Kin Lane

I Never Had Thought Critically About Why My Parents Had Moved to the Woods in the 60s and 70s

It was never questioned. My parents lived in the woods to have a better life and stay as far out of reach of the government as we could. Cities were bad. Living in the woods was good. There was not a whole lot to be questioned. Gardening and canning were required, despite never really quite doing it well, consistently, and coming no where near close to actually bringing in the food the family would need for the year. We were there. We were poor. We were better off than everyone else. Cities had crime. The country had boredom. The government was your enemy. Always. You questioned everything out there, and barely discussed anything right here at home, let alone questioned any of it. It just was. It is the way things were. We were right. There would be no discussion of how we got here, what came before, and why they had left the cities to come to rural Oregon.

I had never been to Los Angeles, but it looked pretty scary in the movies. I had never been to New York City, but it looked like a terrifying place to be on the television—when we got a chance to watch it. Big cities were bad, without any question of why. If you did ask why it was because there were too many people. Too much noise. There is no peace of mind in the city. There was no safety in the city. When you’d be at a friends house for the weekend, or maybe an uncle’s house on Sunday you’d hear more honest reasons why the cities were bad. It’s those goddam niggers, spics, gooks, and worse…the Jews! But this didn’t have any bearing on why we lived out there in the woods, and why we never visited the city. There were racist people in our community, but racism had nothing to do with why we lived in rural Southern Oregon. Or so I thought. I never actually ever assessed this reality until I began learning the racist history of Oregon and living outside of the state, and then I realized what a white supremacist bubble I lived in while growing up. Where you were nurtured on a steady diet of white supremacists fantasies ranging from The Education of Little Tree to Readers Digest. Where you passionately defended your state because it was beautiful, but also a state of mind you didn’t want challenged-—at all costs.

Reading history is easy. Knowing and understanding history takes serious work. Understanding what brought my parents to the woods during the 60s and 70s will take time, and I won’t get any help from them. They live in a shell shock state of being, unable to see “back to the land” as “run from the brown people”. They see environmentalism as a worthy cause and something you do by sprawling across the countryside, building houses one acre at a time, not by actually addressing the toxic outcomes of capitalism that builds factories in brown neighborhoods, let alone the consumption of their products. The layers of denial sediment that exists where I grew are too deep to sift through even with a caterpillar tractor, and will require a careful studying of the steady stream of information emitted via Hollywood and the nightly news from 1965 to 1990. I am guessing there were many previous waves of white flight from the city to the country, but I am more interested in the one that brought me to the woods in 1976, as well as the elders who influenced me over the next decade. Trying to see what they saw in the world. What truly scared them. What made them take up arms, plant a garden, but also living simultaneously on government meat and cheese—-even though there was bountiful deer in the woods all around us.

The most obvious tip of this white flight spear can be found in the Vietnam war. The reason many of my elders ended up in Southern Oregon, taking their “blood money” and buying up land to escape the man. It wasn’t just the war that brought them, it was everything that went into the war, the military industrial complex, and the politics of the day. It was basic training in Texas with people from all over the country, and the mundane tasks of taking care of the black men who gave the finger to the man in Kansas after they came home from the war. It wasn’t just the war, it was all the unspeakable experiences that happened in the cracks around the war. It was the fact that they were thrown in with all the other poor trash in this country, and expected to fight or look the other way as the fighting occurred—-when they knew they were better than the rest. White supremacy had told them throughout their upbringing that they were better than the others, and now none of that mattered. They were all dying together. Without anytime to process any of this, they just headed to the hills to lick their wounds, ignore the past, and begin a long tradition of not talking about what had happened, or how we all got there. They were just living, or some version of it out in the woods, away from all the noise and conflict. The war was the obvious target you could shake your fist at, and it was clearly the government who had wronged us-—making the government the target for all our problems, those spoken and unspoken.

On this side of the war my elders had a clear enemy—the government. The government had sent us to die in an unnecessary war. There was no denying it. However, there were many other unspeakable things the government had perpetuated all wrapped up in the government being the enemy. They had given “those people” rights just like us. They had failed to settle down cities where all the brown people lived. The federal government was stepping in and telling us how to live our lives and telling us that the brown people were equal to us, when clearly they were not. They could go to our schools. While war is the greatest sin the government perpetually does to the elders in my childhood, it is just a facade for a whole theater of other grievances that we can’t so easily articulate due to ignorance or societal norms shifting and leaving them behind. War had driven us to the hills, and despite it being our number one grievance against the government, it would be the number one tool we’d give the government to also control us. We wouldn’t go to New York or Los Angeles, because those were the first places the nuclear bomb would be dropped. We also didn’t go too these places because of the drug war. Gangs. Brown and black people were just the footnote on the perpetual wartime puppet strings that sent us to the woods and would keep us there. Good old fashioned war in other countries had done a decent job, but they’d have to evolve the concept to keep us in our self-defined prisons well into the future. Never lettings us unpack our love and hate affair with war, let alone our comfortable belief in white supremacy to do its job and keep us safe from them.

After one or two generations in rural isolation it becomes pretty easy to control the narrative, and bury the truth. People grow very comfortable with the stories we’ve told ourselves, and do not like to hear other versions of these stories. Gardening is good. Canning is essential. Guns are necessary to feed your family. Government is bad. Cities are bad. Revolt is right around the corner. Societal collapse is imminent. These simple narratives become buttresses for your reality, and prevent you from going anywhere else, learning anything new, and being exposed to other ideas or views. It keeps the world out. We don’t talk about the lack of diversity of narrative in our storytelling and we sure don’t talk about the untruthfulness of these narratives. That our gardens don’t actually feed us. If we can have a garden, most of it goes uneaten, let alone never truly meeting 100% our needs. That we don’t actually feed our families by things we kill with our guns. That government does so many good things in our lives that we take for granted. We have never actually spend much time in a city beyond going Disneyland, Pike Place Market, and Powells Books. That revolt has never occurred in many generations. Collapse has never come to be. That our stories aren’t original, truthful, or even very creative. We aren’t racist because we have never put ourself into a situation where we’d be tested. We don’t know black, brown, asian, muslim, or other type of human being beyond those we’ve surrounded ourselves with in our hometown. We don’t think critically about why we live somewhere beyond we the fact that we were born here, and we sure don’t ever assess why our parents came here, because that would require too much work, and asking of some very hard questions. Realizing we aren’t as “good” as we like to believe we are, which is actually the reason for most of the turmoil and dysfunction in our lives.