The Battle to Keep Oregon, Oregon

Below is a piece I wrote after reading about the destruction of pedestal rock, a legendary sandstone formation on the Oregon Coast. Pacific City, as I write in the piece, has been a sacred place in the Bowman/Peery family for generations. The piece was originally published on September 22 on The Times website (serving Tigard, Tualatin, and Sherwood -- not New York) and it also appeared in print. 

In early September, a group of people pushed down a small but iconic landmark of the Oregon coast, Pedestal Rock, shattering it in an instant. Gone for good.

The next time a family climbs to the top of Cape Kiwanda together to watch the sun set, they’ll see a pile of rubble where the “Duckbill” rock should be. It took decades of wind and rain to craft it, and on that day, it was destroyed in a second.

Yes, eventually the sandstone formation was going to naturally crumble and slide into the ocean. There’s nothing wrong with that. Actually, there’s something awesome and humbling about nature reclaiming itself — but there’s nothing awesome about humans destroying nature for fun.

The saddest part is how little Pacific City meant to those people. Haystack Rock, the Cape, the tide pools. Bob Straub State Park, a refuge from the crowds and a place to remember a man who, decades ago, stood up to protect this place from dynamite, pavement and concrete pilings. He’s the reason I’ll be able to take my family there someday — just not to see Pedestal Rock anymore.

Pacific City is a sacred place to me. It’s my brothers and I dangling our legs out of the car while trying in vain to brush the sand off our wet feet. It’s chopping wood and roasting marshmallows with my dad at the beach cabin. It’s climbing to the top of the Cape with my first girlfriend on a late summer night. It’s the old black and white picture of my great-grandfather fishing on the Nestucca, wearing a bowtie and smiling with Haystack Rock barely peeking through the fog in the distance.

Don’t we all have a sacred Oregon place?

The fall of a sandstone formation. The “loving to death” of Oneonta Gorge. Small losses in the battle to keep Oregon, Oregon. Symptoms of what feels like the steady fading of Oregon’s identity, slipping away as we grow — like our memory of Bob Straub and Tom McCall, the men who made conservation a nonpartisan Oregon value.

“Keep Oregon, Oregon” was McCall’s re-election slogan for governor in 1970. Years later, in one of his last public speeches and while dying from cancer, he fought to defend his legacy of environmental protection.

“If the legacy we have helped give Oregon, and which made it twinkle from afar — well if it goes, I guess I wouldn’t want to live in Oregon anyhow,” he said.

What can we do to preserve Oregon’s sparkle today? Let’s start with outdoor school for every kid — as a necessity, not an elective. Then let’s make sure every student is provided a comprehensive Oregon civics education so they understand what it means to be an Oregonian.

Expensive proposals, but worthy investments if they help prevent the next Oregon gem from being ruined, or if they help bring Oregonians together in a time of division, uncertainty and growth.

Above all, worthy investments if they help keep Oregon, Oregon.