What makes a place, a Place?
Updated: Feb 15, 2022
When I saw our new Applegate Valley signs for the first time, something magical happened...
When people ask where I am from, I respond:
“The Applegate Valley in Oregon.”
Of course, this requires a little clarification. So, I continue: “The Applegate is a valley outside of the town of Jacksonville, which was outside the small city of Medford.” When that doesn’t clear things up, I add—"which is five hours away from Portland and San Francisco.” At last: some bearings for their mental map.
The truth is, until recently, I myself had only a mushy sense of where the Applegate was. Technically, I live in Ruch. Does that count as the Applegate? What exactly defines the Applegate? Where are its borders?
Despite my uncertainty, I claimed the name 'Applegate' simply because I loved the sound of it: Applegate. The word calls to mind a handhewn sort of place, bucolic and full of old fruit trees and sagging wooden gates. The name ‘Applegate’ is from the middle English word Applegarth, which means ‘apple orchard’. It's a surname brought here by pioneers during The Great Migration.
I haven’t been alone in my geographical confusion. A local community organization has long felt our region wasn’t recognized as a distinct from its governing counties of Jackson and Josephine. After pulling together funding, input, and permits, A Greater Applegate installed two new “Welcome” signs at the main entrances of the valley—one on Jacksonville Hill and the other by Hidden Valley Market in Murphy.
My neighbor Gregg Payne designed the signs. A few weeks ago, I was out throwing the ball for my dog and looked over at his yard. Amid his collection of vintage cars and trucks, I saw the newly-made signs in his yard, awaiting placement. They featured bright green fields blasted with orange sunlight, the aqua wend of a river, and a background of purple mountain majesty.
My spine straightened. After years of living with ambiguous sense of living in the middle of the middle of nowhere, I saw the sign and had a sensation of landing. I lived in not just a place, but a Place! I told Gregg how magical that felt.
He later explained: “Signs and logo designs are usually intended to project a positive image to others, but they can also generate a positive self-image and sense of pride within ourselves.” He said he kept the design simple and spare to leave space for the diverse people and businesses in our community to project themselves into it. He acknowleged that the Applegate means so many things to different people.
For Gregg it’s paragliders in the sky floating over his house and driving his daughter and his wife to Applegate Lake in one of his vintage trucks.
What does the Applegate mean to me? I made a list:
*It’s the green mountains and the river
* It’s those historic, old barns with their missing planks and collapsing roofs (Can someone preserve them forever, please?!).
*It’s waking up to the chattering and drilling of the acorn woodpeckers who populate my grandaddy oak.
*It’s morning sun slicing over Woodrat ridge and flooding my porch on summer mornings.
*It’s afternoons wading knee-deep into the Applegate river to pick the plumpest blackberries and hauling home buckets and making pie.
*It’s dancing to music on the lawn at Red Lily with a candy-colored bottle of Lily Girl rosé.
*It’s snagging the last loaf of Rise Up! bread from the Ruch Country Store on delivery day.
*It’s music on the deck of the Applegate Lodge on a warm Sunday evening, with that iconic steel, green bridge in the background.
*It’s church music from the Applegate Fellowship on Sundays layered with recreational gunfire ringing out from the nearby mountains.
*It’s grabbing an iced latte from Code 3 on my way to Applegate Lake, or some semi-secret river swimming hole in the summer time.
*It’s Tuscan-vistas of vineyards and paragliders overhead.
*It’s so many wonderful things.
When I asked Seth Kaplan, director of A Greater Applegate, what the organization’s definition of the Applegate is, he kept it as simple and spare as the new signs: “It’s 500-square miles of watershed.”
However people want to define the Applegate, he hopes the new signs creates a sense of coming home when they enter the valley.
What is the Applegate to you?