Drafting Cascadia: Mapping the Geography of the Pacific Northwest

cascadia solstice rainbow pride

By Adam RothsteinOriginally Published by The State (http://www.thestate.ae/)

When trying to identify the geographical ley lines that demarcate geo-political boundaries, everything becomes a bit pseudo-scientific. Boundaries shift depending on where you are standing, when, and whether you are the person holding the weapon, or the person having the weapon held at you. You might be better off trying to use a crystal than a GPS receiver, because at least no one could dispute your subjective impressions of psycho-geography, and you would lack the false impressions of being shielded by political borders and citizenships that ought to save you from being on the wrong end of techno-politics, before you are vaporized by a drone-fired missile.

My current terrain is the geographic exploration known as “Cascadia”, that is slowly warming in the (relatively cool, by temperature record standards) Northwestern United States. This area of the country was always primed for festering secession movements. From the perspective of its history, the area was known successively as New Spain, New Caledonia, New Archangel, New Georgia, and the Columbia District, as control of the land was swapped between various powers and corporations with little if any input by the people who lived there. After Ernest Callenbach’s novel Ecotopia was published in 1975, the counter-cultural elements collecting in the declining economy of the waning shipbuilding and lumber industries had a design-fiction script on which to place their environmental aspirations. And just in the past year, the local Occupy protests have brought out the language and flag of “Cascadia” in new numbers. The name was invented by David McCloskey and his Cascadia Institute in 1970. Today, it is a way of supporting locally-oriented organizing strategies, defending the ecological heritage of the region, and proclaiming ideological and physical separation from any overbearing government. While it could be argued that the local population’s approval rating of the national government has nowhere to go but up, it seems equally likely that in this political climate, whatever the geography of Cascadia is, it will only become more deeply ingrained in the psychological landscape.

While the vociferous voices of Cascadia articulate its identity as a regionalism spanning every ethic from political, to athletic (the Cascadian flag designed by Alexander Baretich has become the unofficial banner of Portland’s Timbers soccer team), to the merely beer-drinking (see Hopworks Brewery’s relatively decent “Secession Black IPA”), I find four main lines along which the border of this non-state could be mapped:

  1. Bio-regionalism – One of the most often cited rationales for the general definition of Cascadia as lower British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and perhaps parts of Idaho and Northern California, is that there are similarities in the ecosystem that make these disparate political entities indispensable from each other as a whole. This ties in well with the environmentalism lingering from the Ecotopia-themed inspirations for Cascadia.
  2. The Columbia Watershed – Similar to the bio-regional argument, this definition incorporates all land that drains into the Columbia River. Other definitions add other river watersheds to the Columbia. Water may be cliche as a “life force” in one of the most rain-soaked areas of the continent, but local farming initiatives, natural sewage treatment options, and reliance upon natural cycles such as salmon migration mean that water is no less important for its quantities.
  3. Cascadian Subduction Zone – this tectonic area of the region is further away from the ecosystemic arguments for Cascadia, but is still closely linked to a symbolic relationship with the land under one’s feet. It is worth noting that the volcanoes of the Cascades are not silent–in fact, “Cascadia Day” is celebrated on May 18th, the anniversary of Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980. Furthermore, the entire region lives under the shadow of “the big one”: a large earthquake expected in the next hundred years.
  4. Transportation – One of the more curious and anthropocentric definitions, this boundary draws on the ecosystem of human technology, identifying Cascadia as one of many new “megaregions” in North America. Interstate 5 runs straight through the major population centers of Cascadia, from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, BC. This boundary line is more of an axis than a limit, and is often used in arguments for economic cooperation and transportation development between the cities and existing governmental boundaries. Amtrak also currently has a line running from Eugene to Vancouver called “The Cascades”, that provides quick service along the I-5 Corridor as an alternative to notorious traffic jams. State lines are little hindrance to the realities of social and economic migration.

What is more curious than the fact that these different ways of establishing a geographic area differ, is that they actually seem to cohere, at least to the extent that the can share a common name. It is hard to overlook the enforced sovereignty of the United States’ and Canadian governments, which Cascadian identity must bow before. However, the establishment of a non-sovereign territory is well underway in Cascadia. The future is a fractalized potential of demarcation methods. The days of Lewis and Clark are over. The people who live on the terrain are picking up the drafting pencils to draw the new maps.


<< back to August Index | next article >>