The Japan earthquake made me wonder if the Pacific Northwest coast is/was okay, so I checked the Daily Astorian and the Oregonian online. I grew up out there, and I still have fond (if cold and foggy) memories of those long sandy beaches in Washington and Oregon.
There was little or no tsunami damage in the Northwest, as it turns out. But reading those papers made me nostalgic for the dark rainy hillsides of my childhood. I used to pretend that the Northwest was its own country, not part of the United States but a sort of dim anarchic zone, lost in the swirling Cascade fog.
I’m not alone in this. Ernest Callenbach, back in the lawless 1970s, wrote a novel called “Ecotopia,” in which Washington, Oregon, and northern California break off to form a rebel republic, based on gender equality, ecological awareness, and fierce independence.
Yes, I know. But still.
There are actually lots of people who enjoy pretending the same thing. They have given their new nation a name: “Cascadia.” They have a flag, and maps, and bumper stickers, and even stamps! I especially love the geoduck stamp. (Geoducks, as you can see above, are giant alien-looking Northwest clams. The word is pronounced “gooeyduck.” My great-aunt Julia was famous in the family for sitting on the the beach with a rifle, waiting for the geoducks to fly over.)
Julia was a genuine Cascadian.
We have our national authors too. Callenbach is one of them, I suppose, though frankly I’ve never been able to plough my way entirely through “Ecotopia.” There’s Ken Kesey, most especially for writing “Sometimes A Great Notion”; Betty MacDonald, who deserves a whole blog entry to herself; Ursula K. Le Guin, novelist / essayist / short-story writer, ditto; and Sherman Alexie, member of the Spokane Tribe (well, Spokane’s a bit east of the mountains, but Alexie’s a crazy Cascadian all right).
From the grizzled loggers of the North Cascades, to the sunburnt huckleberry pickers on the slopes of Mount Adams, to the ultra-cool hipsters of Portland and Seattle (not to mention the expatriates like me), we are a nation of (mostly) amiable lunatics.
And no matter how far we roam, we can still hear the geoduck quacking in our hearts.