The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for July, 2020

The PNW (as I see it)

Had an interesting friend request on Facebook yesterday – someone from Germany wanting to know about the PNW (Pacific NorthWest, for the uninitiated) with an interest in moving here.

It was odd, and normally I’d dismiss it as a scammer. But something about the profile and initial conversation caught my attention. Ive noticed that many Germans don’t have the same social paranoias we have here in the US, so maybe, I thought, it was genuine.

So I answered.

And then I thought… dang, that was a lot of writing to just tell one person. So hey, if you want to know my take on the PNW, as told to a possible immigrant, here it is.

Its long.

They’re probably in an information overload coma right now:

“The questions you ask don’t have a single answer. But I can give you an overview of the region, as I’ve lived here in various places and climates.

Oregon and Washington have a clear ecological, and cultural transitions due to two major north-south mountain ranges that come up from California, and independent ranges in Canada.

The west coast is a rain forest. It is wet, and the vegetation is lush. Trees are big, and the communities there mostly evolved from logging, fishing, and farming. Tillamook is famous for its cheese, and we lived on a farm there for several years.

Just a few miles inland, the coast range traps the weather as it comes in off the Pacific, which creates the climate for the Pacific Northwest rain forest. In Oregon, the coastal mountains aren’t that tall, but the northwest corner of Washington has the Olympic Mountain range, quite tall, imposing, and beautiful. And the places west of it can get over 200 inches of rain a year.

Moving eastward, which is how everything is thought about here, a long valley reaches from about the middle of Oregon (Roseburg) all the way to Seattle. This is the cradle in which most of the Oregon/Washington community has evolved. Rich farmland, mild weather, easy terrain and access to wilderness recreation within easy driving distance make it a perfect combination of living conditions, and most of the population of these two states resides there.

The Cascade Mountain range is a rugged volcanic range that divides the states physically, environmentally, and culturally. To the west, the culture comes from a life of easy abundance, tech and manufacturing industry, and social activism, (which if I might inject a personal opinion, has become a contest to see who can be the weirdest). I am no lover of cities in general, but I used to love Portland. It has changed in recent years though – not for the better. Too many people. But it still is a beautiful city, as is Seattle for Washington. Each is the predominant political power, as it holds a majority of the citizens.

The mountains themselves are not conducive to large-scale settlement, so much of it functions as recreation wilderness or home to a certain breed of individualist.

To the east of the Cascades, the climate is desert-like. We have two kinds of deserts in the American West – Desert, and “High Desert”. As opposed to the coastal regions, the living regions of Central Oregon are at a bit of altitude – 3-4000ft – and is largely classified as High Desert. It is comparatively dry, though pine trees abound around its fringes, sage brush dominates much of the landscape traveling eastward and southward, dry climate conifers dominate further north in the east.

The people here in Central (and eastern) Oregon are often ranchers of cattle, sheep. A lot of hay is grown, supplying much of the state and beyond. In Bend, the biggest of the small central Oregon cities, the economy is controlled by ranchers, and people connected to the recreation Industries of skiing, biking, hiking, and river sports like kayaking and fishing. Recreation is a big deal there. The confluence of ranching and recreation is a constant source of strife, but we try to get along. Mostly.

The eastern part of the states have different mountains. The Blue Mountains, for example, are not all that tall, but manage to collect quite a bit of snow. There is a LOT of wide open space, and to me, a biker, the back highways are a gigantic playground.

Politically, there is a strong division between Urban, progressive believers who envision a better world and rural, conservative voters who wish government would leave us alone – liberals and conservatives as the two groups have come to be called. The city folk think of everyone else as backwards, uneducated simpletons and the rural folk see the populous cities as festering with fantasy-thinkers whose social theories have built unproved premise on unproved premise until their sophisticated, complex mechanisms fall prey to circular, overthought fantasy, whose self-delusion prevents an understand how things really work.

…Not to put too fine a point on it.

This difference of opinion, and the regional influence on thought, creates a fair amount of tension and animosity, something that has grown in recent years.

British Columbia shares more similarity than difference to the two states. Its differences are perhaps the comparative freshness of its history. Much of the province is still pretty raw, physically and culturally. Central and eastern regions were settled by a rough crowd that still remain – ranchers, and miners and loggers. All three still carry a strong influence from those days. People often say it would have made more sense to divide the two states and province up on north-south borders instead of east-west. It would have made for more uniformity of state cultures I suppose, but our differences have always been our strongest quality, Ive always thought.

The thing that makes our region most interesting is the still-evident signs of the settling of the land here. Our pioneers, in many cases, remain in living memory. Museums to logging are common, fields have horse-drawn implements – plows, rakers, mowers, etc – still visible and rusting. Recent human History is very much alive if you look for it.

Geological history is evident too – the Columbia Gorge is like a book of the centuries that you can read, if you just know how. The weather is notoriously predictable, everyone knows that what it does is going to be surprising, it will probably change in 15 minutes, and except for the population centers, will probably be extreme in some way (which is probably why so many live in the relative safety of the City. But then it floods there.)

I could talk all day about this place, because I love it. I am not an Oregon Native, moved to the Pacific Northwest at about age 12-13 (can’t remember which), to Tillamook. After 10 years in Navy Submarines, I moved back with my wife and kids, and have lived in all four areas described above. The Coast was my first and remains my favorite place. The “Valley” is how we refer to the primary population centers, which in Oregon is the Willamette valley. When referring to both Oregon and Washington, we call it “the I-5 Corridor”, a reference to the north-south interstate highway connecting Portland and Seattle to California supply lines that passes through the Willamette Valley. This was our home directly after the Navy. I went to College in SE Washington. And now, we live in an out-of-the way spot in central Oregon, nestled up against the eastern side of the Cascades, away from cities and closer to the large national Forests. Much of my love for Oregon comes from a thirst for wild places, and when I am angry or defensive of it, it is because of the gradual loss of those places as population grows. When I cross the border back into my home state from travels, I always smile. It is a complex, half-wild land that whispers possibilities and freedom of expression. It invites – no, it insists that a dedicated person think hard about how its wealth of resources are used. It wears its heart on its sleeve, whether for good or ill.

I hope this helps you. Thanks for asking.”