Monday’s Meander: Menucha’s Rustic Charms

I went to the Menucha Retreat and Conference Center during early spring, and the serenity of the grounds was strong enough to linger several years.

The land was homesteaded in 1874 by John Painter, an English sailor. Situated above the Columbia Gorge with its namesake river, the property was bought in 1914 by Julius Meier, a wealthy businessman (Meier and Frank department stores) who later was a Governor of Oregon. The estate became well known following the first family residence being built in 1927. The property was a country retreat for family and friends, and political figures visited, including Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Meiers mostly took up residence in warmer months.

The home and land were originally reachable only by the river where Native American culture thrived (and salmon was abundant). Then the first Northwest highway was carved out of the Cascade Mountain Range in 1913. It runs 75 miles through the Columbia Gorge and past Menucha.

In 1950, the First Presbyterian Church of Portland purchased it with the family’s blessing. The estate was named by the Meiers, and since “Menucha” roughly means “still” or “peaceful” in Hebrew, the church kept it. The ecumenical center serves as retreat for about 400 Judeo-Christian groups (thought it serves not only these groups) per year. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (though the original home was destroyed by carpenter ants). Not grand but more rustic, the structures are sturdily designed in the Pacific Northwest style developing during that time. The primary retreat center’s interior is attractive but it is the outdoors that draws me. The grounds are rolling and green and forests encircle it. And it’s well kept with a small front garden; the land is 700 feet above the river.

In early spring Marc and I wandered around the grounds following an Easter week dinner and other events. The wind blew fiercely at times but steady sunshine warmed us. We were pleased to have finally visited a place we had only ogled from the car for years. Though not now attending the church we did then, anyone can book a room for their individual restful retreat. Perhaps when the pandmeic is well addressed we’ll look into that. Weddings are also held there, as well as conferences for nonprofits, family reunions and arts workshops.

In addition to this great fireplace where meals can be made–and hot dogs and marshmallows roasted– and served at nearby tables, there is a well maintained pool overlooking the Gorge.

There is an old stone labyrinth that we walked.

Some of John Painter’s fruit trees live on.

It is a good spot for meditation and restoration, as its name indicates. We finally bade farewell to Menucha–until another day.

Monday’s Meander: A Biltmore Estate Visit

Let’s slip over to North Carolina awhile, in the Asheville area. Though mansions are not at the top of my list of things to see, I am about to showcase one. I need a break from the many water scenes that saturate (I know…sorry) my life: steady drumming of winter rain on roof, dripping off branches and leaves of bushes and my nose. The many river and ocean photos. I nearly reposted a blog piece from 2017, also about the trip to this place–it garnered 62 “likes”, to my surprise. But this time I want to focus on the palatial home rather than philosophize about beauty/art/nature and so on. Let the pictures speak…

Still, a little history. The American (of Dutch origin) Vanderbilts were industrial magnates, their wealth too much for most of us to fathom. Since visiting I sometimes muse over Anderson Cooper, television journalist and author, and his family history. I have respect for his work. Matriarchal grandparents, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, had tremendous financial prowess rooted in shipping and railroad empires. Reginald was one of the wealthiest men in the world. Anderson Cooper’s mother, Gloria Vanderbilt (his father, the writer Wyatt Cooper, died at age 50) was an heiress but became a famous artist and fashion designer. (I’m certain to have worn her jeans in young adulthood–surprisingly somewhat affordable.) The descendants are many; several became famous in their chosen fields.

The Vanderbilts had a great many houses between various successful relatives. Most have been torn down or were finally turned into museums. The Biltmore Estate is the latter though still owned by descendants. Conceived by George Washington Vanderbilt, a country gentleman due to his inheritance, it was built between 1889-1895 in the grand French Revivalist style. He purchased 125,000 acres; the estate was self-sustaining with farming and animal husbandry. The house remains the largest privately owned home in the U.S. with 250 rooms–or, put another way per Wikipedia, 4 acres of floor space. On top of all this, Vanderbilt created nearby attractive Biltmore Village for his servants to live in, handy and one would think also generous.

All this is interesting historically but the estate was a peculiar, intriguing feast for the eyes as we wove through rooms–often in the middle of a large group and usually in shadow as it is not well lit. Trying to think of dinner in the dining room, billiards in the game room, music in the music room….and how did one figure out which of countless bedrooms to slumber within? The preserved furniture, valuable objects and decorative touches were curious to observe. Much of it was heavy, dark toned. The staiurc ases were beautiful. Finally we got to wander amid a garden or two.

Marc had not wanted to go. It was later in morning so our visit would be shorter than I’d hoped; there was a pricey entrance fee and rain threatened (but held off). I wanted to explore a place so unusual as this–then fell in love with the North Carolina and estate area landscape. I did admire certain details, features of the mansion, and was struck often by its immensity–the architectural engineering of such a behemoth. I cannot, however, imagine such an extreme sort of lifestyle…and preferred to think of wandering about the rolling land, writing poems, listening to birds….riding horseback here and there, though I am not too experienced!

Let’s start with a slide show.

Marc taking in the acreage

If interested in the original post, it is here:

Wednesday’s Words: A Pause for Change

A pause for President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala D. Harris.

May they be a stronger, nobler bridge leading from the past, through this present to our future USA.

I am fortified by beacons and voices of hope, by justice and compassion.

Vacation views of San Diego in 2018 for my 68th birthday. May we do our best to stay well so as to work better, play and share joy and roam as we choose– one day, not so far off.

Monday’s Meander: The Emerald City

Seattle, WA.: The Space Needle, built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, and a Chihuly glass sculpture.

Because I am missing Seattle, here we go on a virtual visit. The name could be attached to the land of Oz….but it is not. “Emerald” refers to a preponderance of greenery–towering evergreens, among other plants and trees– displayed all year around. This was a last fun trip before the pandemic kept all more homebound. We have chosen the beautiful, invigorating Seattle for New Year’s a few times and it has always been worth it. We’ve also visited family in the area and at 19 I lived there so I feel quite at home, though it so much bigger than my hometown of Portland (we are very green, too). I was disappointed to not go up there this year.

If you’ve seen some of these shots before, perhaps you can enjoy them, again. If you have never been there in person I hope you’re enticed to explore the city, yourself, some day! With little commentary, let’s begin…

All glass art is by Dale Chihuly at the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum.

Above shots: Experience Music Project; architect, Frank O. Gehry. (Not easy climbing up and standing on a ledge… but fun!)

I have had a great time revisiting memories–one good reason to travel is that, with photography, you get to almost go there once more. But I am so looking forward to another in-person visit. In the meantime, more local day trips are good. I am hoping you also will hop in a car, ride your bike or head out on foot to open spaces, to be safe. It never fails to cheer me in all the ways that matter. See you for another meander next week!

Mt. Rainier

Monday’s Meander: Back to Bishop’s Close in December

I am thinking daily of family and holidays, as are most. And photos surfaced of a wintry walk through Elk Rock at Bishops Close, a place about which I have posted often. It is a delight– the grounds are seamed with trails and rocky steps, shadowed with hideaways, and gentled by trickling water and a small pond or two. My last visit here was shared on WP in July this year.

The Scottish estate house always impresses a bit–it is so stolid and commands a respect. Elk Rock, its garden, is perhaps the oldest and biggest (13 acres) private garden in Oregon. It was managed from 1897 until 1957 by businessman Peter Kerr who developed his estate and grounds. It is now used by the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon.

In summer the air was bright, the plants and flowers waving in warm breezes. This time winter’s veil is lain over all. The quietude of December wandering is deeper. The air sharp, the river that wends it way below a bit more forbidding, birdsongs more silenced. Yet I am drawn to it as much in this season as any other. It is a place to think as one climb’s about and to long pause and admire nature’s work.

These photos date back to 2016, the day of Christmas. Naomi was visiting from S. Carolina where she was/is an art professor; Alexandra was visiting from CA. where she was PR manager at an arts center. And since I appreciate Bishops Close as well as my adult children here is that mosey. (Not all family like personal photos shared so those are discreet.)

An altar used for outdoor Holy Eucharist.
View of Mt. Hood, across the Willamette River, seen from the back lawn.

On my refrigerator is a sticky note left by Naomi last year before she flew back to S.C. after Thanksgiving. I’d had the luxury of seeing her three times in 2019. On that note she wrote: “Bye, Mom! Love you! See you again before too long. XOXOXO-Na.” I left it there to enjoy looking at– never thinking it would at least a year more. But I’ve not seen her once since, nor another daughter, Cait, in VA., for an even longer period of time.

So it is that we begin a new sort of Christmas or other religious holiday. No doubt you will agree: one primarily of the heart and spirit. We can manage it, though, can’t we. Make sure to get out and take good walks, no matter wintry or other interesting weather. I will be out there with you, as well as right here.