by Deborah Steele Hazen
We have more proof this week that Clatskanie is, as declared in this column several years ago, “the center of the universe.”
Mayor Diane Pohl picked up on that motto and has been spreading the news as she represents our community around the state. The city of Clatskanie also declares our town as “Center of the Universe” on the homepage of its website – for all the worldwide web to see.
Why is it that we can make such a claim?
As we have pointed out several times in this column, world-renowned writer Raymond Carver was born here on May 25, 1938 and always named Clatskanie as his birthplace on his book jackets and autobiographical sketches. As Carver’s fame has grown since his death in 1988, his biographers and other fans from around the world have visited here and written about Clatskanie in several languages in articles and books published around the world.
By the way, Dr. Keith McGillivary of Eugene, who is being honored at the annual Clatskanie Library tea Friday and whose mother and aunts were, in effect, the Clatskanie library for years, is a Carver fan and has helped to sponsor the annual Raymond Carver Writing Festival here.
What seems to be a remarkable number of people from Clatskanie, or who have ties to this community, have left – or are in the process of leaving – their mark on the world in the arenas of literature, music, film, medicine, philanthropy, politics, sports and the military.
A Clatskanite-to-be, Laina Heikkkinen, a Finnish immigrant, survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Six years later she moved here with her husband Jacob Pentila and their little girl Inez. Mrs. Pentila quietly lived out the rest of her days in rural Clatskanie.
Arnie E. Sundberg of Clatskanie had the distinction of being the first competitor in the first event of the 1932 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The 26-year-old 148-pound weightlifter – Clatskanie’s only Olympian – placed fifth in the international competition. His son, Arnie, served two tours of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam, and was the initiator of the effort to build the Clatskanie Veterans Memorial.
Clatskanie men have fought in virtually every major battle of World War I and World War II, and many of the major conflicts of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Men and women from our community have done more than their share in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Others have served around the world as missionaries. We have sent our youth around the world, and welcomed scores to our community. Many of us have brothers or sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins in “the old country.” Clatskanie holds a place in the minds and hearts of all of them.
Many current and former local residents who travel to other places report meeting people with some tie to Clatskanie. For such a little town, it’s just uncanny how often this happens.
The Clatskanie area, itself, has a unique place in world history as explained in the article elsewhere in this newspaper about the 200th anniversary of the Winship settlement by E.W. Giesecke.
A few weeks ago we carried a story about how a short film, shot entirely with an Apple iPhone 4, and produced by Eric Edmonds, formerly of Clatskanie, had gone “viral” on the Internet.
Another and, much older, short film which has ties to Clatskanie went “viral” when the worldwide web was still young. The famous (or infamous) and hilarious “exploding whale” episode near Florence – which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year – is one of the most viewed videos ever on the Internet. Although it doesn’t say so in the short film (just Google “exploding whale”) the Oregon Department of Transportation engineer George Thornton who was in charge of getting rid of the whale carcass was – you guessed it – born and raised in Clatskanie.
This week we received word that Clatskanie is earning worldwide attention on the Internet again. As of Monday night, when this was written, “Twelve More Miles to Clatskanie” had the fifth highest amount of votes in the “CityLove” song-writing contest – http://www. citylovemusic.com. (See the photo and story elsewhere in this issue.)
Since the first four songs are all about Sydney, Australia, we think Clatskanie can currently lay claim to being the second most loved city in the world. Now come on, Clatskanites, are we going to take second place to Australia’s largest city? Get on that website and cast your vote for “Twelve More Miles to Clatskanie.”
The song was written by Tom Tower, a member of the bluegrass group, Kathy Boyd & Phoenix Rising. Kathy (Jackson) Boyd grew up in Clatskanie and Tom wrote it not only as an ode to her hometown, but in tribute to the Great Vow Zen Monastery, where he often finds serenity. Coincidentally, Kathy attended grade school in the building that is now the monastery, but which was then Quincy-Mayger Elementary School.
In a delightful e-mail conversation Monday with Kathy about “Twelve More Miles to Clatskanie” and all the things that make Clatskanie the center of our universe, she wrote:
“Before all this competition stuff (the CityLove contest) started we were introducing ‘Twelve More Miles to Clatskanie’ by telling the story of how we adopted a soldier via www.anysoldier.com. We sent off a ‘goodie box’ – including a copy of the CD “Burning Down the House” (on which ‘Twelve More Miles to Clatskanie’ is featured). Imagine our delight and surprise to discover the computer had chosen us a soldier from MY HOME TOWN!!
“I then would talk about the meaningfulness of the lines in the song such as ‘river running on your right,’ which tells you you’re going to Clatskanie from Rainier, and ‘what’s a soul to do today so far away from home,’ as our soldier was in downtown Kuwait.
“Even better, our soldier was Chris Sherman (of Clatskanie), and of course I went to school with his parents, aunts, uncles and the whole Sherman clan!
“It’s a small, small world indeed.
“Mayor Pohl and you are both right. Clatskanie IS the center of the universe. Think of all the people whose memories, values and backgrounds, that made them who they are today, at one point have called Clatskanie ‘home.’
“It is the place where our roots entangle, where our relatives share acreage at Murray Hill, where our hearts return again and again for solace, comfort or a good laugh.”