Travel

The Pacific Northwest! (part 1)

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Driving into Portland the profusion of color was beyond belief! It’s as though the earth had burst open with color! Never had we seen so many rhododendrons in such variety of colors! We weren’t sure we’d meet our host but she was just getting ready to leave as we pulled up. She showed us through the house and the lovely back patio and garden area, a perfect place for a glass of wine and a game of cribbage in the afternoon. In addition the home came with a friendly squirrel that provided us entertainment with his maneuvers on the bird feeder!

After five days of what seemed like endless driving, it felt good to finally be able to stay put for the next month. And for the next couple of days we pretty much did nothing but get settled.

Because of the mild year round climate Portland is a perfect place for gardens. We had planned on visiting the Japanese Garden but then later eliminated it because of its extensive uphill and down dale walkways. I enjoy walking but perhaps that wasn’t the best choice after Bob’s recent pacemaker surgery. Instead we chose the International Rose Test Garden just across the road. During World War I there was a great fear that Europe’s hybrid roses would be lost. The English sent many of their roses to Portland and The International Rose Test Garden was established. The roses bloom generally between April and September. And although we were there in early May, there weren’t many. But what we did see were rhododendrons. Wow! Rhododendrons have long been one of my favorites but I had no idea they grew so large or that there were multicolored varieties. And we had come at their peak! The garden was amazing. And it was free.

A week later we visited the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. This garden which dates from the early 1900s was started by William Ladd, who was Portland’s mayor at the time, and the garden was part of his farm. There are bridges and picnic areas and ponds. I felt like I had been transported into a Victorian novel.

There are innumerable gardens in Portland, but like cherubs in the churches of Europe, I find after a couple, I’m saturated. And plus, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, every street we turned down was absolutely stunning with its own blooms, so many we had never seen before! And we saw countless types of dogwood!

One of the things we like best about Portland is the nonconformist philosophy of the city and the way the area seems to march to its own drummer. We love the neighborhoods of craftsman homes dating to the early part of the twentieth century with their low pitched roofs and lovely covered front porches. What a safe way, during Covid, for residents to interact with neighbors as they walk down the street. Neighborhoods are diverse in age and race and in our interactions with the locals, we found people to be friendly and enthusiastic about their city.

We were saddened by all the stores boarded up in downtown Portland as well as the thousands of homeless people trying to figure out how to survive another day.

The city, like so many others, is wrestling to find a solution. It seems to me that because there are so many reasons why a person becomes homeless, it’s overly simplistic to think we can come up with a one size fits all solution. Perhaps the fact that the situation has become so visably apparent to all will force us as a society to begin to address the inequities of life in our country.

The Columbia and Willamette Rivers seem to be the heart of Portland. The Willamette (rhymes with Damn It) has its source near Springfield, Oregon, and flows north for nearly 200 miles before emptying into the Columbia just north of Portland. The Columbia begins its flow at the base of the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia and eventually enters into the Pacific at Astoria, just 95 miles northwest of Portland. This was one of our first day trips. Astoria, the oldest city in Oregon, was founded by Jacob Astor in 1811, the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.

We had hoped we’d be able to see its mouth where the Columbia River flows into the Pacific but were unaware that at that point the river is five miles wide. Astoria is located on the border of Washington and Oregon with a long wide bridge over the Columbia connecting the two. Still the ships and the majestic river took our breath away. The huge Victorian homes gave us a feel of what the city must have been like in times past. The states of Washington and Oregon were still restricting a lot of activities until a majority of its citizens were vaccinated so we found most establishments closed.

From Astoria we drove down the coast as far as Cannon Beach. Here there was a lot more activity than in Astoria but still folks were taking precautions seriously. Both masking and social distancing were observed. But even with the cool windy weather, we found lots of people out walking and enjoying the springtime. Rock formations, including Haystack Rock, is an iconic sight as the basalt rock emerges 235 feet high from the shallow water; however, we were disappointed that we were a little too early to see any tufted puffins.

Portland has a lot of street art. Some murals focus on the environment; others on the different cultures. There’s always more going up. There are lots of lists online so I plotted out a trek across the city on my phone and we spent an afternoon enjoying. Here are a few we saw.

Just as we were returning to our home, we came upon a poignant memorial in the yard of the United Church of Christ, just across the street from our Airbnb. The next day was the anniversary of George Floyd’s death.

Our weather was really perfect the entire month of May. So on one beautiful day we decided to drive down to Mt. Hood. We found we could avoid the interstate and still do it in about an hour and a half. We drove through a lot of small villages with lots of pretty views.

We were amazed when we got up to the Timberline Lodge that although it was in the 60s and we thought, by midwest standards, the snow was pretty patchy, folks were still skiing and snowboarding. I guess those addicted to the sport will go out every chance they get.

Late one weekday morning we set out for Multnomah Falls, but lots of other people had the same idea, and that combined with the fact that the largest parking lot had been closed, there was absolutely no place to park. We were disappointed but we had been lucky to visit a couple of times previously. We were still able to drive through the park area that took us up close to the Multnomah Falls as well as Horsetail Falls.

Okay, so what should we do instead? We’ve visited all but a few of our state capitals but Salem was one of those few. We checked Google maps and found it was less than 80 miles south of us so we decided we’d drive down to have a look. Salem is a city of about 175,000 located on the Willamette River. It’s also on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole. The state capitol is known for its gold leaf pioneer statue on top.

Most interesting was the park across from the capitol that has markers in the ground explaining the history of Oregon, many of them excerpts from pioneer diaries. The Kalapuyans and their descendants, part of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years. The first Europeans, like most of the northwest, were fur traders and missionaries.

Before we left Portland we wanted to check out its Saturday market. We’ve found that lots of the markets, both in the US and Europe have mostly mass produced items with locally made crafts few and far between. We were pleasantly surprised that this one featured lots of original items for sale.

After four wonderful weeks in Portland we were now heading to Seattle for a month. Because I have a sister in Seattle, we have been there more times that we can count. This wouldn’t be a city where we’d do a lot of sightseeing. We are going there for family business. But at the end of the month, my friend Rita, is coming out to spend a week with us and since Seattle is new for her, we’ll have fun showing her the sights. So we leave Mt Hood behind and look forward to seeing Mt Ranier.

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