I have known you for so long. Since I was a child I have played in your streets, hiked in your hills, swam in your rivers and ridden bikes through your forest. My fondest memories of you are seeing the log trucks with their enormous loads, counting the box cars of the trains as they roll by, and racing bottle cap boats in the gutter of main street during a spring shower.
I was torn away from you in junior high as the town boasted as the "Heart of the Timber Empire" experienced the tremor of your first heart attack. I found you again in college. I worked in your forests, I fought your fires, built your trails and I fell in love with you all over again. I watched you wither as the timber economy suffered and wondered how it could be, with your rich verdant mountains covered in trees.
I tried to leave you after college, as work let me travel to every nook and cranny of this country. I found fun and beautiful places, but never found any I loved more. I always longed to be with you again. I watched the waves of hope wash over you as recovery plans were made but failed to achieve their goals, only to rise and fall again, and again.
You were a caterpillar grazing on our National Forest and you have been wrapped in that cocoon for so long. I can imagine the day when you rise. It is but a dream, the summer light, the spring flowers, the sound of children's giggles as they ride by on their bicycles.
I stayed by your side all these many years waiting for your beauty to take flight. I have watched some come and go, but I have always believed in you, and I believe the time is now. Now, rise up in all your beauty. Now, is the time for your metamorphosis. Your future has been there all this time. Your future is your lure, your beauty, your pathways that lead to our adventures.
I realize it was not you, it was US this whole time that couldn't see it. It was our greed that caused you such harm. You have simply laid dormant all this time to heal. I hope to be here to see you rise above all that doubt you. I long to see that day, our faces together in the summer light and the fading sound of the joker in the spokes of a child's bicycle.
I long for that day.
I have lived in Oakridge, Oregon for a decade now, and the story of how I came to be here is a very long one. Basically I ended up here by default, as there was no other place I could afford to buy a house, after having been homeless for nearly all of the previous decade.
Buying a house in the Eugene/Springfield area was out of the question for my partner and me, as the housing prices were hopelessly beyond our reach. So we set our sights on the economically-depressed town of Oakridge, where many more bargains were to be had.
In the course of our search we found out how hard the system can make it for people like ourselves to get off the street and become tax-paying homeowners. But we did finally prove to ourselves that it is possible for homeless people to buy a home when they have but a small fixed income to work with. It's only a matter of finding a mortgager who is willing to work out a payment plan they can afford, tailored to fit their income.
This humble little house gives me at least the physical things I need the most, that I lacked when I was homeless: quiet, relative safety, privacy, warmth and comfort. I don't need a lot of plush furniture and soft carpets to have those things. Any port in a storm.
But my relationship to the rest of this "community" is very tenuous. I have little in common with most of my neighbors and don't socialize much. If it weren't for the internet I'd go mad.
Never having seen Oakridge during its timber mill heyday, I feel no nostalgic yearning for those times as many others do. This is merely a place for me to exist and do my writing in peace, a place to which I feel little personal connection.
When I first saw you I thought of how you reminded me of where I grew up, it is a little place with a story a lot like yours. In the late 60's to the early 90's Orleans, Ca was also a vibrant logging town. Busting at the seams with people, timber, mills, and most importantly money. Then overnight it seemed to turn into a ghost town. Many families including mine were now reliant upon the land, and government assistance for survival. The one thing that differs from Orleans is you have a second chance, a chance to become "The Mountain Bike Capital of The Northwest". A tourist destination that people come back year after year! You have 350 miles of single track trail that you can hike, bike, run, and ride horses on. You have many beautiful lakes and streams where people can fish, boat, and swim in. You also have a community that loves you for where you have been, and where you are going. Thank you Oakridge for providing us with a beautiful place to live, clean air to breath, a place to learn, and a place to play! I look forward to our life together.
You don’t know me that well. I have only known you for 2 years, although I did watch you from a distance many years ago. When I lived in Corvallis I would occasionally drive through on your main artery on my way to Willamette Pass or Bend. I remembered Ray’s and Greenwaters Park but thought the town looked mostly like many other sad towns in the Cascades…full of old run-down buildings and homes in need of care. Now I know more of what lies beneath the surface. I am a resident, a proud homeowner and member of this town of 3,000. I adore Oakridge. I have found a new tribe of friends and endless access to the things I love to do – hike, camp, paddle, fish, ski, explore, relax. I realize I am one of the “lucky ones” though. I also work in this town of few jobs. I work for the Forest Service and thus am a steward of the playground surrounding the town, known as the Willamette National Forest. I joke that the forest is my “office”…it is. Not only does Oakridge provide a beautiful home, I have discovered a funny and eclectic diversity of townsfolk; many who are extremely creative and resilient and impassioned about the well-being of their town and the quality of life it offers. I have lived in numerous small mountain towns during my 20-year career with the Forest Service and I can think of no other place that I’d rather live. I hope to form a very sweet, long-term relationship with you Oakridge and I hope that I too can help you shine in the process.
~ Cheron Ferland
Seems like I’ve known you for a long time. You were here before I came. I imagine you’ll be here long after I’m gone. You have staying power. That’s a rare commodity nowadays.
I always thought you got your staying power from the hardy pioneers who came through here in the 1800’s. But they were in such a hurry to get to the farmland in the Valley that they never stayed. Maybe the staying power came with the railroad in 1910. Lots of people with families came then. Some of them are still here a long time after the railroad closed the shop. They just found some other way to make a living and chose to stay with you.
Our family had staying power, and when Dad got a job at the sawmill in Westfir in ’27, he thought he’d died and gone to heaven. I guess he and Mom were happy. I was born in’29. Were they really that happy? Mom told me, “Now don’t you go to Oakridge. There’s railroad men over there!” I couldn’t wait to get there.
Then, you remember, Pope & Talbot came. Big sawmill. Lots of workers. Lots of families. The boom was on. Everybody had money. That mill would be here forever! Well, it made it almost forty years. Just a little short of forever, but a good ride while it lasted.
And all the while I suspect you knew about “boom and bust” and you didn’t even flinch. You didn’t need to. What you’d learned in earlier days had come from the likes of Claude Jones, Charlie Paddock and Corley McFarland. People called them the “pillars.” They had staying power. They were here for the good days and stayed through the bad ones. Never lost hope of a better tomorrow.
That’s why I’ll stay right here with you. I remember Claude and Charlie and Corley. You could trust their word. You took their advice and were better off for it.
Of course these three are gone a long time now, but you know as well as I that others have come along to take their place. It’s no small number either. Just like those who went before, they’ve never lost hope for a better tomorrow.
So, my City, rest easy. You have staying power. There’s a better tomorrow coming.
I first met you in 1994, I was just passing through and I saw mountains, streams and endless oppurtunity for exploration. I decided that I would figure out a way to move up here. As you now know I am a mountain biker to the core and as luck would have it a friend of mine took me to ride some of the trails you have surrounding you, and once again I needed to move here and explore. In 1996 I lost my job in Eugene and had a chance to move to Oakridge. I did move to Oakridge and my life is wonderful. I ride, ski, camp, and play year-round in the beautiful forests that surround you. I am now a part of this community and want to show people your beauty and the beauty around you. The logging industry had you for awhile and now it's time to let the world have you.
Hello there. I’m back.
Remember me? I was the skinny teenager who couldn’t wait to get away from you. That was 46 years ago at a time when the big sawmills roared 24 hours a day and a young man could make good money if he had the guts to set chokers in the woods or a strong enough back to handle lead-weight lumber on the green chain.
Not me. I left you in 1964 to go looking for bright lights and a big-city newspaper career. It’s over now and I’m back, drawn by your bargain-basement real estate prices, your majestic mountain views and your heartwarming community spirit.
All those years ago I packed up and left for good, or so I thought, without appreciating those small-town values. I do now. It took some growing up for me to realize that bright city lights were no match for your impossibly starry nights, that towering skyscrapers were mere dwarfs to your soaring emerald peaks.
But the Oakridge I return to is not the same as the one I once spurned. The vanished mills have left a town of stark contrasts. Dilapidated trailer houses framed by breathtaking mountain vistas. Bus loads of low-income children attending some of the best public schools in America. A struggling industrial park near a lovely city park with a brand new amphitheater built by spirited civic boosters.
Oakridge, I love your sense of renewed energy after so many years of hearbreak. I love the feeling of community fabric on the mend. Most of all I just love being back in a town where the discovery of graffiti on the back of a building makes news in the local weekly. A town where drivers never angrily honk at each other but just wave to say hello. A town where a wanderer can return after 46 years and still feel welcome.
Hello again, Oakridge. It’s so good to be back.
- Doug Bates
I used to think of Oakridge as the town one went through on the way to someplace else – Willamette Pass or Klamath Falls. Hwy 58 was the only road in Oakridge or so I thought until I moved here in 2005.
Since then, I have discovered Oakridge is home to a diverse group of individuals – long-timers who have seen the town grow and dwindle, young parents raising the next generation, artists, retirees, and entrepreneurs. Not wanting to continue commuting into Eugene to work, I also became one of those entrepreneurs working to reinvent Oakridge. I opened Lion Mountain Bakery.
The building I bought for the Bakery is on 1st Street, what was originally a thriving business district during Oakridge’s heyday. It was built during the 1930’s, originally as a market and bakery. In 1946 a dividing wall was put in separating the building into two. Over the years it was occupied by an accounting service and later a shoe repair shop. The back of the building was also a home to a large family, many family members still live in town. My desire was not only to have my own business, the Bakery, but to create a community space where everyone was welcome to gather.
It took nearly two years from the time I bought my building to opening. Walls came down, new electrical, heating and plumbing went in, a lot of paint was used but in February 2010 the door opened. In the barely two months since opening, I have seen my vision come to life.
Members from all sectors of the Oakridge community have started to populate the Bakery. I have heard many stories that start with “I remember when ….. this was a shoe store, the mills were busy, there were stores up and down 1st Street…” Many others start with “I’m so glad to see…. new businesses, new faces, how wonderful…”
The Bakery is becoming a gathering place for people to meet, have good food and conversation, sit and look at the hills surrounding town, a place of sharing and community. It is part of the reinvention of Oakridge. Oakridge is no longer the timber capital it once was, nor the economically depressed place it had become, but a community working towards change - change that will improve the opportunities, quality of life and economics for Oakridge.
Thanks for the opportunity to share my story.
Owner, Lion Mountain Bakery
When first told about this project I was very excited about it and the show sounds great but hadn't thought to write myself as I am fairly new to this wonderful place I now call home.
Yesterday, while driving on Highway 58, the one two lane road in and out of town, I came upon the place that always astounds me with it's amazing view. I was driving home from Eugene and thought once again how blessed I am to be driving home to Oakridge.
I have lived, during my sixty and some years on this planet in many places. I have lived on two coasts, in cities and small towns and never have I felt more kinship to the place I live as now.
I was living in Boston, when in 2005 my husband died of cancer. I wanted to leave the east coast where I was feeling smothered by congestion and chaos. I would have gone to Colorado where my son lives but through a series of serendipitous circumstances ended up back in Eugene, Oregon where I had lived in the 70's. I was thrilled to be back in Oregon.
One day I was brought to visit some people in Oakridge and knew I was going to live here. I fell in love. I remember from back then you were a logging town; shunned and cursed by hippies like me for the clear cutting that was going on. You can still see the scars and feel the energy.
Now, your forest is thriving again providing habitats for a myriad of birds and animals. You can still find old growth trees in this forest that surrounds us.
Yes, the economy that used to depend on the mills is struggling but there are new businesses opening and we are on the geo- tourism map and people stop on their way through to skiing and biking and camping in the surrounding area.
The diversity of the people in this little town is amazing and I think we all respect one another or at least agree to disagree in a respectful way as the old grudgingly makes way for the new. I find people talking and interacting in many places like the post office and sometimes being surprised at what we have in common.
I wake up in the morning and look out at the hills and thank whatever it was that brought me here to you dear Oakridge, that brought me home. Thank you.
It seems it’s time to reflect on our relationship. Thirty-four years have flown by. We have both changed with the passing of time. I came to you full of hope and was awed by your beauty and vitality. I brought my dreams and my family to be nourished by you. In the beginning, you were bustling and full of activity. You provided security and a strong sense of community. You embraced my family and kept them safe from the dangers often found elsewhere. My sense of belonging to you grew strong. I had found my place and that place was with you.
As time passed we both encountered difficulties. Timber jobs evaporated. Families fled. I divorced and struggled financially, yet persevered. We were faced with many uncertainties but still you were a safe haven and your beauty and sense of community remained unchanged. We have each struggled with loss, economic and otherwise. There were many hard years and obstacles were plentiful. At times it seemed as though I should leave you. Yet I never did. It just always felt right to be here with you. You are my home. Nothing has changed that.
In recent years I have become aware of a renewal of spirit within you. Although it seemed small and insignificant at first, it has grown steadily stronger with each passing year. There is a sense of something big and exciting about to happen. There is a refocusing and an eagerness for new challenges. It is as though you are perched on the edge of the unknown but ready to make the leap. It is an exciting time. There are many who are willing to make that leap with you. I am among them. With vision and planning and determination we will succeed.
In closing, dear Oakridge, I must tell you that I am still full of hope…for you…and for me. I am still awed by your beauty. I await with anticipation a new and shining vitality. I know that you will grow strong and flourish and that others will see you as I do, a place of warmth and caring and community and most importantly of home.
With deepest love and respect,
From the interior of an automobile travelling 35 miles an hour down Highway 58, it is hard to know the true essence of a place that is cloaked in such thorny contrasts. But when winding along the back roads and walking the hundreds of miles of trail, the real Oakridge experience is revealed: pristine rivers, magnificent forests, and abundant wildlife that exists side-by-side with broken concrete, empty buildings and abandoned railroad tracks. To know all of the loving, talented, quirky and creative people who live here is to move beyond the stereotype of "Oakridge the depressed town".
Life in Oakridge brings a new level of health in mind, body and spirit. One by one newcomers are discovering the peace and kinship with the natural world that is so much a part of the joy of living here. We breathe clean air, work, play and fall asleep to the accompaniment of melodious rivers, watch the osprey dive for fish, and feel the snow level creep down from the mountaintops. Double rainbows arch over the misty canyons, and the bald eagles call to one another high above the ridges, while herds of elk trek back and forth over the hillside pastures. Big leaf maple and stately cottonwoods provide shade and autumnal color spots among the evergreens. Baby salamanders toddle across the path, and mergansers ride the white water down river, then rise, stretch out and wing their way back upstream. Fly fishermen dance to the counter rhythm of the currents, and bike riders are a flash between the trees. To move like the water, to smell the rich earth and hear the wind in the trees – this is living as we were meant to live. To be in love with life, that is the secret ingredient in the tonic that is Oakridge.
It is exciting to be here now. Residents are looking with their hearts and thinking with open minds, simultaneously earning a living and sharing the best that is here. New businesses are springing up; many that relate directly to recreation and regeneration. It is the beginning of a new golden age: it is your time to shine, Oakridge. Perhaps there has never been a better time to live and dream in this spectacular place. I am
Yours with gratitude for all that you are, dear Oakridge,
Landscape Paintings and Prints