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October 2020

Inquiry and Wonder in the Andrews Forest

In early September, historic wildfires spread across the West, devastating land and communities in Oregon. The unprecedented and powerful east winds that blew down from the western Cascades on Labor Day 2020 unleashed the most destructive wildfires in Oregon's recorded history. Compared with the Holiday Farm Fire's colossal destruction in the McKenzie Valley, the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest was affected lightly only on its southwest edge. Today on the blog, author William Robbins connects his new book, A Place for Inquiry, A Place for Wonder: The Andrews Forest, to the 2020 Oregon wildfires and discusses his admiration and love for the McKenzie Valley.


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The scenic McKenzie River country has been a special place since my first visit to the valley in 1963.  Forever fixed in memory, the valley’s scenic qualities seemed to reflect the beauties of Oregon. The spectacular McKenzie River originates in Clear Lake high in tA Place for Inquiryhe Cascade Range, tumbles over Sahalie and Koosah Falls, and then flows downstream, assuming a more leisurely journey when it reaches the small town of McKenzie Bridge.  Rafters and kayakers navigate white water rapids in the upper river, while fly-fishers stand hip-deep, casting flies in the slower moving waters in hopes of landing a big rainbow trout.  Highway 126, the primary route, passes downriver through small communities from McKenzie Bridge, Rainbow, Blue River, and Nimrod and further on to Vida, Leaburg, and Walterville.  When I first witnessed the valley’s splendors, the most fascinating features were the small historic cabins above the town of Vida sandwiched between the highway and the river, offering a quaint and rustic presence to passers-by.  Because of their proximity to the highway, the cabins likely existed before the roadway was paved and widened.

My affinity for the McKenzie Valley began with a fishing outing in the spring of 1964.  Turning left before the town of Blue River, I drove along the stream of that name until I crossed a bridge and saw a sign announcing the entrance to the “H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest.”  That morning I fished Lookout Creek, a beautiful mountain stream shrouded in old-growth Douglas-fir and thick with an understory of vine maple and sword fern.  Employed with the Eastern Lane Forest Protective Association that summer, I worked as a choker-setter, clearing a right-of-way road for the Forest Service near Mt. Hagan, high above the McKenzie River, and not far as the crow flies from the Andrews Forest.  Before leaving for fire camp southeast of Cottage Grove where I would be crew fireman at the Mosby Creek Guard Station, I learned the trade of “powder monkey,” setting dynamite charges under stumps to blow them apart.  Returning again as crew foreman in 1967, our Mosby Creek crew fought a small fire near Mt. Hagan that sent boulders tumbling onto Highway 126 below (the same sorts of debris, on a much grander scale) littering the highway in the wake of the Holiday Farm Fire of Labor Day 2020.  Those early work experiences in the McKenzie Valley preceded by decades the research and writing of A Place for Inquiry, A Place for Wonder: The Andrews Forest—and undoubtedly contributed to the book.

When Oregon State University Press published A Place for Inquiry in early October 2020, the book’s release followed the ravages of the Holiday Farm Fire, a conflagration that desiccated some twenty miles of landscape along Highway 126, destroying 431 homes and numerous commercial and outbuildings.  At this writing, the fire has burned 173,000 acres and is still smoldering.  The McKenzie inferno was only one of several catastrophic fires in Oregon’s western Cascades, triggered when powerful fifty to seventy mile-per-hour east winds blowing westward down the slopes of the Cascades turned small blazes into huge fires and ignited new ones on the night of September 7, 2020.  By the time the east winds lessened, and rain fell on the Cascades, the fires had torched more than a million acres in Oregon.  The Holiday Farm Fire threatened the lower, western portion of the 15,800-acre Andrews Forest research features and several historical experimental watersheds and its headquarters facility along Lookout Creek.  The fire scorched spottily through Watershed 9 and Watershed 1, damaging gaging stations at the mouth of both drainages.  The fire also burned lightly into Watershed 2, an experimental drainage of old-growth that was left pristine as a comparator to watersheds that had been harvested in the early 1960s.

At this writing, the headquarters location is safe, the remaining embers dying as the fall rains descend. Because A Place for Inquiry was released while the mega-fire was still burning has a tinge of irony, because scientists associated with the Andrews Forest's 70-year history have focused numerous investigations on disturbances, both natural and human. As such, the Holiday Fire will provide fertile ground for research. This book demonstrates that Andrews scientists have always pursued disturbance-related inquiries far afield, including studies of the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980, the Three Sisters Wilderness, national parks, and other experimental forests in Oregon. Andrews scientists have also witnessed disturbance regimes in far-away places—Japan, Chile, Germany, and elsewhere, encounters that have provided them with a global perspective.

Because most scientists agree that trends associated with climate change triggered the gale force winds on Labor Day 2020, A Place for Inquiry places special focus on research associated with global warming.  Andrews scientists began tackling climate change in the 1980s, addressing the “greenhouse effect,” the consequences of atmospheric gases trapping heat radiating from the Earth’s surface.  Writing for Northwest Environmental Journal in 1990, David Perry of OSU’s Department of Forest Science, observed that greenhouse gases and warming temperatures would affect plants because of the longer growing seasons.  Natural disturbances, insect and disease infestations, wildfires, and dramatic swings in precipitation would increase. Fred Swanson and many others suggested that warming climates would affect watershed health, and indirectly, forest management. The Corvallis office of the Environmental Protection Agency reported in 1992 that rising temperatures threatened Northwest forests, its woodlands changing from one vegetation type to another, and that fire, wind, pest, and pathogen outbreaks would increase.

When the National Science Foundation funded its initial Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites in 1980 (the Andrews was among the first six), the agency did not envision that its researchers would contribute to understanding threats posed by rising global temperatures.  The Andrews Forest and other LTER sites, however, became increasingly involved in wide-ranging studies related to climate change.  By the second decade of this century, Andrews scientists were publishing articles underscoring the consequences of the warming climate.

Earlier spring seasons, warmer and drier summers, and autumn-like weather extending into October have already had dire implications—increases in the frequency of wildfires, their size, and the severity of the damage they cause.  The Andrews Forest’s multiple long-term data sets provide valuable historic information on air temperature, precipitation (rain and snow), soil temperatures (in old and young forests)—some of the measurements dating to the 1950s.  Those historic measurements will enable scientists to better evaluate far-reaching changes in climate.  Andrews personnel and agency personnel were interested in the effects of warming temperatures on forests and streams and the socioeconomic consequences for citizens living downstream.  In the last decade, declining snowpacks, earlier spring seasons, and autumns extending through October were affecting residents in the Willamette Valley through reduced water storage in reservoirs for irrigation and recreation. 

The Andrews Forest website describes the Lookout drainage as “a center for forest and stream ecosystem research in the Pacific Northwest.”  It is that and much more.  It is a place of more than one hundred bird species, numerous reptiles, and amphibians, and mammals large and small, all inhabiting a landscape shrouded in seasonal fog, rain, or snow (depending on elevation), old-growth trees still covering 40 percent of its 15,800 acres.  Beginning early in this century, the forest has benefitted from the participation of humanities scholars in its efforts to cope with a troubled future. 

Michael Nelson, who became the lead principal investigator for the Andrews Forest’s Long-Term Ecological Research program in 2012, was the first non-scientist to hold the position. With a master’s degree from Michigan State and a Ph.D. from Lancaster University in England (both in philosophy), Nelson has posed important questions about the social significance of scientific research, viewing the Andrews as “a place of inquiry and research” where scientists investigate the consequences of climate change in a setting that enables them to move beyond old models in anticipating the future.

A Place for Inquiry, A Place for Wonder, a dramatic new research venture for the author, provides the story of the Andrews and what it can offer for the future.

William G. Robbins, a native of Connecticut, served four years in the US Navy before attending college. He holds graduate degrees in history from the University of Oregon and taught at Oregon State University from 1971 to 2002. He retired as Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History. He has authored and edited many books, including A Man for all Seasons: Monroe Sweetland and the Liberal Paradox (OSU Press, 2015).

Clifford Gleason: An Underappreciated Oregon Artist

Clifford Gleason: The Promise of Paint was published in 2020 in conjunction with an exhibition of the same title at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. The book is a comprehensive overview of the life and times of the mid-century Oregon modern painter Clifford Gleason (1913-1978), arguably one of the most skilled, if also underrated, Pacific Northwest modernists of his era.

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Clifford Gleason was about 25 years old when he posed with his mural Alice in Wonderland, designed for the library of Bush Elementary School in Salem. A project in Louis Bunce’s advanced painting class at the Salem Federal Art Center, Alice in Wonderland is one of the most avant-garde murals created under the auspices of the WPA, which established federal art centers nationwide. Salem’s center was considered one of the most successful, with its rich program of classes, exhibitions, and outreach projects to public schools.


Alice in Wonderland 

Clifford Gleason with his mural Alice in Wonderland. ca. 1938

Alice in Wonderland

 Alice in Wonderland. 1938. Tempera on canvas, affixed to panel. North Salem High School since 2005.

Still Life with SDpools

Still Life with Spools. ca. 1939. Oil on board. 45 1/4 x 32 in. Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Maribeth Collins Art Acquisition Fund, COL.98.07.

This painting, created when Gleason was in his mid-20s, reflects his full awareness of European modern painting, especially the work of the French Cubist Georges Braque. At the same time, the spools may refer to the local world of Salem manufacturing: Gleason’s parents owned and operated the Gleason Glove Factory, located near the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, and both companies made use of large wood spools of thread.



Belcrest Still LifeBelcrest Still Life. 1947. Oil on Masonite. 11 1/4 x 9 1/2 in. Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Gift from the Maurice Hudkins Collection in memory of C. Ronald Hudkins and Betty-mae Hartung Hudkins, 2005.019.026.

In the 1940s, living in Salem following two years’ study at the Museum Art School (now the Pacific Northwest College of Art) in Portland, Gleason continued to paint costumed figures, still life, and townscapes. Gleason’s parents lost the glove factory in the Depression, and beginning in the mid-1930s his father was the superintendent of Belcrest Memorial Gardens, a cemetery in Salem, where Gleason lived with his parents. His paintings from the 1940s combine Fauvism, Cubism, and an eye for the local scene.


FireflyFirefly. 1960. Crinkled paper and collage on board. 8 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. Murdoch Collections courtesy of Marilyn Murdoch.

Firefly is from a series of small experimental works that Gleason created in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The series marks an important transition in Gleason’s development as an artist. His process was to dampen and crinkle rice paper to create an irregular surface on which he painted with gouache and sometimes, as here, incorporated collage. The results were entirely different from his earlier work depicting figures and still life objects. The new crinkled paper pieces can be understood as studies for his thickly painted, highly abstract oil paintings of the early 1960s.


Moving TotemMoving Totem. June 1964. Oil on canvas. 36 x 36 in. Collection of Dorothy and Brooks Cofield.

By the mid-1960s, Gleason’s paintings are more open and “airy,” suffused with what he referred to as a “fresh breeze of discovery”. Here, the dynamics of the painting involve the anchoring of the black pods on so slender a stem, the delicately rendered contours of the pods, and the rich build-up of paint (red, orange, turquoise) that bridges the two upper forms.



Clifford GleasonClifford Gleason in his studio, Salem, ca. 1960. Photograph by Bob Crist.

The artist George Johanson described Gleason as “the thinnest person, a bundle of nerve endings with a person wrapped around them.” In drawing and painting, and especially in painting, Clifford Gleason found the arena—the only one, he believed, in which he could excel. With paint, he found the promise of accomplishment, success, and recognition. This book serves as confirmation that for Gleason paint’s promise was genuine.







Roger Hull, an independent arts writer and curator, is Professor of Art History Emeritus at Willamette University. He has written monographs and organized retrospective exhibitions on a dozen Oregon artists, most recently Lucinda Parker and John Stahl.


Storm Beat: An Interview with Lori Tobias

Anyone who has spent time at the Oregon Coast knows there’s nothing like it. The Pacific Ocean can fill you with a sense of wonder and awe on the sunniest or the stormiest days, but life on the coast can be rough, tough, and risky. Author and journalist Lori Tobias knows that all too well. She spent the past decade covering the stories of those who call the coast home.

Tobias’s latest book, Storm Beat (OSU Press, 2020), explores the tragedies, accidents, and heartbreak that occurred during Tobias’ time covering the coast for the Oregonian. This interview sheds light on Tobias’ life as a journalist, the relationships she built, and the uniqueness of life on the coast.

Lori Tobias

OSU Press: What drew you to write Storm Beat?

Lori Tobias: I am a career journalist and I had been in Denver at the Rocky Mountain News, but I always wanted to live on the Oregon Coast. My husband got a job offer and we moved here. I was a little bummed because I didn’t have a news room. Eventually, I got on as a stringer with the Oregonian and then I became a staff writer. In the very beginning, there was a weird situation in a town on the north coast—there was a lot of political infighting and it ended up in a suicide. The fire crew had walked off their jobs in support of their chief who was the public works director. So, I said to my editor, “Hey, the whole fire crew walked off the job—is that a story?” and he said, “Lori, if someone dies, that’s a story.” A few months later, I saw this mournful op-ed piece in the local paper up north—the town manager had killed himself over this whole thing.

I just knew that there was going to be a story in this beat because there were so many things I covered and the Oregon Coast is so loved. It is Storm Beatalso quite dangerous. If you’re not watching yourself and do stupid things, you can pay very dearly. So, when I got laid off, Storm Beat was my therapy. I went through all of my journals and my notebooks and decided that I would only include the stories that had not been in the paper. It had to be something more than that and go deeper than what people already knew.

OSU Press: Throughout your book, Storm Beat, you meet many different people up and down the coast and you become a part of the coastal community. How did you build relationships and trust with the communities you were reporting on throughout your journalism career?

Lori Tobias: It happens gradually. You do a story, you get to know someone, and they feel that they can trust you. Those relationships often start with bad news. They start with the police and the sheriff’s department because you count on them to let you know. I had a close relationship with the Tillamook sheriff, Todd Anderson, so close I’d say, “Hey Todd, it’s me,” and he would know who me is. I met people by covering something that happened to them and as I’m chasing down another story, I might run into them. There was a woman who owned a seashell shop and a truck took her whole shop out and when I met her, she was just yelling and I thought I had done something. I had to know what happened so I said, “I’m sorry, but did I do something?” and she said, “No, no, it’s not you at all” and then she started crying. Her one cat had been injured and her whole shop was devastated. It got to where I would be driving and I needed a break and I would stop and visit her.

One of the first stories I did, a man was going to Afghanistan. He came home and brought me a shawl and now we’re family friends. It builds gradually, you try to be a good person, you try to do a good job, you try to abide by your work. If you tell them you’re not going to write something, you don’t. If you say it’s off the record, it’s off the record. If you push them a little too far, then you back off. It isn’t easy because these are small towns and it’s not that people are distrustful but I represented the big city, Portland. Most people didn’t realize that I’d been living in Newport for the past twenty years. They assumed I was coming in from the big city.

OSU Press: Your editor would often tell you, “Sorry…you gotta make the call” (24) when you would have to interview someone who just lost their loved one or someone who was in a tragic accident. How would you interview folks while they were grieving? How do you report with compassion?

Lori Tobias: You go to the family to give them the opportunity to tell the world who that person was and why they loved them. I absolutely hate making those calls, but you have to. I remember one of the first times I understood this. There was a horrific crash on I5 and three symphony members died. So, I made the call and one of the husbands called me back immediately because he wanted to talk about who his wife was and why he loved her so much and what a loss it was to the community. He really wanted that out there and it was an eye-opener for me. I just assumed I was intruding but that wasn’t always the case, I found out. One of the horrific cases that I didn’t cover was when London McCabe’s mother threw him off the bridge. At that time I wasn’t with the Oregonian, but they had texted me in the middle of the night asking me to report on this and I said, “No I won’t do it.” I just could not go out and knock on the doors and ask the questions that needed to be asked. I did later reach out to London’s father who did want to tell the world why his boy mattered and why people with developmental disabilities still get to live satisfying lives. He really wanted to get that word out there and I was really happy to do that for him.

OSU Press: Did your viewpoint about the Oregon Coast change with each story you wrote?

Lori Tobias: I don’t know if it changed so much as evolved. There is a lot of commonality and authenticity on the coast. These are real people who are doing real jobs. Generally, not keeping up with the Joneses. What I did learn, and I find this sad, is that there is a huge population of well-off people and an even bigger population of those who struggle to make ends meet. People work hard here and they struggle. People look at the Oregon Coast and they think this is a vacationland with the mansions and the resorts, but what they may not see is the family living in a tent on the hill whose only meal is what the school feeds them.

OSU Press: In Chapter Six: Cold Cases, there is a lot of tragedy and hurt that has left communities depleted and desperate for answers. What did it mean to you to be keeping people’s stories alive?

Lori Tobias: I couldn’t always do that and sometimes I didn’t do it as quickly as I would have liked to. With the Kara and Jenny case, it was an anniversary date and Jenny’s half-brother worked for my husband, so I was keenly aware of everything. As I say in my book, if I move to the other end of this room right now, I could point to where they were last seen. There are a few stories that I couldn’t shake and that was one of them. There were days if not weeks where I couldn’t stand to be in the house and I had to make sure the doors were locked. I didn’t want to go into the garage and I didn’t like the lights being off. I went through a strange feeling of vulnerability and there were times I would find myself staring out the window, tearful. You know details that you don’t ever forget. So, I was happy when I could keep it alive and hopeful that it would do some good. I can’t let go of the idea that we will never know what happened. Someone somewhere knows something. You just hope and wait that their conscience or DNA technology come through.

OSU Press: Some of the tragedies that you covered involved violence against women. Many of these incidents in your book turn fatal with little to no justice ever brought forward. With the Leah Freeman, Jennifer Esson and Kara Leas, and Melissa Sanders and Sheila Swanson murders, how did you manage to continue searching for justice even when there were no leads?

Lori Tobias: It isn’t my job to search for justice. It’s my job to shine a light on it and say let’s not forget about these cases and let’s find these people. With the Leah Freeman case, I felt strongly that Nick McGuffin was innocent. They didn’t have anything to support what they were saying and I just couldn’t get my hands around it. He also suffered an injustice. The Oregonian team of reporters and Lincoln country detectives think that they figured out who killed Melissa and Sheila, but that leaves Jenny and Kara and that one is still a cold case.

OSU Press: What did the Oregon Coast teach you throughout your reporting days?

Lori Tobias: To trust your instincts. That’s a big one. It taught me that we’re really all the same. Everybody hurts and everybody has had pain. You look at someone and you think that they’ve lived this wonderful and magical life then you find out they’re battling a chronic illness, or they just lost someone, or maybe they’re battling depression. I think I’ve learned to be kinder, which comes with living in a small community, because if you’re not kind you’re going to be knowing about it for the next six years. If you snap at the grocery store clerk, she’s going to remember it so you have to be nice. I wish I could say it taught me to slow down, because I need to, but it hasn’t. Trust your gut, be kind, and don’t assume anything about anyone. We all struggle.

OSU Press: Anything else you want to share about your book?

Lori Tobias: Storm Beat was hard to write. It was cathartic and I consider myself to be incredibly blessed to have had this beat, to have made the friends I’ve made, and I am so thankful the book landed with the OSU Press because I think that’s exactly where it belongs.

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