What is Territory? Part 1

Old Coos  Bay

On my old laptop, my screensaver says

“You’re not mapping anymore.  You’re on the territory.”

It’s a quote from my former therapist, that I wanted to see every day to  remind me that planning for an experience can only take one so far.  A good map is useful, but it is not the territory. The territory is lived experience.

Territory:  “a field or sphere of action, thought, etc.; a domain or province of something.”

In 2009, I was invited to present a concert at the Oregon Coast Music Festival in Coos Bay.  I wanted to create something special that connected to the community, so I did some research into its history, or the region and it’s inhabitants.

At the time I was in the process of putting together a new band, one that would explore material not usually associated with jazz, but music that embodied a kind of meaningful essence, music of John Lennon, Bob Dylan,The Neville Brothers and Keith Jarrett.

The music inspiration for this move was a recording by drummer Brian Blade called Mama Rosa, one of the most beautiful records I have ever heard. Brian singing his own original songs, poetic stories along the lines of my favorite songwriters, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor.

Here is a track from that album

So I started a band called “On the Territory,” and our debut in Coos Bay was one of the most rewarding concerts I’ve ever played.

The why is pretty obvious.  Because it was not just a generic performance, because it was  connected to the people and place that it occurred, it  allowed me to come to know a new place in a way I never would have had I just showed up and played.

It was a wonderful process of discovery.  Here is one  of the gems.

Coos Bay poem
Grace McCormac French, born 1881, Marshfield, OR

I live in an inland valley
But my heart yearns for the sea.
I come from a race of sailor men
And they left that love to me.
Fog enfolded all the landscape
On a cool October day
And my thoughts began to center
Round my old home on Coos Bay…

And then – I heard a steamer whistle
As it left the lower bay,
Yet I knew ‘twas the noon time signal
In a town six miles away.
But to me it seemed to say
Come back, come back you wanderer,
Come back to old Coos Bay…

I know – I’ll hear the sea gulls screeching
When my ship sails in the bay
Past the cape where stands the lighthouse
And the cliffs all wet with spray,
Then my happy heart will say –
You’re home, you’re home, you wanderer,
It’s home on dear old Coos Bay.



terroirIn wine they have a concept called “terroir”– that mix of dirt, rain, sun, wind and water that makes one vineyard’s grapes taste different from another’s.

Is is possiblty the territory shapes its artists, too.  Seeps into our tunes and our dreams, inspires us, connects us–whether we are native or transplant.  It runs deeper than genre or musical style.  When you love a place, its story can’t help but make its way into your own, and you can feel its current in the work.

Part of it is Geography. It is the land, the rocks, the rivers.  In the cascade watershed the interface of land and water defines us.  The verdant, fertile soil laid down over millenia, the great river Columbia that is the lifeline of our region.  The peaks- Hood, Adams, St. Helens, Rainer and the others- stand as spiritual monuments grounding us and fueling our imaginations.

The geological narrative that has been playing since before humans arrived frames the stories we live out on the territory.

Case in point

LakeMissoula15,000 years ago most of the western part off Montana was covered by Glacial Lake Missoula, a prehistoric  lake that measured about 3,000 square miles and contained about  (500 cu mi) of water.  It was held up by an ice dam on the Clark Fork River.  The periodic rupturing of that ice resulted in the Missoula Floods (also known as the Spokane Floods or the Bretz Floods)– cataclysmic floods that swept across Eastern Washington and down the Columbia River Gorge about every 55 years  during a 2,000 year period. Scientists have found evidence of at least twenty-five massive floods, the largest discharged a flow 13 times the size of the Amazon river.  The cumulative effect of the Missoula Floods was to excavate 50 cubic miles of sediment and basalt from the channeled scablands of eastern Washington and transport it at 80 miles and hour downstream to the Willamette  It carved canyons and made the Willamette Valley one of the most fertile places on the planet.   After the rupture, the ice would reform, creating Glacial Lake Missoula again.