Friday, August 04, 2006


I've chosen to label this site as Cascadian because that regional identity is an important part of who I am. My family has history in the region going back four generations, when my paternal great-grandfather, a Finnish immigrant, arrived in this country during the first decade of the 20th century. Victor Hujanen entered the country in New York, passed through Finnish immigrant communities in the Midwest, and ended up working copper mines in Butte, Montana.

That was a time of great immigrant and labor unrest, and Victor was deeply involved in the local unions, including the radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), known as the Wobblies. The Wobblies supported worker's rights and free speech, demonized the management class, disregarded electoral and partisan politics, and called for industrial democracy through "one big union" rather than several distinct unions. None of this sat well with the powers that be or the more conservative elements of society, and several violent episodes involving the Wobblies and their enemies occurred throughout the country, but particularly in the Northwest.

My grandfather was born in Butte in 1917, and a few years later the whole family moved to Aberdeen, Washington, a coastal logging and fishing town with a history of labor radicalism. Victor's lungs were failing from years working in the mines, and he took a job as a barber. My grandpa grew up spending much of his time in the old Finn Hall, a Wobbly watering hole and social gathering place, where politics, music, eating, and drinking combined to cement the community. The town was divided at the time by political and ethnic factions. The rival Red Hall, with some Finns and Russians, was supportive of the Bolshevik revolution. As a child, my grandpa and his friends often engaged in rivalry with the Swedish kids living just across the river, forming gangs whose activities never got more serious than throwing rocks and chasing each other around town. His gang was the "River Rats."

As he grew up, my grandpa realized he had a talent for playing the fiddle. The guys at the Finn Hall recognized this and pooled money to send him off to music school at Cornish in Seattle. This was in the middle of the Great Depression, and he ended up working various jobs until war came. Shortly after the war began, granda joined the Army Air Force and was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas as an aircraft mechanic. While he was there, he met and married my grandmother, the daughter of a German-American immigrant who was also German Consul to the state of Texas. Fortunately, he was never deployed abroad and spent the entire war in Texas.

My father was born in 1944. In the late 1940s they moved to Seattle. Victor died of black lung disease near that time, and my great-grandmother remarried Tom Brown, a local activist in the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU). Tom found my grandpa a job as a longshoreman. He ended up working there, and at the Seattle Symphony as a violinist, until his retirement from both in the 1980s.

My mom, meanwhile, was born in 1947 to parents who had worked in Seattle during the war. They moved back to North Dakota for a few years to join the extended family, but relatively quickly returned to Seattle. My parents met in 1964 at the old Flag Pavilion in Seattle Center, site of the 1962 World's Fair. The event was a summer hootenanny for the presidential campaign of Lyndon Johnson, who was fighting the war on poverty and promised to keep the nation out of war.

I was born in Seattle, on Capitol Hill, in 1969, the second of their children. Despite having four generations of family history here, my siblings and I are the first to be born in Washington (though western Montana is certainly part of the greater Northwest.)

As a Northwesterner, I grew up appreciating fishing, hiking, boating, sailing, and clamming. Of all those regional pastimes of my youth, the hiking was the only one that really took. I learned to love the outdoors and particularly the natural beauty of the local mountains and forests. As I grew up, I saw those forests come under attack, from unsustainable logging, ill-conceived suburban sprawl, and industrial pollution. I saw old farm and foothill towns turned into outer suburbs. I saw the ability to make decisions about our region's resources and ways of life outsourced to transnational corporations and the federal government in Washington, DC. I began to realize that I identified more with my regional background than with my national background. I saw that our nation was going awry, and that nationalism was taking over for national community. I consider myself first a human, and then a political liberal, and when it comes to geographic identity the region comes first. The Pacific Northwest is my home, and I am a Northwesterner. But that's a mouthful, and now there's another word that means more or less the same thing: Cascadian.

I'm still an American, and I admire American ideals even as they are realized less frequently and the reality of the American nation becomes uglier. I don't think that those ideals and that identity should be abandoned. But I think that all Americans, regardless of where we live, can find ways to improve our way of life by rejecting a blind nationalism and integrating our regional identities into how we see ourselves and how we live our lives. Some of our collective decisions make more sense at the regional level, defined by a common geographical history and destiny.

Cascadia can be defined many ways, but at its heart it is the natural bioregion that includes the Cascade Mountains and all of the waterways that connect those mountains to Puget Sound and other interior coastal waters that lead eventually to the Pacific Ocean. The Cascades run from just north of the Canadian border to Mount Shasta in northern California. Some people include Lassen Peak in the Cascades, but in most respects it's better seen as part of the Sierra Nevadas. Cascadia proper then is the coastal area between Vancouver BC and the Fraser River Valley in the north, and Humboldt County and the Klamath River Valley in the south. Because the Columbia River passes through the mountains and is fed by rivers on the east side of the Cascades, the basic definition includes several counties east of the mountains as well. This region includes some of the most spectacular mountains in North America, including several active volcanoes in Washington and Oregon. It includes three great regional cities in Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland. It includes a huge interior coastal region that crosses national borders. It includes the world's largest temperate rain forests.

Other people would define Cascadia more broadly. If the Columbia River fed from the Cascades is part of Cascadia, some would conclude that its entire length and all of its other tributaries count as well. This is also true of tributaries of other cross-mountain rivers such as the Skagit and Klamath and Fraser. This definition expands Cascadia, via the Snake River and other large tributaries of the Columbia, through Idaho and western Montana to the Rockies. This view often includes east of the Cascades rivers that don't eventually cross the mountains to the west, adding much of Oregon and a significant chunk of northern California.

Still others, noting the common anthropological, historical, and geographical features of the larger Pacific Northwest, expand the notion of Cascadia to include much of British Columbia and even parts of Alaska. The largest definition of Cascadia includes all water basins flowing into the Pacific north of the Sierra Nevada mountains, even though the Cascades themselves only cover a minority of that land. Most of the people in the expanded view of Cascadia would not agree with this regional identity (Alaskas see themselves as Alaskans, not Northwesterners), so it's usually a better idea to stick with the less expansive view.

So that's Cascadia. I'll sometimes post about issues relevant to my home region, and I'm posting here as Cascadian, even when I'm talking about national, international, or other non-regional topics.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home