Oregonians Shrug off Image as `the Last Weird Place' Notorious Local Newsmakers Turn Up Big-News Camera Lights in a Mellow State. but Natives Say That Oregon Has Always Been a Little Different

Article excerpt

THERE was a time when Oregon seemed mellow and fairly predictable, a scene out of an L.L. Bean catalog (before Mr. Bean became a yuppie). Easygoing descendants of pioneers in sturdy boots and plaid shirts, noble trees and salmon, progressive if sometimes quirky politics, a blend of independent thinking and Jeffersonian values.

Except for the spectacular natural beauty, it seemed fitting that a town here should have been named "Boring."

That was before Bob Packwood and Tonya Harding, the smooching senator and an ice queen who seems to have consorted with knuckle crunchers.

But even before that, the news out of Oregon often seemed a bit - well - strange.

Cult followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh buying up so much of a rural community that they took over local government. Neo-Nazi violence. An anti-Vietnam War bank robber surfacing as a caterer. Headquarters for the anti-gay rights movement. Environmental wars centering on a hapless owl.

Some Oregonians would say the place has always been a little different.

"The land was built on secrets, and everyone has them," University of Oregon graduate Curt Hopkins wrote last year in his alma mater's publication "Old Oregon." "Prison record, draft evasion, broken heart, lost virtue, a falling out with Mankind."

Even allowing for literary license, that observation seems at least metaphorically apt, something other observers hereabouts can agree with.

In that article about the Northwest, cover-titled "The Last Weird Place," Portland writer Katherine Dunn ("Geek Love") talked about "the heritage of the cantankerous."

"I believe the edge of American consciousness flowed out and turned right," said Oregon novelist Ken Kesey ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest").

"I find something very old here and very new. People who think they've already found the answer are living in the past. …