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November 2020

The Oregon Hops Story: An Interview with Kenneth Helphand

Did you know that in the early twentieth century, Oregon was the leading grower and producer of hops? Kenneth I. Helphand, author of Hops: Historic Photographs of the Oregon Hopscape, uses photos and words to share stories of a rich part of Oregon’s agricultural history. This is not a book about beer, but about the hops plant and the community that picked it. Helphand describes in this interview his process for creating the book.

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OSU Press: What was the genesis for writing Hops? 

Helphand: I teach landscape architecture and the history of landscape architecture. Hopyard, 1880I am recently retired from the University of Oregon where I taught for 45 years. So, I have an interest in landscapes of all types. I’ve lived in Oregon since 1974. The genesis has multiple strands. One is I never saw hops growing until I moved to Oregon. I used to do a lot of bike riding in the valley and that was the first time I ever saw hops growing and I was just struck by these landscapes. I used to describe hops yard as a vineyard on steroids. I had a long-term interest in “agritecture,” which is the architecture of agriculture and all of the elements used in agriculture to support and protect growing plants. All the things that support tomatoes, squash, bean poles, and coverings to protect plants from birds, animals—that always fascinated me. Then I had the opportunity to research hops landscapes through the Foundation for Landscape Studies magazine, Fault Lines, for a special issue on agricultural landscapes, and through my research I realized that the national hops archives were less than an hour away from me at OSU. I made an appointment with Tiah, who is the archivist there, and she introduced me to the archives, print materials, and let me know about the photo archives. I was struck by the quality of these photographs and that interested me. I have a long-term interest in landscape photography. (above right: Hopyard, 1880; "Hoppicking Time is Holiday in Oregon"; Angelus Studio)

OSU Press: Why photographs? What do we learn from them?

Helphand: Photography can do a lot of things, but photography can be used narratively to tell a story. Individually and collectively all the pictures in the book tell a story. They tell a story about the plant, but then the seasonal cycle of hop growing as the yard is wired and strung and the Pickers, Oregon City, circa 1890plants grow. Ultimately, how they’re harvested, baled, dried, then go to market. They tell that story.

What I discovered dramatically in the pictures is another story that interested me equally—the social story of the culture of hop growing in the landscape. In the pictures there were vast numbers of people who were picking before it was mechanized. It took three to four weeks at a time to pick hops. This was a practice engaged by tens and thousands of people who would descend on hop yards—mostly in the Willamette Valley—to pick. This group represented every strata in society in terms of class, ethnic group, and generation. People gathered together and they worked during the day, and at night there was entertainment. There would be dances, movies, socializing, and the photographs tell that collective story. Oregon used to be the hops capital of the world. We tend to think of Oregon as having a logging, timber, and outdoor environmental culture, and I think Hops tells a different story of Oregon culture that not many know about. (above left: Pickers, Oregon City, circa 1890; Oregon Historical Society, Folder Ag-Hops Wkrs)

OSU Press: What was it like to spend so much time in the archives?

Helphand: To put it simply, I love archivists. I’ve spent a lot of times in the archives not Securing wire to poles with tractor pulling high tower, 1952only for this research but in other research I’ve done. An archivist’s job is to gather material for a collection and then organize that material to make it available to anyone who wants to see it. That means they know their collections. They are catalogued in different degrees and now things are scanned and digitized and you can look it up on your computer, but archivists have been working for many years to digitize their collections. You have to be clever about what you are seeking. I spent a lot of time gathering articles, text material, newspapers, loose files, and through the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program (ODNP), which turned out to be most important. Around hop picking time, the Oregonian would do a big hop picking feature. So, there are newspaper clippings and hop picking ads that are featured in the book. (above right: Securing wire to poles with tractor pulling high tower, 1952; OHBA Gifford Photographic Collection, circa 1885-1958)

OSU Press: How is the book both a landscape and a cultural history?

Pickers with men on poles, 1930Helphand: They aren’t contradictory terms. Landscape is culture and landscapes are a cultural phenomenon. I use the terms landscape in a broad sense, not just talking about the cultural landscapes, but essentially that landscapes are the world that human beings have created. We see this most dramatically with our rural and urban landscapes. How people interact with them and how the landscapes impact people is a symbiotic relationship of looking at the landscape as a manifestation of culture. We do this with other art forms and we expand that idea with landscapes. All the manifestations of the surrounding culture and the individuals who live in that landscape impact culture.

OSU Press: Did your relationship to landscapes change after you did your research on hops?

Helphand: I brought my career into this project so I wouldn’t say that it changed. Through that length of time I spent half a century thinking about landscapes. I would say that this project has enriched my understanding of a part of the world that I didn’t know that much about. I learned about the culture and the people who play a part in it. I had great support from the Oregon Hop Growers Association, who graciously supported this project.

OSU Press: Anything else to add about your experience writing Hops?

Helphand: Just that it was pleasurable to write and that people found this research fascinating. People over seventy can talk about how common hop picking and growing was in Oregon. Kenneth HelphandI even got an ad from a cousin in Los Angeles, who said that my auntie Anne used to have a phrase, “he’s hopping mad,” which meant he was full of hops. This was an expression I never heard, and it was a colloquial expression from the midwest that was a synonym for “he was full of beer.” That was a humorous part of the research.

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Kenneth I. Helphand is Philip H. Knight professor of landscape architecture emeritus at the University of Oregon. He is the author of several award-winning books, most recently Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime.

Rebuilding Ecological Resilience

In celebration of University Press Week, our guest blogger for today is Bruce A. Byers, author of The View from Cascade Head: Lessons for the Biosphere from the Oregon Coast. In today's post, he talks about the genesis of his book, the beauty and ecological significance of the Oregon Coast, and the importance of nature-writing to science and the conservation movement. He also reflects on Oregon's recent wildfires and what the future may hold.

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Though born in Oregon, I grew up and have mostly lived elsewhere. But some of my earliest and fondest memories are of poking in tide pools with my grandfather on summer visits to the Oregon Coast. Those tide pools gave a glimpse into another world. It seemed to me a huge,The View from Cascade Head beautiful, nonhuman world of scuttling hermit crabs, snails, camouflaged fish, and flower-like anemones. Multi-colored seastars crammed in every crevice and crawled on every rock. I remember a special delight in their diverse colors—brown, orange, and some a deep, royal purple, like the color of the robes of the ancient King of the Sea. I think that was the seed of my sense that the world is a wide and wondrous place, way beyond our grasp of it or influence on it, and that everything is connected to everything else. After I got a PhD in ecology, I remember blurting out, when someone asked me, “Well, how did you come to be an ecologist?” that it was all because of my granddad, and the tide pools at Haystack Rock. Later I wondered, Did I really mean that—that I became an ecologist because of those experiences starting at five years old? And when I thought harder and deeper about it, all I could come to was—Yes!

For my PhD research, I returned to the Oregon Coast to study an intertidal snail because it was a good species in which to understand the ecological and evolutionary dimensions of the question “Is behavior ecologically adaptive?” In retrospect, I’ve come to see, over the rest of my career, that I really wanted to answer that question about my own species, whose behavior seems in so many ways anything but ecologically adaptive and wise. But sometimes I get hints of hope that it can be—as I did when I spent some months living and working at Cascade Head recently as ecologist-in-residence at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology.

Cascade Head is Oregon’s only biosphere reserve, part of an international network of biosphere reserves coordinated by the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme. That program, and the concept of the “biosphere” from which it arose, are important achievements in the history of ecology, conservation, and sustainable development. Biosphere reserves are supposed to be laboratories for understanding the human-nature relationship, and models for other places to learn from as we all struggle toward a sustainable relationship between humans and our home planet. In my work as an international ecological consult, I’ve had the good fortune to spend time in thirty-four biosphere reserves in seventeen countries. Although each is unique, they all face similar challenges and provide lessons for all the others.

The interconnected essays in this book tell the as-yet-untold story of the Cascade Head Biosphere Reserve. I’ve tried to weave together personal observations and experiences, ecological science, the history and philosophy of nature conservation, and wider cross-cultural worldviews.

Place-based nature writing is, perhaps not surprisingly, almost synonymous with nature writing. From Walden to Wintergreen, and from The Island Within to A Wilder Time, classic nature writing has been grounded in a particular place. But a valid question is “How big is your place”? It’s very, very hard to draw boundaries around ecosystems. Place-based writing is appealing and can be lyrical because it shows readers the complex, wondrous particulars of a place. But where are the boundaries? When we probe for the ecological boundaries of any place, we find that they expand to the entire biosphere. I tried to write a place-based book full of all the enlivening details about the Cascade Head landscape and ecosystem, but then expand the story—to expand spatially, out beyond the horizon to the scale of the biosphere, and temporally too, to the scale of historical and evolutionary time. Beavers, butterflies, whales, and salmon all have ecological and evolutionary stories that illustrate what I call in the book “a prescription for correcting the ecological myopia of our own species.” I tried to follow the advice given by John Steinbeck and his marine ecologist friend Ed Ricketts in their little gem of a book, Log from the Sea of Cortez, which described a six-week marine intertidal collecting expedition they made together in 1940: “It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”

In looking from the near to far, and back again, I concluded that The Cascade Head Biosphere Reserve is a microcosm. It is only a tiny part of our planet’s thin and fragile living skin, but the efforts of many dedicated people to defend a balance between humans and nature there are illustrative and instructive. The lessons from Cascade Head apply anywhere.

Three lessons stand out. The first is the importance of individuals whose commitment, hard work, and love of place over many decades have made Cascade Head such a rich laboratory and model. Their stories are unequivocal in showing the importance of inspired, value-based, individual action. The second lesson is that although ecologists now understand much about how nature works, ecological mysteries still abound. We don’t fully understand the migratory traditions of gray whales, the causes of sea star wasting syndrome, the genetic diversity of the Oregon silverspot butterfly, the life histories of salmon, or the ecohydrology of forests. More research is needed to strengthen the scientific knowledge that underpins decisions about restoring ecosystems and maintaining their resilience in the face of the changes our species is creating in the biosphere. A third lesson is the importance of worldviews is how we think about the human-nature relationship—in shaping our individual and collective actions. At Cascade Head we can read the history of changing worldviews in the landscape, and begin to imagine how a new, ecocentric worldview could help heal the human-nature relationship here, and everywhere.

It used to be fashionable to talk about “the balance of nature.” But as ecologists have learned more, we realize that “balance” is not quite the right word; it can be misunderstood to suggest some sort of stability or stasis. Our home planet is dynamic and changeable, and old ideas of ecological “stability” have given way to a more sophisticated view of the dynamic balance—the resilience—of ecosystems. You can think of resilience as the kind of balance it

takes to ride a wave on a surfboard, not to stand still on a rock. On a planet prone to chaos, life has so far found adaptive pathways to survival, but humans have caused and accelerated global changes that now stress ecosystems in ways that threaten our own existence. If we are to survive much longer, we must rebuild the resilience of the ecosystems we have degraded.

Thinking about resilience, my mind immediately jumps to images of the wildfires Oregon experienced in the past few months. One, the Echo Mountain Fire, started about half-a-dozen miles east of Cascade Head in the valley of the Salmon River. The fire was relatively small, burning only around twenty-five hundred acres; it destroyed approximately three hundred structures—houses, shed, and barns—but no one lost their life.

For many people, the fires sparked fear, a sense that nature is changing, getting out of control. But fire has always been a natural part of the Cascade Head ecosystem, and has always been influenced both by climate and human activities. Forest ecologists estimate that natural fire return intervals in western Oregon forests like those at Cascade Head were two hundred years or more before Euro-American settlement, and that almost half the landscape would have been old-growth forest. Now, because logging mined out the old growth, little is left, and research has shown that much of the western United States is now in a state of “fire deficit” because of our ecologically unnatural forest management policies and practices, especially fire suppression.

Bruce ByersThe coastal grasslands that cover the scenic southern flanks of Cascade Head and are protected in The Nature Conservancy’s Cascade Head Preserve—a core part of the biosphere reserve—are in part the result of fires set by the Indigenous people who lived in the area. Those meadows are the prime habitat for the threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly, and are now maintained and managed with prescribed, controlled burns. The last major fire to touch Cascade Head was the Nestucca Fire in 1845, which burned and reset ecological succession on about two-thirds of its forests. Forests are resilient, and biodiversity thrives in a landscape that is a mosaic of all stages of ecological succession. We have work to do to reconcile our relationship to wildfire. It’s we who need to adapt, and, through research and restoration, bring back more of the natural diversity and resilience of our forests. Fire will have to have a role in that process, and in understanding that role, Cascade Head and its biosphere reserve can continue to be a laboratory and model.



Bruce A. Byers is an ecologist and consultant who advises NGOs and government agencies around the world on forest management, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services, and environmental communication.

rough house: an interview with Tina Ontiveros

In her gripping and courageous debut memoir, Tina Ontiveros leaves it all on the page, inviting readers to lean into her experiences as a young girl growing up in and out of logging camps amidst intergenerational poverty and trauma in the Pacific Northwest. rough house has been on the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Bestseller list for six weeks running and was an October IndieNext pick from the American Booksellers Association. Tracing her story through the forests and working-class towns of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, Ontiveros brings readers along on her journey of love, loss, and finding home.

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OSU Press: What was the driving force for you to tell your story?

author photo by Sol Ontiveros Tough question! I think an honest answer would be very long and complicated. For one thing, I think this story was held in my body before I wrote it down. In that sense, I’ve been telling it my whole life—or it has been telling me. I think, as I became more educated and gained more financial stability, I was able to let go of the shame you carry when you are poor. That was a gradual process, sort of becoming free to speak. I worked on it, in bits and different forms, for over ten years before I wrote the manuscript that became rough house.

Another big motivation for me was my niece. She is sixteen and her single mom struggles with many of the consequences that come with generational poverty. A few years back, I noticed that my niece was carrying shame, just as I had, just as her mother does, for being poor. And I felt like it was my responsibility to tell part of our family story for her. I want her to see the joy and beauty in the struggle. I want her to know that her story will be something she feels proud of someday. I think knowing that can help her set her shame down much earlier than I did. 

OSU Press: Class inequities are a constant theme in your book. Can you talk more about how class struggle shaped your life?  

Ontiveros: I don’t think there is anything about me that was not shaped by class. When I was a young adult, I did everything to escape poverty. And I thought that meant I had to leave everything about it behind—including most of my family. Now, I think that’s sad. There is so much wrong with the American ideal of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The idea that anyone can make their way in the American economy is false. And, because the lie is so pervasive, we automatically shame anyone who fails at this ideal. We shame the poor and that shame was such a presence in my upbringing. So, I thought the cost of becoming educated and middle class was that I had to set down whatever culture was instilled by my family—iron out my language and be watchful of my habits—because those things brought shame. I didn’t realize the shame came from the outside world—not from something that was wrong with my family.

Now, I tend to push back against the idea that I should have to assimilate if I want to participate in academia or live in the middle class. I think there is something we can all learn from families like mine. And I try to share that with my students early, so maybe they might waste less time in pointless assimilation.

OSUrough house Press: There’s much to be angry at or feel resentful towards in your book, but you come across as very calm in an almost understanding way. What do you do with your anger? How have you processed the difficult emotions described in rough house? 

Ontiveros: In the book I write a little about that. In my teens and early twenties, I did have more anger. It has slipped away with distance but also, the process of writing helped me transform that anger, I think. Also, it’s important here to point out the vast difference between writing and publishing. Each writer has to decide for herself what she is ready to share with the world. For me, I don’t think I have any business publishing a memoir if I have not yet processed the anger out of the events I am writing about. I love literary memoir and I notice that, in the memoirs I consider worth reading and rereading, the writer has enough distance to allow her to at least try to see the motivations of others, even those who hurt her. So, it was important to me that I write this book without anger. In the end, the memoir is a thing I created—it is not my life. They are related but not the same thing. And I created this thing to hopefully be able to connect to other people, outside the boundaries of space and time. In order to do that well, it couldn’t be written from a place of anger. It had to be written from a place of curiosity. That is what leaves the story open for others to experience. Curiosity is an invitation.

OSU Press: You spent a lot of time outdoors. How did nature play a role in your life? Was it a source of escape or happiness for you?   

Ontiveros: Yes—my dad was a migrant logger so we moved constantly, but we always lived in or very near the woods. I had this beautiful and wild backdrop for all my childhood stories and that made life with him take on a fairytale quality. After my mom left him, every time I came back to my dad, I returned to the woods. Hardly ever the same woods—he was always on the move even after he stopped logging. But still, it was always a journey of returning to the forest. That really helped me sort of think of my dad as a mythological figure and I think it also helped me, as a child, process some of our trauma. Because there is always danger in fairy tales—they wouldn’t be complete without that darkness. Adventure comes with risk. 

Also, my dad had a way of celebrating beauty through nature, of teaching me to be curious in wandering and exploring. Those gentle moments really balanced out his more troubling behavior. So, I wouldn't say nature was a source of escape. But it was a source of comfort in that it allowed me to find beauty in some very hard times. I also think there is a way that being in open spaces, being in the natural world, reminds you how small and insignificant you are. And that’s true of your troubles as well. So, I do think there is a way that the spaces I was lucky to sort of wander through with my dad might have given me some perspective. Nature is always demonstrating that nothing is permanent. Coastlines and the forests are always changing. That’s true of our sorrows, too. Tomorrow, or the next day, they will be transformed.

OSU Press: You migrated all throughout the PNW. Are there any particular spots that were your favorite to live in or any specific areas in the PNW that were special to you?  

Ontiveros: Packwood is my favorite of all the places I lived with my dad. That seems strange because my worst trauma happened there. But it was also a place where I experienced great joy and learned so much about resilience and my own strength. 

Place Names in rough houseThe Dalles is also very close to my heart. I will always consider it my home, though I no longer choose to live there. The Dalles is hard for me in so many ways. It is brown and dry; I prefer green and rain. There’s so much history there for me, much of it painful. It's a working-class town and I had this idea I wanted to be “more.” I wanted to be educated and financially secure. I often felt misunderstood and like I just wanted to get out. But it is also where my mom is, where my bookstore is. It is the place where so many things that really are the heart of me live. And I can always feel there are people there, cheering for me no matter what. So, I will always come back. And, like all things, distance has given me appreciation for it.

OSU Press: If you could tell young Tina anything, what would it be? 

Ontiveros: Honestly, I don’t think I would tell her anything. Like I say in the book, I have to leave her alone in moments of trauma—she has to figure it out on her own, so that I can be made. And I can see now how everything she needed to know was given to her—she just didn’t always listen. My dad used to say to me, if I was in pain and wanted him to somehow make it better, that I just had to wait. His phrase was, Ain’t nothin’ for it but time. The pain was going to pass with time. Another thing he sometimes said was, If I ain’t hurtin’, I ain’t livin’. He had troubling behavior, that’s for sure. He was the product of generations of poverty and that has a way of making some people hard. But he was always showing me how you get back up and try again. If young Tina could have understood the wisdom in that, she might have been spared a lot of anxiety and heartache. But the message was always there for her—she just had to be open to receive it.


Can’t get enough of rough house? Hear from Ontiveros herself, as she delves into the process of making rough house and the trials and tribulations of her childhood in the book trailer. Watch here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kal0WogZ-c

Tina Ontiveros is a writing instructor at Columbia Gorge Community College, book buyer at Klindt’s Booksellers in The Dalles, and current president of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association.









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