We were off the beaten track, then right back on it as we passed through the state of Oregon. Along the way, we found seven things to love about it.
1. A Cemetery
Heading south from Portland, our first stop was neither a piece of Oregon’s rugged coastline, nor a place of historic importance on the Oregon Trail, but rather the city of Woodburn, a low-rise dwelling of some 24,000 people, situated roughly midway between Portland and Salem. We were there to visit none of its 24,000 living inhabitants. Instead, we were there to see the final resting place of 6 of its previous inhabitants at the Belle Passi Cemetery, founded in 1852. These were people neither famous nor rich, and history will not remember them for having lived extraordinary lives. But between them, they conspired to make my life extraordinary, without ever knowing it: their family line produced, in time, my remarkable wife.
We sent home a few pictures of the graves, and then went to find out more. In particular I was eager to learn a little more about Carl E Alleman, Meg’s grandmother’s uncle, American Legion, killed in battle in France a few weeks before World War I ended.
2. A Library
At the Woodburn Library, the kind staff allowed us into the Oregon research room, where we were able to scroll through ancient copies of Woodburn’s newspapers on microfilm. We found obituaries for several of Meg’s family members, Carl included, and then kept looking. The research room is located behind locked doors; the nerd in me boiled up to the surface as we located catalogued subjects, found the corresponding roll of microfilm, and fed it into the machine. What came out on the screen was sometimes startling, sometimes funny, but all so very different from how journalism is conducted today.
I could have spent hours looking through back issues of the paper from the 1800s and early 1900s. In a “local jottings” section of the paper from 1892 for example, one learns that
Monday, Mr Fortune accidentally struck the the fore finger of his left hand, breaking the knuckle joint.
J.H. Settlemier found three black walnuts on one “shuck” that is three nuts grown together. He considers it a curio.
Poignantly, both of these notices follow the announcement of the suicide of a man aged “about 25” who “seemed to be demented”, and it struck me that we seem to be no better adept at diagnosing or preventing this sort of thing today than we were 120 years ago. Lest I leave you on a sad note though, here are my two personal favourites. The first is a random excerpt from an 1888 edition (click to enlarge):
The second I came across while looking through one of the papers from towards the very end of 1899, to gauge the (Woodburnian, editorial) mood of the time. Perhaps this tells us everything we need to know about the turn of that century:
Soon the time had come for us to cease considering curios and to press on down the coast.
3. Rugged Coastline
The Oregon Coast is, I daresay, why most people who visit Oregon visit Oregon. There is something compelling and mystifying about beaches that look, on the face of it, uninviting. The water is cold, the breeze is cold. There are dangerous currents, fallen trees along the beach, and jagged sea stacks in the shallows — hazardous rocks that jut up out of the ocean a short way offshore, home only to the occasional seal and to colonies of double-crested cormorants who nest in them year-round, whitening them. If you have time, which we do, a great way to pass a little of it is to go for a walk along one of these beaches. It’s soon astonishing how much there is to take note of: how frequently the landscape changes, how undulating is the shoreline, how various are the clouds, how moody the temperature shifts, how grainy the sand. Waves and gulls compete for loudness.
Windswept and vast, Oregon’s expanse of dunes is the largest on the continent. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, so it blew us away (almost literally) when we climbed to the top of the sand dune behind our campsite, in the howling wind, expecting to find an ocean on the other side of it. The ocean was there all right, but it was several miles away, off in the distance, across a vast desert landscape of more dunes. We climbed to the top of the nearest one; from its crest a group of sandboarders was descending, wiping out, then sweating their way back to the top of the dune to do it again. In the distance, off-road vehicles tore up and down the dune faces. We ran down the dunes, ran up them again (panting), crested them, flopped down and rolled off of them, skidded down the steep slopes and crawled up them again. Meg practiced yoga; I did a handstand for the camera because my yoga skills are still a work in progress.
5. Fly Fishing
There was a freshwater lake nearby, so this was an obligatory break from the heat and wind of the dunes.
6. It’s Between Washington and California
So we would have come through Oregon anyway — but what an inspiring time we had in this state. Continuing down the coast, on our way into California, we passed through so much noteworthy scenery, so many interesting towns (some of which were smaller than others)
and so much else to give us pause as we crossed the CA state line, and the trees grew larger and larger… we were entering the domain of the