What Things are Like Here

Skinners Birds Nest


I wrote the following for a British blog buddy who wishes to honor me with a visit, but I then had the thought that it might interest others also...

Eugene, Oregon, was founded in 1846 by an Easterner named Eugene Skinner. Upon surveying the area’s enveloping ridgeline from the 682-foot hill in the foreground of the photo, he said it looked like a bird’s nest. Skinner had planned to name the town Marysville after his wife, but upon learning that the name was taken by another Oregon community (which later changed its name to Corvallis), his wife designated his new town Eugene City—which was shortened to Eugene in 1889. She also named the aforementioned hill after him, and it bears the name Skinner Butte. However, a highrise near the bottom of the butte bears the mountain’s Kalapuya Indian name, Ya Po Ah, which inexplicably means a very high place.

Mary Skinner

On the west side of Skinner Butte are 45-foot basalt columns which Peggy used to climb in preparation for forays into the High Cascades. In recognition of her mountaineering achievements, the women of her climbing group ceremonially dubbed her Princess Climbing Rose

Basalt Columns on Skinner Butte

The distant hill in the top photo is five miles away at what is currently the southern edge of town. 2,058-foot Spencer Butte bears the name of a young Englishman who was killed and mutilated by a Kalapuya Indian on the flank of what they called Rattlesnake Mountain. His was the only known death at the hands of the Kalapuya while their tribe was destroyed by the violence and diseases of the white invaders. I will devote the remainder of this post to a description of the county of which Eugene is the county seat.

Origin: In 1851, Lane County was named after its first territorial governor, General Joseph Lane, an Indian killer and Mexican war hero. Although Lane soon lost favor in Oregon for his support of slavery and Southern secession, early Oregon was nonetheless racist. For example, in 1843, the Provisional Government of Oregon instituted the following punishment for black people who attempted to live here: “…not less than twenty nor more than thirty-nine stripes, to be inflicted by the constable of the proper county… if any free negro or mulatto shall fail to quit the country within the term of six months after receiving such stripes, he or she shall again receive the same punishment once in every six months, until he or she shall quit the country.

Location: Lane County extends from the Pacific Ocean to the summit of the Cascade Mountains. Midway between the two is the Willamette Valley, a 120-mile long depression which begins near Eugene and ends near Portland. Although the valley is tiny compared to Oregon’s total land area, three out of four Oregonians live here. Willamette (pronounced wil LAM ette) is a Kalapuya Indian word for Valley of Sickness, a name that was inspired by its supposed healing qualities.

Size: Although Lane County is sixth in size among Oregon counties, it is four times larger than Rhode Island, twice the size of Delaware, and nearly as big as Connecticut. Oregon itself is the tenth largest of American states.

Parks: 12-mile long, 2,000 acre Ridgeline Park is Eugene’s largest followed by 240 acre Spencer Butte Park and 100 acre Skinner Butte Park. Added together, this town of 175,000 people has an impressive 4,200 acres of parkland, while over half of Lane County itself is owned by federal, state, county, and city governments.

Precipitation: Eugene gets 41-inches of rain per year, and isolated parts of the Coast Range get over 100-inches. Precipitation in the Cascade Range consists largely of snow. Due to global warming, the amount of snow in the mountains has dropped dramatically since my arrival in 1986. This is worrisome because the Valley depends upon melting snow to fill its reservoirs.

Deepest Lake: 420-foot, glacier-carved Waldo Lake.

Largest Rivers: the Willamette, the McKenzie, and the Siuslaw. Until the coming of the railroad, steamboats traversed the 300 Willamette River miles from Portland to Eugene
—the straight-line distance is a hundred miles.

Elevation: From sea level at the coast to 10,358-feet in the Cascades.

Number of Mountains: 703

Mountain Ranges: Lane County contains portions of the Cascades and the Calapooyas, both of which are volcanic. The Cascades can be further divided into the High Cascades and the Old Cascades—the Calapooyas are a segment of the latter. Lane County also contains a portion of the thousand-mile long Coast Range, which was formed by uplift when the Pacific Plate slid under the North American Plate. 4,097-ft. Mary’s Peak is its highest point in Oregon. 

Number of Active Volcanoes: Seismologists are monitoring a slowly growing bulge on the west side of Lane County’s only active volcano, the South Sister. 

Greatest Natural Hazard: The Cascadia Subduction Zone is a 700-mile long area where the aforementioned tectonic plates are colliding. There is a 37% risk of a +9.0 earthquake erupting along this fault in the next fifty years. Before moving here, I had lived with hurricanes, thunderstorms, and tornadoes for my entire life, and there is no way that I would have moved to a place at risk of a megaquake had I known of it, but the threat was not known at the time.

Number of Waterfalls: 206 (https://www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/Oregon/County/Lane)

Number of Glaciers: 7 remain but are rapidly melting.

Tallest Waterfall: 286-foot Salt Creek Falls

Number of Hot Springs: 4

Tallest Tree: a 310-foot Douglas Fir. The Douglas Fir is Oregon’s
State Tree and its primary timber source.

Number of Covered Bridges: 20.

Ten Crops: 90% of Lane County is forestland, but mint, hops, berries, hazelnuts, lavender, rosemary, vegetables, tree fruits, wine grapes, and Christmas trees, number among its other delightful crops.

Ten Fun Things to Do: hike, bike, ski, raft, fish, kayak, skateboard, snow ski, mountain climb, fly kites at the coast.

Population by Race: People of northern European ancestry constitute 89% of the population followed by Hispanics, Asians, indigenous, and black.(3) Despite the areas racial homogeneity, modern Lane Countians honor racial diversity with bumper stickers, yard signs, murals, and statues. They also name parks, schools, and streets after well-known members of minority groups. Although black residents represent only 1.3% of the county’s population, they constitute a majority of honorees.

Lane County’s Indigenous Peoples: The last full-blood Kalapuya wasAunt Eliza Young who died in 1922, seventy-five years after her relatives offered the hand of friendship to Eugene Skinner. A large majority of Oregon’s Indians died of European diseases that were introduced by an ever increasing number of arrivals starting with the Spanish gold seeker Juan Cabrillo in 1542. Of those Indians who survived smallpox, typhus, typhoid, cholera, measles, pertussis, and other diseases, some were murdered (there being no penalty for it), but most died of neglect after being imprisoned on barren reservations. Even that wasn’t enough for immigrants who believed that America was a modern day Israel; that white Americans had replaced Jews as Gods chosen people; and that indigenous Americans were the equivalent of the Biblical idol worshipers that God ordered killed. By the printing of the March 16, 1872, edition of the Eugene Guardian, few Kalapuya remained, yet this didn’t deter the editor from labeling them a disgrace” and demanding that they be “tarred, feathered, and hung.”

The Pioneer Mother

Politics: The pendulum has swung to the opposite side of the stupid spectrum since the days when Chinese railroad builders were called chinks and cooleys and the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses on Skinner Butte in order to intimidate Jews, liberals, non-whites, suffragists, and Catholics. Some examples.... In 2020, Eugene businesses and vehicles were vandalized when a black man 2,000 miles away was killed by a policeman. In another incident, a monument honoring Lane Countians who died in World War II was vandalized, and in a third, University of Oregon students pulled down two large statues and battered one of them with sledgehammers after hearing their history professor say that the Oregon Trail pioneers were thieves, rapists, and murderers who thought they were serving God by destroying lives and cultures that they deemed worthless. Although the demonstration was filmed by scores of cameras, no arrests were made, and the university declined to restore the statues.

Religion: 75% of Lane Countians have no religion followed by the 13% who are Protestant and the 6% who are Catholic. My previous county in Mississippi is at the other end of the American spectrum with 79% of its residents saying they are religious and 0% daring to say that they are not. Religious oppression served as a major motivator for me leaving the state. In one memorable incident, I was rapped on the head by another juror when I declined to stand for a prayer that was led by the district attorney.

Noteworthy Movies: My first glimpse of Lane County came from the movie Animal House with John Belushi (1978), but Stand By Me with River Phoenix (1986) and The General with Buster Keaton (1926) are far better movies that offer a far better look at the countryside. For a list of movies that were shot entirely in Eugene, go to Wikipedia, Films Shot in Eugene.

Nicknames for Eugene: Emerald City, Track Town USA, and Track and Field Capital of the World. The name Emerald City was inspired by the greenery, the others by Eugenes prominence in track and field events, among which are try-outs for the Olympics. Appropriately, University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman invented the first spikeless track shoe (his company became Nike) in Eugene. Without Limits is a Eugene-made movie about Bowerman and his best-known runner, Steve Prefontaine, who died in a car accident in Eugene at age 24.

Memorial at Site of Accident

Ten Delightful Crops: grapes, mint, hops, berries, hazelnuts, lavender, rosemary, vegetables, tree fruit, Christmas trees.

Ten Popular Things to Do: hike, bike, ski, raft, run, fish, kayak, skateboard, snow ski, mountain climb.

Ten Things that Oregon Got Right: The city of Eugene has purchased over twelve miles of encircling ridgeline so its residents can see trees rather than highrises when they lift their eyes to the hills. Every inch of Oregons 362-mile coastline is publicly owned and publicly accessible, and Oregon led the nation in passing a bottle bill, legalizing assisted suicide, decriminalizing cannabis, voting entirely by mail, electing a LGBT governor, legalizing psilocybin, automatic voter registration, and mandating an end to coal-fired power.

A Virtually Unkown Event in Oregon
s History:

The following isn
’t related to Lane County, but I’m going to close with it because it is so interesting and so undeservedly forgotten, even in Oregon. On May 5, 1945, Oregon suffered the American mainland’s only World War II fatalities when a woman and five children were killed by a Japanese balloon bomb while picnicking. Some of the women who manufactured the 9,300 balloon bombs that were launched by Japan later apologized for those deaths. The attack had been in retaliation for the 300,000 Japenese deaths in American firebombings of the Japanese mainland. Other nearby Japanese attacks consisted of a submarine firing upon an Oregon fort, and a submarine-carried float-plane dropping incendiaries on an un-inhabited mountain in the hope of starting a forest fire.

In closing: Renew your youth, enjoy life, and start for heaven from the best town on earth, Eugene, Oregon.                                                                     Anybodys Magazine 1906


Strayer said...

The WWII attacks on Oregon were taught in grade school on at least when I was in school, and left us as kids spellbound and wanting to see where that happened. Three cheers for Waldo Lake. I love that lake, but I wonder how its shorelines are after last summer's fire. I'm not even sure the campgrounds are open now.

Elephant's Child said...

Interesting as I found this post (and I did) I am wondering which English blog buddy is coming to visit you. And hoping it is one we both know -despite my jealousy.

kylie said...

I also want to know who is visiting!
Eugene seems have got quite a few things right. It's good to know

Emma Springfield said...

Fascinating. Everyone should explore the history of their homes. Knowledge is power and to know about your surroundings will make you powerful indeed.

Snowbrush said...

Strayer, I haven't been to the Waldo Lake area for years now. Even before age and pain caused us to give up camping, we only went to places in the Old Cascades where we were unlikely to see other people. The ability to get away from others is a wonderful fact of life in Lane County.

Kylie and Elephant's Child, now that her blog is only open to invited readers, I don't know if she still objects to people using her name, so, I'll just say that her dog is named Rosie and her husband is named Ken. I worry that she's only coming because I emailed her that I'm rich, handsome, personable, and enjoy spending lavishly on older women. Upon hearing this, she told me that she had only wanted to come because I had described myself as old, cheap, homely, crotchety, and cruel to my cats. I then told that I had only said those things to make people like me, but since I really am young, handsome, and inordinately generous, the ball is in her court as to whether she wants to spend time with such a disagreeable person. She replied that I was making less and less sense every time I wrote, and that she was by now thoroughly confused as to who I am. I can't imagine why she would say such a thing since, for my part, I think I've made myself perfectly clear.

In any event, she won't be coming anytime soon because she has to wait until Rosie dies, but it occurs to me that the two of you could come at the same time. We could even have Strayer join us, because although she and I have known one another for ten to fifteen years, and although we only live 45 miles apart, we have never met.

Elephant's Child said...

That would be wonderful.

Rosie's mother said...

‘not less than twenty nor more than thirty-nine stripes, to be inflicted’ – dear lord, it’s horrific thinking of the amount of people who were treated this way.

Number of Active Volcanoes: Seismologists are monitoring a slowly growing bulge on the west side of Lane County’s only active volcano, the South Sister. - Are there any dormant ones?

That’s such a great name, well done Peggy for being so physically capable she was called Princess Climbing Rose

Have you had any earthquakes or tremors at all whilst you’ve both lived there?

Number of Waterfalls: 206 – It’s so huge this place! I think you have everything, I really do.

‘Ten Fun Things to Do: hike, bike, ski, raft, fish, kayak, skateboard, snow ski, mountain climb, fly kites at the coast.’ Kite flying, is it something that happens every year as an event like Sue and her balloon festival?

‘yet this didn’t deter the editor from labeling them a “disgrace” and demanding that they be “tarred, feathered, and hung.”’ - this makes me feel sick for them, such cruelty and inability to see these inhabitants as people.

‘Oregon led the nation in passing a bottle bill, legalizing assisted suicide, decriminalizing cannabis, voting entirely by mail, electing a LGBT governor, legalizing psilocybin, automatic voter registration, and mandating an end to coal-fired power.’ - Well done indeed.

Well you've told the world everything about me barring my name, hahahahahaha. I8'm cracking up at your reasons for coming *falls about*. All of us meeting would be marvellous!

This is a superb post m’dear. And hello to Sue! Xx

David M. Gascoigne, said...

Thanks for this great historical account - interesting but disturbing in so many ways. Some of those attitudes and beliefs are alive and well.

Snowbrush said...

"Knowledge is power and to know about your surroundings will make you powerful indeed."

It mostly makes me feel sad and helpless to learn about the harm done by people who were callous and greedy, people who looked like I look, and who lived where I live. An entire tribe of Native Americans gone, and for what? I'm reading a circa 1949 history of Eugene's first 100 years. When the Indians are mentioned at all in that book, it's in unflattering terms. For example, there came a point when the good Christians of Eugene banned Indians from even coming into town, although Eugene sat on land that, by every moral right, they owned. The pretext for the ban was that Indians were a bad moral example to the young. Bad in what way? By being in a state of personal and societal collapse after having watched everything they loved being destroyed or stolen?

I find it easy to assume that, had I lived back then, I would have objected to what happened, but how can I know if this is true? When I look at pictures of the local Indians, I see dirty looking people in rags whose skin was dark, whose facial features were alien to me, who never developed a written language, whose homes looked like something that a bunch of fourteen-year-olds on a weekend lark could have created in a day, and who, despite living in a land of plenty, never rose above living subsistence-level lifestyles. I've no doubt but what the white people who came here found it easy to regard them as subhumans that God didn't love and that the earth would be better off without. Yet it is an attitude that screams of rationalization, of judging all the world by the standards of white America in the 1800s in order to justify stealing what was theirs. When those U of O students toppled statues, they justified their actions by pointing to the very immorality that I'm talking about, but they--like the pioneers who they detest--did so from the vantage point of people who were completely convinced of their own superiority. Yet is it really possible for any honest person to look within and not come away with the thought that--as the Bible put it--his righteousness "is like filthy rags."

"That would be wonderful."

I think so too, and I'll be in touch about it.

kylie said...

I like this idea!

Your comment above about the students strikes me as correct. Destroying statues out of one's own sense of righteousness is not the way to go about it. I'm not neccessarily saying the statues should stay but that is a matter for thoughtful consideration and consultation

Snowbrush said...

"Thanks for this great historical account - interesting but disturbing in so many ways."

It was my pleasure, David. As for those attitudes still being alive, even here in liberal Eugene, the few black people that one sees are sometimes harassed and the local synagogue has been repeatedly vandalized. You will no doubt remember the 2017 Portland commuter train murders.

"Are there any dormant ones?"

Yes. Perhaps the best known example is Crater Lake which formed when a volcano blew its summit away. That volcano--Mt. Mazama--is dormant. It's easy in Oregon to find lava fields that are less than 2,000 years old, some so recent that few plants grow on them (I would suggest that you Google McKenize Pass).

"Have you had any earthquakes or tremors at all whilst you’ve both lived there?"
17,000 earthquakes of magnitude 1 to 6 have been recorded in Oregon and Washington since 1970, but I don't know that we've "felt" more than one or two of them because they tend to occur further north. It's important to remember that the numbers assigned to quakes don't proceed one by one by one in terms of strength, and therefore a 7.0 magnitude quake is 10 times stronger than a magnitude 6 earthquake and 100 times stronger than a magnitude five earthquake. I first experienced an earthquake in Fresno, California. I was awakened by it, so I just lay there watching the bedroom door swing gently back and forth and thinking about what an interesting experience it was. Peggy was at work in a four story building at the time, so she felt it a lot more than I did. When she expressed concern to her fellow nurses, they said that quakes happen all the time in Fresno, and that this one wasn't noteworthy. Oregon earthquakes are of two kinds, localized and regional, and the ones we've had in Oregon of late were localized. They can still be quite damaging, but the next regional one will be Fukushima size (16,000 people died in that one) and its path of destruction will extend from California to British Columbia. Scientists first learned of the risk in Oregon from tree-ring dating in a "drowned" coastal forest. Further research brought to light records of that--and other--quakes in Japan. It has since been learned that the quake hits--on average--every 246 years, and that 323 years have elapsed since the last one. I would really like to live somewhere else, but I'm instead hoping that the quake won't happen until Peggy and I are dead because I'm in no shape to survive its aftermath even if I didn't die in the quake itself.

Snowbrush said...

"It’s so huge this place! I think you have everything, I really do."

Because I am interested in the recorded history of my species, I envy you the richness of the British Isles. I also know from nature shows that your country is very beautiful (I'm especially enamored of documentaries by Colin Stafford-Johnson). I am painfully aware of the fact that Oregon lacks England's long recorded human history. Although traces of human life in Oregon date back 14,300 years, all that those long ago people left behind were petroglyphs, stone tools, sandals in a cave, and human coprolite in another cave (it was from that coprolite which the date 14,300 years ago was derived).  Based upon my values, the most obvious downsides that I can see to living in England are how crowded it is and how far north it is. Also, there's a lot to be said for quiet beauty. For example, Oregon has some exceedingly spectacular waterfalls, but I would happily pass them by in favor of a little-visited forty-footer. Luckily for me, the things that I most love are things that most people don't find it worthwhile to see, the reason being that they're so jaded that something has to be absolutely breath-taking in order to move them, and even then, after five minutes, they're ready to move on to the next stunning sight without having learned a damn thing. I've been to Crater Lake with people who were a lot more interested in the gift shop than in the lake, and there was a time when Peggy's mother was ticking off lighthouses like a gunfighter putting notches in the handle of her Colt.

Yet I'm painfully aware that my own sensitivity has become deadened over the years. Decades ago, my best friend was a  botanist whom I finally asked one day what it was that he saw in me given that he had thousands of things to teach me, and i had nothing to teach him. He simply said, "You're not jaded." Sadly,  I have lost the pristine quality of looking at the world around me with utter fascination. All this is simply to say that it's not the scenery that's important, but what we contain within ourselves when we're looking at the scenery that is important. But as to what you wrote...

Thanks to the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean, Eugene even has the occasional palm tree, which is quite remarkable given that we're just below the 45th parallel. In writing about Lane County, I didn't say much about the Coast where one can find cliffs, sandy beaches, sea caves, tidal pools, and places where waves travel hundreds of feet inland (under basalt" before exploding upward like a geyser but with the boom of a cannon. I grew up near the Gulf of Mexico where the water was warm and the waves were gentle. Here, the water is cold, and in many places, the "beach" consists of cliffs and sharp-edged basalt. Some signs warn of tsunamis while  other signs advise against turning one's back on the ocean for fear of "sneaker waves" that hit without warning and carry two to four people a year out to sea. Such things make it hard to relax... Clear Lake in the Cascades is what its name suggests, but upon looking into it, one sees the 80-foot tall trunks of trees that died 3,000 years ago and have been preserved by the frigid water. Also in the Cascades is Tamolitch Pool with its 30-foot deep water which is so clear that one can't tell by looking that it's not wadable. Fort Rock and Hole in the Ground are other places that I love. Then there's that ancient place where the Indians worshipped called Symbol Rock. Like a lot of things that would be major tourist sites in other parts of the country, Symbol Rock is so little known even in Eugene that I doubt if more than one person out of fifty have even heard of it although it's no more than fifty miles from town. The fact is that Lane County has many such rocks that stand high above the forest, and few of them even have names. Some might have plugged the chimneys of ancient volcanoes, but no one knows for sure.

Dolly Vandergelder said...

"I guess this means that it's okay to use your name."- No, hahahaha, it meant quite the opposite! I don't want my details going out from anywhere but what's under my personal control. It's a choice regarding social media that has got out of hand in my opinion; one quote stumbled upon with a name can instantly go viral on twitter and make one into a household name, and that doesn't appeal to me at all. Call me anything you like but my real name sweetie.

"He'll be eight next month, so we can hardly await his death" - Hahahahahaha.

- Dolly Vandergelder

The Blog Fodder said...

You pack a book into every post, especially with your added comments. Lane County as you describe it sounds like a lovely place to visit.
Barring earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
That earthquake is going to be a doozer when it happens. Someday there will be one that runs from San Diego to Alaska and the entire west coast of USA and Canada will disappear. Not in our time, I reckon.
Reading short histories of the native tribes that used to live along the west coast is pretty sad. Shot for sport many of them. This article goes a long way to explaining the attitude of Europeans to anyone they encountered in their way of taking over the continent. https://time.com/6309657/us-christian-nationalism-columbus-essay/#

Snowbrush said...

"That earthquake is going to be a doozer when it happens."

Maybe I'll be a fellow Canadian by then, the Pacific Coast moving north at a rate of 2-4 inches per year.

I enjoyed the link--thank you.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

We have cousins living in Portland and in-laws in Seattle as well as. Nephew up north in Vancouver BC Canada. Been to Vancouver a couple of times but never US west coast. I recall when Mount St Helen blew years back. I worry about climate change.
Love that Peggy knows rock climbing. Brave gal!