A Legacy of Diversity: The Finns, Norwegians and Chinese of Astoria, Oregon

By Neal Moore

ASTORIA, ORE. – It is home to the first permanent U.S., non-native settlement west of the Rockies. Astoria, Oregon, you see, is big on diversity.

In the early 1800s, this Pacific coast town at the mouth of the Columbia River was a mecca for fur trappers and loggers. And thanks to an abundance of salmon, this is where Bumble Bee Seafoods established a foothold in 1899.

The Finns and Norwegians would arrive in their greatest numbers in the early 20th century. But back in the 1880s, had you taken a stroll down one of these storied riverside streets, one in three people you would have encountered would have been Chinese.

Liisa Penner of the Clatsop County Historical Society explains that the Scandinavians could qualify for 160-acre homesteads in exchange for clearing and taming the land, the labor available to Chinese migrant laborers and immigrants was demanding in a different way. “The Chinese were brought here usually by labor contractors to staff the canneries, and unfortunately, once they were here, the work was extremely difficult.”

While the Scandinavians thrived, the population of Chinese laborers would dwindle due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which curtailed immigration, and the advent of the mechanized “iron chink”, which economized fish processing production.  And yet, while Penner explains the population of Chinese in Astoria steadily declined from 2,317 in 1880 to 139 in 1940, there are still remnants of these early settlers, who have stayed on, and are thriving today.

Flora Law, age 91, who was born in this town, represents the third generation of American-born Chinese in her family.  Her grandmother, born in 1870, hailed from Alemeda, California. And her father, Edward Yim Lee, born in 1899, and his two elder brothers, Mike and Fred, came to Astoria from neighboring Portland in the early 20th century.

The Law family, by and large, have stayed on, in Astoria and across Oregon, and as Flora told me, “have assimilated into the community with no problems”.  Her son, Robbie, 64, practices medicine and younger brother Ronnie, 60, is an engineer.  Out of Flora’s six children and seventeen grandchildren, all but one are in an interracial marriage or relationship, and all have gone to college, many with advanced degrees.

“Appropriately, salmon run in schools,” explained Robbie, who attended Stanford University and came back to open a medical practice in Astoria.  “It’s a story of the immigrant process, the immigrant experience, that we’re a part of the fabric of the community here.”

Another long-time Chinese-American family with deep roots in the community is the Lums, who run the local Toyota, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram auto dealership.

“Where else can Chinese people sell Japanese cars to a Scandinavian community?” Julie Lum quotes her father, David, who established Toyota of Astoria back in 1969 at the site of the family’s long running green-grocery.  “And you can in the United States.”  The family’s forbearer, Lum Sue, first came to the town in 1891.

Today, Julie and her sisters Pam and Lori run the auto dealership.  As I set up for my interview with these sisters, a host of locals, both young and old, came in to chuckle and to say hello, to tell tales of various business successes and to take a picture with the trio.  There is a real sense of community here – a word that would come up again and again as I interviewed various ethnicities around and about the town, all of which went by the title “Astorians.”

Jorgen Madsen, 83, a long-time Astoria resident and immigrant from Denmark, explained, “Everybody is worth something, big or little one, we all are part of the community.”

Where the town was once divided between the Swedes in Downtown, the Finns in Uniontown, the Chinese in Downtown and Uniontown, and the Norwegians in Uppertown, Sari Vedenoia-Hartman, 48, who runs a hair salon and who immigrated here in the early 1970s from Kalajoki, Finland, summed up today’s atmosphere nicely.

“The plumber lives next to the school teacher that lives next to the retired naval officer that lives next to the homemaker,” said Vedenoia-Hartman.  “So, I remember being a little girl here – and we spoke Finnish in the home, and then English in school. They didn’t have ESL programs, so the community came together to teach us English – the neighbor kids.”

When asked how the face of the American experiment was playing out here on the Pacific Coast, Liisa Penner pointed to “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, which was written in 1883 to adorn the base of the Statue of Liberty.  A poem that epitomizes the American dream, the tired, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. And that the punchline of opportunity in a town like Astoria is alive and well today.

The town is a prime example of e pluribus unum, out of the many, one. There is a strength here where the word “immigration” is an affirmation.

“We have a heart for that,” explained Berit Madsen, 75, who immigrated to the U.S. from Drammen, Norway in 1963. “Because I see the positive.”

 

Interviewed on camera for this story (in order of appearance):

The Law family (left to right): Roger, 61, Flora, 91; Ron, 60, and Robbie, 64. Flora’s three sons are fourth generation Chinese Americans. Flora’s father came to Astoria in the early 20th century.

Jorgen Madsen, 83, immigrated from Denmark in 1958 and his wife, Berit Madsen, 75, immigrated from Finland in 1963.

The Lum sisters (left to right): Julie, 52, Pam, 52, and Lori, 49, are third generation Chinese Americans. Their family’s forebarer, Lum Sue, first came to Astoria in 1891.

Sari Vedenoja-Hartman, 48, immigrated to the U.S. from Kalajoki, Finland. Her family settled in Astoria, Oregon in the early 1970s.

 

This story was made possible by Bob & Pat Yapp.

A Community Rallying Around the ‘Other’

By Neal Moore

HOOD RIVER, Ore.

The Hood River Valley has a history of ‘others’.  The Finns of the late 19th century, the Japanese of the early to mid 20th century, and now those who identify as Hispanic and Latino. I recently spoke with a number of town leaders and bright light activists. Mainly women, both young and old, who are standing up in a unified voice of defiance. Here is a sampling of what they had to say.

Interviewed for this piece (in order of appearance):

Adriana, 23 – Adriana is “a Mexican that happens to be undocumented in the place that is really hard to be undocumented.” A student and activist, Adriana works nights as a waitress/bartender. “We’re on the verge of a revolution here,” Adriana told me. “Either jump on or get off.”

Paul Blackburn, 52 – Paul is the Mayor of Hood River, one of the few (if not only) Spanish-speaking mayors in the State of Oregon. Paul has formed the Latino Advisory Council and would like to see more Latinos on the city council and as mayor one day. He told me that “as the federal tenor and tone go the wrong way, it’s really motivated us to rally around our neighbors and friends and to work together for inclusivity in our city.”

Maria Elena Casmo, 44 – Maria Elena is a health policy analyst who immigrated with her husband Carlos, a civil engineer, from Chile. After five years in America, her status was changed from ‘non-immigrant’ to ‘immigrant’. She gained permanent residence in 2002. Regarding the current anti-immigration atmosphere in America, Maria Elena told me that people of color like herself, “Woke up. [That] they are not going to tolerate this type of speech.”

Montserrat Garrido, 16 – Montserrat, daughter of Maria Elena, is a Junior at Hood River High School who would like to become a journalist. She recently found her voice as a student activist at Hood River’s “MLK Day” rally. Montserrat has travelled back to DC for the Women’s March and for the Anti-Gun March with the students from Parkland, Florida.

Vicky Stifter – Pastor of Riverside Community Church – United Church of Christ. Vicky’s background is in the law. She has spent years on the Texas border working with immigration issues. A member of the community of Hood River for many years, Vicky tells me that if need be, her church has voted unanimously to shelter those in need as a sanctuary church.

Gladys Rivera, 28 – Gladys was born in Hood River in 1989. At the age of four, her mother (at the time six-months pregnant) was deported back to Mexico. She tells me that her mother took her by the hand and hopped back over the fence into America the very same day. While growing up, Gladys told me that she felt confused about her identity, that she “was never Mexican enough and never white enough.” Today, Gladys is an outspoken community member with Latinos en Acción (Latinos in Action) and the Latino Advisory Committee, amongst other groups. She is a mother of three.

Graciela Gomez, 47 – Gracelia arrived in America from Mexico at the age of 14. She wanted to attend school as a child, but her father told her that they were here to work. Graciela has cleaned houses, worked in fruit packing houses, and has picked cherries, pears, and apples. For the past 33 years, she has petitioned the government for a green card, which she received this past year. But she says it doesn’t mean anything when others in the community have yet to receive theirs. “If we don’t say something we are going to keep living in the dark,” Graciela told me. “And it’s time to bring a little light.”

Matt English – Matt is the Hood River County Sheriff. He tells me, “In our area, at least a third of the community is Latino, and so many of those people have some cultural differences that we need to work together to understand. And there has been a real push within this organization to build trust so that the Latino community is trusting of us.”

 

This story was made possible by Robert Coberly.

 

The Undercurrent of America

By NEAL MOORE

Along the COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE, OREGON and WASHINGTON

I knew that traversing this nation’s first waterways in a canoe would be a challenge, along with the hope of a tribute to the first people who for millennia have called America home.

The word tribute is a great word because it’s a river word.  Rivers that flow into larger rivers are called tributaries. Where they meet is the confluence. And their source point is the headwaters.

And if you scratch the surface by taking a canoe out and onto the water, and take a good long look all about you, and listen, and most importantly, feel, you’ll find the undercurrent, the rhyme and reason of the journey.

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The Columbia River today with a replaced Celilo Indian Village seen on the left, and the Oregon Trunk Rail Bridge further downstream. Photo by Neal Moore.

There’s a stretch of the Columbia River Gorge where people still speak about the village that once was, before it was washed away by the construction of The Dalles Dam in 1957. The place was called Celilo Falls, where a cascade of high-current whitewater gave way to platform scaffolds and fishermen and the giant chinook salmon that swam up through the rapids and jumped over the falls.

If Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River, is celebrated as the first U.S. settlement west of the Rockies (founded in 1811), it is important to note that Celilo Falls stretches back quite a spell further. For 15,000 years, Celilo was a gathering place for the Native American people, the oldest continuously inhabited community on the North American continent, and a mecca for traders who came for the salmon from far and wide.

“I remember the sound of that river and of those falls,” Wilbur Slockish, Jr. told me. Slockish, who was raised on these waters, is the chief of the Klickitat people, a Native American tribe of the Pacific Northwest. “I used to make money by packing one or two fish – the fish were bigger in those days. And I packed them up for the fishermen so that they could fish and I would struggle up there. And that’s where I got my strength, for that was my exercise.”

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Original previously unpublished photograph of Celilo Falls in the 1950s by Chet Coats showing the falls that are now submerged by the damed up river. Although inaccessible, it is said that the falls still flow. Courtesy the Coats family.

And Slockish was not alone. During my time on this portion of the Gorge, I visited several of the 31 native fishing in-lieu sites. I toured and met with different tribes who make up the Columbia River Indians — the Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla, and Nez Perce.

Down in Cascade Locks, I met with young Nez Perce natives who were busy getting ready with their boats and their nets for their ceremonial fishing.  The first fish of the year, the spring salmon, are collected by the tribes for their ceremonial needs. Extra salmon are brought home to fill the freezers for the years ahead. Only once the quotas are met, will the tribes consider fishing commercially. Although this year’s spring salmon is late, these Columbia River fishermen were hopeful.

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Bud Herrera, 54, casts one of six poles out into the Columbia below at Rufus Native In-Lieu Fishing Site below the John Day Dam. Photo by Neal Moore.

Bud Herrera, 54, of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, fishes below the John Day Dam on the Columbia River. Bud, a Umatilla, tells me this could be one of the lowest seasons on record since 1939 for the spring chinook salmon. Bud fishes by scaffold and by line, and while this year’s catch is low, he likewise remains confident.

Bud’s cousin, Cort Herrera, 54, a Umatilla, spoke to me about how family and fishing go hand in hand. “It just goes together. You know, we catch the fish together and have good times here – make memories together on the riverbank. Just have fun, you know. That’s what it’s all about – to teach the younger generation, so they can do it when we’re not here. Just like we learned from our family relations.”

While I was documenting the Herrera family, Bud’s nephew helped his 9-year-old nephew land a spring chinook salmon. The kid’s face said it all. His gap-toothed smile was priceless.

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Cort Herrera, 54, checks his lines as the Willamette C tug pushes barges of juvenile salmon downriver, assisting their natural progression around the dams. Photo by Neal Moore.

The reason for the 31 in-lieu sites goes back to the Treaty of 1855, which Wilbur Slockish Jr.’s grandfather was a signatory of. When asked to remind us what the treaty promised the local native tribes, Slockish explained: “We were to retain our lands, certain lands, and to retain our fishing rights and our hunting rights. We were to retain all of our other food gathering activities. Places that we fished at. And we gave land to the federal government in exchange for that. We were promised adequate healthcare and they were supposed to build a hospital.”

Today, with the construction of the dams and the washing out of the villages, living conditions for the Warm Springs, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Yakama Native American tribes at the original in-lieu dedicated settlement sites along the Columbia River Gorge remain unsafe and unsanitary. As residents await the federal government’s decades-old promise of “adequate permanent housing” to replace their once-thriving communities washed away by the construction of the dams.

“A lot of people here,” said Slockish, “they seemed all to think that the government and the courts gave us hunting rights and fishing rights — not realizing who gave what to whom.”

There is a connection to this land and river that the native people understand. That they live and breathe and practice and teach. “That is what is important and I try to protect it,” said Slockish. “Because these are the gifts that our creator gave to us. We protect them and take care of them and in turn they will take care of us. Because we don’t own them — the future owns them … So that’s why we value them. Our bodies are made from this land and everything will return to the land – the law of the land – go back to it.  So why would you harm it?

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Wilbur Slockish, Jr., chief of the Klickitat people, at Horsethief Lake State Park, just downriver from where he fished at Celilo as a youth. Photo by Neal Moore.

“You know when people from the east came this way, they saw all of this land up by the Tri-Cities and down the Gorge and thought it was idle – Idle land, look at this. We can irrigate it. Think of the profits we can realize from it — but they didn’t think, they didn’t realize that it was our supermarket. There was deer, elk, rabbits, grouse, other birds that we ate. Medicine, roots, all within that idle land and that’s why they thought of the dams. That was in the 1920s. People from the east are always doing that — comin’ out here and altering — they altered the landscape. And our foods aren’t the same anymore. Our roots are coming earlier, our salmon are coming later. We should have already had freezers full.”

Cy Jim, 51, who identifies as a Warm Springer, fishes on the Washington side of the river just below the John Day Dam, one of four U.S. Army Corp of Engineers dams of the Columbia River Gorge. For him, it’s more than just subsistence.  It’s a way of life.

“Fishin’ just keeps us goin’,” Jim said. “This river keeps us goin’. It’s something we’ll never give up.  As long as there’s fish here, we’ll never give it up.  We’ll always do it.”

But Jim wasn’t always able to fish. His father, like Slockish’s father, turned away from fishing the Columbia following the washing away of Celilo in 1957. It was too painful, and besides that, there was frequent animosity towards native fishermen over competition for fishing rights that followed.

“I’ve been shot at, I’ve had rocks thrown at me,” Slockish said. “I’ve had boulders rolled down the hill at me, and I’ve been cursed, all over my own food.”

And then there was the “Salmon Scam” of the late 1980s. “We were blamed for 43,000 missing fish when it was aluminum plants that poured fluoride at John Day Dam. See that dam right there? There’s a big gravel bed there – there used to be 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 pound salmon spawning in that area – and with those gravel pits they built the dam and killed it and they poured fluorides in there and the salmon, they lost their sense so they just spawned in a different area, they adapted, but we got blamed for it and I went to prison for three years for it.”

Slockish laughs at the memory of his incarceration at El Reno, a medium-security United States Federal Correctional Institution for male inmates in Oklahoma. “I always called it my government sponsored vacation.

“But I’m still here. This is my homeland.”

 

This story was made possible by Syd Goldsmith.

Uniontown Supreme Court: If The Pilings Could Talk

Back in Astoria, Oregon, I befriended Columbia River Gillnetter, Cook Inlet Drifter, FisherPoet and Folklorist TOM HILTON, who shared with me this poem:

 

All that’s left is legend,

Names etched in a

granite Wall

Black and white photos

Folk Lores For sale

In the maritime museum

store

 

Boats of wood

Hands of Steel

Hearts of gold

 

All races

Colors

Creeds

A man was valued

By his word

Firm handshake

His deeds

 

White aproned Super-

models

Grinning from ear to ear

Days measured by

seasons

Not years

 

Tattered edges

Faded Yellow Brown

Ripped

Torn

Memories of the glory

days

When gillnetting was

born

 

Dilapidated docks

Rotten pilings

Broken tops beneath

our tidal view

Skeleton bones

Partially Submerged

Floating Homes

 

Lonely Net racks

Empty Bluestone tanks

Broken windows

Moldy musty dusty

dank

 

Wooden corks,

Lead lines,

Linen nets

Stripped clean of all

their glory

 

No more Mug up,

Coffee Time

Just Empty Chairs

waiting for stories

 

Court is no longer in

session

 

Yesterday’s myths

See thru faded

Transparent

Not bitter

Jaded

 

Today’s Mono-filament

Tangle Nets

Jesus Box

Deadliest catch drama

Overstated

Overrated

Prima Donnas

 

If those pilings could

talk

What tales would they

weave? Would they be

fortuitous of sport

fisherman’s greed?

 

Countless stories

Work is our Joy

Fortunes made

Love

Families

Togetherness

Life

Salmon

Laughter

Heartbreak

Lost

 

Of Butterflies

And Bowpickers

Double-enders

Power scows

Cash buyers

And Tenders

Four bits a pound

 

Clifton

Brookefield

Altoona

Alderbrooke

Uppertown

Uniontown

Celilo

 

Where did they all go?

 

Salmon Culture

A menagerie of people

A colorful past

Romanticized

Plagiarized

Eulogized

By people like me

 

Fishing is more than

Tradition

Governor

It’s a Religious

Ceremony

 

Ebbing current

Tides shift

Surge of change

Pulling our nets

Taking us under

These words bury my

pain

 

Black and white photos

Names etched on a

granite wall

Let’s not forget them

The true legends of fall!

 

This mighty river

What It was back then

Full of Salmon Sturgeon

Seiners, Trollers,

Gillnetters

Cannery women

Stomper

Astoria’s Fighting

Fishermen

 

The Story is over…

All the Legends have

died

Our Eyes welled with

wet

Politicians lied

Last of my tears shed

Cried

 

So if pilings could talk

 

Ask one how it was

back then…

 

It will probably tell you

Those days are gone

forever

Kid

 

With the stroke of a pen…

 

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Photo by Mitch Eckhardt

Copyright Tom Hilton and FisherPoets Anthology. Illusions of Separateness. “Uniontown Supreme Court: If The Pilings Could Talk” was written to pay respect for the men who fished and the women who worked the Columbia River.  Audio recording and video of the old cannery at Clifton, Oregon by Neal Moore.

‘Down the Mississippi’ book speech slated for Richland, WA

I’ll be doing a book speech about “Down the Mississippi” in Richland, Washington as I pass through the “Tri-Cities” of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco at the confluence of the YakimaSnake, and Columbia rivers in Southeastern Washington. The event will be hosted by the Richland Public Library on Monday, May 7th from 7-8pm. The library is located at 955 Northgate Dr, Richland, Washington 99352.

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It’ll be the first speech about the folks I encountered and documented on my voyage down the Mississippi in quite awhile and an absolute first at a library.  Should be fun!  If you’ll be in the vicinity it’d be great to meet up!

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Roots and Branches: Voices on the journey

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Photo by Maija Yasui

JOURNALIST Neal Moore at the Hood River marina with his Navarra canoe, shortly after his arrival in Hood River. Moore hit the Columbia River again April 9 and two days later it cracked during portage around The Dalles Dam. Moore found a new, stronger (and lighter by six pounds) canoe through a private seller in White Salmon and expected to continue his journey by Thursday.

By MAIJA YASUI

 

Chance encounters can sometimes be life changing in grandiose or miniscule ways. You may not realize at the moment of the encounter, but years later, you may look back and say, “Hey, if I hadn’t responded to Kirby’s call and connected with Neal Moore, we may have missed the opportunity of having our youth featured in a story in the New Yorker, a documentary on CNN or a book detailing a canoe voyage across America.” The journey of 7,500 miles from sea to shining sea is described as a “voyage of discovery into the depths of America’s soul.” Moore’s desire is to tell the stories of the diverse communities he encounters along the way in an effort to “understand and celebrate individuals, families and communities rising above themselves.” What was to be a brief stop in Hood River turned into a week of discovery for Moore and the community.

I have always believed that building relationships is key to living life fully. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe that if you are open to interacting and potentially forming a relationship with those you meet, your life will be enriched. Much can be learned about yourself, about those you meet and the way they perceive the surrounding environment.

Back to Kirby’s phone call. It came at a somewhat inopportune time. I was in the emergency room with my youngest granddaughter waiting for the doctor to come in and do an examination. She had exhibited some painful symptoms that morning at school which suggested appendicitis. Aya is a wisp of a second grader, who seldom complains about physical discomfort. She reminds me of a willow sapling, tall and slender, physically strong, swaying in the breeze, family roots and love grounding her. Seldom do tears well up from monkey bar blisters or brother’s inadvertent kicks or pokes. Insensitive remarks or inequitable treatment are another matter, turning on a fire hose of tears. All turned out well. No appendicitis or nasty flu bug detected. Rest and relaxation were the words from the wise doctor and we followed the orders precisely.

I visited with Kirby briefly, hearing tidbits about a man he hoped I would speak with, a man who had paddled upstream from Astoria on a journey of discovery. These tiny morsels of information intrigued me, and I said “Sure, have him give me a call.”

*

That afternoon Neal Moore gave me a call and I learned a little bit more of his journey. It would be 7,500 miles across American, from “sea to shining sea.” He would chronicle his journey and document through film, newspaper article and book the stories of small towns and big cities along the way. These were stories of hope and inspiration that underscored the spirit of our country and its remarkable diversity. I was all in at this point, and agreed to meet at the library the next morning, spending a day introducing him to the people and places that would showcase our community.

As I pulled up in front of the library, I could see a soggy young man standing on the steps in the pouring rain. My bad. The library didn’t open for another hour. We sought refuge in my home in Odell. Over several cups of coffee and a plate of chocolate chip cookies, we began a lengthy conversation about Hood River and the people who make this such a beautiful place to live.

Neal said he had enough stories to research that would take him through the weekend, but he hoped I could connect him with a place to stay and store his life possessions now packed in his canoe on the marina. I first offered my home, but thought better of it when I realized that the people he would need to talk to lived down the valley and transportation by canoe is limited in that respect. We pondered this transportation dilemma and agreed to meet later in the day after I went to my blood donation appointment. I was optimistic that I could find someone willing to house him for the next few days.

*

As I waited in line for my Rapid Pass review at the Red Cross station, I began texting folks living in town, and who are connected to activism, the theme Moore chose to highlight. Let me tell you, a lot of networking gets done at a blood drive. Like-minded people seem to extend their hands and hearts as well as their arms to give life to others. After a few “out of town” replies to my texts, who before my astonished eyes would appear, but an angel in fashionista clothing, Barbara Young. We chat. “Sounds interesting,” she says. “We have an RV in the driveway he could use. It would be better than the pouring rain camping on the rivers edge.” Relief. A warm place to stay and one of the connecting hubs of activism in our community. After a brief call to her husband Gary, Barb learns that they have plans the next three days.

I move behind the “veil of secrecy,” a curtain used by the Red Cross staff to review my health history. Suddenly I hear Barb’s sweet voice calling. “Hey Maija. I am waiting here with Paul Blackburn and he says he has a room.”

I am ushered to my donor bed and the needle is inserted, blood filling the bag rapidly. At the precise moment I finish, Paul plunks down on an adjacent gurney. I fill him in on a few details and the connections begin to fall into place. The Blackburn/Dillon household is full of activism and connections for our intrepid paddler.

*

The following days are a whirlwind of conversations with Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, Latinos in Accion, The Next Door, Somos Uno … From there, he is on to the individual activists’ stories, Vicky, Gracy, Adriana, Montserrat, and Cristina. Moore has to extend his time in Hood River another three days to make all these connections. He has just scratched the surface.

Moore’s story begins in a community where helping hands, hearts and arms are extended willingly and compassionately. It is the story of many generations who have met discrimination and adversity head on, inspiring a new generation of movers and shakers.

My story is the story behind the story; of the list of friends and acquaintances who began making the connections for Moore to meet our youth, our dreamers, our student activists. These students passionately believe that all lives matter, that our schools should be safe, that people of every age, gender, ethnicity, and faith should be respected. Their belief has been transformed into action, raising their voices, mobilizing their peers, proposing solutions to the problems plaguing our society.

I like the story behind the story that Neal Moore will tell. It is the story of our community at its finest moment, day in and day out.

Hood River News: A voyage by canoe across America

A7_Neal_Moore_t800Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

From the Pacific to the Atlantic coast, Neal Moore (pictured) will travel a total of 7,500 miles across America in the next two years, by both canoe and land, to document and connect stories of diversity.

 

Hood River News

Over the past eight years, former CNN [citizen] journalist Neal Moore has not traveled, but has lived in Africa and China to try and understand different cultures instead of just experiencing them.

Now, he’s on a mission to understand ours in America.

However, his voyage to understanding America is unique in a way that connects himself with the origins of this country.

In 2008, Moore had this idea that, “What if the greatest adventure was in your backyard?”

Not literally in “your backyard,” but instead the backyard of this country: rivers.

“Before we had roads, we had rivers,” said Moore. “To really understand where we come from, my journey relies on using the nation’s rivers with my choice of transportation being a canoe, as that’s how I feel is the best way is to learn about the origins of this country as I am putting myself in the shoes of those before us.”

In a two-year expedition, Moore’s solo journey by canoe stretches 7,500 miles across the country.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Moore’s access to outdoor recreation growing up was a hard thing to come by.

But what helped him to venture out of the city was becoming a Boy Scout.

Moore, who is an Eagle Scout, had his first experience with canoeing at summer camp at the age of 12.

That experience, along with his passion for storytelling, helped lead him to the 7,500-mile voyage he currently is on.

The mission of Moore’s journey is to document and understand stories of diversity from Astoria to Queens, New York, to find the “common amongst us all,” said Moore.

Moore started his two-year voyage early last month in Astoria because of its “rich history of diversity,” said Moore.

Astoria is home to the first U.S. settlement west of the Rockies, and saw some of the nation’s earliest migration with Chinese immigrants.

And with Queens being one of the more diverse places in this country, Moore’s decision to highlight these two cities as a start and end will help him discover “the common between our nation,” he said.

“By taking my canoe through the rivers of this country and connecting the stories from Astoria to Queens, I’m trying to give face to a country that’s split into two,” said Moore.

However, it won’t be easy.

Moore’s expedition will take him across 22 different rivers and states, including the Columbia River, where he’s currently paddling.

“The Gorge is a different animal,” said Moore. “It’s like nothing I have experienced river-wise.”

Not only will canoeing across the country be a difficult task — Moore already feels he has developed arthritis from paddling his canoe 152 miles into this journey — but trying to understand a country and the people within it in a short period of time will show itself as a challenge.

Although that’s what makes this journey achievable for Moore.

“When you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you must make new connections and it puts yourself in new situations that you wouldn’t be in otherwise,” said Moore. “That’s what makes you grow.”

Moore split his journey up into three parts: to the Great Divide, the Big Easy, and to Lady Liberty.

Moore hopes to complete the first 1,086 miles of his journey to the Great Divide in two to three months. To follow and learn more about Moore’s journey visit 22rivers.wordpress.com/about-the-voyage.

The Daily Astorian: Spinning a story

Freelance journalist sets off on 7,500 mile canoe odyssey

By Elleda Wilson

The Daily Astorian

Published on March 9, 2018 12:01AM

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Neal Moore, a freelance journalist called “a modern-day Huck Finn” by CNN, set off from Pier 39 in Astoria last Saturday to start his two-year 7,500 mile cross-country canoe expedition. But his mission is more than the journey — along the way he wants to “spin a story of the human face of the economic situation. And in Astoria, I’d love to start out with a good one.”

To that end, he wanted to interview Astorians “from the Nordic, Finnish and/or Chinese-American community who run a business. … The idea is to speak about the first settler inhabitants of the town (these three cultures), and see what they’re up to today.”

Regina Willke at the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce helped him set up interviews, and he was off and running. He talked to Liisa Penner, Pam, Julie, and Lori Lum, Robbie, Roger, Ron, and Flora Law, Berit and Yorgen Madsen, Saara Matthews, and Sari Vedenoja. Floyd Holcom was Neal’s departure consultant, advising him on the tides and safest time to leave, and local writer Peter Marsh took the photo shown of the actual takeoff.

The Astoria interviews will be the first of his 100 stories across America, which will turn up on his blog at tinyurl.com/NealMoore in a few months. Photos are already up on his Instagram account at instagram.com/alittlewake, and you can also follow his travels at fb.me/alittlewake

“The town has been so very hospitable and friendly,” he recalled of our fair city. Apparently Astoria made as good an impression on Neal as its residents.

Launch from Astoria, Oregon

thumbnail-4A successful launch from the mouth of the Columbia River at Astoria, Oregon. A treacherous stretch of river awaits, along with the promise of adventure and stories and friends over the next two years. Cheers to Floyd Holcom, Tom Hilton, and Peter Marsh in Astoria for their hospitality, assistance with preparations, and camaraderie, along with all of the families I interviewed in Astoria for the very first story to be (stay tuned). Also thanks to my friends around the world for their support and belief in this project. The big idea — to paddle a canoe 7,500 miles across the United States — from the Pacific to the Continental Divide to the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, to the Atlantic at New York city — in search of the American dream.

Photo courtesy Floyd Holcom; video courtesy Peter Marsh.

The Picasso of canoes?

To launch out onto a voyage of nature and heartland and Main Street and liberty, to embrace and fully explore the storied town and country and river landscapes of this land down low from the bow of a canoe, it felt only natural to consider my vessel to be as more than a mode of transport and lifeline, but as an allegory for freedom.

Which led me to the history of canoe making in the United States, and with it, the legacy of master wood-and-canvas canoe maker L.H. Beach of Merrimack, N.H., who in the 1950s first introduced a thin fiberglass hull reinforced with wooden ribs to the world. “THE FIBERGLASS CANOE THAT LOOKS LIKE A CANOE” was his slogan. A perfect blend of the old and the new.

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From L.H. Beach to his son Lem, to grandsons Randy and Vernon, the authentic Merrimack design was passed along and remained true.  While Randy retained Merrimack for many years in name, his “black sheep” brother Vernon moved West and started up Navarro in his California garage, a canoe design based on Lem’s old molds.

Fast forward to the present, with WhiteGold and Kevlar and Tuf-Weave Flex as one’s (pricey) choice of material, with manufacturers like Northstar and Wenonah and even my very own Old Town running through my mind (according to Paddling.net there are “900 or more canoe models to choose from”), I decided to look back to where the revolutionary balance of old and new originally began.

With Merrimack eventually purchased by Sanborn Canoe Co. of Winona, Minnesota, and Navarro bought (via Craigslist) by a pioneering retiree couple in Rock Island, Illinois, the choice came down to price and availability.  And just the right model for this trip.

Loon on CarThanks to an exchange of emails with Bruce and Sue Peterson of the reincarnated Navarro Canoe Co., I soon settled upon the Loon, which can track in wind and wakes and waves, and also carry a generous “expedition” long-distance load.

27398526_10155724263167655_1462546566_oIn the end, I took a lead from Sue and found my very own Navarro Loon on Craigslist up in Lake Bluff, just above Chicago. The nautically-minded gent who was selling had taken care of his craft with love and with oil and with grace, and as it dates from 2002, it comes with a Certificate of Origin, from Talent, Oregon, signed by Vernon Pew.

The canoe will be more than a partner in expedition. She will be my home base for the next couple of years, a focal point for the journey, and a canoe I’ll need to embrace with my life. I see it as a great honor to carry (and paddle) along a bona fide Merrimack/Navarro work of modern art from West back to East, to partner up and traverse and share via this blog the watery byways of this great land in style and with a tip of the cap to history.  In so doing, hopefully living up to L.H. Beach’s good name.