Estimates vary, but the general belief is that the Klamath Basin is home for somewhere between 60 thousand and 75 thousand souls. The main population center is Klamath Falls, which sits on the south end of Upper Klamath Lake. The lake'll freeze over in the winter thick enough to where you can walk all the way across it.
The folks down there's a little rougher, a little more wary. Largely skeptical about people's motives. Dress is less refined, more attuned to the outdoors than you'll generally see in the bigger towns. Everybody wears jeans in Klamath Falls. Which prob'ly accounts for why I grew up thinking there's nothing that looks better on a woman than a good-fittin' pair.
You live there a while, your skin gets leathery, you get hard corners about the mouth. All that high and dry desert air leaves its mark.
If you remember back, there was a big controversy over water usage in 2001. It all stemmed from a federal court's ruling that curtailed farmer and rancher irrigation privileges (or "rights" as the folks down there call 'em) in order to protect endangered fish in Upper Klamath Lake.
I had occasion to go back there during that time, and I tell you, the place was smoldering like a mound of dry peat. Farmers, ranchers, and concerned citizens up in arms, saying "Civil wars've been started over less than this!" They busted the lock placed by the authorities and opened up the head gates to the irrigation canals. In defiance of a federal order. Feds showed restraint, but it was touch-and-go for a while.
For now, there's a truce on, but don't be surprised if things flare up again in some time of drought.
They paid me $7.40 per hour back then. That was real money. But it was work that took a toll on the body. Lots of the old veterans were missing fingertips or pieces of their hands. And they were all pretty broke down, too. Had plenty of 'em tell me, "Son, get an education. This way of life's comin' to an end and it ain't no life to speak of, anyway."
And that was true, for sure. Used to be that a guy could get a job out at the Weyerhaeuser plant going out towards Keno, and make enough to raise a family in comfort. No longer. No sir. World moved on past all that.
OIT for my schoolin'. It was right there in town, had a good job placement rate, specialized in technical degrees, which was where all the money was back in those days. Besides that, Dad was a football coach there. So, that's where I got my bachelor's degree. Computer engineering.
Can't complain about that. When you go to college in the mountains, the horizons aren't exactly wide open, but that diploma landed me a good payin' job a month after I graduated and I've never lacked for work since. 'Course, I had to leave the Basin. No opportunities there.
One thing that never did change: Come Friday night, it was time to go out and get drunk and look for girls. Most of the time didn't get much past the first part. But there wasn't much else to do at night when you didn't have to get up to work or school the next day except get inebriated. Seen more drug abuse and alcoholism in Klamath Falls than I ever have up here in the Big City of Portland, an' that's the God's honest truth.
|Hog's Back mountain|
Generally, folks from the Klamath Basin have a certain indifference to the opinions of others when it comes to their behavior. If a law doesn't fit the needs of the moment, it just wasn't meant to be followed. Or, to revert to the parlance of the blue-collar stiffs pullin' chain at the lumber mill: "Huntin' license? What for? There's lots of muleys in the woods, 'sides which, if we don't get 'em the Klamaths will." (Klamaths were the Native Americans that lived up on the north part of Klamath Lake before John C. Fremont forced them onto the reservation. We always called them "Indians.")
Some say there is no contempt so strong as self-contempt, and that's about all I can put it down to. Friend a mine used to say of the folks from Klamath Falls, "They're dumb as hell, but you won't catch me tellin' 'em that."
'Course, he was from Klamath Falls, too.