Dear Oregon Letters of hope and experience for our state

This year Flux Magazine asked Oregonians to write honest letters to our state. While some have described them as brutally honest love letters, all letters we received have unique perspective.

We started with a short prompt but the letters took on lives of their own.

Read a few of the Dear Oregon letters for yourself.

A Few Lines For Oregon From A Grateful Son

By: Tom Swearingen

I've roamed all corners of this state / At lope, or trot, or walking gait. / From vantage point of horse's back / On vast wide range and single track.

Smelled the air of sage scent mesas. / Followed ruts and ancient traces / Of nomads, beasts, and those who came / To stake their claim and bring my name.

Watched desert devils spin and dance, / Their dust trails haze the far expanse. / Then fade and lift to leave behind / My outlook clear with inspired mind.

Cut the tracks of wild Mustang bands. / Packed deep in cool of timber stands. / Spent 'nuff time around city walls / To know I prefer coyote's calls.

Circled herds on high graze grasses. / Trailed them down steep switchback passes. / Spent lots of nights with stars my lamp, / Bedded down in a remote camp.

Picked way cross rivers snaking down / From mountain range and hilltop crown. / Seen life they bring to valley floor, / Then fresh the salt at ocean shore.

I've come to love this diverse land, / Where creative fires can be fanned. / Six decades here have made it clear / I'm glad my roots were planted here.

I've found this state a sacred ground / Where coiled up thoughts can be unwound, / Then strung in lines to then be sung / With passioned voice and angel's tongue.

So now my plan's for me to stay / Until my final earthly day. / If that works out, then I'll be blessed / To ride my days out in the West.

Dear Oregon

By: Christine Lorenz

I have loved you since I first arrived by car in rainy March 1973 from sunny Florida, to register for an exchange term at UO. I was amazed that you had bike paths that I could ride on, even in the rain. I was completely taken aback by how much people smiled at you and were friendly. I loved that you had a topless ordinance that allowed women to be top naked. I even wrote a poem about topless women on bicycles! And your recycling laws even way back then were groundbreaking. And I loved your health food stores with all the foods in bulk bins, smelling so delightful of real food.

After my one Oregon term I returned to Florida. But after graduating from college, newly single I was drawn back to your green arms. Starting over was hard but I had a camaraderie of like-minded individuals and the solace of your amazing nature and so many campgrounds. And your beaches, even with their cold waves, were a place I felt safe and at home.

I tried to quit you again when I moved to Japan in the early 80s, but again I came home because I missed your spacious, liberal, safe embrace. And all the rain in the world couldn't keep this Florida girl away for long.

I stay because I can grow a lot of my own food. I stay because kale lasts for the summer and all winter long. I love that you are a blue state, and that I have such amazing representatives like Peter Defazio and Jeff Merkley. This has become all the more important in 2017 when we are living with an unstable, scary person as president. The day after the election, everyone was somber in the streets, many wore black, and most of us cried the first time we saw one another after "that day". When I am distraught my friends and coworkers comfort me. When I am afraid at night, I am soothed a little because my Oregon representatives are sticking up for what is right. I am proud of that. And when I march, I see determined hopeful smiling teary-eyed faces all around me. And I KNOW I am home.

Yes you could provide more sun, and yes your ocean is chillier than I would like, and yes we have many more gray days than sunny ones, but that all pales compared to the good things that I see and feel here. Besides there is nothing like the thrill and gratitude of those first spring, sunny days, when we all emerge from the wet grey, grinning like fools, overconfidently underdressed in the chilly spring air, faces turned hungrily toward the sun, exchanging giddy knowing looks: sun!

I used to call myself a Florigonian but I think in my true heart of hearts, I am an Oregonian. I am kale girl. I am at peace. You are my home.

Nineteen-Fifty- Nine; or, A Letter to the State of Oregon

By: Finn J.D. John

Dear Oregon,

I remember you when you were young and innocent. Well, youngish, let’s say, and innocentish. The truth was just starting to dawn on you then, the awful truth, and in a few places I could already see the early catalytic stirrings of the great disillusioning.

It was midway through the 1970s. I remember how you were then, Oregon. I remember it in the warm, golden light of a happy, privileged childhood.

I mean, I didn’t know I was privileged. But then, neither did you.

You were still a little tipsy with the spirit of 1959 back then, weren’t you? Nineteen-fifty-nine, the year of the Oregon Centennial celebration – it had been 100 years since the state was admitted to the union, and boy, did you ever throw a party to mark the occasion and to celebrate that 100 Years of Progress!

Nineteen-fifty-nine, when it seemed there would always be trees to cut and fresh water to swim in and toothsome salmon to feast on. Nineteen-fifty-nine, when a man could get work in the mill or in the woods straight out of tenth grade and make a wage that would buy him a house, put a muscle car in the driveway with a fishing boat to tow with it, put a ring on his sweetheart’s finger and a roast turkey on the Thanksgiving dinner table, with three-four kids around it smacking their lips and waiting for Mom to say grace.

Nineteen-fifty-nine, when culture was a thing one didn’t worry about, when dressing up meant removing one’s “CAT Diesel Power” hat and combing one’s hair. Nineteen-fifty-nine, when the realization had not yet dawned that you were living on stolen land, when you hadn’t yet figured out that your greatest heroes were vandals and thugs and murderers before fortune made them elder statesmen. Nineteen-fifty-nine, when you couldn’t stop progress and neither could the folks at Celilo, the 15,000-year-old Indian village flooded out two years before to make way for The Dalles Dam. Nineteen-fifty-nine, when you still had not yet realized what an awful mistake that had been.

I remember that spirit, Oregon. It was in its twilight years by the time I came along, but I could still feel it, all around me, in the little timber town I grew up in. Four sawmills that town had. One at each corner, running all the time. It was a noisy place, full of four-wheel-drive pickups and big-block Javelins and Mustangs practicing bootlegger reverses in the intersections.

Then the dark years came.

First the trees ran out. In 1959 everyone thought they’d last forever. They didn’t.

The mills in my town closed, one by one. Everyone blamed the spotted owl, but it wasn’t the owls. The mills that were still open were being run mostly by machinery, and you couldn’t cut trees that weren’t there.

This was my time. These were my years. Watching you change, Oregon, watching you lose your 1959 innocence. I had a front-row seat for most of those years. First working my way through college as a firewatch guard in your rusty, dying sawmills. H.R. Jones Veneer, Goshen Veneer, Lane Plywood – they’re all gone now – only one of the mills I worked in is still around today.

Then I was out of college and working at a timber-town newspaper. Every day I saw it on the editorial pages, the people clinging to 1959, and other people pointing backward through time to the oppressed minorities and the dropout rates and the missing fingers on so many work-scarred hands and saying, “It wasn’t really as great as you’re saying it was, and it’s gone now. Let’s stop trying to recapture it. Let’s leave the last few old-growth trees alone. Let’s make something better instead.”

You know, Oregon? It turns out they were right. Weren’t they?

Would you turn the clock back to 1959 if you could, Oregon? I bet you’d say no. I bet you’d pull your hand away from that flux-capacitor power feed and say, “I can’t do this. I can’t go back.”

“I was so happy then,” you’d say. “But the price of my happiness was ignorance. I didn’t know the trees would run out. I didn’t know dumping that bucket of chemicals in the creek would kill all those fish. I didn’t know the Native Americans were miserable and oppressed, I thought they just lived like that because they were Indians; I didn’t know my black neighbors didn’t “like to camp” because they knew camping wasn’t safe for them; I didn’t know those perfect-hostess housewives were eating their hearts out and wishing they could choose a different life. I can’t go back to that world. I’m all grown up now.”

And I’d say, “Well, no, you’re not, and neither am I. But we’re both awake, and we’re growing, and no one can ask for more than that.”

Dear Oregon

By: Cameron Scott

Monday morning. Grey and overcast. Taxes. Mud season. I woke after a weekend of sideways sleet, lost steelhead, and a tire flatter than a pancake and decided something needed to change. Driving by newly calved cows on my way to work under a sky moodier than a cat dancing across hot coals in the rain, I felt caught in the upside-down bowl of this place. Winters, they say, will drive you away.

And driving to work I swear on my Schlappen and Coche steelhead wuppin’ wooly buggers there is no sky cupped more like an upside-down hand than the sky in Wallowa County. From the cracked callouses of hard worked canyons, to the soft doughy palms of the Zumwalt and the sharp knuckles of the Wallowa mountains, it is a hand cupped to capture the clouds. Isolated except by a single road that cuts through the county like a life-line, sometimes even that is closed off by rock slides or severe weather. This hand covers and hides those of us who live here. Most of Eastern Oregon is like this. I look up into those clouds cupped

Most of Eastern Oregon is like this. I look up into those clouds cupped close and the night’s calves being licked clean and ponder a life style change, but from experience I know the novelty of flaking alfalfa for cows, lambs, horses, and a goat ancient as the basalt columns along the Wallowa River wears off, as does the smell of pig slop and chicken coops. And while there is something exciting about watching someone rip around in a red or yellow or green tractor skewering 900 pound bales of hay and loading them onto a flatbed truck while working the gear shift with one hand and with the other tipping back a triple shot Americano, the color of those tractors are too much the color of stoplights, and there are no stop lights in this county, and haven’t been many in my life.

The thing is, Oregon, folks change in a variety of ways, and while mine has always been to go fishing, fishing is precisely the thing I need a break from. I’ve started growing moss like a tree from standing in the rain and sleet and snow so much, my waders have developed the irreversible stink of river sludge, fish slime, salami, beer and stale cigars due to the companions I’ve been fishing with, not to mention the layer of mud and dust coating the lower half of my vehicle has become so thick it is lowering my gas mileage. Sometimes so much feeling good makes me feel bad.

And maybe it is time to feel bad for a change. I know your insides are made of basalt, air and ashes. Skin of bunchgrass and duff. And I know your lichens, your tendrils and curls, soft burgeoning edges, body of warm Chinook breath. Somedays your matter is not my matter, your face I return and ask forgiveness. How often this indecipherable sadness of tracking late winter’s footsteps farther and farther into the muddy fields. To live in a state where most creeks, streams, and rivers make it to the ocean, but to still know some don’t.

My life has been spent living for weekends and wild rivers. Waiting for fish to return past trawlers and concrete dams. I’ve heard there are seven billion hungers in this world. Thirsts. Has-beens. The ocean that receives us and always the other unreachable in drought.

Even in Wallowa County we have dark woods that slip into themselves for miles, soft ground which sinks under footsteps. Has grown in the belly of unfathomable puddles. To push what has no form. To swim into what has no container. What hope there is to remain dry is a fool’s hope. What errand must be made in the rain. But who is so foolish to wear water and expect a fish to leap into hands?

My fly rods swing from an old fly line strung between grips. Even though it is spring, the fall is never far off. Stopping beside the river, low sun warm enough to rest in, I slip into the thick familiar skin of waders. Boots wet from yesterday and maybe the days before. On the dusty haze, I can almost taste the char of burnt fields, ponderosa pine licked by fire. I can almost, there in the run, tell a steelhead, and how many. Walk across a bull snake freshly flattened into the gravel road. Sit beside the river and just sit. This, more than anything, is how a river eventually changes us.

On Portland

By: Jinke Kuang

Translated from Cantonese

In 1988 of March I came from the big city of Guangzhou to Portland. Even though this place was small I enjoyed the mountains the water and the city. The air is clean, people are cheerful, and big into recycling. In the past 29 years I’ve seen the city grow. I feel now the city cannot keep up with the changes. Traffic gives me a headache. Rent is rising. The homeless are in the streets. This hurts to watch. Marijuana is now legal. People are protesting. I feel security isn’t stable. I hope Portland has a bright future, but during these changes I hope it doesn’t lose what made it special in the first place.

Read all of the Dear Oregon letters at fluxstories.com.

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