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West

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This is the last cowboy song.
The end of a hundred year waltz.
The voices sound sad as they're singin' along.
Another piece of America's lost.

-"The Last Cowboy Song", The Highwaymen

Someone asked me recently what I mean when I say I'm a Western girl. Like a lot of people, I think she was picturing what I was missing as a liberal oasis full of organic food and good pot and possibly naked hot springs. And yeah, that stuff all exists in my West, but it's so much more than that. Much of it is counter-intuitive to that vision.

One of the reasons Texas has been able to feel like home to me is that, however it differs from home in the Umpqua Valley, there is some of that same Westerness. Austin is a city, but around the edges there is that little bit of cowboy. And I think I'm going to miss that on the East Coast.

Boots and jeans make a lot more sense to me than black tie. I grew up on classic country music and I love it relentlessly. I've bottle-fed a calf; I know the difference between bear shit and bobcat; I've seen a bald eagle in its natural habitat. There is this whole world that was almost lost by the time I was born and is even more lost now. I am privileged enough to have caught that last little bit of it, and to have it in my blood. And my God do I miss it.

I never thought I would. When I lived in that world, I couldn't wait to get out. In part, I didn't know the rest of the world was different. I expected everybody to know who Gus McCray was. And, in part, I thought I was too good for it--too smart, too cultured, too experimental and wild and outlandish. Even as a pretty young kid, I consciously steered myself away from anything to "country." I wanted to do more.

Now I've done more. I've lived in cities for a dozen years. I've been to New York and to Europe. I've worn formal clothes, gotten a graduate degree, and read a whole lot of really important books. I taught myself not to say "pop" or "crick" or "rig." I learned to like effeminate men and to use multiple forks to eat the same damn meal.

And some of it, I was right about. It's a big, diverse, strange world, and I love that. I love knowing people who didn't all come from the same place. I really do like Indian and Thai food more than venison and boiled potatoes. But mostly, I was completely wrong. I haven't seen everything, but nothing I have seen is nearly so impressive and summer on the river where I grew up. I've read a lot of books, and I keep coming back to Larry McMurtrey and E. Annie Prolix and Pam Houston. I've been to probably hundred concerts, and nothing has ever beat the time Willie Nelson played for three and a half hours at the county fair.

It should have been obvious all along, I guess, but I just figured it out. I'm not just homesick because I'm far away geographically and getting farther. I'm homesick because the way I grew up is fast becoming extinct. Even if I were a different person, one that could live full-time in a small town or on a rural ranch, it's unlikely my kids could grow up the way I did. I couldn't be the parent my parents were not just because of my different personality, but because the world has irreparably changed around us all. The West in which I grew up is, mostly, dead. What is left is so hard to find and so hard to maintain that I hold out very little hope it's going to stick around.

Country music illustrates exactly what I am talking about. The great country was mostly already recorded before I was born, but even when I was a kid there was some real country music being produced. ("The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was the number one song the year I was born.) People were still, at least occasionally, making music about drinking and fighting and trains and Mama. Today's country music is just like today's pop music--it's about marketing and money. (Personally, I blame Garth Brooks.) It can't go back. The greats are mostly dead, and the ones who aren't are retired to Hawaii or making reggae albums.

The whole thing is enough to make me cry into my beer. But I won't. Instead, I have to focus on how incredibly lucky I am to have caught even the end of the West. I didn't grow up in Remington painting, but I at least I recognize what is going on in one. It is important to me--more so every year, and with every mile further away I get--to preserve that little bit of the West that I inherited. How one does that, in the world in which I live, I'm not exactly sure. I think it's safe to say, though, that's it isn't about fashion or music choices, or even where you live. It's about respect for the land and for the past. It's about loyalty to your loved ones. It's about valuing hard work and not being afraid to get your hands dirty. And I can hold on to those values. After all, I am a Western girl.

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So, I don't know exactly where in NoVA you're moving to, but don't give up yet! While a lot of it is suburbs, it gets rural pretty quickly, in my estimation.

I moved from the California Bay Area to central VA about 7 years ago, and was shocked at how rural parts of the state are. Granted, I'm not in a part of the state that has been swallowed by suburban developments (yet), but there are TONS of farms, and ranches (not the western kind, but they do okay) and a very active pioneering spirit accessible by day trip to you.

It's not the same, but nowhere is ever the same as home. It took me a long to time to stop hating it here because it wasn't CA. I've gotten used to it - and I've even grown to appreciate a LOT of what it has to offer.

first--virginia was the west way before your West was the West--read some Zane Grey! Some of it takes place in Utah but most of it is EAST of Ohio. That idea is really interesting to me--what I think of as the West was not really what early Americans thought of as The West (culturally). I don't think it's all lost--watching a British documentary about America recently I realized how lucky we are to have mile after mile of wilderness. And there's never been as big a DIY movement as there is today--Foxfire is HUGE now, etc. Although I guess that's more Appalachian than West, but a lot of skill overlap.

Second, When I saw Kinky Friedman play in NYC (and even in reading his books) he makes a huge point about how NYC used to be the center of country and folk music in America. His stories of living in the West Village with Bob Dylan and people who I would NOT ASSOCIATE with the west village really again point to a time when everything wasn't "country folk against NYC." I think that turning point came in the 70s with the invention of more pop country. It's something I've been researching a bit. My major touchpoint songs for that are the work of Hank Jr. (very anti-NYC) and Roy Acuff's "I wouldn't live in NYC (If They Gave Me the Whole Dang Town)." (1970) I think it's an artificial opposition that's part of this whole red v. blue business.


Finally, I think there are people making an old tymey version of country music today. God Bless Dwight Yoakam, eh? In NYC there was wayyyyy more of a country scene than there is here, which I find totally weird based on my preconceptions of place. Though a lot of VA is suburbs it IS the South, so I am guessing there'll be some awesome local country.

Also, if you're every feeling like real country is dying visit Nashville. Sure it's the heart of pop country but in most bars there's peeps singing the old tymey style stuff they wrote.

I bet you never thought a discussion of country music would spur me to write 23 paragraphs, huh?

Do you have any opinion on Hank III?

Such a different world to England, but so interesting to read!

It will be interesting to see your perspective after living on the east coast for a bit. If your ultimate goal is to get back home one day, I think experiencing as much of the US as possible should be a great thing.

I think you lack a real understanding of what the "east" is like.

I have seen both cows (every morning) and bald eagles (often) on the road on which I live. And, in Virginny, I'm pretty sure you can find both kinds of music: country and western.

And, respect for land? I certainly don't think the West has any lock on that "virtue"

I know exactly what you mean. I miss Arizona so much sometimes that I have to stop thinking about it. I don't think I ever understood being homesick until it was clear that I wouldn't be leaving Georgia anytime soon.

On the plus side, I've found so many things to love about the southeast (and things to hate), that I've decided as long as I'm in the Southern part of the US, it'll be ok.

Every place I've ever lived is totally changed since I left. That's the way it goes. Happily there are changes for the good as well as for the bad.

It sounds like you're missing what is more of a state of mind and a way of thought more than anything else. I think I get it. I miss some of the 'can do' of the midwest. The self-sufficiency of people.

I couldn't wait to get out of there, and now I want to go back and raise my son in that same place.

I totally get what you're saying about country music. I grew up watching reruns of "Classic Country" and listening to Patsy Cline, George Jones and Hank Williams. Our country stations still played them back then, and I had mom & dad's albums to refer to as well.

I miss that old way of life in so many ways. I mourn its loss in some ways, while appreciating my Indian, Thai, Mexican foods, my avocados and arugula, goat cheese, and all that "weird" stuff we didn't have growing up. I hope I can find a balance between the two.

Ah, we could have had so many great talks about music, had I only known!

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Home is where the...uterus is?

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So first, yes, I am at BlogHer 09. And I promise I will tell you all about that, just not tonight. Tonight I am exhausted, and overwhelmed, and thinking about something else altogether.

I had this conversation, with a group of women I had never met before (aside from Skye), about the desire to go home. One woman, whose name has already totally escaped me, said that as soon as she had a child, her desire to go home intensified dramatically.

Of course it did. I've thought of that before, of wanting not just to go home, and not just to have a baby, but to go home and have a baby. But, for whatever reason, that thought hadn't carried out to its logical conclusion:

If Mark and I decide to have a child, we will quite likely begin trying to conceive said child within the next five years. I'm about to turn 30--more than five years out, it starts to get a bit more difficult to do, or at least that's what I'm told. And if we try to conceive within the next five years and are successful, we're going to be having a baby in Virginia. An entire continent away from home.

To say that I am horrified by that thought would be a radical understatement. Austin was far enough from home. But the East Coast? How is that even a possibility? How could I possibly even consider having a child over 3,000 miles away from my mom? 3,000 miles away from trees? 3,000 miles away from proper mountains and proper rain and proper coffee?

This is another one of those things that just didn't used to happen to people. We never used to be so mobile. And sure, there are telephones and Skype and air travel, but the bottom line is that when you are geographically far away from someone (or somewhere), they aren't part of your life in any real way. Especially given hyper-stressful day-to-day situations, like, oh, say, a baby's first years.

For the first time in months, I am seriously rethinking whether or not I want to have a child in the near future. I've been getting more and more gung-ho about the idea of starting to think seriously about it, and maybe even starting to do something about it in a year or so. Now I'm not so sure. I know we won't be going home for five years or so, and even then, there is no guarantee. The reality may well be that I never live in Oregon again. I can't much bear that thought, but there it is. And I find it just as upsetting as the idea that I may never have a child. Both of them are things I've started to want so much that I almost assume that they are in the future, just around the bend, even. But it's quite likely that they aren't. And what happens then?

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I couldn't read and not comment... but I'm not sure that I know what to say here. :(

Very thought provoking post. I'm due with our first in 1.5 weeks. My due date is the day after my 35th birthday, so I understand your thought process there. My mom is 200 miles away (in Dallas) and that seems like just the right amount. My ILs are 100 miles away. I'd like to think I could try out this parenting thing far away from family, but acknowledge that it would be hard. I think the key is to find a strong community wherever you may be. I've been amazed by the support from near strangers in the Austin area via groups like AustinMamas. Don't discount the virtual communities either. I've seen tons of cyber support and true friendships rally around babies too.

This is a really interesting post (I found you from MDC a while ago). I have children and though I live where I "grew-up," for the most part (Maryland), my entire immediate family is on the west coast (CA, Seattle, BC). You're right-- raising children far away from your family is difficult and I certainly wish we lived closer. I plan for the days where we can live closer.
But even though we manage without that familial support, and even though I've noticed that I and my siblings have gone through large life changes without the others being their in an intimate way, I am still glad that I have my children.

Glad is a huge understatement. I think in the scheme of things, where you raise your children is not as important as how you raise them, and having them period can in no way be compared to (or weighed against) the place where you raise them (at least for the first few years, when they don't care anyway)

I don't know if it's any consolation, but my parents had kids on the other side of the planet (New York) from where they grew up and where their families were/are (Israel). And believe me, if my parents could do it, then you certainly can.

And hey, if you and Mark decide to have kids in the next couple of years, you know that Cammie and I will be MORE than happy to babysit! (especially Cammie) :-p

Well, as an American living in France, and having had all three of my children in France, I understand your dilemma. But on the other hand, and excuse my French, living far away from where you grew up is a weak-ass argument for not having children.

As much as I long for my children to live near my family, and as much as I want them to love and honor being Americans (and Seattle-ites), I would not have chosen not to have them just because I'm here, which after all is not really a place I want to live the rest of my life.

Please don't take this as an attack- just my opinion. I love your blogs, and visit this one daily (in the hopes of finding a new post!).

Best,
Kelly

Returning your ICLW comment...

I've spent half of my adult life living in the place where I grew up, and have since vowed never to go back.

There are many things I loved about growing up there, and I would like my children to experience some of those things, but not more than I want them (and me) to stay away from the not-so-good things there.

Instead, they will be born in a place where people have annoying accents and lame slang, and where many of their neighbors have never been outside the time zone.

We will move somewhere else, hopefully before they're old enough to pick up the lame slang.

Region is less important (and less influential) than the various larger cultures in which we will embed them or the subculture of our family.

ICLW:

"And sure, there are telephones and Skype and air travel, but the bottom line is that when you are geographically far away from someone (or somewhere), they aren't part of your life in any real way. Especially... oh, say, a baby's first years."

I have "been there" and still am, living in the UK for 14 years, while my parents are on the East Coast U.S.,& the rest of the family is scattered across North America. When I moved here, my husband agreed to an eventual move "home" (10 yrs). It hasn't happened . Meanwhile my parents are about 75% resigned to it not happening.

It never would have occurred to me not to go ahead and have children. While I know what you mean, I wanted to tell you that you are selling yourself, and those people you love, short.

About being a part of your children's lives in any real way: It does take hard work, but with my children approaching 6 and 10 years old, I can say that the hard work has paid off. They used to get bedtime stories read over the phone - you need a good calling plan -and now speak to my parents on the telephone 3 or 4 times a week (I had to scale it back from every day). We do a 3-week visit once a year, & they come here for a week once or twice a year. My parents know the names of their teachers, English cousins, friends, stuffed animals & favourite books. Caveat: they cannot tell one Pokemon, Ben 10 alien or Gormitti from another.

Basically, I make my children accessible to my parents, even sometimes calling them in the last 10 minutes of dinner-prep, so Grandma & Papa keep them occupied & out of trouble while I get food on the table...I think of it as virtual babysitting. My daughter now calls her grandmother for heart to heart talks about how Mommy is horrible (moi?), or her brother is driving her crazy, or guess what Mommy and I did!

It's not always easy and I have longed for the mother/mother-in-law nearby who would help, love & support us. However, in the final analysis, I have discovered resources within myself I did not know I had.

You seem like a strong, forthright woman who knows what you want from life. Keep your eye on that image and move forward as if you will absolutely have it one day. My instinct is that you will find a way. I truly wish you get there, sooner rather than later.

P.S. I recently got my husband to agree, in principle, to a move. I have no doubt that we will end up in the U.S. one day, but not sure where. Probably not within "just thought we would drop in" range, but closer than the 3,000 miles it is now.

That's interesting. It had never occured to me that the two would be the same - I grew up in a small town and I have no interest whatsoever to return to it, especially to raise a child. The only time I have seriously pondered having children, I would have been having them in Scotland, with my family back in Canada. If I got pregnant now, I would be okay with raising my baby in Korea (though not educating a child here.)

I just want to comment from the other side of the coin. My parents are both from Holland. My sister and I were born in South Africa, lived in France for a few years and then the US since 1981. The rest of my extended family was all over the world, with grandparents in Holland. We saw my grandparents every year or other year and my cousins, aunts, uncles, every other year to much less, depending.

I just got back from a family reunion where I hung out with all 48 family members on my mom's side. It was amazing how close I felt to everyone although since I've been an adult I've seen folks seldom. I felt very strong connections to everyone based on the vacations spend with family as a kid. And I feel super close to my grandma and I know she feels close to me as well.

Yes - my parents made huge efforts to fly my sister and I to Holland to see family every other summer during my childhood. And it paid off - for sure! So you can definitely live far apart and have great connections. I think it's only easier now with the internet. I'm 32 so only phones and letters and in person.

Happy ICLW!

Just a random sort of goes with what you just said note; I love in Oregon! I've lived here all but 3 or so years of my life. I can honestly say that I love this state. I may not care for the itty bitty town I live in, but the state on the whole is fantastic!

There is no way I could have a baby without family close by. We're done with family building and if something were to happen and we got pregnant, I would go insane! For many reasons. My dad and my sister live in Bend and my mom passed away. There is no way I could do it without their support, especially my mom's. My in-laws do live closer then my dad and sister, but it isn't the same. So, I can totally get what you're saying. I think if one is close to their family, it would be hard to start one without that support.
*HUGS*

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Good morning homesick

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Alicia at Posie Gets Cozy pays photographic and written tribute to one of my favorite places on Earth, the Portland Farmer's Market. Go there and read it, then feel, as I do, jealous that she lives there and you don't.

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Where there's a dog, there's a way

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Came across this article this morning, about some lost hikers who made it off Mount Hood alive. In part, their luck was due to the lab mix hiking with them, Velvet. Quoth the article:

"The dog probably saved their lives" by lying across them during the cold night, said Erik Brom, a member of the Portland Mountain Rescue team. As the group started out on Saturday, the weather was clear and Velvet was leading the way, Liston said. "She looked back every once in awhile to make sure we were OK."

Gotta love that.

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I was actually kinda pissed that they put the dog in danger. She had to have been cold and miserable. And the publicity may make it cool to take dogs hiking. My guess is that the dogs needs wont be terribly important in an emergency.

I was very glad that the dog is OK.

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It's never a good sign when NPR talks about home

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I can generally count on listening to NPR on my way to or from work without hearing any news, good or bad, from southern Oregon. The neck of the woods from which I hail just doesn't draw national media attention all that often. However, much of my commute this morning was taken up by this story. It didn't make for a good start to my day.

For those who don't want to listen to or read the story, here are the broad strokes: for many years, the federal government made a shit-ton of money off logging federal timberlands. This happened all over the country, but it happened a disproportionate amount in Oregon. Because the land was federal, the profits weren't taxable under state income tax (which is one of Oregon’s main revenue sources, as there is no sales tax there). This was, understandably, a fiscal disaster, so in order to moderate it, the government gave grants to counties in which it logged.

This worked for quite a while, until logging on federal forestland was pretty much shut down in the 1990s. Since they weren't making any dough from logging in those counties anymore, the feds no longer wanted to give them annual grants. So, in 2000, Congress passed a safety net measure, stating that they would continue to pay the counties for six years, in amounts based on past timber harvests. This amounted to a $400 million subsidy every, of which Oregon received the biggest chunk, about $150 million.

And now time is up. The last of the checks were sent out in December. And all hell is breaking loose.

For example, the NPR piece noted, Jackson County, the southern Oregon county that includes the city of Medford, is closing all 15 of its public libraries. Not cutting back hours, or restricting the purchase of new materials--closing them completely. Next door in Josephine County (which is admittedly less populous), police services are going to be reduced to the point of one squad car patrolling an area roughly the size of Rhode Island. And in my home county, Douglas County, lay-offs in public education and the road department are planned to start any time.

Oregon is not a rich state. It's become a less and less rich state since timber busted and flat-lined. This is, in some of southern Oregon, what has to feel like a crimp in the ventilator line. Perhaps a fatal one.

The question of whether or not it is the state's own fault is complicated. On one hand, they should have known for the last six years that these funds were going to end this year. On the other hand, even if they did know, given the dismal resources county commissioners were faced with (low income tax returns due to high joblessness and a pathetic economy being the biggest), how much could they really do? And does the amount the federal government has already remitted really come anywhere close to paying the state and counties back for the tremendous federal benefit received from logging all of those public lands? And then, of course, the biggest question--should logging on federal land really have been near-completely shut down at all?

Several Oregon politicians were interviewed for the piece, including Congressman Peter DeFazio, who is currently working to pass an emergency one-year extension of the subsidies. The most interesting, though, was Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson. The piece stated that Robertson "assumed that Republicans would take care of these rural, "red" counties in the waning hours of the last session." But they didn't. Then he assumed they would pick it up in the lame-duck session. They didn't. Then he thought they'd have a plan when they returned in January. They don't. His quote was clearly one of a rural man discouraged with the party that is supposed to look out for rural folks.

Maybe I'm just in an optimistic mood, but to me, that sounds like silver lining. If this disaster helps people in rural Oregon (and maybe the other places where this is happening as well) realize that no, the Republicans really aren't their champions in Congress, then maybe it's worthwhile. For far too long, poor people, especially rural poor people, have been snowed into thinking conservative politics are in their best economic interests, when time and time again it has been shown that they aren't, that conservative politicians want to gut programs the poor need to survive, roll back laws that protect them, then give all the tax breaks to the rich. It is only stuff like this that drives home the impact that these corporate-loving Republican assholes are really having. May this be one of the final nails in their coffin.

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Vote NO on 43

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This entry is specifically for any Oregon readers I might have (and bless you for being here, too--I love to think that there is someone from home reading this), but also for anybody with a parental notification measure on their ballot, or a possibility of one in the future.

Folks, you have to vote no on these. As much as it may make sense to you that an underage girl should discuss having an abortion with her parents before she does it, you and I both know that legislating that is a bad idea, not in the least because so many girls would have their right to choose negated by having to get parental permission, and also because of the possibility of harm or violence to a girl who has to tell her parents. Not everyone has good parents, understanding parents, reasonable parents, and parental notification legislation assumes they do.

In the specific case of Oregon's ballot Measure 43, things are even a little bit worse. What Measure 43 requires is for doctors to send a form letter via certified mail to the parents of any minor seeking abortion services. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or abusive homes. This means that in some terrible cases, notification of a girl seeking an abortion could be sent to the very man who made her pregnant against her will. I can't imagine anything more destructive to choice than that, not to mention how dangerous it might be for the girl herself.

Parental consent is both one brick in the wall against choice for everyone and a separate and infuriating slap in the face of body autonomy for teenaged girls. It is incumbent upon all of us who are safe in our abilities to make our own decisions about our bodies to protect the rights of those whose autonomy is threatened, particularly in cases like this, where the young women who would be effected aren't even allowed to cast their votes on the legislation that could so drastically impact their lives.

Please vote NO on Measure 43, and spread the word.

For more on Measure 43, see:
NARAL Oregon
No on 43
Oregon Education Association
League of Women Voters of Oregon
ACLU of Oregon

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