon for a couple of thousand years by spearing them in midair as the fish exploded leaps up the falls....

"....Natives found a new source of income in the falls when white traders came with boats to be portaged.  One fur trader complained, as did many early travelers, that the Indians were friendly but 'habitual thieves'; yet he paid fifty braves only a quid of tobacco each to carry his heavy boats a mile upriver."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 9

The Dalles Bridge between Dallesport, Washington and The Dalles, Oregon. Photo by "cacophony" at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Dallesport (The Dalles), Washington

I must admit, this will probably be somewhat of a politically-leaning post, because that is what is on my mind today after reading Leonard Pitts' column in my local paper yesterday and reading LHM's quote, above.

In the article, Pitts outlines just how absurd Alabama's new law against undocumented immigrants might be.  I hesitate to call them illegal because the violation of being undocumented is a civil violation, not a criminal one.  What has happened since Alabama passed its law?  According to Pitts, the state stands to lose $40 million in lost revenue because farms cannot find enough "legal" workers to harvest the fruits and vegetables.  People of Hispanic descent, at whom the law appears to be aimed, have left the state in droves whether documented or not.  Farmers complain that citizens and documented residents that they have hired quit after a few hours because they can't take the backbreaking work.  I read that citizens aren't taking these jobs even as farmers have been doubling wages trying to attract workers.

Of course, slamming immigrants and blaming them for the nation's problems has been an American tradition for a long time.  Many of the same people calling for border fences and increased armed forces on the border and other anti-immigration policies had ancestors who were shunned and derided as Wops, Chinks, Polacks, Micks, Krauts, and all the other groups that immigrated to the United States in the 1800s.  Those people were pushed into crowded slums lined with tenements.  Disease was rampant, jobs scarce.  Gangs and thuggery were rife.  Signs on businesses often said "(Your favorite ethnic group here) Need Not Apply."  One of our current presidential candidates, who has called for an electrified border fence that might kill illegal immigrants, most likely had ancestors that were forcibly brought to this country and enslaved, and then after gaining citizenship were shunned and segregated for the next 100 years.  Others might have had ancestors that escaped the concentration camps.

The difference now is that much of the immigration problem is not due directly to U.S. policies on immigration, but is part of wider and deeper economic and social forces put in place by the globalization of the world economy.  The equation is simple - laborers will move to where jobs are more plentiful and lucrative.  Unfortunately, while the borders for goods and services are being relaxed and dismantled, the borders that restrict the flow of labor are being intensified.  The United States borders Mexico, which is not necessarily a poor country because there is a lot of money there, but it is a country with a huge income gap between the small number of the richest and the huge number of the poorest.  There are many, many people in poverty.  So, they go where the jobs are.  Even if the jobs are crappy they pay more than working a farm or tending store in Mexico City.  Undocumented workers hope immediately that they can make enough to send back home and keep their families fed.  Maybe, they hope that one day they can become documented and move their families to the US, but that hope is becoming more remote.  In the mean time, they work and send the money home not knowing if they will be caught and deported.  Many today call that criminality, but that kind of devotion to trying to get ahead and taking care of family would be, under other circumstances, called "family values" and "initiative," by the same people.

LHM's quote reminds us that it is very easy to demonize people based on characteristics.  In LHM's quote, the white trappers were the invaders into Indian lands.  The Natives, seeing an opportunity for gain (which is in the good old capitalist tradition), were derided as cheats and thieves, and then cheated themselves by the trappers that so labeled them.  If anyone had the right to be angry, upset and fearful of this wave of different looking people coming across borders and taking valuable resources away from the longtime rightful owners, it was Native peoples.  As the quote illustrates, they had lived in a land of plenty and were industrious in how they used the land for its resources without overtaxing it.  They reached a balance with Nature and what they needed.  Who were the unwanted strangers then?  Lewis and Clark and the legions of European descendents that followed them.

I contrast that with today.  I tend to believe that the arguments over immigration are straw men, an attempt to demonize a group to mask other problems and mistakes.  Undocumented immigrants did not shove us into recession or push our visible unemployment rate over 9 percent.  Undocumented immigrants didn't invest in overvalued stocks, nor did they push real estate to overinflated prices until the bubble burst.  Undocumented immigrants didn't push our deficit into the trillions or contribute to a massive trade deficit or transfer our national debt over to the Chinese.  Undocumented immigrants didn't bankrupt our pension funds and underfund our schools.  Undocumented immigrants didn't steal jobs, they seem to have filled jobs at which US citizens turn up their nose.  And when they are gone, the economies of agricultural states will suffer and so will a lot of other people.

Do I pretend to know what to do about undocumented immigration?  A lot of smarter minds committed to finding answers have worked on it.  All I know is what I see and perceive.  To me, the furor over undocumented immigrants just doesn't add up.  We have so many problems to solve, it seems a waste of time to worry about people slipping across the border in an attempt to help their families survive.  I'd rather that U.S. citizens worry about how to fix our political problems, how to get people back to work in jobs they want, how to fix the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, and most of all make this land a land of opportunity for everyone to be able to reach extraordinary achievement and good fortune.  I think we should all remember that in life, we all came into this world with nothing, and eventually we will migrate from it without being able to take anything with us.  In that, we're all just immigrants passing through creation and over time, we'll all be undocumented.

Musical Interlude

A song about immigration should have a variety of participants.  The Puerto Rico-based group Calle 13 has a song called Pal Norte (translated as "Heading North), which mixes Andean and traditional beats into the driving reggaeton style.  The song is a chronicle of the trials and tribulations of those who immigrate.

If you want to know more about Dallesport or The Dalles Dallesport
Celilo Falls and The Dalles Dam
Center for Columbia River History: The Dalles Dam
Columbia River Images: The Dalles Bridge
The Dalles Chronicle (newspaper) The Dalles
Historic The Dalles
Wikipedia: Celilo Falls
Wikipedia: The Dalles
Wikipedia: The Dalles Dam
Wilipedia: Dallesport

Next up: Stonehenge on the Columbia, Washington


Blue Highways: Portland, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

Lots of stuff in this post.  We rarely get to visit a big city with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) because he tries to avoid them.  No avoiding Portland, however.  We'll look at some of the nefarious history of shanghaiing in Portland's past, and relate it to human trafficking today.  There are, count 'em, two musical interludes in this post.  What a deal!  Here's the map to see where Portland sits in the scheme of our journey!

Book Quote

"The river road came off the hills into the industrial bottoms of Portland and left no way but through the city; once committed to it, I went looking for oysters downtown in the area where drinking (Erickson's Saloon formerly had a bar running nearly eight hundred feet), whoring and shanghiing sailors were the main after-dark endeavors a century ago.  It was here that five-foot-tall Bunco Kelly kidnapped, by his own count, a thousand lubbers through his standard method of knockout drops, although his easiest haul was eight tramps he found drinking formaldehyde in an undertaker's basement; Kelly gathered them up and got them aboard ship by passing the dying men off as intoxicated."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 6

Downtown Portland with Mount Hood in background. Photo by David Wieprecht of the US Geological Survey. Click on photo to go to host page.Portland, Oregon Part 1

The description of Portland's Bunco Kelly, in LHM's quote above, led me to do a little bit of thinking.  We currently live in a world where, despite the fact that every country has officially outlawed slavery (the last country to do so was Mauritania as recently as 2007, though the practice remains there), the world has more slaves than at any other time in its history. The estimates range from 12 million to 27 million people living in conditions of slavery, a shocking statistic considering that we live in what is considered a modern and humane world.

In Bunco Kelly's time, slavery had been abolished in the United States for at least 20 years when he started his practice.  And to be fair, his trade in trafficking of humans was not considered slavery, though that might be a quibble.  Shanghaiing was officially known as impressment, and it had been used in official capacity by the British Royal Navy up until the defeat of Napoleon.  Impressment was the forcible recruitment of sailors, and was justified by the king's right to call out people for military service during a time of need.  For Britain, which had extensive holdings overseas, pretty much any time could qualify as a time of need.  Impressment agents would find men, usually those who were considered vagrants, and impress them aboard Navy ships.  Sometimes, individual Navy ships, plying the high seas and in need of personnel, would impress sailors and other men aboard ships that they stopped.  The result was the same regardless - the new sailors were obligated to serve a time aboard the ship and were penalized if they deserted their posts and were caught, frequently by flogging.

While the Royal Navy discontinued impressment after the Napoleonic Wars, the practice continued.  In various American ports a labor shortage of qualified seamen led American merchant ships to adopt shanghaiing, which was essentially the same practice.  However, instead of relying on the government and military agents to provide sailors, ships' captains relied on ruthless and unscrupulous characters called crimps.  These men would find ne'er-do-wells, usually in places like Portland's Skid Road or other such places in other American port cities, and then use various means including drugging them to bring them aboard ships.  Upon bringing the men aboard, the crimps would receive a fee per head after "signing them in" usually by forging a signature.  A successful crimp could make over $9000 a year, which averages out to over a quarter million dollars a year at today's prices.  Once the men were aboard, they could not leave the ship under threat of imprisonment until their time of duty was finished.  On board, ships operated like the company store in mining communities - the sailors were indebted to the captain for their clothes, food and other necessities, which were subtracted in advance from their pay.

Of course, it being an unscrupulous business, the crimps themselves were often unscrupulous.  LHM's quote relates how one of the most infamous shanghaiers, Bunco Kelly, was not above collecting his fee for dead men.  Kelly, whose legitimate occupation was as an hotelier, prowled the streets at night and brought in hundreds of men and women over the course of his dubious career.  Once he found a number of men who, thinking that they had broken into the basement of a bar, drank formaldehyde in the basement of a mortuary and were dying.  Kelly sold the men to captain, telling him that they were drunk and got $52 per head for them.  Imagine the captain's surprise when out at sea he tried to awaken dead men.  Kelly also once sold a dime-store carved Indian to a captain, getting $50 by wrapping him up and passing him off as unconscious.

Musical Interlude One

Here's a Jack White and Loretta Lynn song about Portland.  I usually don't do two musical interludes, but I'm getting into some heavy stuff in Part 2 and I don't want to give the wrong impression about Portland, which I hear is a fantastic place to live and work.


Downtown Portland at night. Photo at the Cassie and Dallin blog. Click on photo to go to host page.Portland, Oregon Part 2

What really stands out to me is the connection between shanghaiing, which the United States fully outlawed by 1915, and modern day techniques to traffick humans, especially women and children, into slavery.  Modern slavery is made up of women and girls often sold into prostitution.  Women can be literally "shanghaiied" by slavers who might use a drug like Rohypnol - the "date rape" drug - to sedate the women who then wake up in a nightmare scenario where they are forced to provide services to men for the profit of their captors and kept by various ways in bondage.  We often think of this as being a crime that is perpetrated in developing countries, but in fact human trafficking is present in developing and developed countries.  Europe and the United States both have problems in human trafficking - the United States in 2010 listed itself on the State Department's Report on Trafficking of Persons for the first time ever.  In the major cities, on the streets, the girls and women that you see along the routes favored by prostitutes are rarely ever in the business for themselves, but are at the mercy of pimps who force them to work day after day.  While legalized brothels in the United States and Europe may employ women who choose prostitution as a trade, many brothels, both regulated and unregulated, might have women that have been trafficked and forced into prostitution.  Many women from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia are forced into prostitution each year with promises of good jobs and money in Europe and America, only to find themselves expected to work off the debt of their passage through prostitution with the penalty of physical harm if they refuse to cooperate.

Since the beginning of the human race, people have found profit in buying and selling other humans for their various uses.  It has been called by what it is (slavery) and called other names to take some of the stigma away (indentured servitude, impressment, etc.).  Some places now considered wonderful places to live, like Portland, had these types of activities in their past.  A decade into the 21st century, the world has outlawed most forms of slavery, but paradoxically the world has the highest number of people in slavery conditions ever.  We still have slavery happening in the United States, which fought a civil war partly over whether all humans had the rights of freedom and liberty.  Humanity must now take the next step, and not just outlaw trade in humans, but eradicate the trade in humans that still exists despite all the best laws.

Musical Interlude Two

There are a couple of good songs about human trafficking in today's world.  I found this one with music by Crash Parallel called Rain Delays to be very meaningful.  If you want to see another that is also very meaningful and good, see She: A Song About Sex Trafficking.


If you want to know more about Portland

Concordia University Portland
Food Carts Portland
Lewis and Clark College
The Oregonian (newspaper)
Portland's Best Food and Drink Blogs
Portland Food and Drink
Portland Oregon Magazine
Portland Mercury (alternative newspaper)
Portland State University
The Portland Tribune (newspaper) 75 Best Portland Blogs of 2011
Reed College
Travel Portland
University of Portland
Wikipedia: Portland

Next up: Vancouver, Washington


Blue Highways: St. Helens, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

William Least Heat-Moon stops momentarily in St. Helens, Oregon and asks people to name the mountains that overlook their town in the months before Mount St. Helens erupts.  While they all agree on Mount Hood, they can't get the others right.  I'm sure that changed when St. Helens blew its top.  If you want to locate St. Helens, Oregon, here's the map.

Book Quote

"St. Helens, Oregon, high above the river, was remarkable that day for splendidly clear views of the white summits of four great volcanoes: Rainier, St. Helens, and Adams northward across the river in Washington, and Mount Hood southeast in Oregon.  Each has its distinction:  Hood is the most notable American mountain named after an enemy military leader...; Mount Rainier, even after blasting away two thousand feet of summit, is still the highest volcano in the country; Mount St. Helens...youngest of the peaks, was quiet again but perking....And there's Mount Adams; poor Adams, second in height only to Rainier. remains the greatest unknown American mountain....

"To citizens of St. Helens, the names were insignificant anyway.  I asked three people to confirm which mountain was which; while all agreed on the location of Hood, they argued over the peaks in Washington.  To live so uninformed before such grandeur is the hallmark of a true native son."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 5

View in St. Helens, Oregon. Photo by Mary Pellegrini at the Oregon Bed and Breakfast Guild site. Click on photo to go to host page. St. Helens, Oregon

I've already focused on volcanoes in two previous posts in this Oregon series of quotes.  But it's hard to get through a post without a nod to Mount St. Helens, which on May 18, 1980 produced the most catastrophic volcanic eruption in United States history.  The eruption sheered 1300 feet from the volcano's height, sent a billowing plume of ash up to 16 miles high that eventually reached as far as Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and sent massive mud and debris flows down river and stream valleys.  57 people were killed.

LHM doesn't mention the eruption but does mention that St. Helens was "quiet again but perking."  I take that to mean that when he went through, the eruption hadn't happened yet.  If he may have seen steam coming from the top of the mountain, then he had to go through sometime between March 27th, 1980 and the May 18th eruption.

While Mount St. Helens, located in Washington but clearly visible from St. Helens, Oregon, is the youngest of the volcanoes in the region as LHM mentions, there are three others in that general vicinity that he also writes about.  Of the three others, Mount Ranier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.  It is on the "Decade" volcano listing because of the extreme danger it poses to a highly populated area (Seattle and Tacoma), especially since it has the characteristics for an explosive eruption like Mount St. Helens.  Oregon's Mount Hood has a 3-7 percent chance of erupting in the next 30 years, but is not considered to be a candidate for an explosive eruption like Mount St. Helens.  Mount Adams has showed very minor activity recently, and is considered dormant and not likely to erupt soon.

With all of these volcanoes on their very doorstep, I find it amusing that when LHM drove through, the residents he spoke to could only really identify hood out of the four volcanoes that they see every day, disagreeing on the rest.  I suppose that the eruption of Mount St. Helens meant that for a few years, at least, they were able to also identify that peak pretty quickly.  LHM's statement that living "so uninformed before such grandeur is the the hallmark of a true native son," is funny to me because I see it all the time.

Here's an example.  When I was growing up, a botanical garden was established in my hometown.  We never paid attention to it.  Occasionally when I mentioned it to my mother, she would dismiss it.  After all, we had the coast and could see practically all of it.  Why would we want to visit a place where we would have to pay when we could see it all for free?  Yet occasionally, after I moved away, I would meet someone who had visited my hometown, and would gush over the botanical gardens.  What an amazing place, they would say, as if I knew and had been there.  Of course I hadn't, and they were astounded that I'd never visited.  Of course, a few people in the town had been very dedicated to building it and making it such an attraction, but most of the town saw it as an attraction for tourists only.  It was only in the past 5 -10 years or so, with my mom firmly in her 70s, that I got her to visit.  And the place is beautiful.  It brings all of the flora that I would never be able to see in one day, week or even lifetime into a pleasant experience that could last me a morning or an afternoon.  My sister, who had never been, now goes regularly to meet with a friend and to enjoy all of the plants.

Another example from my experience.  North of my town was terra incognita to me and still is.  It is called "The Lost Coast" for a reason.  There are very few residents and a lot of rugged but beautiful territory.  My family rarely ventured north for anything.  Maybe, just maybe, we would go up to a small village about 15 miles north, but that was it.  A few years ago, my mom suggested that my wife and I visit a winery up there with her.  We took a picnic lunch and did some wine tasting at this lovely winery situated on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific.  Thinking that this was a new business, I asked the person pouring when the winery had opened, and was astounded to find out it had been open ten years.  My wife smacked me on the shoulder and said "you mean this has been here for ten years, since you first started bringing me here, and we've never been?"  I could only shrug.  We just didn't go north, ever.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course.  Many people know everything about their towns or cities or areas and are happily willing to tell you.  But many times I find that locals are oddly resistant to exploring their own areas.  My wife and I, adventurous souls, are often subject to comments about how much we explore in the city where we now live.  We have been to events and places that locals don't seem to know about or have never tried.  I find that kind of amazing, sometimes a little sad, and mostly amusing.  It bothers me sometimes that people are so uninterested in many of the things that make their towns, cities or areas special, but it's their choice, I guess.  When you live someplace, you have the right to take it for granted, even as others gush over it.

I think, however, should I visit St. Helens someday in the future, that I would love the vista.  The mighty Columbia River flowing right past the town, the four mountains visible in the distance.  That spectacular view would engage me because it's different.  Maybe if I lived there awhile, the view might become everyday and commonplace.  But I'd try not to let that happen.  Every so often, in this city where I now live, I make myself look out toward the mesa, toward the small dormant volcanoes at the top, or east toward the large mountain at the city's edge, and I make sure I appreciate it even for a small moment.

Musical Interlude

One famous resident of Spirit Lake, in the shadow of Mount Saint Helens, was a man named Harry Truman.  Truman refused to evacuate, saying that he had lived on the mountain and that he would die on the mountain if need be.  Truman did die when mud, water and ash overwhelmed Spirit Lake on May 18th, 1980.  A song was written about him by the band Headgear on their album Flight Cases, immortalizing the feisty man who died in the place he loved.

If you want to know more about St. Helens St. Helens
City of St. Helens
The Columbia River: St. Helens
Port of St. Helens
St. Helens Chronicle (newspaper)
Wikipedia: St. Helens

Next up: Portland, Oregon


Blue Highways: Astoria, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

We pass through Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River's titanic meeting with the sea, and think about that enormous river and the use of smallpox as early American biological warfare.  How does Oregon fit with that?  Read on, dear Littourati, read on.  Go to the map to locate Astoria, Oregon.

Book Quote

"The great sea reach of the Columbia ranges in width from about three miles to ten miles and was bridged just recently at Astoria.  When it comes to fall and force, no other American river can match this one; near its mouth, sudden whirlings of water will suck logs under only to spit them forty feet into the air....

"Astoria, the oldest city on the river and now an industrial center, began as a trading post established by John Jacob Astor's fur traders.  Soon after the founding, Indians gathered to annihilate the white men; one of Astor's partners, a devious man named Duncan McDougal, thought to save the company by threatening to uncork a black vial that he said held smallpox; the tribes quickly agreed to peace and Astoria survived...."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 5


Sunset between Astoria, Oregon and Washington State. Photo by Gene Daniels and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Astoria, Oregon

A long time ago, traveling up Interstate 5 to Vancouver, Canada I passed over the Columbia River.  I was fifteen, and more concerned about getting my chance to drive on the freeway with my learner's permit (I never got that chance).  So what I'm saying is that I passed over this landmark without really noting it in my memory.  That was unfortunate.

Having lived along the Mississippi when I dwelt for a time in New Orleans, I have some experience of strong and powerful rivers.  The Mississippi, where it reaches New Orleans and slams up against the levees in a 90 degree turn at Algiers Point, is packing so much power behind it that it is actually higher on one side than the other by a few feet.  I can't find any confirmation of this but I believe it was told to me on some kind of tour.  The Mississippi is so powerful that you just can't jump in and swim it it - it will suck you under and carry you down.  Bodies might not surface for weeks until the river decides to let them go.  Tree trunks may surface suddenly after having been held down at the river's bottom for years.  In his classic Life on the Mississippi (a future Littourati subject), Mark Twain wrote of the Mississippi River and its character, how it might change course overnight, and how sandbars and logs that served as riverboat landmarks might suddenly disappear and reappear.

The Columbia River, on the other hand, seems like it might have a more wild flavor to it than the Mississippi.  It rises out of British Columbia, and flows northwest before making an almost complete 180 degree turn and heading south through Washington, where it again makes a 90 degree turn and heads west between Oregon and Washington to the Pacific.  It is the largest and longest river in the Pacific Northwest.

There's an interesting Native American legend involving the Columbia River, told by the Klikitat tribe.  A land bridge used to exist across the Columbia, caused by a giant landslide in the Cascade Locks area, which created a giant lake behind it.  Indians may have been able to cross the river on that bridge, which they called Bridge of the Gods.  Eventually, the water broke through and created the Cascade Rapids in the Columbia Gorge.  The Klikitat Indians explain these natural occurrences by relating that the chief of the gods and his two sons were traveling in the area and decided they wanted to settle there.  The chief shot his arrow in one direction, and one son went that way, and then he shot an arrow in the other direction, and his other son followed that.  He then raised the land bridge over the river so that he could get together with his sons.  Eventually, as is usual, the sons got into a fight over a woman.  Forests were leveled and villages were destroyed.  Angry, the chief of the gods turned one son into Mount Hood, the other into Mount Adams, and the woman became Mount St. Helens.

I love legends like this, as I explained before, when people explain through stories the natural phenomena they don't understand.  I also found very interesting LHM's story about Astoria's salvation from the hands of angry natives wanting to wipe it out.  The threat of smallpox was very real in historic America.  The disease was unknown in North America until Europeans brought it with them, and over the course of the next 200 years it decimated the Native American population.  The British supposedly used smallpox as a biological weapon during the French and Indian Wars by giving smallpox infected blankets to Indians under Chief Pontiac who were besieging them at Fort Detroit.

So, by the time of Astoria's founding, smallpox was very much a fear.  In fact, one of the characters in Astoria's history is a Kootenay womnan named Kaúxuma Núpika, or the Manlike Woman, who was a prophetess who said that the white men had changed her sex, and who got in trouble with her tribe by predicting smallpox.  She appeared in Astoria with a young woman she called her wife, and was there for a short period of time because her life was in danger.  That Duncan McDougall, then in charge of Fort George as Astoria was called for a time under the British, could take a small vial out in front of hostile Chinook chiefs and cow them into leaving the fort alone testifies to the fear that the native population had of the disease.  He was called "the great smallpox chief" and even later, some tribes feared that if they made any missteps that angered the whites the commander of the fort would level a plague at them.

Of course, nowadays biological warfare, even the threat of such, is outlawed by international law.  However, I understand that research was done to develop smallpox as a weapon only a few decades ago, and that stores of smallpox still exist in the US and Russia, as well as in North Korea.  The degrees of separation between a small city in Oregon and such topics such as biological weaponry is hard to imagine.  However, given that one man saw a threat and in turn threatened to loose upon his enemies a deadly disease and given that until 30 years ago biological weapons were considered to be valid weapons of war by governments (and some governments and groups might still consider them to be on the table in a crisis) shows that human nature hasn't changed much.

Musical Interlude

Did you know that the cult film (at least I call it a cult film) The Goonies was set in Astoria?  I must admit that I've never seen The Goonies, though I know it was the big break in the career of future Notre Dame icon and hobbit sidekick Sean Astin.  The following song, So Long, Astoria is from the soundtrack to that film.  It is by The Ataris and is also the title song to their album of the same name.

If you want to know more about Astoria
Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce and State of Oregon Welcome Center
The Daily Astorian (newspaper) Astoria
Port of Astoria
Wikipedia: Astoria

Next up: St. Helens, Oregon