Road Signs

Washington State is a place of divergent cultures, a meeting ground for tech and timber, old and new. It is a region in flux, redefining itself on a generational scale so broad that it can’t help but run against itself. For example, the northwestern corner of the state houses Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, and also the largest protected stand of old growth in the United States, the Olympic National Forest and adjoining Wilderness Areas. One way of taking in this culture clash, and perhaps coming to understand the essential nature of a place, is via its road signs, which I did, on a recent trip to the Olympic Peninsula. In no particular order: ‘Roddy O’s Square Dance Lessons’ ‘We plant some more/for future bounty’ ‘What supports habitat, houses and hospitals? State… Read More >

Local Histories- Kumbaya

The last thing one might think of when considering the cultural origins of the ubiquitous hippie-camp song Kumbaya, is early 20th Century Oregon. Even if you did, it would be easy to wrongly assume that the song had its origins in regional Native American culture and was appropriated at some time for the drum circles and festivals of the New Age generation. Not so. In fact, the copyright for Kumbaya (Come By Here) has long been held by a white Pastor from Portland, Oregon, who claimed to have first heard it sung by a street evangelist in the city in the early 1930’s. In truth, Kumbaya, is now widely considered to have originated with slaves in the Southeast, speakers of Gullah, and gained popularity during the scouting and summer camp… Read More >

Local Histories- Glenwood, Oregon

Between the sister cities of Eugene and Springfield, Oregon sits an unincorporated community that is neither Eugene, though its postal code is, nor Springfield, of which it is an official annexation. It’s wasteland, half trailers, half bygone industrial complex, the few hundred residents squeezed into aging trailer parks along one of the least picturesque stretches of the Willamette River. How did this come about? It’s a story of racism, classism, and greed. In the first hundred years of the Eugene area’s history (and much of Oregon’s) African Americans were legally barred from first residence, then land ownership and were systematically brutalized in retaliation of anyone that challenged the status quo. In the mid and late 20th Century, the area’s staunch refusal to enact or acknowledge civil rights laws was paired… Read More >

The New York Public Library’s Epic Digital Archives

In 2005 the New York Public Library launched one of the most extensive online library collections in the world. It is one of the most special online places I have ever visited and one of the few websites that I can lose entire days to. Part of what makes the collection special, aside from its open-access format- you don’t need a New York City Library System card to use the service, is the sheer breadth of the archive. While many libraries have online photo archives, the New York Public Library has added an original early manuscript archive, digital dance collection, curated public domain collections, and city-specific history among much more specialized content. It’s a tribute to the vitality of libraries, especially in the digital age and proof that far from… Read More >

The Things They Made

One of the exciting things to emerge out of the current women’s movement is a general thirst for stories about and biographies of historical women- the ones that got us this far in the first place. In the last few weeks I’ve learned that women are responsible for the invention of wifi, the first indoor cook-stove, the chocolate-chip cookie, windshield wipers, and fire escapes. What’s amazing to me about this phenomenon is not so much the previous lack of media showcasing women influencers, but the breadth of work that was erased. The patriarchy has, over time, become so pervasive that we have forgotten the possibility that great advances in any field might have been made by women. But they were, and they continue to be. For the next few weeks… Read More >

One More Cup of Tea

There was a lot going on in the United States in 1961. It was the beginning of a cultural revolution and the space race. It was the year of Bay of Pigs. It was a time when politics and the news of the day were primary fixtures in the minds of average Americans and elected officials. Unless, it seems, you were the Mayor of a small, work-a-day town in southern Oregon. Then you might decide you have bigger fish to fry. Jay W. Snider, the Mayor of Medford, Oregon did just that. In 1961 he sent a $1.96 check to the United Kingdom as what he had calculated was the city’s portion of reparations for the Boston Tea Party. In 2016, I am afraid to too-closely contemplate the modern implications… Read More >

Local Histories- College Hill

Eugene, Oregon is nothing if not a college town. Which is why, presumably, no one questions the locals referring to a small lump of a hill in the middle of town more than a mile from campus College Hill. Duck country. What most locals aren’t able to tell you is that College Hill was named for Columbia College, an early predecessor to the University of Oregon and an ambitious undertaking in 1855 for a town of only 200 residents. Like a lot of things in the region at that time, the college was burned to the ground by the end of its first month. The fire was decried as arson, an attempt to oust the anti-slavery and pro-woman board of directors by a pro-slavery group. Undeterred, the University resumed classes… Read More >

Local Histories- Junction City Fire

It takes a special kind of place to resist the urge towards self-preservation. In 1877, the newly-established town of Junction City, Oregon voted down a proposed tax to pay for the establishment of a local fire brigade and the purchase of a fire engine. Just months later, a fire started in the local general store and spread down the main street engulfing several residences, warehouses and the opera house and hotel. Three additional fires in the following year did nothing to sway the residents, who protested so strongly a city council proposition for a fire department was rescinded before a vote. The next year, the issue was returned to the local ballot and rejected, then another warehouse burned. By 1882, fire had wiped out so much of the town that… Read More >

Local Histories- Ping Yang School

In early 2017 the Mowhawk Valley Schools made the belated decision to change their mascot from a Native American caricature to…pretty much anything less offensive. Ironically, this is not the first time the tiny community has had to address institutionalized racism and their schools. In the late 1890’s the then timber boom-town of Mohawk, Oregon built a new grade school and named it Ping Yang. They did this, not to honor their Asian community, as there was none, but rather, it seems, because the ringing of the school bell and shrieks of the playing children reminded the residents of the sounds of battle at Pyongyang- which the locals pronounced Ping Yang. The name was only the first indication of the local’s disdain for the school. It was set on fire… Read More >

Excerpt- The Family Bird Book

(In honor of the Audubon Society’s Annual Bird Count, happening this week) One snowy day in Eugene in 2012 a flock of Townsends Warblers descends on the pine trees around my house in a cacophany of yellow and black stripes. I have never seen these birds, according to both my memory and the bird book. I am excited to make a new entry from my own breakfast table. The bird book is a bright red copy of Audobons Field Guide to North American Birds into which I, and the rest of my family have been documenting our sightings. I do not claim that there is any kind of organized or even particularly consistent approach to either the act of recording or birding among us; but after thirty years, even the… Read More >