Archive for the ‘Oregon’ Category

Cottage Grove, Oregon

October 18, 2012

During the six and a half years that I lived in Oregon, I always saw this sign along the I-5 whenever I was driving from Eugene to Cottage Grove. I’ve wondered if anyone ever satisfied this man’s tremendous need for fill dirt.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I had to delay my move to Los Angeles for a few days, so I decided to drive to Umpqua National Forest, which I had never been to before. It is a gorgeous wilderness that extends from the Willamette Valley up into the Cascade Mountains. I walked along a hiking trail that went alongside a creek. The forest was extremely dense. There were thick clumps of moss growing all over the tree branches. It was all a bit gloomy, albeit in a beautiful way. I kept thinking this place would make a good setting for an H.P. Lovecraft story.

On my way back home, I decided to swing by the funky little town of Cottage Grove. This place is most famous for the fact that Buster Keaton’s The General was filmed here. (Animal House was also filmed here, although, not surprisingly, nobody feels proud about that.) The town has an annual Buster Keaton Day. It also has a mural of Keaton located on its Main Street.

Keaton is not the only person honored by a mural in Cottage Grove. Another is Opal Whiteley, who is the most famous person to ever come from this town. In the early twentieth century, Whiteley published what she claimed was a diary that she kept as a child growing up in a lumber camp near Cottage Grove. In it, she claims, among other things, that animals could talk to her, and that she sometimes met “little people” in the woods. She also wrote a nature book titled The Fairyland Around Us. The title of this work is meant to be taken literally. It is a curious mixture of scientific facts, poetry, and just plain fruitiness. I’m told that only five copies of the first edition still exist. One of them is at the University of Oregon (which Opal attended for a couple of years, though she didn’t graduate). It is kept in a locked vacuum chamber that is surrounded by armed guards. Although I would like to think that this indicates a firm commitment to preserving Oregon’s literary history, I have, however, a dreadful foreboding that the university will one day sell it in order to pay for more uniforms for the football team. (Okay, I’m kidding about the armed guards. However, I’m not kidding about the uniforms.)

Opal Whiteley prominently featured in a mural honoring Cottage Grove.

I find it a bit ironic that Cottage Grove has chosen to honor Whiteley in this way, considering that Whiteley disdained her Oregon background and upbringing. She devoted a large amount of time and energy to claiming that she was the daughter of a French aristocrat, Henri, Prince of Orléans, and that she had been sent away to be raised in a lumber camp in Oregon. (I guess that this sort of thing happens all the time to the daughters of the French aristocracy.) She spent the last fifty years of her life in a nursing home in London, where the staff referred to her as “the Princess”. She was buried under the name, Françoise Marie de Bourbon-Orléans. One of the reasons for the ongoing fascination with Opal’s life is that it is not clear whether or not she was a fraud. My guess is that she was probably suffering from a mild form of schizophrenia.

Mount David

Located near Main Street is a long narrow hill that Cottage Groveans (I don’t know what else to call them) call Mount David. This is the most striking physical feature of the area, and I assumed they would have made it into a public park. However, I was surprised to learn several years ago that there were plans to build houses on the hill. This struck me as a bad idea, because, among other things, the sides of Mount David are extremely steep and are almost like cliffs in some places. I once climbed this hill, and even though it’s not that tall, it was only with a great deal of effort that I managed to make it to the top. I was sweating profusely when I got there, even though the hill is not especially high. These plans have apparently been abandoned, which may have something to do with the fact that local residents formed a “Friends of Mt. David” society to preserve the hill. (I suspect that the recession may have been another factor.)

Mt.David is interesting in a number of ways. There is a pioneer cemetery at the foot of the hill. There were cougar sightings on the hill last year. And, according to this reputable website, the hill is haunted:

    Said to be a some kind [sic] of spirit that will chase you off of the hill at night time. Around the graveyards there are said to be many apperinces [sic] of the ghostly kind. Beware of the thing that will chase you off the mountain at night time.

When I climbed the hill, I did go back down at sunset, although I am not aware that I was being chased by anyone or anything. Besides, I think I would be more frightened to run into a mountain lion than into a ghost. One thing I did notice as I was walking along the ridge was an almost perfectly circular impression in the ground, about twenty feet across. I have since learned that there used to be an oil well on top of the hill, which perhaps explains that odd formation.

Another fine mural.

Another mural on a similar theme.

There used to be a gun store at this location. This is progress.

If I lived in Cottage Grove, I would definitely go to this place for all my automotive needs.

Public art, or a bench? You decide.

The Bohemia Mining Museum may be closed, but this would-be capitalist is determined to follow that fine old American tradition of trying to get rich quick and failing at it.

This sign is on a building which used to be Cottage Grove’s City Hall, but which now houses a ballet school and some small businesses. I used to see signs like this all over the place when I was growing up. Yes, this actually gave me a twinge of nostalgia for the Cold War. Does that make me a bad person?

Art Robinson

October 10, 2012

Art Robinson contemplating what kind of bullshit people will believe next.

When I was driving through rural Oregon the other day, I was dismayed to see signs promoting the congressional candidacy of the bizarre cult leader respected scientist and politician, Art Robinson. Robinson’s website is worth checking out. It is a compendium of many of the pea-brained sophistries that pass for informed opinion in this country nowadays. For example, here is Robinson’s discussion of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution:

    Nevertheless, our congressional representatives – all of whom swear an oath to uphold the Constitution – flagrantly disregard the 10th Amendment. They do this largely by using public funds to pay for government agencies that constantly violate this Amendment and by the issuance of “mandates” that dictate “required” state and local actions.

    Robinson lost the 2010 election to Pete DeFazio. Several months later, Robinson began telling people that Oregon State University was planning on expelling his three children, who were graduate students there, as retaliation for his running against DeFazio.

    What excuse do congressmen give for violating the 10th Amendment? Mostly, they just ignore it, without giving any excuse at all. If pressed, some point to the Constitution.

    “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
    ~ Preamble

    The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States . . .
    ~Article 1, Section 8

    Citing the phrase “promote (or provide for) the general Welfare,” they claim that this permits Congress to do anything it decides will be good for general welfare – anything at all! This is bogus.

This is what the 10th Amendment says:

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

So, if the Constitution says that Congress has the power to “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States” that means that power has been delegated to it by the Constitution.

Robinsosn has a PhD in chemistry. One can only wonder how a man with such apparently poor reading comprehension skills was able to earn an advanced degree (or even a high school diploma, for that matter). One can only assume that he did it through sheer force of will.

On the issue of energy, Robinson writes:

    Nuclear and hydroelectric electricity are inexpensive, clean, and safe. Spent nuclear fuel – so-called “nuclear waste” – is easily disposed of by nuclear fuel re-cycling, a method used in other countries but prohibited by misguided government policies in the U.S. Coal, oil, and natural gas are indispensable for many purposes. Solar and wind are expensive and resource-intensive, but useful in remote locations.

Wow, that PhD didn’t do Art much good, did it? Other countries have the same problems disposing of spent nuclear fuels that we do. Art writes:

    Energy development need not cost the American taxpayer a single cent.

Especially since nuclear energy is not economically viable without government subsidies. I’m starting to get the sinking feeling that PhD’s are over-rated.

Robinson is opposed to women’s reproductive rights. He calls for the immediate deportation of all “illegal” immigrants. And he blames government regulations for the poor state of the economy, although it was actually under-regulation of the banking industry that led to the financial meltdown of 2008.

Robinson lost to Pete DeFazio in the 2010 election. Several months later, Robinson began telling people that Oregon State University was planning to expel his three children, who were graduate students there. He initially claimed that this was being done as retaliation for his opposing DeFazio. However, when a reporter asked Robinson for more details, he became mysteriously vague:

    I don’t have definitive proof,” Robinson said. “That is what I believe. Basically, I know what happened. I cannot tell you the motives of the people doing it.

Nevertheless, this shocking news compelled a group of gullible idiots
red-blooded Americans to take action. They held a demonstration at the OSU campus demanding justice for the Robinson children. This was met by a counter-demonstration of students, who did not care to have their school’s reputation impugned by a group of illiterate yahoos
concerned citizens.

This is the type of man who wants to represent us in Congress. Art Robinson: a choice, not an echo.

Leaving Oregon

October 9, 2012

Puck, a kestrel at the Cascades Raptor Center.

If everything goes right in the next few days, I will be in California. There are various reasons why I am moving. One of them is that there are a lot more opportunities there for the type of work I do. I have lived in Oregon for six and a half years. One of my deepest regrets in life is that I didn’t have more opportunities to explore this beautiful state. Lately, I’ve been exploring the hills south of Eugene.

My first stop was the Cascades Raptor Center. This place has an amazing collection of predatory birds. It is not a zoo, however. The actual purpose of this organization is to rehabilitate birds that have been injured (often as a result of human activities), and to return them to the wild. This is a worthy cause, because raptors play an important role in nature. They mostly prey upon small mammals that would otherwise rapidly overpopulate. (Foxes play a similar role, yet they are inexplicably hunted in an aggressive manner in some parts of the U.S.)
However, some of the birds that the center acquires can never be returned to the wild, because they would have zero chance of survival, either because their injuries are too severe, or because people have kept them as pets. These birds make up their permanent collection. They have bald eagles, golden eagles, a kestrel, kites, merlins, ospreys, a gyrfalcon, a red-tailed hawk, a Swainson’s hawk (who was Swainson, and how did he get his own species of hawk?), a peregrine falcon, and harriers. They also have owls: great horned owls, barn owls, spotted owls, barred owls, screech owls, burrow owls, a snowy owl, a long-eared owl, a short-eared owl, a Eurasian eagle owl, and a saw whet owl.

In one enclosure, there were two turkey vultures. These are extremely common in Oregon. During the summertime, it seems as though hardly a day goes by without seeing at least one of these funereal creatures gliding overhead. There were signs plastered all over the cage at knee level warning people to not stick their fingers through the bars because these birds BITE HARD. I had felt a twinge of sadness as I thought that they must have put these signs up because at least one child must have learned this the hard way.

At one point I saw one of the magnificent great horned owls, one who had been raised as a pet, pushing his face against the wire of his enclosure. This, too, made me feel a bit sad.

They had a few birds that are not raptors. There was a magpie, a type of bird I have never seen before. It had striking black, white, and blue plumage. These are said to be among the most intelligent birds. They are among the few animals that can recognize themselves in a mirror. As I walked around his enclosure, which he shared with an enormous raven, he followed me around. I like to think that he took a liking to me, although he was probably just hoping I would give him food.

After leaving the CRC, I drove through an area known as Fox Hollow. It is a pretty place, surrounded by hills and dotted with farms. (One of these is called the Knee Deep Cattle Company. Who says Oregonians don’t have a sense of humor?) From there I drove into the farming community of Lorane. The countryside here was a little flatter, but still pretty. I noticed a couple of bed & breakfast places here. This seemed to me to be a nice place to spend a few days.

I then drove over densely wooded hills, on the other side of which I came across the 38 highway which took me into the charming little town of Drain. That’s not a joke, that’s actually the town’s name. It was founded by a man named Charles Drain. (Some things can’t be helped, I guess.) At the edge of town was an enormous sign proclaiming: DRAIN, OREGON: GATEWAY TO THE PACIFIC. You see, to get to the Pacific, you must pass through Drain. (There’s a joke in there somewhere. I just have to figure out what is.) The town’s chief landmark is a Queen Anne style house known as the Hansard House.

The Hansard House.

Downtown Drain.

I tried to take a picture of the building from a different angle, but the people inside started making faces at me. I guess I must have had “tourist” written all over me.

Functional architecture at its finest.

As I drove through the side streets of Drain, I saw a cat sitting in the middle of the road ahead of me. I pulled up and stopped in from of him, expecting him to run away. He just looked at me. Finally, I had to drive around him. As I drove away, I looked at him in the rear view mirror. He had turned his head and was still looking at me.

A few miles from Drain is the even smaller town of Yoncalla. It is known for its annual rodeo. The streets were almost completely empty, except for some rowdy kids. A town like Yoncalla may seem charming to an outsider like me, but I can see how growing up here could be a bit dull.

Welcome to Yoncalla. (Since when is “chiropract” a verb?)

Downtown Yoncalla early on a Sunday evening.The What Now Bar & Grille sometimes has live music. They were advertising an upcoming appearance by the Bad Boys of Seduction.

Killing Me

July 16, 2012

I remember that back in the 1990’s, there was a period when serial killers were hugely popular. It seemed as though every film you went to had at least one serial killer in it. It didn’t seem to matter to Hollywood scriptwriters that 99.99% of the human race are not serial killers. In hindsight, I don’t know how to explain this phenomenon. It was one of those inexplicable fads, like the fascination with truck drivers and CB radio that existed in the 1970’s.

If you’re nostalgic for the nineties, you might want to check out Killing Me, the latest film from the Oregon film maker, Henry Weintraub. Otherwise, I can’t see any reason to recommend it.

Aaron Schwartz wants to become famous. Since he is a thoroughly unexceptional person, the only way he can see how to do this is by becoming a serial killer. Yet he can’t bring himself to kill anyone. He is so ineffectual at this that he actually ends up marrying one of his intended victims, Erin. He gets a job at the post office, but this fails to inspire him. Then he hears that there have been a series of unexplained murders in his town. He reasons that if he can find this serial killer, he can perhaps persuade him to teach him the secret of how to kill. In a completely improbable manner, Aaron manages to find this man, and he discovers that the guy is his own boss. Aaron approaches his boss and tells him he knows that he is the killer, and that he want him to teach him to be a killer as well. At first, his boss plans to kill him, but then, for reasons that are never explained, changes his mind. He agrees to take Aaron under his wing. One night, while Erin is out of town, the two of them go on a killing spree, with Aaron’s boss brutally murdering several people. He tries to get Aaron to do the killings, but the latter cannot bring himself to do any of them. Aaron finally stabs his boss, without killing him, and he runs away. When he gets home, the police show up to arrest him. They accuse him of the murders that were actually committed by his boss. This makes Aaron happy, for he is now famous. At the end, we see Aaron in prison, smiling as he is led off to be executed.

Killing Me is a sick joke that is stretched out to 73 minutes. The supposed irony of the ending is undermined by the fact that Aaron isn’t innocent, since he was technically the murderer’s accomplice.

Weintraub has a problem with continuity. In one scene, Aaron’s boss hits Aaron over the head with a club. When Aaron comes to, he has a bloody wound on his forehead. In the next scene, which takes place a few minutes later, the wound is completely gone. Not even a bruise is left. Also, in the early scenes, Aaron’s house is tidily decorated. Yet in the scene when the cops come to arrest him, the place looks like an abandoned building. This inattention to detail is perhaps in keeping with the film’s shallow cynicism.

The Oregonian

October 26, 2011

Oregon has a reputation for being home to some, well, odd people. (Here is one decidedly odd person. Here is another one. Oh, and there’s this guy). I suppose it was inevitable that somebody would make a film that’s basically about meeting strange people in Oregon.

Calvin Lee Reeder’s new film, The Oregonian is billed as an “experimental horror” film. Aside from some faint echoes of Carnival of Souls, however, there is not much horror in it. It is actually a surreal fantasy. A young woman who is identified only as “the Oregonian” (Lindsay Pulsipher) is living on a farm and involved in an abusive relationship. One day she gets into a car accident on a lonely country road. Although she is injured, she can still walk, so she goes looking for help. She never finds it. Instead, she wanders through a deserted town and meets some strange characters. These include a creepy old woman, a man who urinates in different colors and who obsesses over making omelettes, a man wearing a furry green frog costume, a group of hippies who drink gasoline, and various women who scream for no apparent reason.

Some parts of this film work better than others. The scenes of the Oregonian arguing with her husband are unconvincing and only detract from the trippy feel of the rest of the film. At times the film seems to be making fun of hippies, although I’m not sure that was the intention. (I know I’m not supposed to say these things, but this might be a good movie to watch when you’re stoned.)

The Oregonian has gotten a hostile response from some people. I’m told that at its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, a quarter of the audience got up and walked out. The main complaint made against the film is that it doesn’t “mean” anything. Well, I would argue that it isn’t necessary for a film to “mean” something. Andre Breton once defined surrealism as: “Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.” That certainly describes this film. I found this movie interesting enough to want to watch it all the way to the end, which is more than I can say of some critically acclaimed films (for example: Chariots of Fire, Forrest Gump, Never Let Me Go).

People who don’t like this movie need to, as we say in Oregon, chill out.

How the Fire Fell

October 15, 2011

In 1902, a man named Edmund Creffield showed up in Corvallis, Oregon. He began to preach a militantly fundamentalist form of Christianity. He quickly attracted a small, but intensely devoted group of followers, most of them women. He named his sect the “Bride of Christ Church”. Rumors started to circulate that Creffield was having sex with his female followers. Creffield eventually announced that Esther Mitchell, who came from one of Corvallis’s most respected families, would become the “Second Mother of Christ”. To make a long story short, Esther’s brother, George, shot Creffield in the back of the head while the latter was walking down a street in Seattle. Although there was no doubt as to whether he did the killing, a jury found George Mitchell not guilty. (This was clearly a case of an “honor killing”.) Later, as George was boarding a train, Esther shot him in the back of the head, exactly as he had shot Creffield.

This story is true. You can read about it here. You can find a more colorful telling here.

Edmund Creffield, while he was serving a prison sentence for adultery.

The Portland-based filmmaker, Edward P. Davee, has written and directed a film based on these events, How the Fire Fell. The film is in black & white, and much of it was shot in Corvallis. There is not much dialogue, although there are numerous scenes of Creffield (Joe Haege) preaching. The film is atmospheric, with lingering shots of forests, fields, and people lost in thought. Some of the imagery is clearly meant to be symbolic. In one scene, for example, while Creffield is preaching to his flock, there is a cutaway shot to flies caught in a spider’s web. Haege is quite good as Creffield. Davee was clearly limited by a very low budget in what he could do, but nevertheless there are some powerful scenes.

I found this film fascinating to watch, though I wish I could have learned more about the characters. Why were they so attracted to Creffield? At the screening I attended, there was a question-and-answer session with Davee and with the film’s director of photography, Scott Ballard. Davee said he wanted to “keep a sense of mystery alive” about the Creffield story. He also said he preferred to tell stories using images rather than dialogue. He expressed no strong feelings either for or against religion. (He said that some of the actors in the film are devout Christians.) Davee did say he found it disturbing that people could blindly follow a leader.

As I watched How the Fire Fell, I was reminded of the undertone of eroticism in many of the practices of evangelical Christian groups. (I remember H.L. Mencken commenting about this in one of his articles.) It may be that Creffield simply crossed a line that other evangelicals (apparently) do not cross.

How the Fire Fell has had a very limited release, mainly being shown at film festivals and at scattered venues in the Pacific Northwest. Let us hope that this film gets the wider audience it deserves.

You can find a trailer for the film here.

Magic Trip

October 4, 2011

In the early 1960’s, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters decided they would make a film about a cross-country trip they would undertake. After the journey, when they tried to edit the film, they found they couldn’t synchronize the sound and the images. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that they were tripping on LSD most of the time they were filming. Recently, Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney used the surviving footage as the basis for a documentary about Kesey and about the 1960’s.

In 1964, Kesey and a group of his friends, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, decide to travel across the country from California to New York. They renovate an old school bus and paint it bright colors. They name it “Further”, and they call themselves “The Merry Pranksters”. They manage to get Neal Cassady – the “Dean Moriarty” from On The Road – to be their bus driver. Cassady is on speed much of the time, so he talks incessantly and is constantly gesturing with his arms. The trip is largely a success, but it is not without problems. A woman has a mental breakdown and has to be sent home. Another woman, who is pregnant, eventually decides that she is not enjoying herself and eventually drops out. When the pranksters reach New York, they seek out their hero, Jack Kerouac, only to get a decidedly chilly reception from him. They go to the World’s Fair, thinking it will be a good place to trip, only to find it a bit dull. They then travel to upstate New York, where Timothy Leary has a mansion, where he and others carry out experiments with LSD. When the Pranksters arrive, however, most of the people there, including Leary, hide from them. (One of the Pranksters comments that these people seem “upper class”.) The only one who talks to them is Richard Alpert (“Ram Dass”), who creeps them out.

When the Pranksters return to California, they begin holding parties called “acid tests”. These start to attract large numbers of people. The Pranksters become disenchanted with Cassady, who seems to be all talk and nothing else. One day he is found dead lying alongside a railroad track in Mexico. Kesey eventually seems to sour on the drug culture he helped create, although he never expresses any regrets about what he did. He moves to Oregon, where he settles down on a farm with his wife and children.

It’s funny how society tries to appropriate artists after they die. A statue of Kesey now stands in downtown Eugene, where environmental activists have sometimes been brutalized by the police. At least one of these incidents took place across the street from the statue.

Magic Trip is part road movie, part cultural history, and part morality tale. I highly recommend seeing it.

If A Tree Falls

June 27, 2011

Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman have made a film about the Earth Liberation Front. This group was very active in Eugene, Oregon, where I currently live; so I was naturally interested in seeing this film. Marshall Curry says he learned from his wife one day that the police had arrested an employee at her company for being an “eco-terrorist”. He immediately became interested, and he eventually decided he wanted to make a film about this person. The employee was Daniel McGowan, whose story serves as the central thread of this film. A round-faced, soft-spoken man, he seems an unlikely person to become a violent criminal. The son of a New York cop, he grew up on Rockaway Beach. In his youth he became interested in environmental issues. He eventually gravitated towards Eugene, a hotspot for environmental activism. The film does a short history of the environmental movement in the Pacific Northwest, recounting how non-violent protests have sometimes been met with police violence. Faced with such a response, it was inevitable that some activists would conclude that they should resort to violence themselves. A cell of the Earth Liberation Front was formed in Eugene, and McGowan, frustrated by the lack of progress by environmentalists, was eventually drawn into it.

McGowan’s first job was to serve as a lookout when ELF torched the offices of a lumber company. His second job was helping ELF destroy a tree farm that was allegedly growing genetically modified trees. Only it turned out afterwards that the trees were not GMO’s. At the same time ELF set fire to the office of a University of Washington professor who was involved in genetic engineering. The fire grew out of control and did a lot of damage that ELF didn’t intend. In the aftermath, the cell underwent a crisis and disbanded. McGowan became disillusioned with ELF’s methods, while still retaining his radical environmental views. He returned to New York, where he got a job with a group dealing with domestic violence issues.

The film then deals with police efforts to solve the crimes. For years they got nowhere. Then, by sheer dumb luck, they stumbled upon Jacob Ferguson. He just happened to be the weakest link in the ELF cell, since he was a heroin addict and therefore vulnerable to legal pressure. The police outfitted him with a wire and flew him to different parts of the country to have conversations with his former comrades. He showed up in New York to talk to a surprised McGowan. The latter thought there was something odd about this, especially since Ferguson seemed “talkative”, whereas McGowan remembered him as being quiet. McGowan spoke to him any way, which was a fatal mistake. McGowan was later arrested and found himself facing a possible sentence of life plus 350 years. He eventually made a plea deal in which he confessed to the arsons but did not name any accomplices. He was sentenced to eight years, but received a “terrorism enhancement”, meaning that he was put in a special high security prison built for “terrorists”. He can only receive one fifteen minute phone call a day and one visitor a month. The film documents the emotional anguish that this experience has inflicted upon McGowan and his family.

The filmmakers interview many people involved in these events, including the prosecutor and police detectives who pursued the ELF members. People with different viewpoints are allowed to state their positions. Although the filmmakers maintain a neutral tone, it’s clear that they feel that McGowan and other members of ELF were dealt with unfairly. Ferguson, who was involved in more arsons than anyone else, did not receive a prison sentence. He betrayed his friends solely to save himself, and the system rewarded him for that. Someone makes the point that capitalists who destroy the environment, such as the executives at BP, are never punished for what they do.

I highly recommend seeing this film.

Meek’s Cutoff

May 15, 2011

Meek’s Cutoff, a film by Kelly Reichardt, from a screenplay by Jonathan Raymond, is inspired by a real incident. In 1845, a scout named Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) leads a small group of settlers -three men, three women, and a boy – through the Oregon High Desert. The trip takes longer than expected, and the settlers begin to suspect that Meek is lost. The dialogue in this film is sparse. When the characters do speak, it is often in hushed voices, as if they are in awe of the vast, empty landscape around them. (Meek is the only character who ever really gets loud in this film.) As the days drag on, they start to run low on water. They come across a lone Indian (Rod Rondeaux), whom they take prisoner. Meek wants to kill him, but the settlers reason that he must know where water is located. They start to follow the Indian, who doesn’t speak English, but seems to know where he is going.

The film is centered around Emily (Michelle Williams). At first she is a submissive wife, (the decisions are all made by the men, without consulting the women) but as the film goes on, she begins to assert herself. She also develops a sympathetic attitude towards the Indian.

This film’s abrupt and ambiguous ending comes almost as a shock. Perhaps Reichardt is implicitly criticizing the Western genre’s tradition of having pat happy endings. In True Grit, for example, the bad guys are all killed, and the good guys survive. At the end of Meek’s Cutoff, it’s not clear whether anyone will survive. The film is more about how these people’s experiences are affecting them mentally and physically.

The film has a grittiness and simplicity that make it seem more realistic than most Westerns, certainly more so than the fake “authenticity” of True Grit. During the course of the film, the characters’ clothing becomes increasingly filthy, something that is usually not depicted in films about pioneers. The performances are good; Williams is quietly affecting as Emily.

Vandana Shiva

March 5, 2011

Vandana Shiva, environmentalist and feminist, recently spoke at the University of Oregon as part of a program celebrating International Women’s Day. She began by saying that the issue of women’s power is partly about recognizing the traditional wisdom of women in many societies. She cited the example of Indian women who fought against the cutting down of forests in the Himalayas during the 1970’s. The erosion from the mountains subjected to these cuttings was damaging the Ganges river. Their efforts ultimately resulted in a ban on such cutting enacted in 1981.

She then went on to say that the real patriarchs of today are corporations. She pointed out that 200,000 farmers in India have committed suicide because of the genetically modified cotton they are forced to grow, which does not allow them to save seeds, which they need to do to be economically self-sufficient. She talked about how genetically modified alfalfa is being brought to the Willamette valley in Oregon. The cross-pollination of this crop with the crops on other farms will make all the alfalfa farmers subject to Monsanto’s patent. It will also make organic farming (in the true sense of that term) impossible. Shiva calls this “eco-imperialism”. She pointed out that before the advent of genetic engineering, farmers developed thousand of different varieties of rice, that can be grown under all sorts of different conditions. Genetic engineering only serves to create corporate (mainly Monsanto) control of the food supply.

Shiva also talked about the idea of “eco-feminism”, which is the idea that environmental degradation and the oppression of women are related. This is certainly true in the sense that capitalism encourages both.