April 19, 2015

Oregon to a Missourian

Dear Gillian,

Spring is just starting to peep out here in the Heartland. The trees are budding and the bulbs are blooming. In a week or two it will be honestly green.

But Missouri is not Oregon. I think about the real green every time I glance down at my right hand and see the sparkle of my UO ring. After 14 years as a professor here at the University of Missouri, I’m a loyal Mizzou Tiger. But in my heart, I’ll always be a Duck.

Oregon is a mystery to most Missourians. I asked a few of my students this week what they thought of when I said “Oregon” or “Oregonians.” I was met with puzzled looks and a couple of “I can’t even imagine it.”

From here, Oregon is a lifetime away – almost a dream. It’s always been that way for Missourians. The Oregon Trail started here and wound 2,200 miles to some odd place where the trees stayed green all year. The Midwesterners in those covered wagons were not gamblers like California’s ‘49ers. But the Oregon dream was so strong even sensible folk who lived by the Show Me creed packed up for a land they couldn’t comprehend.

Even today it’s beyond the imagination of many Missourians. Oregon is the land where you watch the football team change uniforms 20 times, pull into the station to let someone else fill up your VW bus so you can drive over to Washington and buy marijuana, then come home and turn your beer bottles in for deposit before getting a doctor to help you kill yourself. All with no sales tax.

Nothing weird about that. Except sandals, of course. Wearing sandals before May 1 is a Class B misdemeanor in Missouri. Wearing sandals with socks can get you exiled to Kansas.

But I know Oregon and delight in both its eccentricities and wonders. It’s Mount Hood popping out of the clouds after a month in seclusion. It’s Multnomah Falls seeming to spill a wisp of water from heaven. It’s the amber waves of grain east of the Cascades that shock outsiders into realizing more of Oregon is high desert than high evergreens.

And it's the people. Oregonians are less eccentric than they are pragmatic – their ideas make so much sense the rest of us think they must be crazy. Low voter turnout? Cast your ballot by mail. Attendant-pumped gas too expensive? Ride bikes (lots and lots of bikes). Drizzly rain never-ending? Just pretend it isn’t there. Gor-Tex is fashionable for any occasion.

But most of all, Oregon has you. If my daughter, my grandkids and my son-in-law are so very happy there, it must be magical.

And for that, Missourians drop their famous demand and quietly turn it into a plea.

Show Me. Please.