We saw a 700-year-old Douglas fir last Sunday. We were led to it by Craig Wisti, who is a store of knowledge on all things that bear needles or leaves.
This tree is on the outer reaches of Tongue Point. It sits on an east-facing slope. Six of us joined hands and could not surround more than half the tree's circumference. The trunk is big enough for a shipwright to carve a boat's keel out of it in one piece.
Craig noted that the tree apparently had been hit by lightning some years ago, and that had begun a long slide toward death. At 700 years, the tree was a seedling in the 1300s, which began with Edward I (think of the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart) on the English throne and ended with Richard II. The Chinook Tribe would have been in full flower at the mouth of the Columbia River. By the time Lewis and Clark came downriver in 1805 and passed Tongue Point (which they named Point William) and upriver in 1806, the tree was 500 years old and probably had nearby companions in its age category.
Being in the company of such a large and ancient living thing is a humbling and refreshing experience in our hurried, cynical age. The tree is a commanding presence, and it invites one to think about what matters and what doesn't matter.
Days later, I've noticed that my audience with this tree left a deeper impression than I had realized. It's given me some patience with the election season that is upon us.
I grant you that America is flirting with a number of things that can bring ruin to a multitude. But the tree tells me that candidates, politicians, even kings and presidents come and go.
John Edwards' visit to Seaside Oct. 9 is worth noting. Presidential candidates seldom come to rural counties. A cruel math dictates presidential campaigns' abject devotion to metropolitan markets.
Growing up in Pendleton, I saw the Republican presidential candidate Nelson Rockefeller come to town, as well as John F. Kennedy when he was a primary candidate.
Edwards came to the Oregon AFL-CIO convention. He didn't mingle with people on the street. But even at that, it's remarkable that Edwards spent time on Oregon, because our late primary gives us virtually no role in the nominating process.
To be an Oregonian is to bear the burden of ballot measures. This election, we are mercifully down to two. Last week, editors and writers from three of our newspapers gathered at the Portland Airport Sheraton Hotel to listen to proponents and opponents of the two measures. Being able to hear both sides in one sitting is a great benefit. Looking ahead to 2008, I see a lot of measures coming down the track, plus four statewide candidates. Thus I've already booked two meeting rooms over two days.
Like many other Oregonians, I was relieved that two ballot measures aimed at homosexuals did not gather sufficient signatures for the November 2008 ballot. The 2006 sessions we conducted in Portland on those issues produced some of the bitterest exchanges between proponents and opponents.
One of Oregon's 2008 races will be secretary of state. Two Democratic candidates for that job were in our building Oct. 8 to tape broadcast interviews for KMUN-FM. Vicki Walker and Kate Brown are state senators. Walker is from Eugene; Brown, from Portland.
I had met neither of these politicians. They are both impressive, but Walker conveys deep personal convictions that are rarely seen these days. She talks about being sexually abused as a child. That was an element of what motivated her to give "Willamette Week" a court document that led to the exposé about Neil Goldschmidt.
The most striking thing about the 2008 election in Oregon is the disappearance of the Republican Party. There is no Republican candidate for secretary of state or attorney general.