My cousin is allergic to cow's milk and was drinking soy milk long before it was cool. Because of this, he shopped at this tiny store in the hills outside Springfield. I remember going there to get milk for Jack. The store was run by a hippie couple and was the beginning of my dream of living off the grid. That's not to say they were living off the grid, but they were definitely counter culture, following their own dreams.
I met a couple homeschooling their daughters who had built their own house from trees they cut down off their land. And that was the beginning of me wanting to build my own house. I mean, how can a person not want to build their own house?
But, the most significant thing that happened was going to a school where the teachers told stories about the '60s and '70s, the students were children of hippies, and the culture was both intellectual and flower child. One of my teachers told stories about students running and dancing naked in the rain on the school grounds, high on LSD.
My biology teacher introduced me to environmentalism in a way that all the rhetoric of the environmental movement could not. He introduced me to biology, our impact on our environment from a scientific point of view. It was not about global warming. It was about our immediate impact on our environment. And it stuck. His lecture on the impact of clear cut logging on rivers sticks with me to this day. It was especially powerful because one of my good friend's father was a logger and the logging industry was in a huge fight over the spotted owl.
But, I think the reason this time in Oregon had the biggest impact on me was because of how involved the students were. Here was a group of teenagers that cared about the political scene. That fight over the spotted owl was fought in classes and the cafeteria. My friends and I made signs and stood outside the fence at lunchtime protesting the first Iraq war. (What? You didn't realize I was a peacenik?) The students truly believed they could make a difference, that their opinions mattered. And that was the only place I lived where that was true.
I moved back to Oklahoma and the schools were not the same. Students were not engaged in the story of the world. But I was forever changed.