Driving through Cottage Grove, following a school bus that had undoubtedly seen better days, we pulled off pavement onto a dusty dirt road leading to Avalon Stables, host to this years 9th Annual Ancient Forest Hoedown.
The hoedown is one of several fundraising events benefiting the efforts of local activist organization, Cascadia Wildlands. One of the current battles on the forefront for Cascadia Wildlands is their effort to stop the passing of legislation that would allow for dramatic increases (40%) in timber harvest in the Elliot State Forest in order to raise funds for education, as 91% of the land is currently designated as Common School Fund land. Sally Cummings, Operations Manager at Cascadia, told me that the new management plan is scheduled to be reviewed by the state land board on the 11th of this month. She said that there is “a rally in Salem on the 11th at the Capital building, people can show their support by being present to show their concern for maintaining species and forests”.
Having originated in 1998, non-profit organization, Cascadia Wildlands mission is to “educate, agitate, and inspire a movement to protect and restore Cascadia’s wild ecosystems.” Their headquarters is here in Eugene, but their broad reach works to protect bioregions stretching from Oregon to Alaska. Cascadia is reputed as a regional leader in grassroots conservation efforts, having worked to preserve millions of acres of forest, and prevented further extinction and endangerment of several native wildlife species.
As the last moments of daylight began to depart, we moseyed through the open stable, visiting the resident equines in their stalls. Volunteers at the Hoedown were setting up a buffet table featuring steaming vegetarian chili, fresh crisp salad, and many other goodies to compose a healthy dinner to fuel the dancing that would later ensue.
We stopped to grab a mug of tasty apple cider, then wandered up a small knoll to join a growing circle of hoedowners surrounding a blazing bonfire. Making our way down to the corral, we stopped back at the stable briefly to fill our mugs with with delicious hot coffee, courtesy of the Wandering Goat Coffee Company. As we stepped into the show arena, we took note of a table stocked with information highlighting Cascadia’s most recent efforts, including petitions to extend protections to the currently threatened grey wolf. At the far end of the arena, local favorites, the bluegrass belting Conjugal Visitors prepared their spot on a mobile stage.
In the show arena I met Missy Mae, a resident of Eugene. When asked to participate in a short informal interview, she said “as soon as I grab a beer”, and headed for the Ninkasi tent, not far from the festivities to grab a hand crafted pint. Upon returning, Missy Mae said attending a benefit like this was important to her “first and foremost because it’s an opportunity to support ancient forests, and also an opportunity to come out and see great live, local music – the Conjugal Visitors.” Missy Mae told EDN that she what she was looking forward to the most was “getting out there to dance like an idiot with everyone when no one knows what they’re doing”. In discussing the recent activities and efforts of Cascadia Wildlands, Missy Mae said that she feels “People are more inclined to get involved when there is a struggle.”
Before kicking up his heels to Bob Ewing’s square dance calls, Nick, another Eugene resident, spoke to EDN about his first visit to the Hoedown as he enjoyed a goody provided by sponsor, Voodoo Doughnuts. Nick told me he was drawn to the event because he had never experienced a hoedown, and he was looking forward to learning a new type of dance. Nick attributed the youthfulness of the crowd to “the community setting it up is younger – word gets out like that – there’s not a lot of community stuff to do in Eugene,” finishing the last bite of his doughnut, he continued, “It’s a treat!”.
While the Conjugal Visitors and square-dancers took a break, hoedowners formed a line across the arena to compete for the honor of being hailed as champions of the three-legged race. Two waves of competitors hobbled as fast as their joined ankles would allow, some falling into huddles to avoid being stampeded, as they made their way toward the finish line. Winning pairs from each wave realigned for the final challenge on the road to victory.
Cummings told EDN that anyone interested in supporting through attending rallys’, writing letters, donating, or volunteering their time can find more details on the Cascadia Wildlands website.
Story by Elisha Shumaker, EDN
Photos by Timothy Clark