Vernonia Part I
In reading this blog it is important to understand that I STILL LIVE IN PORTLAND. All of my observances come through a non-local lens of commuting to and from--not being steeped in small town culture. Yet.
It will happen, though...pray for me.
This is Vernonia:
It is an old-school small town, with all the charms of a single main street (Bridge Street), and only ONE chain restaurant, and even that is camouflaged (it's a Subway). There is no Starbucks (hallelujah!), no McDonalds (hallelujah! No.2), no Safeway (haha) and nothing else that one normally finds everywhere you go. It has unique charm and personality, something we don't see very often anymore with the homogenization of the American landscape. The fact that I can see that it has charm and personality, is a testament to my own growth. I'm not quite humble yet, but I am trying.
One of the first things I noticed about Oregon when I moved here in 1991 was how much Oregon loves Oregon. Oregon was always talking about itself and reveling in itself in a way I had never experienced before. Honestly, all the Oregon on Oregon love bored me pretty quickly. I love living here, but I also seem to easily to recall that there is a big wide world outside the Oregon borders--and it's existence doesn't threaten me.
Now that I'm adjusting to the idea of someday possibly becoming a part of a small town community, I'm beginning to realize there is value in taking on a little of that Oregon pride--if anything, just to fit in. Fitting in a little bit isn't the crime I once thought it was and loving where you live isn't a crime either, is it? I just never loved anything the way I loved a CITY--not a state or a country--but an international Metropolis. I love San Francisco, but I don't love California. I love Boston, but I don't love Massachusetts, I love Paris, but I don't love France, I love Washington D.C. but I don't love the United States.
I love Portland, but I don't love Oregon....committing to a whole state is illogical in my mind--it can't be anything but an affectation because the characteristics are too broad.
But when one wanders into a small town, this concept plays out a little differently than a city. It's like a hologram. If one takes a hologram and "breaks it down" into any amount of pieces, from two to a billion, each piece, on it's own, describes the entirety of the whole. This is a fascinating scientific and spiritual principle. Vernonia is like that. It is a small part of the whole of Oregon, but it describes the entirety of Oregon in its own right. It's a micro-Oregon inside a macro-Oregon.
Besides slapping an NRA sticker on the back of by VW Golf TDI, there has to be some way to belong...so I started investigating the history of the town. The history of Vernonia is something I definitely would NOT have found interesting before now. I would have found it dull-- simply because I was only interested in cultures that seem to unfold on a world stage. With a population of 2,158, Vernonia seemed an unlikely candidate for.. well an unlikely candidate for anything I valued. Thank God I stopped believing I knew what I was important!
Vernonia has an epic timber-town history. Normally that would be an exaggeration on my part--I am an exaggerator by nature--but in Vernonia's case, it seems true.
The shortest version I can muster:
Timber. Everything starts with the glorious timber Oregon's perfect timber-environment produces. In the beginning there was just the trees. Then the people came to cut the trees. Then another person came to sell them things while they were cutting the trees and a town is born! Here is an account of how the whole thing got started from the journal of R.W. McNutt, written in 1890:
"I began the erection of a store at once, and at the same time ordered two loads of goods from the Cornelius store, and before I could get the roof on the house the goods came and I had to pile them away in a corner and began weighing and selling them out to the delighted mountaineers. I then got a few men together and threw a huge cedar tree across the then raging Rock creek and hewed one side of it on which to make a foot bridge, which we hoisted above high water and put a railing on, and that was the beginning of improvements.
The timber around this area was so prime (read as: super old growth) that the town made a name for itself and was quite prosperous, from the 1920's to the 1950's. When the Oregon-American Lumber Mill was built (1921?), it was supposedly the largest mill IN THE UNIVERSE! (that's the world stage I'm talking about!) The Oregon-American Lumber Company milled approximately 2.5 billion board-feet of timber in it's heyday:
There were jobs for everyone and Vernonia became a center of economic power in Oregon.
That is, until, all the trees were harvested and there were no virgin timber left. NONE. The mill closed, unemployment soared and Vernonia changed.
I imagine it was a pretty bleak time.
Time for life--can't blog all day! More later.
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