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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quirky and Idiosyncratic Oregon's Search for Symbolism

The state of Oregon has had much confusion of the origin of its name.  It's not the only confusing name in the state.  There is even a book - Oregon Geographic Names - now in its 7th edition and published by the Oregon Historical Society Press, that delves into it.  The University of Oregon bookstore sells stickers reading "ORYGUN" to teach people how to pronounce it, first distributed by Oregon Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington when he was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2002.

What may be even more confusing is Oregon's search for the right symbol - or symbols.  There are 26 official emblems designated by the Oregon State Legislature, most listed in Title 19, chapter 186 of the Oregon Revised Statutes (2007 edition).  The first symbol was the motto - "Alis Volat Propriis" written in 1854 in Latin, meaning "She Flies With Her Own Wings".  It has been the motto except for a 30-year period from 1957-1987 when "The Union" was used.  The motto and the seal, designed two years before Oregon became a state in 1859, were the only two symbols for over fifty years.

By 1950, Oregon had six official symbols, and by 2000 it had 22.  The most recent symbol is Jory soil, declared the state soil in 2011, after failed attempts to make it the official state symbol.  Jory soil is deep, well-drained soils in the foothills surrounding the Willamette Valley.  It is formed from the loose material accumulated at the base of hills from gravity, known as colluvium.  Found on more than 300,000 acres in western Oregon, it supports forests, mostly Douglas fir and Oregon white oak, and is very productive. Many things are grown on it, from berries and filberts to wheat, and of course grapes for the burgeoning wine industry.

Jory soil.

The American beaver (Castor Canadensis), the largest of North American rodents, is the state animal.  Beavers can be found in most of the larger streams and rivers, of which there is an abundance.  They were once over-hunted since they were prized for fur, but there has been a recovery in the beaver population through hunting management and partial protection.  Oregon State University teams are called The Beavers.

Oregon has been called "The Beaver State", but that is unofficial.  Oregon does not have an official nickname.  A suggested one is "Things look different here", alluding to the idealistic culture.  The cities are not so indecisive.  Portland has a motto - "Keep Portland Weird" - which is well-known in "Portlandia".  Even the coastal town of Yachats has a motto in keeping with their attitude - "La de da".  In 2003, it was suggested that the state have an official tartan, but the bill never passed out of committee.

Image courtesy of flickr.
Image courtesy www.yachats.info.

There is an official fish - the Chinook Salmon - which was an integral part of Native American diet.  The Chinook is the largest of the Pacific salmon, and is endangered from overfishing and damming.  Three years ago the Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) was selected as the state crustacean.  The Western meadowlark has been the state bird since 1927, chosen by school kids in a poll sponsored by the Oregon Audubon Society.  (It is a very popular bird as it is also the state bird of Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.)

The Oregon Swallowtail (Papilio Oregonius) is the state insect, and has its Latin and common names suggest, it is native to the region.  The Oregon hairy triton (Fusitriton oregonensis) is the state seashell and was named by conchologist John Howard Redfield in 1846.  It is covered with bristles and it can be found ashore at high tides.  There is even a state rock - the thunderegg - which are rough spheres similar to geodes.  The largest one found, weighing 1.75 tons, is at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals in Hillsboro, Oregon.  This differs from the state gemstone, the Oregon sunstone.  These attract collectors and miners with its spangled appearance when turned certain ways.  It is a type of plagioclase feldspar, an important constituent of the earth's crust and even of the earth's moon.

Since Oregon is the home of foodies who are locavores and love fresh, organic, and healthy foods, there are state symbols in the food department as well.  The state beverage is milk, a nod to the dairy industry, especially Tillamook County. The state fruit is the pear (Pyrus), which is Oregon's number one tree fruit crop producing about 800 million pears each year.  The state nut (okay, there may be a multitude of them) is the hazelnut, aka filbert.  Oregon is said to produce 99% of the hazelnuts consumed in the U.S.  Mushrooms love Oregon so much, that the state choose one as the official state mushroom - the Pacific Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus), found throughout the state's conifer forests.  The largest chanterelle harvest in the world comes from Tillamook State Forest.

The state flower is the Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium) which is native to the west coast.  It is an evergreen shrub, the berries of which are used to make jellies, and provided food for the Native American diet.  Metasequoia, the dawn redwood, flourished in the state in the Miocene age and now provides an abundance of fossils.  Although they were long extinct, live 100-foot trees were found in China and brought to Oregon fifty years ago to ensure their survival.  The Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the state tree, and a timber product.  It was named for a Scottish botanist, David Douglas, who was in Oregon in the 1820s.

There are many more symbols, but the final one here is the state dance.  The square dance was chosen to exemplify the lively spirit of the Oregon character. Why Oregon for this post?  Well, it's where I want to live...and eat...and drink wine...and dance.  Hopefully, soon.

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.

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