The Legacy of Exceptionalism

Alan Weltzien


The towering position of the volcanoes in the Northwest ethos is foregrounded in regional literature and historical writing. Exceptionalism – the notion that we’re something special, given our landscapes — provides the preferred rhetoric, a chauvinistic master trope, in the fond story many Northwesterners tell of themselves. To understand that story, we must define that sensibility then trace its evolution. The Northwest’s special endowment depends in part on what I will call the sociology of the snowpeaks. At the top of the region’s remarkable topographies float the volcanoes, as virtually every contemporary Northwest literary history or general history claims, and above them all floats Mt. Rainier – Tacoma, or Tahoma in the Yakama language – undisputed crown of the lower forty-eight states’ upper left corner. Like Pacific salmon, Rainier, in its myriad views, poses as the quintessential Northwest icon. As such it has served as a commonplace market brand and television backdrop, even appearing on commemorative postage stamps. Its image endorse

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