Monday, April 11, 2005

Another Oregon Message

In recent generations, my home state has earned a reputation, soewhat deserved, for being unwelcoming of new transplants and outsiders in general. You may have heard the comments: "Welcome to Oregon -- Now Go Home!"; "Stop the Californication of Oregon"; a willingness on the part of Oregonians to overstate how rainy it realy is here. To some extent, it's an understandable sentiment. While this state is nowhere close to being the vast untamed wilderness that Alaska is, it's still a fairly green state, with plenty of natural splendor and very little of the kind of crowdedness found elsewhere. We Oregonians like our space, and it'd be a shame if this state ever became too crowded. And I used to very closely reflect these attitudes myself. But as an adult, I've changed my way of thinking (with apologies to Bob Dylan). And a comment by reader TJ Sawyer has prompted me to explain.

Yes, I used to be one of those Oregonians that didn't like seeing people move here or visit from other places. But something changed along the way. Actually, teo things changed: My sentiment towards my home state and my philisophical view on the topic.

Sentimentally, things changed when I moved away from Oregon as a college freshman. I missed Oregon terribly. I became extremely nostalgic for this place, and to a certain extent romanticized it in my own mind. And while I have had an eye-opener since moving back, there are still plenty of things about this state on which I still wax poetic. Also, in moving away, I began to make friends from diverse places. Attending college in Indiana, I made plenty of friends from the midwest. Twelve years living in California increased the number of non-Oregonians in my cirle of friends and loved ones. And as I grew close to these people, I had a desire for those people to know and understand me, and to share the things that give me joy. And one of the things that gives me a great deal of joy, one thing that is a very big part of who I am, is my home state. So naturally, I have a great desirte to share with my friends the things I love about this state. And naturally, I'd love for them to experience it for themselves, appreciate it, and maybe (just maybe) there's some slim chance some of them will become so enamored of this place they'll move here too. I'd love to have those friends close at hand.

And philisophically, I came to believe that this anti-tourist, anti-newcomer sentiment is in direct opposition to the spirit upon which this state was founded. For your consideration I recall what I said in my recent recipe post: The Oregon Trail was the largest voluntary land migration in recorded history. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 people made the arduous crossing from Independence, Missouri, to the Willamette Valley.

That's right. This state was discovered by tourists (Lewis & Clark), founded by newcomers, built by people form other states. While I am proud of being a native Oregonian, I recognize that native birth is not a prerequisite for belonging in this state. If that were the case, none of us except the Kalapooyas and the Coos and the Modoc etc. would belong. Every person who comes here is potentially another strand woven into the state fabric, potentially has something to offer. I'd like to think that we have not in this state so forgotten our pioneer roots that we have lost the ability to see people for their own merits, and not just judge them on where they're from.

I still would hate to see this state become crowded and overrun. But I have confidence that this state itself has the means by which to limit those who would live here, and to weed out those who don't belong. There is the weather-- it really does rain a lot here, especially in winter. When it's cool and clear in other places' falls, it's raining here. When it's snowing, or cold and clear in ther places' winters, it rains here. And when the spring comes, it's still raining here. The summers can be gorgeous, but rain is not unheard of. Even when it isn't raining, all winter long it tends to be gray. In addition, our economy is not the strognest in the country, and making a living is a challenge at times for many of us. This is not a place you come to get rich (during the days of the ORegon Trail, the trail split in Wyoming, with one fork going to California and one going to Oregon. Legend has it that at the fork, a pile of gold was placed beneath the sign pointing to California. On the other sign were written the words "If you can read this, turn right and come to Oregon).

In general, the place has a climatic and cultural quirkiness that weeds out the normal and those who are meterological wimps. So I say, come to Oregon! Welcome! Like the state's father, John McLoughlin, I welcome those I should be trying to drive out. Try the place on for size. If you find it too rainy, too quirky, too depressed or depressing, you'll be gone by the end of your second winter.

If you stay, well, you belonged here all along.

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