Oregon Folklife Network: Stories from the Field



Like a myrtlewood tree growing by the sea, Highway 101 twists its way along Oregon’s Pacific coastline. In August, Joseph O’Connell and I began to trek this route seeking folkways that might be found in Winchester Bay, Dunes City, Seal Rock, Neskowin, Manzanita, Astoria, and beyond.

Andy filleting a salmon We’re finding tradition keepers at every turn. Clatsop County’s Andy Carlson is one of them. Bent slightly with age, Andy tends salmon sides in his home-built smokehouse. Like many in and around Astoria, Andy’s ancestry is part Finnish, part Swedish. His hands speak volumes of a life shaped by tradition, both on the Columbia River and the adjoining land. He was a tug boater for 12 years and a pilot boat owner-operator for 32 years. These days, he continues to fish and hunt—mostly elk and some deer. He skillfully fillets, cures, and hot or cold smokes sides of salmon that many locals call the best around. It took Andy eight years of trial, error, and guidance from a master smoker before his mentor (now passed) finally bestowed the acknowledgment: “I think you’ve got it.”

—Douglas Manger, OFN Contract Folklorist, Heritage Works



Octopus Wanted sign On the central and northern Oregon coast, worlds meet: land and sea, work and leisure, old and new. In social and cultural terms, no place evokes the region’s contrasts more than Newport’s historic bayfront. Along a short strip of Bay Boulevard, commercial fishing, ocean science, and tourism intermingle. Visitors can buy taffy and souvenirs, visit the wax museum, or descend to an underwater viewing platform—yet they are never more than a few doors away from one of several seafood processing plants. On the street outside the plants, the backup alarms of forklifts blend with the vocalizations of an urban sea lion colony. A few yards farther, homemade signs indicate which boats have fresh catches of albacore tuna or Dungeness crab. A research center flyer posted on the docks solicits an unusual gift from local fishers: “WANTED,” it reads in an Old West-style font, “LIVE GIANT PACIFIC OCTOPUS.”

Northeast of Newport on Government Hill in Siletz, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians hosts its annual Nesika Illahee Pow-Wow (pictured in header). On the lawn at the center of the Pow-Wow grounds, dancers from numerous Tribes don regalia and compete for prize money. One event, the Women’s Basketcap Special, showcases an iconic example of Siletz culture—traditional hats woven from natural materials. For the Siletz and other Indigenous People of the region, traditions like the Pow-Wow can take on great significance against a long history of white colonialism, displaying immeasurable resilience over its legacy.  

—Joseph O’Connell, OFN Contract Folklorist


NEXT: Announcing the Don E. and Carol Steichen Dumond MNCH Endowed Support Fund

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