I lived in a town called Tualatin, outside of Portland, during my teen years. Something about those years makes a formative impression on your personality. My dialect and manner of engaging socially is rather defined by the people who were my friends and peers there even though my early childhood was east coast.
My brother was into Tae Kwon Do, a Korean martial art. As I admired him a great deal, I joined too. Every day after school we’d bus into town to practice is a sweaty old dojo with 30-40 other practitioners. So Portland felt like my back yard.
The city is wedged between a hill and a river making it somewhat cramped for housing. So much of its residential areas are over the hill or across the river. As a town known more for shipping than commercial industry, its architecture is small scale with just a couple of skyscrapers named after banks and a TV station. It feels like a city of boutiques, restaurants, bars and coffee houses.
It has a massive library that takes a city block and a massive used book store of equivalent size called Powell’s Books. It seems that half the inventory of the store is used versions so you can take your pick of a glossy hardcover, paperback or dog-eared and notated versions sold side by side.
Why is Portland a temple of books? Rain my friends! Portlanders spend more time indoors than most Americans of better climates because we have so many days a year of misty drizzle. The local joke is, “Oregonians don’t tan, they rust!” Some jest that our state bird should be the slug, one of our most ubiquitous critters during the rainy season.
When the clouds break, we head off to the mountains, coast or rivers. Portlanders are known for maintaining proper work/life balance. That’s because they have some amazing local natural destinations. If you are visiting, make sure to explore some of the diverse offerings of the region. Portland is midway between the cascade mountains and the Pacific coast. So weekend getaways take just over an hour to either.
Mount Hood is where I would go to hike, camp and ski on weekends. It is a glacial-capped dormant volcano roughly the size of Mount Fuji in Japan. We were reminded of the volcanic origin of the Cascades when Mt. Saint Helens across the Columbia River in Washington blew up in 1981, covering Portland with volcanic ash.
The lodge of Mt. Hood was constructed during the Works Progress Administration, after the Great Depression when the federal government funded massive construction projects in the National Parks to help citizens apply their labor and artistry toward making some of the most awe inspiring lodges in the American west. (Contemporaneous with the lodges of Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks). Timberline Lodge is one of the two largest ski resorts on the mountain. It offers overnight lodging, which I would heartily recommend visitors experience because the mountain is hauntingly beautiful and desolate at night.
During summers the old logging roads, rivers and lakes nearby make fantastic hiking and camping destinations. My brother, friends and I would often take off aimlessly to wander and camp in the wilderness.
Columbia River Gorge is the majestic highway between Oregon and Washington. It was the end of the Louis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean. The gorge was carved out by glacial flow from further north many millions of years prior. The northern highway provides the most scenic drive through the wooded cliffs with stop-overs in small railroad and logging towns along the Columbia River.
The place that I used to hike most in the Columbia River Gorge was unfortunately closed to hikers because of a destructive fire caused by a teenager. The gorge was created by a massive glacier slowly moving toward the ocean. Its beauty was forged by a gradual process of rock carved by millennia of carving. It’s fascinating to see a thing of beauty created over such a long time destroyed by a momentary act of carelessness. But in a couple of decades, the foliage should recover to former glory.
Hood River is on a bend of the Columbia that tends to get strong winds. So it has become a wind-surfer’s paradise. Go a bit further, and you can stand inside a scale model replica of Stonehenge at Maryhill, Washington.
Oregon’s coast is dotted with charming towns and fantastic tide pools where you can study an amazing array of sea life that thrives in the unique ecosystem of worn rock on the shores. During a community college oceanography course we came to Boiler Bay
The most impressive beach in my view is Canon Beach, where massive mountains of rock jut abruptly out of the sandy beach. Yet dozens of impressive beaches are etched in my memory. At some, massive cave networks on the shore spout like whales when waves hit the rocky shore. Further down the coast, miles-wide sand dunes with towering oases of vegetation formed where dune grass was able to hold the dune in place long enough for bushes and eventually trees to anchor down its top from winds that had buffeted it previously. The coast of Oregon depicts epochs of turmoil that capture the sense of centuries in a palpable way to us ephemeral critters.
At the heart of the city is a newly constructed open square near the town court house. Year round you can come to the Pioneer Courthouse Square to see the weather vane, make echoes in the small or large ampitheaters (which reflect your voice back to you if you stand at the epicenter) or see various performers or exhibits if your timing is right!
Portland has more fountains than you can shake a stick at! The Park Blocks have several massive fountain like this one that I used to frequent in the summers to dangle feet in the water for a ritual cool-down on hot summer days.
There is a great music scene in Portland. Many headline bands make a tour through Portland. But what I like is that there are a lot of people who are into musical styles from around the world. So you can find people who specialize in Brazilian, Ghanaian, Japanese or other music traditions in the local summer festivals. Here a Brazilian percussion group practices for an upcoming parade.
Every year the country celebrates its city flower, the rose, with a huge carnival style party on the waterfront of the Willamette River. Another revered festival is the Starlight Parade, where citizens take to the streets to don lights and celebrate with revels long into the night in the streets of Portland.
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