Ever take a word you hear, maybe even use all the time and really pick it apart? You obviously are attracted to “Cultural” things, events, ideas – you came to this site and opened this blog. But exactly what IS this thing called “Culture”, and how do we define what it is and isn’t?
This being my first Cultural Oregon blog, I thought to explore this, allowing you to get to know me along the way. I have always been drawn to place. My senior year of college, in an effort to get a quick science requirement completed, I signed up for a Field Botany course which required, in addition to learning the plant life of southwest Texas, hiking 50 miles in Big Bend National Park over a 10 day period. This is the Texas of your imagination – mountains, deserts, cacti, wild boar, and snakes. That quick course dramatically changed my life. It changed my way of seeing and experiencing the world.
During graduate school, I serendipitously found myself in a class on Art & Geography. The content of the class was the intersection of these, of course, but I found a whole discipline on the culture of place. How do places get their culture, and exactly what is it? The term is used interchangeably with “the arts”, but “it” is really much more.
Oregon Culture is the accumulation of our values, beliefs, perspectives, understanding, knowledge and multigenerational memory – our very identity. It’s also our social and artistic expression; our customs, religion, social norms, language and way of thinking to which one could attach a time period.
Ideas are generated and innovations are produced in a space at a place at a particular, or over the course of, time. Every experience we have is connected to place. Cultural geographers analyze space, including landscape and environment, knowledge, politics, belonging, human and socioeconomic differences, globalization and nationalism, often focusing on present and future applications. But how did we get here? What about the culture of our native population whose migration to this continent predated written history?
In 1804, when Lewis and Clark embarked on their expedition, the land was regarded as an empty canvas upon which to apply new ideals and existing Eurocentric culture. But I believe, in actuality, culture is derived fundamentally from place, the landscape itself, and that our culture evolves from our human interaction and experience with the environmental landscape.
Life in Oregon is built upon the accumulation of our past. Oregon fuses the beliefs, values, and ideas and identity people brought with them from elsewhere, with those they adapted from the landscape and the people who were already here. The past is still with us, and the future is emerging from our present. Culture unfolds over time, like a symphony – the landscape presents the structure and main themes, people add details, variations and dynamics, events add context to the movements.
My focus is to experience the landscape and all that is cultural in Oregon in a way that is beyond topical, to try to understand the physicality and evolution of its culture. Thus, I intend to integrate small hikes – keeping in mind limited hiking experience for some, to be attainable for anyone reasonably prepared – in each of these explorations. I made the following considerations in the selection process:
• The meaning of the landscape and its cultural impact
• Accessible (without four wheel drive)
• The reality of limited vacation time
• Presence of heritage, music and/or other artistic expression
Further, I explore “cultural” activities in these places. Any activity/experience that draws on culture is cultural, including heritage, as well as creative and scientific endeavors. If a definition of art is the expression and manifestation of an artist’s interaction and experience in the world, then one could argue that all art-making in Oregon emanates from itself. What in the landscape draws people and particular activities to it? How did the beliefs, identity of the earliest Oregon inhabitants derive from the landscape, and contribute to the culture of the 21st century?
Land transcends time and people. Our lives are but a blip on its existence. Through exploring the culture of Oregon on foot, one can, in essence, transcend time.
Christina S. Rusnak
Christina Rusnak is a cultural explorer who focuses on how Landscape shapes our culture. Wandering Scholars published her article about photographer Brent Phelps’ On the Trail of Lewis & Clark in 2009. In addition, she is a multifaceted composer who actively seeks to integrate geographic, visual and spatial elements into her work. http://christinarusnak.com/works-3/
Topics on this page: Oregon Blog, Cultural Oregon, Oregon Culture, Life In Oregon
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