At one time, when Oregon was just a square on a map to me, I thought of the state as a vast green forest dotted with small towns inhabited by hardy men in hunting plaids and plump women wearing aprons. That was when I lived in southern California, a mythical place that might make one think after a while that the rest of the world is hopelessly outdated and overweight. But that’s another story.
In 1983 I prepared to have my preconceptions verified when we visited Oregon for the first time. It was December, and so at Shasta City we encountered snow. Isn’t this exciting? I thought as I concentrated on keeping the car solidly in the slow lane. When we came to the town mysteriously named Weed, it was with a mixture of trepidation and relief that we left the relative comfort and reliability of the Interstate for the unknown domain of a state highway that promised to deliver us to our southern Oregon destination. Coming from Los Angeles, I’d almost forgotten such two-lane highways existed. In southern California even city streets are often four-lane thoroughfares, or at least the constant hum of traffic gives that impression. Visiting Oregon for the first time, I learned all over again why songwriters have so often extolled the virtues of country roads. You really do feel as if you’re being taken home.
A pristine example of this is the slice of Highway 97 between Weed and Klamath Falls. It rolls through open country comprised of hills, dales, farmland, and forests, with the occasional village dotting the landscape. I propose that those 70 miles make for one of the prettiest and most varied stretches of roadway anywhere in the entire country. The first time I drove it, I was struck by how many different vistas greeted our eyes as we rounded the next curve or topped the next hill. Even on the many straightaways we were impressed by the lavish display of Nature on either side of the highway. No garish billboards or rest stop areas comprised of gas stations and fast-food eateries every few miles; just unadorned, quiet land stretching to the sometimes seemingly endless horizon. My sentiment then was, “I hope the car doesn’t break down. But if it does, this wouldn’t be a bad place to live.” Not just to breathe, eat, sleep, work, and play – but actually to live.
This impression was verified and is now permanently etched on my mind by one inconspicuous turnout on a flat stretch of road between a forest and a mountain, where the quiet as well as the view is spectacular. We sat on a bench that had been built by some sage years ago, and we each had our picture taken with a huge, glowing white Mt. Shasta as a backdrop, literally filling the center of the frame. Whoever planned that highway has at least one family’s abiding gratitude for preserving for our benefit a truly perfect spot. I’d venture to guess that almost everyone who travels through that wide sweep of land feels impelled to pause there to savor the peaceful vista and to record the occasion. Should some enthusiastic builder ever decide to impose a housing development on the valley, I hope he’ll just pull over, sit on that bench, and revel for a while in the quiet and in the panorama…then picture his grandchildren doing the same thing.
So, I have an Oregon highway and its astute planners to thank for reminding me that in our sometimes chaotic world there remain refuges from the hustle and bustle, and that, although I still appreciate museums and concert halls, I’m a country girl at heart. Since 1983, I’ve experienced the impressive variety of not only Oregon’s topography but her population as well, and so I’ve come to appreciate that the state is an amazingly diverse square, with towns small and large and, yes, even a cosmopolitan city here and there. But I will never tire of that vision of Mt. Shasta that greets travelers who emerge from the Siskiyous, as if a benevolent giant were saying, “Welcome!” on behalf of the entire Pacific Northwest.