The Cascadian Flag: A Transformative Icon

by Alexander Baretich

This piece was originally published in Cascadia Spoke, a community publication dedicated to raising awareness of the Cascadia movement and bioregionalism.

The Cascadian flag captures that love of living communities in our bioregion.

Unlike many flags, the Cascadian flag is neither a flag of blood nor a flag of the glory for a nation, but a love of the bioregion; our ecosystems and the place in which we live and love.

The blue represents the moisture of rich sky above and Pacific Ocean along with the Salish Sea, lakes and other inland waters. Our home is of continuous cascading waters flowing from our sky and mountains back to the Pacific. For Cascadia is a land of falling water from the Pacific to the western slopes of the Rockies where water cycles as vapor and then rain and snow to run through creek and river back to the Pacific. The white is for the snow and clouds which are the catalyst of water changing from one state of matter to another. From liquid into vapor (mist and clouds) and from vapor into solid (ice and snow) and melting back to liquid or vapor. The green is the forests and fields which too carry life giving water through our biodiverse land. The lone standing Douglas fir symbolizes endurance, defiance, and resilience against fire, flood, catastrophic change, and even against anthropocentric Man.

All these symbols of color and icon came together to symbolize what being Cascadian is all about.

When I was in high school (early 1980s) I was fighting against deforestation and mass building of suburbia around my home in Portland. I was very well in-tune with the forests and the open fields (White Oak Savanna) on the south slope of the shield volcano I grew up on. I would enter the forest after school and just listen to Nature. I would do my version of forest defense, which meant pulling up surveyors’ stakes, pulling down real estate signs and sometimes damage to equipment. I would even go into a forest where trees were marked with spray-paint (marked to be cut) and repaint them with paint matching the color of the bark so the hired tree cutters could not figure out which tree to cut. It was a losing battle as suburbia wiped out lots of forests and fields on the edges of Portland’s expanding urban growth boundary.

One day at my forest, the real estate developer had secretly ordered the cutting of all the trees while he was supposed to be arguing his case before Portland city council. It was an illegal cut as the city council were discussing if the “development” should take place given neighborhood protests and local media coverage. The damage was done, but as we tried to stop the loggers I realized this was a losing battle. I realized then that I needed to get into the minds of the chainsaw wielding workers and the bulldozer operators who would just scuff at my protest and say “it’s just my job” or “if I don’t someone else will.” I had heard those words repeatedly or from the real estate developer himself “you cannot stop progress.” First of all this was not “progress” it was greed and dominion over Nature. It was death and ecocide and its goal was eventually terracide. It was at this point I started to search for some means to shift the consciousness of people from anthropocentric (human centered) to one that was biocentric (life centered). I knew whatever that was, that catalysis, it had to be emotion driven and needed to have that “aha” moment or epiphany at the human conscious level. I also knew it was not something one necessarily went out and found, but it was something that would reveal itself when it was time. So that began a subconscious search for what I would call a transformative icon.

In the academic year of 1994-1995, I ended up doing graduate work in Eastern Europe studying nationalism and ethnic minorities. Though I totally love the people, cultures and landscape of Eastern Europe, I was deeply homesick for the forests of Cascadia, specifically the Willamette Valley forests I grew up around. One day in spring as I sat on a hill with my companion, I explained to her what the landscape of my home looked like. I said those vast vineyards if at my house would be vast green forests; the distant mountains of the Matras would be the snowcapped Cascades with white clouds hovering above; and above that might be the blue sky.

The flag ideally should capture and recall the awe, love and beauty of the bioregion that we experience whether in childhood or adulthood. At its deep subconscious level the colors and center icon should bring the observer to a sense of wonder.

The three colors of blue, white and green came to mind and that the pine tree in front of us would be a Douglas fir. The image stuck in my mind and spent a lot of time obsessively drawing the flag which really annoyed my soon to be wife. That period of time was crucial in regards to what was happening in Cascadia at that point. Massive deforestation targeting old growth was happening and salvaging of down trees caused by intentional fires as well as lawsuits countering clear cutting of endangered species’ habitat was filling up the courts. The Clinton/Gore administration during the summer of 1995 signed into law “Salvage Rider” which basically back stabbed environmentalists and made all the legal victories pointless. Like what I had realized fighting real estate developers in the 1980s, had again surfaced that we need to create paradigm shift in the minds of those who had power. The period was marked by “Cascadia Free States” which were environmental blockades and barricades set to stop the logging industry from harvesting national forests.

I tend to look at the meme (viral idea) of the Cascadian flag like it’s a multilayered sphere or onion entering or implanted in the mindscape of the host and then unfolding while releasing its contagion. The meme conveys multiple layers to understanding Cascadia. As the memetic onion unpeels in the deep subconscious of the host some will stay or linger at one or another layer, but I have seen major shifts into the deeper layers by some who I thought would remain at the first several layers and I have seen some stay stuck at the first couple layers who I thought would delve deep into the core of the memetic onion. So the levels or peels. At first the normal reaction, the shallow surface level, is to be of nationalistic. The “oh we are a new country” concept which often ends up being “well if they are America then we are Cascadia.” This is the flying of the flag as a form of simple regional identity, but then there is the deeper layers of consciousness that emerges as the simple concepts of nationalism peels away.

The next level then is the awareness that Cascadia is not defined by the limited borders of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, but has greater broader borders that include Idaho, northern California, and southeast Alaska as well as northeastern Nevada, northwestern Wyoming, northwestern Montana and even a little of northern Utah. Then there is the realization that those borders are based on nation-state concepts and imperialism. This realization is that these lines on a map are dictated by the conquerers and oppressors who have destroyed so much diversity.

This comes to an awakening that Cascadia the bioregion is based on watersheds or river drainage systems that flow all the way to the Rockies or continental divide. Then a deeper layer of consciousness hits that the flow of water is crucial to a bioregion and that life is based on that water. After that comes the realization that Cascadia or any bioregion is not just a place, but a living complex of interactions and interconnectedness to many communities, human and nonhuman. We are not a human in a vacuum separated from Nature, but are extensions of each other and dependent on the health and dynamic interactions with each other. It becomes a consciousness of living dynamic being and is no longer stuck in banal nationalism, but is an awakening to being part of a bioregion which is part of the biosphere which is the living Earth.

Alexander Baretich is a professor, author and the designer of the Cascadia Flag, which he designed in Portland in 1995.

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