Wednesday’s Words: San Diego’s Delight/Balboa Park

San Diego, Day 5, Balboa Park 077

Day five of our April trip to San Diego was defined by our visit to the enchanting Balboa Park. From the moment we entered, I felt almost as if in a dream, so lushly interesting was the landscape and so exotic much of the architecture. It was the Spanish influence that impacted me, a culture that draws me via literature, art, music and dance, design and architecture. This excellent park is named after explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa in 1915. It was the site of the Panama-California Exposition and is now a National Historic Landmark. The park is 12 acres in which you can visit 16 museums, many performance venues, numerous gardens (19)and walkways–as well as the acclaimed San Diego Zoo.

Even after spending most of the day, we saw only a fraction of that. It is very hard to limit photographs and experiences–but here is a small offering of our experiences. Just follow along with the older gal in an apple green shirt–your guide, me, trying to look so cool and collected as I sweat like mad in the dry Mediterranean heat of day. Thank goodness for a swift breeze, at times. (Hottest day of our visit…)

We first checked out the House of Pacific Relations’ International Cottages built in 1935 to promote good will while sharing cultural exhibits. We discovered the open house tours occur only on week-ends. It was charming nonetheless. I paused at the doors of Germany and Ireland, parts of my heritage. (Marc is checking out a lovely trumpet-shaped flower.) I imagined any stucco cottage would be delightful to move into, at least for a few days, where I’d hunker down in shadow-drifts and write away, an iced tea at hand…

(For the sake of economy of space, I have tended to post smaller pictures. You know, of course,  to click on each you may want to view both complete and larger. Thanks!)

Next we wandered about, gawking at ornate buildings and passageways.  I felt whisked away to a different culture and time. As the heat ramped up, sweet coolness of shady spots was enjoyed more than once.

I always try to visit gardens when we travel. One I sought out was the Alcazar Garden, designed to mimic the Alcazar Castle gardens in Seville, Spain.

The Botanical Building and Lily Pond was a favorite stop. Built for the 1915-1916 Exposition, it is one of the world’s largest lath structures. It houses more than 2000  plants. The orchids were exquisite.

San Diego, Day 5, Balboa Park 097


We left the interior to admire the captivating surroundings of Lily Pond with Mama Duck and ducklings, turtles, and namesake lilies.

And this gentleman who played Latin music with feeling and a timeless if worn elan. I felt for him, sitting there in the simmering heat of day as passersby strolled to and fro, so we stood and listened awhile.

San Diego, Day 5, Balboa Park 105

We checked out the Museum of Photographic Arts which showcases solo artists. There was a wonderful exhibit of insect photos –beetles! which I love–among others. And we had a fun experience of standing before a work made of innumerable pictures of individuals, presumably reflective as suddenly the viewer–in this case, yours truly–becomes part of the art. It demonstrated how we are a part of each other: we are all 99.9 percent the same, according to scientific discoveries. Something to ponder as we live, learn and share with other humans in this madcap world. (I regret I can’t find the name of the artist.)

We walked through the prickly and peculiar Cactus garden, established 1935,

and as the afternoon waned, visited the Spanish Village Art Center. Created in 1935, the buildings were taken over by the US Army during WWII and used as barracks–but was reclaimed by artists in 1947. There are demonstrations  of craft and may art works to peruse but most shops were closing by the time we arrived. I managed to sneak in one and purchased one sea-blue mug as a keepsake of the visit. Note I am sitting, waiting for a freezing cold drink, which I did not get….

Hunger was driving us to the end of explorations for the day. As we headed for the car, we passed an attractive restaurant called El Prado (we tried to get in but no luck!), where people attired in fancy reds and blacks lined up for a fine dinner, some special event. We moved on with regret. There was so much more to view and wonder over! We resolved to return to Balboa Park and avail ourselves of the charms of 15 other gardens, the acclaimed San Diego Zoo and so much more.

San Diego, Day 5, Balboa Park 182

Farewell, you fun, beautiful place– for now!

Friday’s Passing Fancy: Paean to a Fallen Tree

Walks in Irv and LPK 070

It has been lying there for weeks now, since winter’s windy deluges, limbs immobilized, outspread, sinking into the bottom muck of the pond bit by bit. I stop and watch it, as if it might get up and walk to its previous home and root itself again. This is what I want and feel nearly embarrassed by the depth of my feeling. I have an inordinate love of trees, especially the ancient, giant ones that have grown formidably hearty and sheltered such life for eons, have born weather and thoughtlessness of passersby and welcomed friendly, musical birds to their arms; squirrels who gossip and hide acorns and insects who find sustenance. All without complaint as far as I can know.

It thrived–it lived well and long. So when it went down by the pond I felt how it lay alone but not abandoned amid scattered and dense gatherings of the others, those who had survived and now watched. It is known that trees communicate with one another, know one another; it isn’t such foolishness to think they tend to one another even in death in ways we can only suspect. Humans have an innate desire to put hand to tree, to wrap arms about young and old ones, their rough, dense bark a comfort upon our far more frail skin. I sometimes felt as a child that only trees could easily access my heart and thoughts.Many of us know what it is to make our own nests in and of their branches. We utilize their primal wealth in endless ways. And do we thank the givers of such bounty?

But who really thinks so much of the death of a tree in a park? We gawk , pass on, and some of us return to look again.

Each time I have gone to the park, I’ve wondered over it. I have walked around it’s beauty and studied its stillness, imagine its energy leaving in increments, the water cradling its bulk, life draining to underwater creatures. To the power of nature’s needs. So I have taken pictures. It’s only a downed tree but when a young man climbed onto it I felt a resistance, a displeasure. He wanted me to take one of him standing on it with arms raised in victory. Instead there is just a snapshot of him climbing on it to show how it’s size, and how we are–animals who find an interesting thing and make it ours. I guess I have done the same. I’ve inhabited its place of dying, photographed an immensity that puts me in my place. The elegance of it even now; there is so much more beneath its slow-to-perish bark. What else will find its way there?

I wonder if the young man recalls childhood days when he claimed a spot in the branches of a good, sturdy tree…swung from its resilient branches, felt relief from summer’s heat. Was amazed at the views from the top. I remember and count myself fortunate to have known that happiness. So I praise you, great fallen tree, for your service and your loveliness, the hosting of so many.

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Friday’s Passing Fancy: Call for Spring/Happiness


He took the whole day off, declared it
expendable and he, a king (I, a queen),
time freed of bite, gone slack with ease.
We took roads beyond the bridges where
sins long past, weighted days and lean nights

dissolved inside blossoming light.
This is the way we want it to be,
hands dangling in shear of wind,
two hearts plumped with laughter,
a small mastery of life reinstated
on the marshy trail, that welcoming wood.

Since the sun graced us with no precipitation in sight, we got our gear/snacks and my husband and I headed out on a day trip in Washington. We wanted to explore Salmon Creek Park. It’s a favorite spot of ours for a brisk or leisurely walk. Ordinarily we can continue 6-8 miles and we were up for the challenge. This time the creek was–not surprisingly–swollen and had overflowed its banks over winter. Earth was spongy and muddy, trails flooded in places. These are wetlands but knots of trees like it here, too. We had to forego dense forested acreage we love, as there was no dry way into it. Along the creek were signs of beavers having been hard at work, wood chips in nearly neat groupings. Some areas looked wane yet undaunted, but greenery is reasserting itself. Stones, birds, mossy sticks, roustabout water and aquamarine sky–all called to us. The early spring peepers’ songs were like bells jingling, bullfrogs like bass viols with excellent rhythm. Everywhere were people (and dogs) gathering and playing on and off the paths. It won’t be long before the weather will be finer, the rain more sporadic. Flowers and more leaves will burst in profusion. Spring will reign again.

Come along!



























Big Money Pond

Roses, Salmon Creek, Irv 054

Though the rain began to splatter hard not just spit, her mom and aunt didn’t hurry up and follow her to their car. Frankie was a little tired, ready to go, and leaned against the Oldsmobile’s back door, waiting. A shiver rippled up her trunk, making goose flesh on both arms from gusts of wet wind. They had walked three miles around the greenway. It had been awhile since they’d visited so even though dark towering rain clouds had gathered, they’d taken their time. Frankie liked harvesting blackberries from their heavy bushes in summer or wading in the creek for starters, but in spring there were other treats like deep pink salmon berry flowers, rocks along Salmon Creek’s steep banks. Ducks and turtles over at the grassy pond, the one her mom called the Good Old Pond (there was another pond at the other end of the park). They had seen a blue heron last year; it was so close to her it spooked her and then she couldn’t take her eyes off it. She looked for it today but it wasn’t there. Probably off looking for its friends or more food.

Once they’d lived three blocks away but that was before things got fancy, she was told. Before the woods, creek and marshland were made a regional park. Her parents were offered a decent price to move so a bunch of men and huge machines could smash the ramshackle house and cart shingles, cement and splinters away. That was when her parents were fully together. Frankie barely remembered it. She remembered crying and being given an ice cream cone. Now it was just Frankie, her mom and Aunt Jean.

She looked around and saw them heading for the other pond, the one her mom and aunt called Big Money Pond, sniggling like it was was a bad joke. She wasn’t sure what they meant and when she asked, her mom said, “Oh, just taxes and all. Crying shame but that’s government, taking what you care about or need, charging you for it.”

They’d brought an umbrella because of the storm forecast. Aunt Jean had said, “Nothing like a handy lightning rod for our walk.” But they rarely wore water repellent jackets, just hooded sweatshirts. Frankie scurried after them as rain pelted her with fat drops. They’d get drenched but you just didn’t argue with them, especially Aunt Jean. She ran things most places, even in their house, never mind that it didn’t belong to her. She was a supervisor at the paper mill; her mom worked there, too, but in a different area, thank god.

“If I had her as a boss I’d walk out every hour,” she’s told Frankie one times after the sisters argued about kitchen duty and Aunt Jean had won out.

Frankie had taken the tea towel and slapped it at the counter top a couple times. “Well, when I grow up I’ll get a maid or robot.”

“When you grow up you won’t have two nickels to rub together unless you get better grades and go to college.”

“Maybe dad should send more child support so we can get our dishwasher fixed.”

“Don’t you bring that up again, Francine, or you’ll do the whole sink full , scrub the stove top and dry them dishes, too.”

“You can’t make me!”

Her mom yanked the tea towel from her hands and snapped her rear with it once. That was enough.

That’s how it went a lot at their house. But her aunt and mom could be fun, too, playing video games with her or board games. Taking her places like the movies or a park. And Aunt Jean helped with bills, yard work and knew how to fix some things–like motorcycles; she rode hers even in downpours–and played rummy with Frankie. She filled in a lot of gaps after her mom and dad split up for the last time. Frankie couldn’t remember anymore what it was like without her in the house or making a mess in the garage, raking leaves or fussing over veggies in tubs along the narrow back yard. If her mom was gone, Aunt Jean was there. If her mom and Aunt Jean were both there it was like having the same person times two but with different voices and somewhat different ways. They looked much alike, rounded and tall, dark brown hair, light brown eyes. But her mom loved her more. She said she would eat octopus tentacles for her, certainly die for her if necessary. Whereas Aunt Jean cackled and said she’d give up a tooth or two in a fight for her, but not her whole gorgeous person. She would definitely not eat octopus.

Frankie found them sitting on a slope by the pond. “What’re you doin’? It’s raining now.”

Her aunt held the umbrella, checked her cell phone. Her mom was standing with arms crossed, watching a handful of people on the other side fishing. The rain ran off her like she was made of duck feathers. She didn’t even blink.

“Fish are biting good, the rain you know,” her mom said. “Should’ve thought of that. Still got a couple poles in the garage.”

“What are they fishing for? I forget,” Frankie asked, grabbing a small lap blanket (her aunt had used it for a sit by the creek, funny about getting too messy that way) and putting it over her skinny back.

“Steelhead. They stock it. No more natural-born fish hangin’ out here. Mac and I used to fish once a week for dinner, pulled out as many as four or five–”

“Don’t start that now.” Aunt Jean looked up at her sister and stared hard.”It don’t ever change nothin’.”

“Well, it all fell apart after we sold our first house to move to the city and that’s solid fact.”

“Stop, it don’t help to keep sayin’ it.”

“We loved it out here when it was just the outdoors and a few of us…”

Aunt Jean turned to her, said something Frankie couldn’t quite hear, gave her a dark stare that even Frankie could feel, almost like a finger snap on the head. She withdrew a heavy oblong stone from her sweatshirt pocket, tossed it with all her might over her aunt’s umbrella. She watched it splash into the bright green surface, then went to her mom. Put her arms around her waist and hugged. After a couple seconds, her mom pulled her off and sat down by her sister half-under the umbrella. Frankie tossed a few more stones after she saw the two of them whispering more. Sometimes Aunt Jean stirred it up instead of helping.

The older woman didn’t like her dad’s name brought up; he had hurt her sister. Plus, one of her sayings was “the less news of the past, the better.” But Frankie loved her dad so much, even if he was in jail for a “B and E” and attempted theft or something like that. Her mom didn’t know she knew, but she had ways. Frankie’s older friend Joe whose dad knew Mac, told her what it was. Then he said he’d heard Mac had broken into a pole barn, he knew the guy and was trying to steal back a lawn mower and some expensive tools he said had been borrowed but never returned but the guy said he’d traded for them fair and square. He pulled his BB gun on her dad and told him to get off his property but her dad hadn’t left, just laughed at him. But the guy had already called the cops. It was a mess. Frankie felt sure about that much. It made her feel a little sick.

Aunt Jean was pointing across the lake. “See that, over there? That new construction? That used to be Ted Burkett’s land.”

“No talking about the past, right? I know their story, anyway. There’s lots like it.”

“This is different, sis, this is an old couple who passed last year, whose ten acres got sold by greedy sons. Sold it for what–a million or two?–and now look what they’ve done. A park boundary line must be on that side of the pond so looks like monster houses are going up around the water.” She shuddered.

Frankie took a seat by her mother, squeezed in close. She took in the spot they were studying. Remembered that last summer there had been nothing but massive trees right there. An earth mover was parked by the end of the pond.Her mom shook her head. Frankie’s eyes swept over the area again. It was still mostly green, really, only with that new building tucked in. It looked out of place, but it could be worse.

Roses, Salmon Creek, Irv 057

They’d lived in their own newer house for four years now. She didn’t recall what the old one was like as she was barely five when they’d moved. But she knew her mom missed it badly sometimes despite liking the nice brick ranch style with three bedrooms, a fireplace and fenced yard. Even if it was on a noisy street. Well, maybe not that.

This park was one of her favorites to visit. They had just one tiny corner park by a train stop in the city neighborhood. So Frankie could get worked up about coming here to play on colorful playground equipment, all new along with other developments the last couple years. The Big Money Pond was also a swimming pond in summer, it even had life jackets for row boaters and people who couldn’t swim well and kids. But she could manage. She swam like crazy at the community pool. Her mom told her she was a real water baby–she should make it her sport in middle school. That made Frankie happy.

It was perfect here, she thought.

Oh. It was perfect. She got it now. It must have been even more perfect back then, with the mammoth ole swimming hole and natural fishes that belonged there forever, woods humming with only animal goings-on. Less people. More spring peepers, her fave along with turtles and snakes and herons. For a moment she wondered what it’d been like–did she remember it?–to take a silent canoe down the creek when it ran high and faster as her dad had told her, Frankie bundled between parents as they guided it without any trouble. It must have been something else, like heaven with all the birds singing to them, lots of bald eagles swooping over. She had just seen one of those today, wondered if there was a nest nearby.

“Well, kids, I’m moving out,” Aunt Jean said, her free fist hammering twice on her thigh.

Frankie’s and her mom’s heads to her, mouths dropped open.

“Yeah, I’m coming back here, ladies. There’s some condos being built the west end of the park. I already seen a model of one I want to buy.”

She didn’t look at her niece or sister. Kept staring at that house going up, the sound of a band saw out there somewhere whirring so loud the fish probably gathered to hide a long the bottom of the pond.

“Wait a minute!” her mom screeched. “You just gave me all that crap about the land over there and the poor family and you’re joining the enemy, buying a condo at the edge of this park? Have you lost your friggin’ mind?”

Frankie covered her ears, then bent over to see Aunt Jean’s face. She was kinda smiling, the sort of curled lips that warned you to watch your step.

“Well, hold on, we all gotta grow up sometime. I’ve been hanging out with you way too long! Time to move on, do my own thing, free up a bit. No offense.”

“You can’t be serious?” Frankie said, leaning across her mother.”You are really leaving us? What’d I do?”

“She’s serious, Frankie, she wouldn’t a said it. I do not get it, Jean, Really!”

“Of course you get it if you think it over more. Frankie, don’t be ridiculous, nothing you done. I’ve saved a lot staying with you two. I can afford my own cubby hole now, thanks to you, sis. Aren’t you a little happy for me?”

“Hell, no,” Frankie said and slumped over face to lap, ready to get slapped on the noggin for swearing. But they all were saying bad stuff and no stinging smack came.

“Watch your mouth!” they both said at once, then laughed when she peeked up at them.

Then fell silent again. The rain lessened, the water’s surface calmed, then the wind gave a little hiccup and sighed.

“Mom, listen. We’ll just have to sell our house and move here, too. I like it over here more–you do–and I want to learn to fish and swim more and catch turtles just like you and Dad did. We could just move, so why in heck not?”

Both inclined their heads to Frankie. She held fast their gazes, sat up tall and said louder: “Why not?”

The sisters looked at each other with eyebrows raised halfway to their hairlines, then stared out at more beauty, lost in thought. The pond was a sweet green, dimpled with raindrops, ruffled by another breeze. The group of fishing folks was packing up gear and heading home. Giant clumps of clouds had thinned, flattened like cotton batting Frankie had felt through frail edges of a quilt her dead grandmother had made for her mom. Frankie believed in guardian angels so even though her grandmother died when she was six, she could still help out with this. Maybe if her dad didn’t have to be in jail for long and they moved back here, he’d come around more and get smarter. And her mom and she could swim together in summer and have picnics with Aunt Jean anytime they wanted.

Couldn’t things be somewhat the same even if they changed? Or better?

Her mom cupped Frankie’s chin in her hand. “I don’t know what you’re cooking up, Frankie, you think too much.” She smoothed back the rain-wet hair from her daughter’s forehead. “You’ve got good ideas, too. This might be one of them. You can’t keep any turtles, though, not from a protected area like this now. But you can still swim and canoe…we would do that. It seems more what we want. The city isn’t all that great.”

Aunt Jean stood up with effort. She’d only turned forty-two but often complained of her back.”I know I’m sick and tired of doing lawn work for you. I’ll have no yard to speak of, at the new condo. It’s all done for us, anyway.”

“You’re getting too rich for my blood.” Frankie’s mom got up without a hitch and put her hand on Jean’s shoulder.

“Always had it going on, you know I’m a social climber!”

“That’s just wrong! But how come you didn’t tell us?” Frankie asked.

Aunt Jean held the umbrella over the other two as the girl got up, her jeans’ seat damp from muddy ground, a foot slipping. Heart squeezed up with fear and excitement.

“Didn’t want to worry you about things, lovey.”

Her use of that silly name was too much. Her sudden tenderness landed inside Frankie, started to shake loose a pile of things.

“She mentioned it a few months ago,” her mom said. “I just didn’t think it would happen. Or not this fast.”

“Oh well, no one told me, I need to know things, too!”

Her mom nodded. “You’re right. But don’t get excited, she isn’t just disappearing. And we’ll study on this. Talk.”

“I’ll never get away from you two, why bother trying? It’s a terrible fate!” Aunt Jean let out that signature boom of a laugh, causing passersby to glance over.

Frankie ran ahead, feeling a little raw with irritation about a few things, the inside of her head jostling with new worries. But she also felt ticklish bubbles. Anticipation, hope. Maybe they would move here and make things fresh, and she would grow bigger and happier being outdoors more. Aunt Jean might have even wondered if they’d think of it. They might still be together, just more separate. It seemed strange but not so bad.

She got to the car, turned around to see if they were hurrying up. Their arms were linked together; that made her forget her worries some. The two women walked awkwardly until they readjusted themselves: her mom taking longer strides that got reined in, her aunt gallumping along with her barest limp, smaller steps that began to lengthen. They still looked cut from the same good rough-and-ready cloth, all three of them were or that’s what her dad had told her once. And he’d beamed down at Frankie like she was made of the best part.

Roses, Salmon Creek, Irv 045

Singing My City’s Praises


Portland, Oregon photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Portland, Oregon photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Portland’s weather is taking a good break from its long rainy season (we really have two seasons: cold and rainy, warming to hot and dry) and that means I am experiencing even more fulfilling days outdoors. Since I get cranky and restless when I am inside very long, this is good news for me and those who know me. I have been feeling even more gratitude for living in a place for which I have, perhaps, an inordinate fondness.

There is some danger in writing this post. Naming even a few of the wonders of my home town might inadvertently motivate large numbers of people to pack up and migrate this direction. As did I once.

We already have more traffic jams than I imagined when settling in Portland during 1993. New housing has been going up like mad, even in the particular quadrant I live within. It is part of a larger area labelled “close in” due to close proximity to city center. Old buildings are being torn down right and left–is the recession over?–and new 3000 sq.ft. houses take their places. Small parcels of land are snatched up by developers, then commandeered by towering apartment buildings, multi-purpose buildings and townhouses. Restaurants seem particularly loved in this city; new ones sprout up often, as do unique coffee shops. Architects and builders must be well-challenged by rain and the undulating landscape’s proclivity for mudslides, as well as the likelihood of eventual, significant earthquakes. We even have an active volcano across our state line that wreaks havoc from time to time as ash disperses freely.

But still they come. I know why. Let me name the ways I love Portland.


1. Parks. Today I was duly bedazzled during my daily walk, sometimes undertaken in Laurelhurst Park. Deciduous trees are newly adorned with bright green leaves, showing off their beauty among the cedars and pines. Cherry blossoms, azaleas, rhododendrons put on their own colorful display. Dog owners were playing with their pets as they ran free in a dog run area; families and couples strolled along; runners were working up a sweat. I mused over the fact that I can get to easily a dozen city parks in under fifteen minutes by car, and about five of those within a fifteen minute walk. I am aware of at least one state park within the city; my family spends many days there each year. There are about 279 parks and natural areas in Portland. When I count Forest Park as one of my destinations I am talking about 5100 wooded acres that are inhabited by 112 bird and 62 mammal species. Forest Park is the largest forested natural area within a city limits of the U.S. We also enjoy Washington Park (which includes many attractions such as the authentic Japanese Garden) within the area and have hiked many of the 40 miles of trails over the years. And we even have a lovely, trail-strewn park that is situated on top of an extinct volcanic butte named Mt. Tabor Park. The views there of city and foothills are enchanting, especially at sunset and twilight. What’s not to enthuse about?

Kelly Point and Smith & Bybee 6-10 010

2. Water. Not far from my home I can see the Willamette and the Columbia Rivers converge. These are mighty and well-utilized rivers. The Columbia  originates in British Columbia, Canada and is over 12,000 miles long. It empties into the Pacific Ocean and harbors many kinds of anadromous fish that migrate between saline water and freshwater. A short drive from our place, the 80 mile long river makes its powerful way through the Columbia River Gorge, which is awe-inspiring and at times treacherous due to fickle weather with strong winds. We can experience the tail end of those winds even in my neighborhood, 20 minutes from their source. My family and I have hiked miles of lush, sometimes taxing trails in the Gorge where bears and cougars reign.

In drier months I enjoy walking and relaxing by the Willamette River where there are colorful dragon boat races and food and music festivals in summer. I hang out by the marina because I love boats (the yachts are pretty, too), an iced coffee and cookie in hand, then head to the Saturday Market for arts and crafts from March through Christmas. There are several other waterways nearby, the Sandy River being a favorite just outside the city for tubing, swimming and picnicing. And then there is the Pacific Ocean. We can get there in under an hour and a half; we take off for the coast a few times a year. Even wintry beaches are magnetic and atmospheric, soothing to my mind and body. And there is nothing like building a fire on the beach in dry weather, quietly conversing with nature or my spouse.

Oswald West & Manzanita 9-10 038

3. Mountains and rainforests. These are what initially drove me to the Northwest. Both trigger in me feelings of familiarity, awe, a sense of constancy and ancient protection. I had dreamed about mountainous territory ever since growing up in the flat, charmless (to me) open spaces of mid-Michigan. I had been excited as a younger adult to live in a northern Detroit suburb because there were at least a few rolling, verdant hills–but I secretly yearned for the valleys and heights of this country.

Oswald West State Park+misc 073

To our west there are the Tualatin Mountains and beyond those, the Coast Range; to the east, the Cascade Range that, with Mt. Hood, creates a distinctive horizon. On a clear day one can see four mountain peaks: Mt. Hood and the Washington peaks of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier. So far this has been all about the emerald beauty of outdoors yet I have barely scratched the topic. We are inveterate walkers and the city accommodates that easily; we love to hike and that has led to many good adventures. But there are many more exciting activities than those. Just talk to the skiers and snow boarders, skateboarders and roller bladers, cyclists, kayakers, campers, rock climbers and backpackers, windsurfers and so on. No one who has a love affair with the outdoors feels unrequited.


4. City center, i.e., downtown. Such offerings! Marc and I can walk a few blocks to hop on a train (“the Max”) and are downtown in a few minutes. Or we can take a streetcar or bus. City center is compact and picturesque with a mix of nineteenth century architecture and soaring contemporary skyscrapers. There are plenty of coffee shops, galleries, indoor/outdoor cafes and food carts; corner-sized parks with fountains and play areas for kids; the waterfront’s lively scene; Portland Art Museum. And there lies Pioneer Square, dubbed Portland’s living room. Last week-end we attended an Oregon Symphony concert, then walked to the Square to hear Pink Martini play with the crowd singing along. There are often musical and other events going on that are either free or cheaper than expected. And how many cities are there in which can you enjoy a leisurely walkabout after a good meal without constantly looking over your shoulder? I have never felt unsafe downtown. Since we are not drinkers we don’t hang out after eleven P.M. but even then I hear there are relatively few incidents.

We often head to the famous Powell’s City of Books. And emerge hours later laden with more delicious tomes. Portland is a city bursting with published and aspiring writers so appreciation of the written word is high. Literary groups and events abound. And further enlivening the city are world-class and innovative musicians, artists, dancers, filmakers…you get the point. We could not live happily without an active arts community and fortunately, Portlanders support them. We even have a City of Portland Arts Tax to insure they thrive in our public schools…gads, I better get that paid!


5. People. We are the third largest city in the Northwest area after Vancouver, BC and Seattle. But we feel smallish, still. Some of that has to do with the friendliness of the overall population. And basic politeness. When I first moved here I was astounded when waiting to cross the street and a driver just stopped–no stop sign– so I could amble across. I first waited to see what they wanted–in Detroit you had to run for your life to get to the other side. But the guy smiled and waved me across. Here, people do that–smile, even greet one another instead of automatically avoiding eye contact walking. It is a slower pace, but not lazy–this city is full of industrious multi-taskers–just somehow more restful despite the onward march of innovative city planning to accommodate continued growth. I appreciate that we have diverse neighborhoods, each an interesting district of its own. If I say I am going to Hollywood (a well-heeled area but a bit vintage and homey), Hawthorne (hippie tendencies, lots of neat businesses), Alberta Arts (gentrified with newish galleries, eateries, shops and a monthly summer fair) or the Pearl (a showy phoenix of a district having risen from old warehouse blocks) or Nob Hill (upscale but mellower area abutting Forest Park)–well, everyone here knows where I am talking about. Residents and business owners could be from California, Ohio or Vermont; Viet Nam, India or Ukraine. But everyone is drawn here for something hopefully better, something that stirs or supports their ideas and hopes. It is a city that cares about helping others and accepts a diversity of lifestyles better than most cities in which I have lived. Our unofficial motto is, afterall, “Keep Portland Weird.”

I have barely begun to identify Portland’s wiles, oddities and surprises. It’s been fun sharing this very abbreviated tour with you, but I will be back with vignettes about life in “Stumptown” (due to the history of logging). I hope you can begin to see why I was glad, even relieved, to finally arrive. It’s where I belong. Maybe one day you’ll have the pleasure of experiencing Portland for yourself.


Flag of Portland
Flag of Portland