Thursday, August 10, 2017

getting high

Tom McCall was governor of Oregon from 1967 to 1975.

He is probably best known for two things: 1) being the political godfather of Oregon's bottle bill and 2) for telling tourists "Come visit; don't stay."

At the time, when I was working for him, I thought that sharp elbow to the ribs of California tourists (because it was Californians the jab was aimed at; this was the era of the "Don't Californicate Oregon" movement) was merely campaign showmanship. After all, McCall was not a politician; he was an entertainer -- a political commentator on one of our local television news programs.

But he was serious. A liberal Republican, he did whatever he could to protect Oregon's environment -- including protecting the state from outsiders moving here. (He had a bit of the same spirit that seems to animate the current American president.) I suspect he would consider his efforts a failure if he could see the current steady stream of Priuses into the state.

That spirit is not dead. While walking through my brother's neighborhood, I caught a glimpse of two stickers low on a van's bumper. I had to stop to read them. And it was worth breaking my healthy steps pace.

It was almost as if Old Tom was walking amongst us again -- with the attitude of a Millennial. Nothing says 2017 like sarcasm.

Bend is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. And its housing prices are soaring even higher. Little bungalows are regularly selling for $300,000.

I know that would be a bargain in New York City or Vancouver. But this is little Bend. And a lot of that price inflation has been induced by California home equity money migrating north. It was McCall's nightmare.

There is a lot to preserve in Bend. I thought of that today when we visited the High Desert Museum south of town.

We had talked taking about a mountain hike this morning, but the temperatures have been higher here than they are in Barra de Navidad. A visit to the natural history museum seemed a good compromise.

And it was. The museum traces the development of the great desert basin that makes up a large portion of the western states. Bend sits on its western rim.

It is all there. The geological development. The Indian migration across the Bering land bridge by foot and canoe (even if you do not buy that partly-discredited theory). The evolution of Indian culture. The arrival of settlers. A fascinating exhibit on how federal money in World War Two turned an extractive economy into one based on technology. And a frank discussion of the bracero worker program with Mexico, the treatment of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, the enlistment of Indians in the armed forces, and black troopers serving as firefighters.

My favorite exhibits, though, were the animals from the high desert. Bobcat. Porcupine, Raptors. Otter. Fish. Gila monsters. Skinks. Snakes. Turtles. It was better than going to most zoos.

Natural history museums are always a bit wistful. They remind us of what has been lost. But they also assure us our present would not be what it is without the past we have "lost."

Governor McCall was not my favorite politician. His view of the world was far too reliant on government involvement in the lives of a free people. And, for all of his King Lear railing, he could not stop the wave of immigration that has flooded Oregon. Some that may have improved the place.

But I am happy to be living elsewhere.

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