Unique in each of its regions, Oregon is a kaleidoscope of biological fantasy, a jigsaw of the geologically profound; it boasts thundering alpine, swollen rivers, rugged coastlines, and world-class surf; its forests drip with life and its deserts erupt in sun-drenched stone; it's the ultimate collage of wilderness variety—a terrific monstrosity, an adventure-seeker's paradise. Today, with the help of Oregon's greatest poets, we pay tribute to seven of our home state's most spectacular natural wonders.

— Kyle Cassidy, The Clymb


Dear Oregon,

This is my love letter to you, my native state.
Why do I love you? Let me count just seven of the ways.

1. You are the Cascade peak cloaked in white that rises above Portland’s skyline—my mountain-temple, shining. You are Mt. Hood.

2. You are sheer spires of tufa and basalt making their jagged thrust into an easterly sky that’s quickened with sun during the day, widened by whorls of stars at night. You are Smith Rock.

3. You are primordial plants and bones turned to rock, the fossil beds lying near those hills streaked with reds and golds so vivid, only an artist’s palette could attempt to match their hues. You are the Painted Hills.

4. You are a peak that eons ago emptied itself into the sky, a volcano that left a caldera to fill with rain and snowmelt, making a lake so deep, so clear, so ecstatically blue, it first stuns then feeds my eyes. Crater Lake is a part of who you are.

5. You are a canyon, a massive river’s way to reach the sea, a way cut so deeply that—when they reach the cliff’s bluff—streams must fall hundreds and hundreds of white-misted feet before joining the ocean-bound flow far below. You are the Columbia River Gorge.

6. You are the cluster of peaks that make our own Alps, a mountain range bordered by a gleaming serpentine river, an alpine terrain cupping the glimmer of tree-rimmed lakes. You are the Wallowas.

7. For 363 miles, you are that land’s edge where rivers meet and feed an ocean, a shoreline studded with dune and tide pool, cliff and lighthouse, its entire wave-swept length open to us all. You are our Pacific Coast.

Oregon, my Oregon, you’re a natural—
a seven-wonder, wondrous beauty!

With admiration from a native-born daughter,
— Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita

Paulann PetersenOregon’s sixth Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen has six full-length books of poetry, most recently Understory, from Lost Horse Press in 2013. Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Poetry, The New Republic, Prairie Schooner, Willow Springs, Calyx, and the Internet’s Poetry Daily. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and the recipient of the 2006 Holbrook Award from Oregon Literary Arts. She serves on the board of Friends of William Stafford, organizing the January Stafford Birthday Events. Read more by Paulann Petersen.

Oregon Coast, Photo by Justin Bailie


Eight ways of looking at the Oregon Coast

Anyone at the Oregon coast can keep half an open mind. Wild infinity is right there: naked geology, salal and pine, foggy path of sand, and a bounty of rain.

In Italy, they call it campelismo: you hear the chapel bell, you know where you are, and who you are. So at the Oregon coast—you hear the surf whisper, you have your bearings.

Because our coast was settled late, river names are Native, hurtling from the coast range to the sea: Alsea, Chetco, Coos … Coquille, Nehalem, Nestucca … Siuslaw, Yaquina, Siletz.

Rivers carry forest debris plunging to the sea deeps, where old wood feeds myriad life. Then salmon carry marine minerals far to the roots of mountain trees. Eons of kinship.

In Native stories, South Wind went with Wild Woman. And there was the Woman who married Seal. By fires kindled on winter nights, connection-stories schooled bright children.

When the schooner couldn’t cross the Siuslaw Bar one fall, an old pioneer bragged, “We ate salmon and potatoes—three times a day, every day, all winter long!”

“How many of you were born at the coast?” A sea of hands. “How many will stay?” One quick hand: “Oh, sir, in the morning the water is all soft and shiny. I want to be with that all my life.”

Governor Oswald West declared our coast a public highway in 1913. Now 86 coastal parks link the necklace of his vision. Leave the car. Gaze far. Shoulder the wind. Open your mind.

Kim Stafford

Kim StaffordKim Stafford has taught since 1979 at Lewis and Clark College, where he is the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute. He has served as the literary executor for The Estate of William Stafford since 1993, and as a visiting writer in communities and colleges across the country, and in Italy, Scotland, and Bhutan. Stafford has published a dozen books of poetry and prose, including 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do and The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and children. Read more by Kim Stafford.

Smith Rock, Photo by Christian Hansen


Homage to Smith Rock

Early days at Smith, before the state park, before the official climbers’ camp: Squaw Rock and Poplar always beckoning on the southern horizon, thirty miles but another world beyond our hardscrabble ranch, until my brother and I found our way irretrievably here. Back then, we’d have all these vertical tuffaceous wonders to ourselves, all day, the river so insanely crooked around the uncharted cliffs we’d forget which side we were on, no footbridge then, so we’d ford back and forth, holding our boots, rope, and hardware over our heads like commandos. More reconnaissance than climbing, anyway, the zen of speculative route-finding, and naming everything we found, stiff-necked, for the olympians we knew would come. One morning, two leads up a golden wall on Staender Ridge, I came up under a bat clinging to my next handhold, hissing in broad sunlight, showing its fangs, probably rabid, so we bailed out clear to the bottom, pronto—risk enough on these sheer cliffs, without adding hydrophobia to vertigo! Do they carry bat-repellent now, I wonder? Brother, can it be fifty years? Time spins on, but not here: blessings on all who come to this place, the gawkers, the scramblers on Misery Ridge, the engineers of chalky fingertips, upper-body strength, and audacious balance, the climbers and fallers on Monkey Face and the Dihedrals; welcome all to gravity’s playground, where the sky never stops honing the rock.

Jarold Ramsey

Jarold RamseyPulitzer Prize nominated author Jarold Ramsey grew up on a ranch north of Madras, Oregon, was educated at the universities of Oregon and Washington (PhD in English from the latter in 1966), and for 30-plus years was a member of the English faculty at the University of Rochester in New York State, where he taught Shakespeare, modern poetry, creative writing, and American Indian literature. His poetry books include Love in an Earthquake, Hand-Shadows, and (2012) Thinking Like a Canyon. His books on American Indian literature include Coyote Was Going There and Reading the Fire. He and his brother Jim were among the earliest climbers in the Smith Rock area, and they and Vivian Staender wrote the first climbers' guide to the area (1962). In 2000, he and his wife Dorothy moved back to the family ranch in Central Oregon.Read more by Jarold Ramsey.

Painted Hills, Photo by Christian Hansen


Grace in Painted Hills

Ash and silt, borne on ancient airs,
ancient waters—you draw them into your eyes,
stria and strata, silent fires of color, composed
before man, in the midlands of time.
You linger,
give the earth your hours, as she gives you yours—
hours that hover now on the slender border
of winter and spring—green, an immanence yet
beneath winter’s white grass, wildflowers
suspended between bud and bloom.
All quickens.
The harrier’s love cry, held there in that instant
between release and arrival, on plateau-winds,
in the sky….

You draw that moment’s sky into your lungs,
sunlight shimmering on the dark drift
of the creek. A view, steeped in mind,
become vision…these hills, the opened soul
of the Mother, voluptuous, rounded, tempered
with the ages, lovelier than her foliage, an aurora
of soil. You contract before her, near to nothing,
and then you expand.

Rob Whitbeck

Rob WhitbeckRob Whitbeck is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, Oregon Sojourn and The Taproot Confessions, as well as Writing Home, a brief study of the history and literature of the northern West. He has worked itinerantly as a logger, ranch hand, and sheepherder in eastern Oregon since the 1980s. Currently, Whitbeck works a camp job as a roughneck on a drilling rig in western Wyoming, but makes his home with his wife and two sons in Wheeler County, Oregon.

Crater Lake, Photo by Justin Bailie


One Sudden Afternoon

What of this loch of shocking blue? The earth’s navel? A monocular Mazama with a basalt iris of columned stone? (That Ghost Ship, that igneous fan-fare on the far shore—all that’s left of the 400,000 year-old volcanic hydra.)What of it, you with your daypack, sunblock and camera here in your RV?

I’ll tell you. Millennia of stuttered explosions braided hot-wired coils, pulled extravagant taffy castles, rolled towering turrets from running strikes of molten tambour slapped against andesite hips. Then, in a fit, Mazama pitched the whole 13 cubic miles of her perfect, tangled beauty.

In one sudden afternoon central Oregon’s garden of Eden—cypress, sassafras, elephant—buried under a scalding syrup. In the mountain’s imploded place a sapphire seductress came to nest in the panting caldera. Blame Llao, blame the Makalak chief’s beautiful daughter, blame Skell, blame the oozing rhyodacites that sealed Mazama’s rifts, gagging the shouts of the fractious magma chambers.

Wise Natives avert their eyes, refuse what this liquid Cyclops dares: look 2,000 feet into her gaze. You’ll weep to see mother, lover, devil; fall into the well of the unblinking mystery; be drawn to the unstable edge of everything you thought you knew as you apprehend the scalding deep-water plumes, seething fumaroles, vomiting lake-bottom bulges—the guarantee a catastrophe is fire-branded to happen again. Maybe now. Maybe to you.

Ellen Waterston

Ellen WaterstonEllen Waterston is an award-winning poet and author who draws inspiration from Oregon's high desert region. She received the WILLA award and Obsidian Prize in poetry. Her memoir, Then There Was No Mountain, was named one of the top ten books of 2003 by the Oregonian. In June 2010, her poem Designed to Fly was read by Garrison Keillor on Writer’s Almanac. She founded and for eleven years directed The Nature of Words (NOW), a literary arts non-profit in Bend, Oregon. She is the president of the Writing Ranch, founded in 2000, which offers writing workshops and retreats in central Oregon, Mexico, and Europe (www.writingranch.com). She lives in Bend, Oregon and is working on a fourth collection of poetry and a second memoir. Read more by Ellen Waterston. Read more by Ellen Waterston.

Mount Hood, Photo by Justin Bailie


Mount Hood

The first thing to know about Oregon’s Mount Hood is that the name is stupid and should be taken out back and buried with the rest of the detritus left in America by various imperial entrepreneurs. The mountain is maybe half a million years old, and it was smarmily named for an English admiral by a suckup Navy lieutenant in 1792, which means that for about .000444 of its existence it has worn a stupid name. The First People who lived on and around it for thousands of years called it Wy’east, which was the name of an ancient hero who was unlucky in love and paid for his roaring temper by being turned into the mountain. Next you should know that Wy’east is huge and wild and glaciated and its weather changes in seconds and there are bears and cougars and elk and eagles and falcons living there. It is wild beyond our grasp, though we have tried with resorts and ski meadows and clearcuts. We cannot conquer Wy’east. You can climb to the top and think you are cool but you can also easily die and vanish and be frozen for centuries. That has happened. Also Wy’east is a volcano and someday it will explode and wipe out everything we draped on its shoulders. I try to go up there every season to remember what is wild and holy and grim and miraculous. Some days you can see for seventy miles from there. It’s the huge beautiful attic of Oregon, the apex of the state, the incarnation of our rough grace…

Brian Doyle

Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of the University of Portland’s Portland Magazine, and the author of many books, notably Mink River (a novel set on the coast), The Plover (a sea novel), and The Grail, about a year in an Oregon vineyard. His novel Martin Marten (set on Wy’east!) will be published in April 2015.Read more by Brian Doyle.

Hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, Photo by Christian Hansen


Falling Stars

The thicketed stars struck up
conversations with distance,
their brief, hot scratches curved
against the sky's dome.
Zipped into a sleeping bag,
high on a bluff above the river,
I turned my face toward
this one direction of wonder.
Friction suddenly visible,
life burned itself out in streaking arcs
far above my eyes, yet I couldn't
keep from turning away.

Off to one side,
rising from the opposite bluff,
the huge moon: fat crescent.
Succulent cream of a moon,
big as a wide, wild
animal yawn held open
on the horizon. Risen, still rising,
and I, who'd never before wanted
to sleep in the open, chose to stay.
Outside my familiar landscape
of wallpaper, curtains, doors,
I could hear the coyotes
throw their great circle of cries
up into the air, two owls criss and cross
their voices through trees;
I could turn from moon to stars
to moon, watch them to sleep,
rouse to see them again, and go again
back to sleep in that wide outside;
then wake in morning to find
the sleeping bag, my face, hands
wet and shining with what, at dawning,
fell to the ground.

Paulann Petersen

Paulann PetersenOregon’s sixth Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen has six full-length books of poetry, most recently Understory, from Lost Horse Press in 2013. Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Poetry, The New Republic, Prairie Schooner, Willow Springs, Calyx, and the Internet’s Poetry Daily. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and the recipient of the 2006 Holbrook Award from Oregon Literary Arts. She serves on the board of Friends of William Stafford, organizing the January Stafford Birthday Events. Read more by Paulann Petersen.

The Wallowas, Photo by David Jensen


Wallowas Suite

Eagle Cap

The mountain in Mirror Lake does not waver
in the wind. This means Wallowa calm has come.

Even tons of stone have settled down for a few
million years of sleep. From mistletoe and fir,

shade lulls your eyes. From deep water, your
new face rises slow. Some old grief sinks away.


Now, the meadow opens, the trail becomes
a stroll. Lily, wild rose surround you

everywhere. July afternoon. High blue.
A gray jay glides her soft silent body by.

The river and this ponderosa shade all say
Come on. Take off your clothes and swim.

Unload that fear you carefully packed in.
Let this blue water bathe you like a dream.


Wander upstream together–hand in hand through
Twin Lakes burn. Under black dead upright snags,

fireweed multiplies–all redpink phoenix plumes.
Wildfire makes these flowers fill with nectar now.

Watching wild bees hum among that sweet bloom
you understand. You, too, regenerate through terror.


These are the mountains Joseph never sold.
The granite core of that native truth still rises

in paintbrush, lakes, peaks, creeks, canyons, falls.
Before red barns, wheat fields, horses, and liars,

camas and salmon and wolves and Nimiipuu
witnessed this place together. What will you?

Main Eagle

Go alone. Tell only the boulders where you’re
gone. Ignore maps, landmarks, registers, trails.

When lightning comes, climb Needle Point, get
crazy wet, tremble in that thunder-driven rain.

Shiver, stagger down, crawl east, find Hell.
From ignorance, you can’t come back alive.

George Venn

george_vennPoet, writer, literary historian, editor, linguist, and educator, George Venn is an eclectic, complex, and distinguished figure in western American literature. In 1988, His popular work, MARKING THE MAGIC CIRCLE won a silver medal from Literary Arts; in 2005, Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission selected it as one of the 100 best Oregon books in the past two centuries. In 1980, his poem “Forgive Us...” won a Pushcart Prize. When he received the 1995 Andres Berger Award, The Oregonian described him as “One of the best-known and most respected poets in the state.” His 1999 collection WEST OF PARADISE was a finalist for an Oregon Book Award. His poems and stories have been widely published in regional periodicals and anthologized in seventeen different state, regional, and national collections. Venn is the recipient of the Stewart Holbrook Award for “outstanding contributions to Oregon’s literary life.” Three different composers have set his lyrics to music for concert performances across the Pacific Northwest and his work has been included in the national Poetry in Motion program and carved in stone at the New Oregon Zoo. Read more by George Venn.

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