After attending the recent Tin House conference in Portland, I headed east for a few days into the (for most) uncharted lands of Eastern Oregon. The Cascades (which include the well-known Mount Hood) form a rain-shadow that separates the green well-watered western third of the state from the sparsely populated high desert east of Bend. (Yes, desert in Oregon.) It’s stunning country that even life-long Oregonians rarely if ever see. Largely ranch country, the area holds some wonderful towns, with solid bookstores to boot: La Grande, Enterprise, Baker City, Burns. And drive-through espresso shacks everywhere.
The landscape calls to mind the following quote from Wallace Stevens, cited in the fine Eastern Oregon literary magazine High Desert Journal. Riding a train in 1904, he noted,
I thought… how utterly we have forsaken the Earth, in the sense of excluding it from our thoughts. There are but few who consider its physical hugeness, its rough enormity. It is still a disparate monstrosity, full of solitudes & barrens & wilds. It still dwarfs & terrifies & crushes. The rivers still roar, the mountains still crash, the winds still shatter. Man is an affair of cities. His gardens & orchards & fields are mere scrapings. Somehow, however, he has managed to shut out the face of the giant from his windows. But the giant is there, nevertheless.