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Introduction

The focus of East of the Cascades is the landscape of central and eastern Oregon. It is presented here filtered through the words of individuals who have explored, settled, lived in and traveled the state. On one hand this collection is an anthology of writings about Oregon east of the Cascade Mountains - its landscape and the life it promised. On the other, it is a collection of photographs - contemporary reflections of the landscapes chronicled by the collected authors.

The beauty of the study of history is the way in which one is forced into adopting new perspectives. I do not share, for example, the same sense of potential wealth derived from cattle ranching that Peter French must have experienced in surveying the marshy grasslands of Steens Mountain. Nor do I share William Gladstone Steele’s hope of creating a tourist mecca at Crater Lake. My own response to nature’s surprises is much closer to the quiet respect voiced by Narcissa Whitman coming out of the Blue Mountains and seeing Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood for the first time across the sun bathed grasslands of the Columbia basin. Regardless of one’s contemporary point of view, though, the study of history is at once an act of listening and of re-creation; of re-creating events past through the mind’s eyes of those who participated, of temporarily suspending your own point of view while adopting that of others in an attempt to share in their experience.

So in this book you will discover two parallel sets of images - one historical, one photographic - each complementing the other, each representing one side in a dialogue between past and present. The historical images are excerpts from stories, letters, journals, reports, and essays extending back in time to include legends of the native American settlers of the Deschutes River and the Klamath basins and forward to a present day reminder of the need to view the cultural as well as the biological aspects of a region's ecology in any effort to save the things we value most about it. The photographic images are mine. They are portraits of the broader landscapes portrayed in words by the selected authors. They are a visual history. The premise of this collection is that at least to a small degree it is possible to see landscape as others have seen it; not simply to see the same mountains, the trees, the flowers, but to see the possibilities and the sense of the natural world that others have experienced. Each of the photographs in this book represents a conscious attempt to adopt the point of view of the authors included, to capture not only the physical geography of what they saw, but to see through the filter of their emotional and intellectual geography as well.

The work is organized chronologically in such a way that it is possible to see the evolution of attitudes that Oregonians have had about their natural environment, often mirroring national thought, often an outgrowth of circumstances peculiar to Oregon and to the West. Click on the names in the timeline and you can easily compare national and local trends in thinking about the American landscape and its uses. Narcissa Whitman, for example, was a product of upstate New York and her vision of the Oregon wilderness is not unlike that found in the romantic visions of Hudson River School painters like Thomas Moran and Thomas Cole. Though not as eloquent as John Muir, William Gladstone Steele obviously found inspiration in Muir’s efforts to preserve Yosemite in his own work to secure national park status for Crater Lake.

Click on the Oregon map icon on most of the pages to provide geographic context as you read. Maps contemporary to each author's work have been overlaid on 3-D imagery of Oregon and the Northwest. You can, for example, follow along John C. Fremont's route through Oregon on the map that was produced as a result of his journey of exploration. Please do not expect a perfect fit with the earliest maps. Their accuracy was limited by limited prior exploration.

I invite you to engage these materials on two levels: contemporary landscape photography and social history. The landscape of Oregon east of the Cascades is amazingly beautiful and diverse, far more so than the image of high desert and sagebrush that I brought north from California nearly forty years ago. It is very easy to enjoy in its own right. Please also take the opportunity to see Oregon through the eyes of our predecessors as well. The variety of historical points of view is as varied and rich as the landscape itself. Enjoy!

Rick Thomas