I fell in love with Portland.
Driving from Medford up to Portland on Monday was amazing. I’m running out of adjectives for Oregon. Beautiful, powerful, majestic, incredible. None of them begin to cover what it’s like.
Mountain after mountain covered with thick bushels of trees. Peaks rising out of nowhere, only to disappear moments later, then sneak back up again. Every time I thought it was the end of the mountains and the beauty, there would be a brief moment and then they would come crashing back. Speechless.
Driving it was another matter. The road meandered up and down the mountains. My RAV4 is awesome but not great on uphill grades. So climbing makes me very nervous. And every now and then, Indiana Jones would climb out from his perch in the back seat to lecture me on how much he wasn’t enjoying the ride and could we be done with it, please? He also seemed to find the time when I was most stressed to climb out and be hysterical for five or ten minutes, then go back to his hiding place and pass out.
I arrived at the Spacious Woodland Getaway, as it was called on Hipcamp. It’s in Vancouver, Washington, about 25 minutes from Portland. It belongs to Sue and her family and it’s basically their front yard.
Their half an acre front yard. I had the whole space to myself, which was great. Parked Sky under a bunch of trees so we would get good shade from them. There were a couple of actual chairs and a table, as well as the ever-present fire ring. An outhouse was a step from the port-a-potties I had become accustomed to. Next to their property was a cemetery, which you know I had to go and explore eventually.
I got everything set up and it was still early in the afternoon, so I figured I’d head into Portland for a bit.
I found an area on Mississippi Avenue that was filled with little shops and places to eat. Everything had outdoor seating, which was great. I ended up at a place called Bar Bar, which was basically a beer and burger joint. Cheap, good burgers. I sat outside, did some work while there was wifi (running into high numbers on my data for being dumb and not shutting off my navigation when it says “drive straight for 200 miles.”) With a full tummy, I headed off.
I made the mistake of going to Powell’s City of Books without checking their website. Closed due to COVID, only open for pick up. Crap.
I walked down to the waterfront but in that area, there isn’t much to see. Disappointed, I headed to Chinatown, which was nearby, thinking that would provide some entertainment. Nope. Most of Chinatown has become a community of homeless people. And with COVID, nothing was really open, no shops with their doors open or wares on the sidewalk, like most Chinatowns.
I did see a lot of evidence of the Black Lives Matter movement everywhere in Portland. Signs of support, businesses with their windows covered in plywood, enormous declarations of support on billboards. I had heard about the “riots” going on in Portland and made a mental notes to try and find out where the center of this was happening. I wasn’t sure I was up for protesting, but I felt it was important to check it out.
Did a bit of research when I got back to figure out what I wanted to do the next day.
Sue came by to introduce herself. She was very sweet as was her young daughter. We chatted for a bit then I made some dinner.
Indy loved this place as much as I did. I could barely keep him in the trailer. He walked all over the property, eyeing the cemetery, though not brave enough to cross the driveway the first night. He was terribly curious about all the things under the trees and plants, which I would not allow him to explore. He became obsessed with one disgusting sap-covered tree and I spent a good period of time cleaning the sap off of his paws. Needless to say, I made sure he gave that one a wide berth, much to his chagrin. The blessing of all of that walking was there weren’t any real “Dawn Patrols”, probably also because it got very cold at night. And my stupid, bloody door wasn’t sealing enough to block the cold. I knew this would be problematic when I left but it was the fourth door I made and I didn’t feel like making another one. I should have.
So I decided in the morning, I would get some painting done and then I would go to find the Witch’s Castle, which is basically a stone building that was once used as restrooms in the forest nearby. But it looked cool. I finished up a batch of watercolors of sale (insert link to support the chaos) to satisfy the voice in my head telling me I needed to get some work done. After that, off to the castle.
It was a bitch to find. The directions led me to the back side of the park where there was no entrance. I finally found the front where you could park. It was a long, steep climb down, which I knew would mean a long, steep climb up. My lungs are so much better now that I’m on the right dose of the right asthma meds, but still, it sort of intimidated me to make that walk. So I assured myself I could take my time. I didn’t need to break world records going either way, and I headed down.
The park is Macleay Park and it was as beautiful as the rest of Oregon. The leaves were greener than I had ever seen on trees. Though the path was somewhere steep, it leveled off enough to give one a moment to breath. There was a small stream meandering through as well. It was about a fifteen minute walk to the “castle” but it was worth it.
The castle itself was a little disappointing. A small brick building that may have been beautiful once now had gone to seed and was covered in graffiti. However, there was still some beauty left to it. I had to wait for the selfie-taking people to get their fill until I could get some clear shots of it. I did try to climb up a small half-wall and slipped, banging my knee. I didn’t think it was too bad until I realized several days later my leg was all bruised and scraped.
I carefully made my way back up, which while challenging, didn’t kill me. It was worth it to spend some time in all of that lush greenery.
From there, I headed to the Grotto, which a friend had recommended. Now, when I hear “grotto,” I think of the enormous grottos I saw in China where entire cliffs had been carved with buddhas, some several stories high. Maybe I shouldn’t have put that in my mind because, while beautiful, I found the Grotto somewhat disappointing. Maybe it was also because I was getting tired.
I think a lot of it had to do with the fact I no longer believe in the Christian idea of God. At one point, I did. I went to various churches when I was a teen, trying to find spirituality, I guess. My mother was very tolerant and took me to the Roman Catholic Church, which was where she had been raised, among other places when I asked. I went to a Pentecostal church briefly because friends of mine were going. I was married the first time in a United church, the second time in a Presbyterian church. But it always felt false. A lot of the people I met were such hypocrites – preaching the word of God while being just awful people. I was criticized soundly at one church for wearing a necklace with a buddha on it. So many things that made me avoid church altogether as much as possible.
So when I became a Buddhist through SGI (insert link here), I found my soul. The concept of coming from compassion hit home with me, as did the idea that there is a universal power that connects all of us and when we chant, we ignite that power. That was something I had always felt was true. The more I embraced my Buddhist faith, the more I lost my Christian faith.
At this point in my life, I’m not sure I believe in “God” anymore, the God we are taught about when we go to church. Maybe there is a benevolent being out there somewhere, but I’m not sure the Christian God is what it is. Maybe I’m wrong. Who knows? I respect your beliefs and hope that you respect mine.
I got to the Grotto and while it was certainly beautiful, it didn’t blow me away. I think if someone who is a strong Christian came here, they would find it powerful and moving. There are many stories from the bible being told through sculpture and it is definitely a reverent place if you want somewhere to go for prayer and contemplation.
There is a magnificent overlook that looks down on to the city, which is quite impressive. In that building, there is a reproduction of the Pieta by Michelangelo (check this), which was poured from a bronze plate from the Vatican. An absolute thing of beauty.
I headed back to Sky, feeling like I had at least seen some of Portland. In fact, I was finding myself very enchanted with the city. I had one more full day left there, which didn’t seem like enough. I knew I had to do some work on the door the next day to try to keep the cold air out, which meant losing a day of sightseeing. Luckily, Sue had Thursday night available so I extended my stay to Friday.
Indy and I cuddled up that night, piling all the blankets on top of us. He does make a good heater.
In the morning, I went to Lowe’s and Fred Meyer (think a sort of Wal-Mart kind of place) and found some thicker weatherstripping I hoped would help.
As I got to my car, I overheard a panicked woman telling a clerk who was gathering carts that she had locked her keys in her car and had no idea what to do. I debated about not helping her but that seemed wrong. I went over to her, asked her what had happened. Apparently, she had opened the back of her SUV, got something out, and then dropped her keys inside as she shut the door. Her husband was at work a couple of cities away and wouldn’t be able to come for hours. I asked if she had AAA and she said no. I got her calmed down a bit, telling her to call her insurance because she thought she might have roadside assistance with it. It turned out she didn’t.
Thanks to a good friend, I have AAA for my trip. My friend wanted to make sure I was covered in case anything happened on the road.
I called AAA and was told it would be up to an hour. I know they’re usually quicker than that so I assured the woman I would stay with her until they came. She finally calmed down, laughing at how panicked she had become. We chatted for a bit until the tow truck came. Within minutes, they had her door open and she got her keys. She was so grateful and kept trying to pay me. While I’m usually happy to take money, it didn’t feel right to do so. I asked her to simply either donate it to a breast cancer charity or buy coffee for someone or do something nice for a stranger. I left her as she got in her car, feeling pretty good.
I got back and as I pulled up to the trailer, Sue’s dog, Maisey, came running down the driveway to greet me. We had met briefly when I first arrived because she is a very sweet friendly dog. But it felt like coming home to have this big goof run up and say hi as I got out of my car. She got lots of pets for that.
I spent the next hour or so fighting with weatherstripping. I had some stuff I had used before as well as the new stuff, so tried to find a combination that would work better. Eventually, I think I did, at least for now. Eventually, I may have to replace the door if I’m going to be facing inclement weather along the way.
I explored the wooded area around me. Sue and her family own several acres which is surrounded by woods. There is a little path through one section that has a little bridge and usually has a stream/pond. Sue said it hasn’t appeared yet this year but it was still charming.
I ventured over to the cemetery. I later learned that the part of the cemetery closest to where I was staying was being neglected, so the caretake voluntarily cares for it. It’s a bit overgrown, but not too bad. I also noticed a bunch of smaller name plates with names and dates, looking like markers rather than official stones. Sue told me that the caretaker tries to find the names of those whose headstones or markers have vanished over time and make sure they have some kind of marker, especially the ones who were soldiers.
There was one grave that was adorned with all kinds of pinwheels and plastic flowers and other accouterments. While just this side of garish, it was obviously done with love for whomever was buried there. That night, I noticed soft lights coming from that area, which tickled me for some reason.
There was also a small, handmade white marker over a tiny mound that just said, “Freddie.” I wondered if it was a pet or something but Sue had no idea.
The funny thing is that most cemeteries creep me out. I am apparently very psychic when it comes to spirits and I can feel things when I walk through graveyards. I had a weird experience when I found Natalie Wood’s grave. I almost feel like I can hear the spirits talk, especially if they’re not resting well. One of the reasons I sort of avoid graveyards.
But this one felt very quiet, very peaceful. Tragic, yes, when I noticed so many young children had died in 1949 or when I noticed an entire set of young siblings died weeks apart. But I didn’t feel that tragedy in the air. It felt like everyone there was at peace. And when I went back over to Sky, I swear an old man with a white button down shirt and baggy pants followed me across the road just to see what I was doing. I didn’t feel anything negative, just more like curiosity. I told him it was fine, I wasn’t doing anything special, and he could go back if he wanted to. The next thing I know, he was gone.
I spent the rest of the morning doing not much of anything, knowing I had the next day to hang out and do stuff.
I did get the opportunity to have coffee with the wonderful Jennifer Fabos Patton, the mind behind LA’S Gallery Girls. These are models who pose for schools, universities, etc., so artists can draw from live models. I met her when I was going to Glendale Community College back in 2012, but I also got to know her as the Gallery Girls did a lot of events for the Drink and Draw Social Club. I have sketchbooks filled with drawings of Jennifer. She is a pleasure to draw and just a great person all around. We rarely get the chance to just hang out and chat, so I was grateful she was available to have coffee with me.
As with my friend, Jeff, we talked about everything and nothing. Jennifer and her husband had moved near Portland a year ago and they are very much enjoying their lives there. I have never seen Jennifer happier. We wandered up to the farmer’s market up the street, which she apparently attends frequently because she knew every vendor and who had what. We ended the afternoon with her giving me an enormous sunflower out of the bunch she had purchased.
That’s the most fun thing on this trip – getting to see people who no longer live in Los Angeles, getting to catch-up without the craziness that LA seems to inspire.
When I got back, Sue and I had a nice long chat, where she explained about the graveyard. Some of the youth from her church were coming by to work on the cemetery so Indy was fully entertained by them. And Maisey swung by once, trying to get to know Indy, but that friendship was not destined to happen.
The next day – Thursday – I went back into Portland. My shoulder was bothering me a lot – post-cancer treatment issues. Due to radiation treatment, my neck and shoulder are falling apart and there’s nothing that can be done. But I have a great harness that helps a lot, so I strapped that on and ventured forth.
I went down to the waterfront in Vancouver because I had heard they were developing it a lot. Well, they’re still developing. Mostly a handful of restaurants, so I treated myself to an early lunch right on the water. Good way to start the day.
I had learned about a Chinese garden so I wanted to check that out.
It was small but quite beautiful. They had adjusted well to COVID and had the guests move in one direction throughout. The water lilies were exquisite. And I could have spent hours watching the koi swim lazily around. They were huge! I took a million pictures and it made me long for my second home – China. I bought a small medallion with an eternity symbol on it and it now hangs on my mirror in my car.
Again, I tried to see what there was in Chinatown but it has become the center of the homeless community. It wasn’t an easy area to be in as most people obviously had mental issues. In fact, Portland seemed to have a bigger unhoused community than LA. Everywhere I went, there were tent cities, Chinatown being the most organized of them.
It made me very sad to see all of these people with no help of any kind – mental health, economical, general health. They just seemed lost. And with the way the administration is handling COVID and the massive unemployment that the virus has caused without ensuring additional help for those of us who cannot work right now because of the virus, that community is going to grow exponentially. Technically, I am one of the unhoused, though I am lucky enough to have a tiny house on wheels I can call home. But without that, I honestly don’t know where I would be. It’s a heartbreaking situation.
I wasn’t sure where to go next so I aimed for the waterfront, my head full of thoughts. As I drove, I noticed a huge flock of Canadian geese along the waterfront at one point. They must have just seeded the area because they were eating like pigs. I found a spot to park and walked over. I have never seen so many geese at once. They completely ignored me as they fed, though a few wandered over curiously, I’m sure to see if I had more food. I took a ton of pictures because it was such an unusual site.
From there, I didn’t know where to go so I kind of drove aimlessly around downtown.
Portland, to me, feels like a city that refuses to grow up. If it were human, it would be that person in their late twenties who are responsible, have a good job, take care of themselves and those they love. Yet there is the side of that person that doesn’t want to grow up. They want to stay exactly who they are and nobody is going to change them. They’re not slackers, but they’re definitely not the button-down suit kind of person. They are who they are and if you don’t like it, there are plenty of other places to go. But if you like it, they will embrace you with everything they have and never let you go.
As I turned a corner, I realized I was at the center of the Black Lives Matter protests. All of the city buildings had been heavily boarded up. The statue in the center of the square was covered in graffiti. There was an art installation set up on the median at one spot. Several vendors were hanging out, selling t-shirts, etc.
I stopped by one of the vendors, wanting to know more about what I had heard had been happening. Even the night before, there had been another riot.
The gentleman that I spoke to was very open and honest. He has been there through most of the 70ish days of protesting. He had been there the night before and said the same thing that’s been declared everywhere – it’s not the protesters causing the “riots.” There are others who infiltrate the protests and create the riots. They’re the ones throwing things at the police, not the protesters. But the protesters are the ones being blamed.
He gestured to the federal building across from us, which was all boarded up with a very obvious police presence.
“What good does it do us to burn that building down?” he asked me. “Nothing. It does us no good. And if we get caught, because we’re black, we go to jail for the rest of our lives. Does that sound smart to you? No, it doesn’t.”
He and his friends were angry. But it’s an anger that is about finding ways to be productive, not ways to burn things down. That’s what I’ve seen at the three protests in Los Angeles that I attended. People are angry, yes, but they aren’t advocating wanton destruction because they know it diminishes the message.
When I told him that I didn’t know what I could do as a middle-aged white woman and he said to do just what I’m doing – post about it, talk about it, share what’s going on. So – here you go.
I went back to the trailer and did much of nothing. Walked Indy around, began to pack up to get ready to leave the next day. I sat by the fire that night, content with the things Portland had shown me.
I really wish I could have spent more time there, both at Sue’s place and in Portland. Definitely a city I need to get back to.
In the morning, I packed up fairly quickly. Sue came by to say good-bye, giving me a sweet card and a bottle of hand soap. Maisey also stopped by to say good-bye. It felt like leaving home.
But I knew the next few days were going to be tough – driving almost straight through to Minneapolis, stopping only to sleep as I went. Not a lot of fun but hoping I get a few days in Minneapolis. I’m going to deal with some family things, so I’m not sure how it’ll go. But I’ll let you know.
In the meantime, be good to each other and stay safe!