I’ve often been told that Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood is a masterpiece of craftsmanship. In fact, this was a common conversation thread throughout my years at Portland’s one and only craft college. It would begin with my telling a stranger I was getting a degree in craft.

There would be silence.

Then there could be a range of clunky questions seeking clarification, or there would be the question about Timberline.

“No.” I’d say, “I have not visited Timberline. Yet.”
And that would inadvertently derail that conversation.

After being an Oregonian for over a decade I finally wandered through Timberline Lodge. It contains many remarkable evidences of hand work; with the wrought iron hardware and massive hewn beams being the standouts. Over one doorway I spied a butterfly tenon larger than both my fists put together. Carved rams support chunky oak slab table tops and telephone pole beams are cut short and topped with friendly carved animals. A handmade cohesiveness provides harmony as well as quirky surprises on each floor of the lodge. In one side hallway I came across a simple wooden bench with protruding iron handles on one side and a single heavy metal wheel on the other so that the bench could be wheeled about if a new location was desired. I could not find another one. This singular bench made me wonder when we might again build buildings that would be erected to not just serve a function to the public but would also honor the ingenuity of a hand laborer.

As I see it, Timberline’s crafted beauty isn’t nearly as important as the sentiment that wrought it. In the bleakest of times for America a president saw fit to think outside of advisors, analysts, and political tradition to empower the impoverished. Among the hundreds of people working to fashion Timberline there were many who discovered previously hidden talents and were awarded not just a check, but with the feeling that their labor mattered. Simply stated, the New Deal valued its citizenry and unlocked their potential.

Critics of FDR’s plan proselytized the end of capitalism with the advent of the New Deal but I think of it as a very heart felt attempt to counteract an international crisis of economy and the subsequent feelings of worthlessness that it engendered.

Ultimately, government should not be just a gnarled web of mandates and bureaucracy; it should inspire and support the dreams of its populace. As a democratic population we should not allow our government to operate solely as a short-sided arm of disaster relief for the victims of its own inefficiency. FDR was not the primary culprit of a national economic downturn and many of his solutions to it live on today— can we have much faith that our current president will leave us with a similar legacy?

*Feeling it imprudent to take a camera on the slopes I turned to Flickr for an image. Fellow photographer Sherri Jackson graciously provided the picture above. It manages to capture not just the fantastic scale of the woodwork and masonry, but also reveals a bit of the impeccably considered lighting that exists throughout the lodge. Much thanks to Sherri.

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