A month from today is the birthday of James G. Swan, one of the greatest - albeit least known - figures in Northwest history. I could drone on for paragraphs about why Swan was an interesting person, but I'll leave that in the much more eloquent hands of novelist Ivan Doig, who's Winter Brothers is a book I would recommend to anyone with an interest in Swan or, indeed, in the Northwest as a whole. I'll just briefly outline why I think Swan embodies the best of this region. First, he wasn't born here, but in Massachusetts. This may sound counterintuitive, but when you consider that the region's history has been driven by exploration (e.g. Lewis and Clark) and immigration (e.g. The Oregon Trail) it's really very appropriate. Second, unlike many of his contemporaries, his relationship with the many Native Americans he encountered was, it appears, mutually positive. He saw the region's tribes not just as savages or anthropological curiosities, but as the complex, living cultures they were (and still are). Third, and most importantly, he loved the Northwest and made this abundantly clear in his writing. He lived On Willapa Bay, among the Makah on the Olympic Peninsula, and in Port Townsend on Puget Sound. He travelled to Astoria in Oregon and the Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, and he wrote glowingly of his experiences in all these places. Few people have ever taken to an adopted home more enthusiastically and more wholeheartedly, and at least to my mind there is no date more appropriate for a Northwestern regional holiday.
Many of you may think this is some elaborate and long-winded - though not particularly funny - joke. It's not. I'd estimate that at least half of the posts on this blog are paeans to the cultural and physical landscape of the Northwest (which is why, incidentally, I'm not bothering to defend my assertion that the region deserves to be celebrated; there's plenty of that elsewhere on this site). Many of you out there, of course, are from elsewhere and don't feel any particular connection to Oregon, Washington, or BC, in which case there's no reason this should affect you. However, for those of you who consider yourself Northwesterners, be you native or adopted, I suggest you mark January 11th on your calendars, and if you have friends who you think are likely to be enthusiastic about this hare-brained idea, mention it to them as well. I'm not advocating anything extravagant here, mind you. The last thing the world need is another made-up holiday when people are expected to throw money at cards, gifts, or fancy meals. For many of us who call the Northwest home, though, I think there's a great deal to be said for recognizing what it is that we appreciate about it.