Blue State Blues


by Dr Naomi Wolf, Outspoken with Dr Naomi Wolf:

I am visiting a loved one in the bluest of blue states, Oregon. I’m in a small town that is adorable beyond measure; adorable in a way that differs from the East Coast cuteness of Millerton, New York, or Salem, MA. The Central Valley small town in which I find myself, has a cozy, walkable downtown grid; handsome brick vintage three-story buildings, with arched white plaster windows, now housing offices; it has a green town common, and a fine 19th century pale clapboard courthouse complete with spire. It has a winding river, down which kids and young adults launch inner tubes, during the summer. It boasts friendly cops who say, “Good morning!”


For years, there has been almost no crime.

green trees near white and brown mountain under blue sky during daytime
Photo by James Morden on Unsplash


In this sweet little town, you can have fine local craft beer at many elevated restaurant-bars, and gaze at the evergreen forests in the distance. You can go into a tiny bookshop on one of the main streets, and sit on a scruffy leather couch, and read about lighthouses on the Oregon coast all day, and no one will dislodge you. You can see quirky old movies – classics and sci-fi — at a funky movie theatre that is located up a flight of rickety stairs. I joke that it is like Hobbiton, in JRR Tolkien’s children’s book The Hobbit; the town and its inhabitants are so dear and cozy. Public art is everywhere: there are bronze statues of dolphins on the street corners, and historic markers on walls.

This town has happy dogs, tugging at their leashes at the Saturday Farmers’ Market along the river. The market offers artisanal pickles in vats; bright cerise cherries with yellow blushes earlier in the season, and later, dark red cherries, the best in the world.

The dogs’ owners, male and female, wear shoes with excellent arch support. They wear Birkenstocks, Hokas, or hiking boots; they wear sage-colored hiking trousers, with lots of pockets; and vests with pockets. You never know when you may need a pocket, for an agricultural implement, perhaps, or a lens cap, or a rock climbing hook; you never know when you may need to dig in the dirt, or need to leap into the surrounding mountains for a hike. The clothes are also statements: one is close to the earth, one is outdoorsy, one is self-sufficient. No matter that these pockets and hike-worthy boots mostly meander downtown, or get in and out of top-of-the-line Toyota Rav4 hybrids. People are super super nice. Tattoos abound.

There is another line of fashion here — more popular among the more senior set, among whom I am socializing this week, as my loved one is in her 80s and her friends are in their 70s. This is a “Western Buddhist” look — flowing linen trousers, and batiked scarves, and vaguely Asian or Indian tunics with borders of simple embroidery, as if the ladies had stepped out for lunch from a calling as devotees of some inchoate Eastern sect. No matter that the ladies are all Caucasian as can be, and of Protestant or Jewish origins; and with previous sophisticated Western lives lived sleekly in the affluent US cities or suburbs. They now look elegant in their kimonos and their linen pants and their Central American or Afghani silver necklaces and colored embroidery.

The message here is: we are creative, we may be older but we are a bit edgy still; we are spiritually-oriented and openminded.

I like it all. I am charmed by it all. There are many worse things to believe in and to proclaim with one’s fashion choices, than the restorative powers of nature, or of spiritual growth.

Also, honestly, these are my people — this is my culture of origin. I am a native Californian, from the Haight-Ashbury, and the eccentric, slightly goofy hippie-ness, and even the fervent nature-veneration, of the people of this little town, is all, as Eliza Doolittle said in My Fair Lady, “mother’s milk to me.”

And yet — and yet. (That transition seems to be the theme transition of my essays about these times.)

The town is blue as blue can be, and Oregon is the bluest state, or among the bluest. I used to observe that fact with a sigh of relief. It meant that there would always be good urban growth boundaries (which there are), meaning that, outside of Portland, and on the outskirts of all of these lovely little valley towns, the hideous sprawl that defaces other suburbs and exurbs, cannot contaminate the pure green fields, the gentle wooded foothills. It means that most of the land in Oregon is in public hands. It means a sane — in my mind — environmental policy.

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