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Were a lovable state of contradictions

Remember when Oregon made national news only because of quirky things? A randy senator, a dippy figure skater, a creepy cult leader with a fleet of Rolls Royces? The word 'Oregon' slid into Jay Leno's monologue in partnership with Bob Packwood, Tonya Harding, endangered owls or Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh; at least someone was laughing!

These days Oregon is the Appalachia of the American West. Instead of Leno and Letterman, it's Jennings, Brokaw and even Garry Trudeau delivering the verdict: staggering unemployment, long lines at food banks, men killing their wives and children, a stupefying budget deficit, penny ante funding for schools and Ñ oh, yeah Ñ no state support for 'Masterpiece Theatre.'

Coming soon: our state prize for highest rate of clinical depression.

What Oregon needs most is not a windfall or a major league baseball team. It needs a public relations firm, a savvy agent. We need to get out the word that we are more than Kip Kinkel, Ma Anand Sheela, Jeff Gillooly, salmon runs, bratty Trail Blazers and the Bottle Bill.

Fact parade: Oregon is the only state Ñ that's right, the only state Ñ with an official nut (no, not Lon Mabon; it's actually the hazelnut). We have the nation's only wheelchair-accessible tide pool (Newport's Yaquina), only year-round snow skiing site (Timberline Lodge) and sole elected regional governmental agency (Metro). Our Portland gem, Forest Park, is the country's largest urban park.

We're also trendsetters. You think Illinois' Gov. Ryan made a grand statement with his commutation of those death sentences? Well, Oregon is the only state to have repealed the death penalty twice (1914, 1964). We were the first state to make marital rape illegal (anyone remember Greta and John Rideout?), first to declare Labor Day a holiday (party on!) and to decriminalize marijuana (ditto). We were numero uno with a gas tax, a growth management act and a forest practices act.

Gardenburgers were born here, and so was Claymation (those California Raisins are really the Rose City Raisins).

And you want cinematic history? Some people know that 'National Lampoon's Animal House' was filmed in Oregon, and a sappy half-dozen might even care that 'Mr. Holland's Opus' was, too. But we also can claim Buster Keaton's 'The General,' 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' 'Stand by Me' and 'Five Easy Pieces.'

Man-made wonders? Oregon has more covered bridges than any other state west of the Mississippi. And where else did an eccentric billionaire build a sports arena in the shape of a trilobite?

We grow and sell more Christmas trees than any other state. We have more than double the national average of midwife-assisted births. And along with our all-by-mail voting, we have kick-ass ideas about national leadership: Oregon went for Dukakis ('Tank Boy') in '88!

Katie Harman was Oregon's first Miss America, but she's dust alongside the famous names linked with our state. Picabo Street. Ursula Le Guin. Raymond Carver. Matt Groening. Doc Severinsen, James Beard, Bill Porter, William Stafford, Jean Auel, Don Schollander, Beverly Cleary, Steve Prefontaine É and, lest we forget, Linus Pauling. The nearly immortal and twin-Nobeled Linus Pauling breathed Oregon air!

And you can even get arrested here for pumping your own gas! Well, you could if we had the funds for law enforcement.

As Oregon's self-appointed infomercial spokesmodel, I could go on É nation's only nickel smelter, oldest Medicaid-managed plan, lowest rate of church attendance, most liberal citizen initiative system É and despite our reputation for a profoundly PC populace, more place names with the word 'squaw' in them than any other state. We actually have 16 percent of the nation's total. Heap big shame!

Our contradictions may be what most distinguish us. We are farms and high-rises, we are deserts and surf, we are gun lovers and Birkenstock wearers, mountaineers and magnates.

It's fitting that ours remains the only state whose flag has sides with two different pictures. Every other state chose a single image, but we found that too confining. So on one side we went manic, splashing sun-mountains-forests-stars-plow-wheat-pickaxe-eagle-ocean and not one but two ships across the banner. On the flip side, we pasted our homely state animal, the beaver, whose modus operandi is purest contradiction: destroy in order to build.

Ah, Oregon. I wouldn't live anywhere else.

Lane Browning produces a monthly column for Black Lamb (www.blacklamb.org), runs a Portland writing business (www.careerresumeservice.com), and regurgitates trivia without provocation or incentive.