You've probably already heard the jokes: Oregonians have webbed feet and they don't tan, they rust. Even people otherwise unfamiliar with Oregon seem to know that it rains a lot here. There's simply no getting around the fact that few states receive as much rain or cloudy weather as Oregon (except Washington, Oregon's northern neighbor). You would think, then, that those infamous rains, which fall with suicide-inducing regularity for 8 months every year, would keep people away from Oregon. They don't. Why, then, is this state wedged between California and Washington such a popular destination?
It could be for the same reasons that early pioneers were willing to walk all the way across the continent to get here -- the summers. The seductiveness of summer in Oregon is impossible to resist. Summer is a time of bounty, easily seen at farmers markets around the state and on the menus of restaurants that emphasize fresh, local, and organic cuisine. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries ripen on Willamette Valley farms. Wineries release their rosés, Rieslings, and other summer sippers and patio wines. Wildflowers in mountain meadows burst into bloom. Beaches beckon along 300 miles of Pacific shoreline. Music festivals set up their outdoor stages. And in the evening, the sun doesn't go down until after 9 o'clock. Could it get any better?
Peruse the following pages, and you'll learn a bit about this state's history, get an idea of what to expect here right now, and even find out what movies to rent so you can catch glimpses of Oregon before you ever visit.
Oregon Today -- Although the economic slowdown hit Oregon a bit later than it hit many other states, Oregon fell hard when it did fall. Throughout 2009, the state had one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Funny thing is, the high unemployment rate didn't stop young creative types and recent college graduates from moving to Portland, a city that has developed a reputation for being one of the hippest cities on the West Coast.
Why would people continue moving to Oregon even when they know they won't be able to find a job? They move here for the same reason people want to vacation here -- the great outdoors. Oregon is a state dominated by those with a love of the outdoors, and this isn't surprising when you realize just how much nature dominates beyond the city limits. From almost anywhere in Oregon, it's possible to look up and see green forests and snow-capped mountains, and a drive of less than 2 hours from any Willamette Valley city will get you to the mountains or the Pacific Ocean's beaches.
But what about all that rain? Well, Oregonians just don't let the weather stand between them and the outdoors. The temptation is too great to head for the mountains, the river, or the beach--no matter the forecast. Consequently, life in Oregon's cities tends to revolve less around cultural venues and shopping than around parks, gardens, waterfronts, rivers, mountains, and beaches. Portland has its Forest Park, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Classical Chinese Garden, and Waterfront Park. Eugene has its miles of riverside parks, bike paths, and even a park just for rock climbing. In Hood River, the entire Columbia River has become a playground for windsurfers and kiteboarders, and when the wind doesn't blow, there are always the nearby mountain-bike trails and rivers for kayaking. In Bend, for example, mountain biking, downhill skiing, and snowboarding are a way of life. These outdoor areas are where people find tranquillity, where summer festivals are held, where locals take their visiting friends and relatives, and where Oregonians tend to live their lives when life isn't being interrupted by such inconveniences as work and sleep.
This is not to say, however, that the region is a cultural wasteland. Both Portland and Eugene have large, modern, and active performing-arts centers. During the summer months, numerous festivals take music, theater, and dance outdoors. Most impressive of these are southern Oregon's Britt Festivals and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Many other festivals feature everything from chamber music to alternative rock.
Oregon has long had a reputation for being an environmentally aware state. Back in 1971 it was the first state to pass a bottle bill mandating a refundable deposit on beer and soft-drink cans and bottles. At about the same time, the state worked hard to clean up the heavily polluted Willamette River and passed legislation to protect its beautiful beaches. Today the state is trying to hold true to its 1970s ideals and identity, but the fact is that in the recent boom years prior to the collapse of the economy, rapid population growth and development began reshaping the core identity of the state.
As the population in urban areas of the Willamette Valley has expanded, a pronounced urban-rural political split has developed in Oregon. Citizens from the eastern part of the state argue that Salem and Portland are dictating to rural regions that have little in common with the cities, while urban dwellers, who far outnumber those living outside the Willamette Valley, argue that majority rule is majority rule. This split has pitted conservative voters (often from rural regions and the suburbs) against liberal voters (usually urban) on a wide variety of issues, and the reality of Oregon politics is now quite a bit different from the popular perception of a state dominated by liberal, forward-thinking environmentalists and former hippies. The growing urbanization of Portland, the state's population center, has led to a change in the focus of Oregon's political agendas. While the state remains a "blue" state, electing Democrats to many of the highest political offices, the state's political battles are no longer as focused on the environment as they once were.
While the environment is no longer at the political forefront, the state is not without its controversial political battles. In 1994 Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. In 1998 the state passed the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, which made it legal for people with a medical prescription to grow and possess marijuana. In 2004 Multnomah County, which is where Portland, Oregon's largest city, is located, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Although the county soon reversed this policy, the state, in 2008, passed the Oregon Family Fairness Act, which made it possible for same-sex couples to legally establish a domestic partnership.