It’s All About the Fog

This piece was the honorable mention winner in the 2013-2014 Far Western Region Blog Contest.

lbeckerby Leah Becker
Vice President, Alpha Upsilon Epsilon chapter
University of Portland, Portland, OR

Northwest literature is all about fog. Yes, there is much more to Northwest literature than the weather, but what it really comes down to is fog. You see there is no other fog like Northwest fog. It’s not like the fog in New York City that tumbles in like ocean waves and swarms around buildings and into alleyways. It’s not like the yellow fog in T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” that rubs its nose against the windowpanes and circles before slumping sleepily on the floor. No, Northwest fog is tall. Northwest fog drips, but at the same time it floats. Northwest fog is tinged blue, giving everything a hue of late dusk or early morning. Northwest fog isn’t a wall and it isn’t a soup: it’s another sky.

fog

Foggy view of Lake Washington in Washington state

The reason why fog is so important in Northwest literature is because a huge part of life in this region revolves around the weather. One of the main reasons it took so long for our forefathers to settle this region of the country was due to the inclement weather. In fact, the weather was more than inclement: it was aggressive, menacing, and threatening. The chaotic downpours of rain, hail, and flurried and watery snow did not allow for the patterned, exacting life of the early Americans. Crops that thrived one year were dead and dormant the next. Houses that withstood winter might crumple in the mudslides of the spring. The land of the Northwest was unpredictable, and thus the region drew a motley crowd of stubborn and crazed settlers from the fringes of “regular” American society.

These settlers—the lumberjacks, determined farmers, pioneer women, and hard-worn children—became the Northwest’s first written authors, following generations of Native American storytellers and oral historians. These original settlers wrote about standing up to the nature of the Northwest, transforming the land in order to build more prosperous lives. While sometimes noted for its beauty, the landscape of this early Northwest region was more often seen as a challenge to overcome.

However, as the proceeding generations learned to listen to the language of the land and live alongside it, the literary depictions of the Northwest region evolved. The hard-worn children of the first settlers learned to accept the region’s “faults” and build their lives around the rain, hail, mud, and ice. As their acceptance of the region grew, so did its value. Thus, nature in current Northwest literature is no longer a driving, antagonistic force, but is instead seen as a daily part of human life that is embraced and utilized for spiritual and meditative experiences.

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Cathedral Park underneath the St. John’s Bridge in Portland, OR

Northwest literature today, however, is often overlooked as being Northwestern, for the stories no longer focus solely on mountains, weather, and forests. Instead, books by Northwest writers, or even books taking place in the Northwest, tell larger stories with heroic characters, fantastic events, and dramatic endings. Nature, it seems, has taken a backseat in such literature, for it is no longer a main character, but rather a member of a large and inconsequential chorus. However, to put region and nature into this box in the background would be wrong, for it is not lying in wait behind more essential plots and characters. No, rather nature and region is overarching in Northwest literature. It is in every scene and within every character, shaping actions, words, thoughts, and motives. In this way Northwest literature mirrors Northwest life, for just as the region becomes a part of those who live here, so it becomes a part of all of the literature it inspires. In the world that is Northwest literature and life, region is the sky, encompassing every aspect of the small corner of the world it “rains” over.  The people and the novels soak up this inspiration and become denizens of a Northwest spirit that lives through them.

Thus, Northwest literature is all about the fog. Fog in the Northwest doesn’t tumble or nose its way into things. Instead it slowly eases down from the sky in wisps and droplets. It falls down into the dips in the tree lines and it encircles and curls around those who walk within it. It is weighty and patient as it carefully and expertly seeps into our lives and into the day. Just like the fog, region is not overt in every Northwest novel or poem that it inspires. In Northwest literature the region seeps into the story in the same determined, yet gentle way the fog seeps into the morning. Both fall from their overarching states and settle among us, however subtly, and in all we do, in all we write, we reflect the region and the fog.

Why I Serve

Robert DurborowBy Robert “Chaos” Durborow
Associate Student Representative, Far Western Region
Southern Utah University, Cedar City, UT

The first rule, as my dear old dad drilled into me from birth (a minor exaggeration…but not much), is: pay attention. These two words have served me well over the years, but no more so than when I decided to run for Associate Student Representative (ASR) of the Far Western Region two years ago. The advantages of a position in student leadership are many; let me tell you about some of my favorites.

Any opportunity to serve sits well with me. My father, the greatest man I know, always gave service wherever he noticed a need. Pop infected me with the same service bug in my early youth. I still have it and I’m not looking for a cure.

Robert "Chaos" Durborow with fellow student leaders

Robert “Chaos” Durborow with fellow student leaders

What does this have to do with serving as ASR? In my two years as ASR, I have met some of the most amazing people I will ever know. Moreover, I have made lifelong friends, an appellation I never bestow lightly. The Sigma Tau Delta family is a close knit group, but none are closer than your leadership. We serve because we believe in the Society and what it stands for. I bear witness that your leaders are of the finest character, have a passion for literature and service, and exhibit the highest standards of academic excellence. For us, it’s all about the words and promoting literacy. It is my honor to serve with them.

Perhaps the highest point of my tenure as a student leader began at last year’s annual convention in Portland. I was able to host, introduce, and spend quality time with my literary idol, Ursula K. LeGuin. I have been reading  works by Ursula since I was seven, and she has influenced my writing more than any other author.  For a more detailed account of this amazing experience, please see my previous blog on the subject, The Dream of Chaos and Old Night.

The postscript is that Ursula and I have become dear friends since our initial meeting.  I send her my poor excuses for poems on a regular basis, and she is kind enough to pronounce them worthy. We inquire after each other’s activities and health as if we’ve known each other all our lives. I have achieved a dream I could not even imagine because I paid attention and took the opportunity to serve.

Robert "Chaos" Durburow with Executive Director, William C. Johnson

Robert “Chaos” Durborow with Executive Director, William C. Johnson

I’m not saying you will have the same experience as a student leader…but it’s possible. So why not pay attention to the opportunity to serve that lies before you? Apply for one of the many leadership positions open right now. There are certainly less worthy ways to spend your time.

Far Western Region Blog Contest Rules and Guidelines

Revised Deadline: January 31, 2014

Topic

We are seeking entries for the Far Western Region’s page on the Society blog, WORDY by Nature. Contestants are invited to submit a blog article of no less than 400 and no more than 800 words on the following topic:

Region, or “Standing in the Place Where You Live”: This topic calls for us to think generally about the region’s influence on literature and more specifically, about the Far Western Region’s influence on our lives. Traditional criticism classifies literature as “regional” not only because of setting, but also because such literature has less than universal appeal.  We live in a “global” society largely because of the internet, but how does where we live, work, study, and play make its mark on our thought and creativity? In terms of the writer’s craft, the short story writer Andre Dubus (1936-1999) once said that he couldn’t write about a place unless he had smelled it. And who can forget the call to introspection in R.E.M.’s 1989 hit song, “Stand,” which asks us to:

“Stand in the place where you live/Now face North/Think about direction/Wonder why you haven’t before . . .”

So think about place, and specifically, your place in the Far Western Region. What does your part of the Far Western Region offer in terms of famous writers, literary landmarks, inspiring vistas, or active hubs of creativity? What does this part of the country offer you? How has it influenced our local literature—historical or contemporary? Alternatively, how has your locale lead to some important activities for your chapter? What service projects, creative fundraisers or activities, or simply chapter/school/individual member identities are unique because of where you live?

Feel free to write whimsically or to report on actual regional events, writers, or landmarks. Entries must be accompanied by an original and relevant photograph.

Prizes

A first, second, and third place prize will be offered in the amounts of $100, $50, and $30 respectively.  At the judges’ discretion, up to two runner-up entries will be considered.

Rules

  1. You must be a member of a Sigma Tau Delta chapter within the Far Western Region.
  2. You are allowed only one entry.
  3. You must send your blog entry as an attachment, and in the email to which it is attached, you must provide:
    1. Your name
    2. Email address
    3. Name of school and name of your Sigma Tau Delta chapter (see Chapter Directory)
    4. Year you were inducted into Sigma Tau Delta
    5. Whether you are planning to attend the 2014 Convention
  4. Prizes will be awarded at the 2014 Sigma Tau Delta International Convention in Savannah, and winning entries will be published on WORDY by Nature starting the week of the annual convention. Winners need not be present to win.
  5. Winners will be paid in the form of a check, so be sure to indicate to whom you want the check made out to if different from your signed name.
  6. The deadline for all blog entries is January 8, 2014, 12:00 a.m. PST.
  7. Email your completed blog entry to aivanovcraig@apu.edu.

Format and Pictures

All articles:

  • Must be 12-point, Times New Roman font
  • Must be submitted as a Word document (.doc or .docx)
  • Must follow the Sigma Tau Delta Writing Style Guide and MLA
  • Should skip a line between paragraphs
  • Must be accompanied by a headshot of the writer
  • Must include a relevant original photo
  • Must identify any people featured in submitted photos
  • Should have the following header:
    • Title
      Author (list first name and last name)
      Office (if applicable: e.g., President, Secretary, Chapter Sponsor)
      School Name

Evaluation Criteria

In addition to the criteria that the article address the contest topic, and meet the requirements listed above, articles will be judged according to a rubric which incorporates many, if not all of the following criteria:

Topics/Objectives

  • Inspires appreciation of words, language, and literature
  • Furthers, promotes, or highlights one of the objectives of the Society
  • Provides original content (don’t duplicate the website)
  • Shares relevant and useful information for Society members
  • Contains a takeaway or key thought for members
  • Includes a call to action or a question that promotes conversation

Style

  • Logical, clear, and accurate
  • Written from a personal perspective (first person narrative)
  • Informative and/or persuasive in nature
  • Utilizes multimedia (pictures, videos, and web links)
  • Well written, professional, and representative of the high standards of the Society

Title

  • Simple
  • Descriptive
  • Eye-catching, grabs the reader’s attention
  • Meets a need (the reader feels like he/she needs to read it)