Portland Obon Festival

Happy participant in the Portland Obon

Dear Liza,

In Salinas, you have a big Obon Festival. A summer festival of remembrance of one’s ancestors and history, it is celebrated by Japanese Americans and their friends and relatives, along with thousands of visitors.

Center of the Portland Buddhist community

Last Saturday, I was very excited to go to my first Obon in Portland.

Bonsai by Lucy Davenport

It was very hot when I walked the six blocks to Cesar Chavez Blvd. to catch the number 75 south to Powell Street, then got off and walked six blocks back to the Buddhist Temple. The Japanese style ceramics of Jim Johnstone, the glass art of Kurumi Conley, and the Bonsai of Lucy Davenport were offered by the artists, along with cotton candy and shave ice and games for kids.

Glass art by Kurumi Conley
The Minidoka Swing Band

I saw tiny glass dish I wanted to by for Auntie Bridgett, but didn’t want to carry it all day. I told the young lady (who, seconds earlier, was speaking fluent Japanese to an older gentleman) that I would come back for it.

The heat was rising off the asphalt parking lot as I walked to a welcome piece of shade with some benches. A small crowd were claiming their spots as a jazz band began to assemble under its own puddle of shade. Bright red lettering on black music stands read The Minidoka Swing Band. There was barbed wire in their logo. I was puzzled.

And why did the name Minidoka sound familiar? As soon as the band started up, I realized it.

Andy Streich, the vocalist, began singing original lyrics to a very upbeat song that sounded like “Rock Around the Clock”, and they went like this:

“Back in 1942 we were in a fix,

The government issued Order nine oh sixty six

We had to be gone from the western shore,

They smashed our windows and looted our stores

We lost all our possessions and we lost our homes,

They shipped us out to Minidoka where the buffalo roam.”

It continued for three more verses, telling of conditions at the Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho, and how the Japanese American prisoners used popular American music to keep everyone’s spirits up by forming a swing band and playing for dances.

“When the music starts, and the people sway,

White Lanterns remember ancestors

You can hear the Minidoka Swing Band from miles away…”

As Andy continued singing, the story emerged. Some of the members of the band are descendants of survivors of the Minidoka Internment Camp.

Obon is a time to remember ancestors. This is how they were doing it.

A fine dinner

I listened with joy to the rest of the set, loving all the familiar tunes that allowed me to celebrate my own parents, who were also fans of Summertime, String of Pearls, and Tuxedo Junction. Everyone applauded, lost for a moment in the music and the past.

Yards and yards of embroidered silk!

I had a light supper of chicken, rice, and a Japanese pickle, then explored the small shop in the basement which sold inexpensive toys and lovely, expensive kimonos.

Todd Ouchida, being pensive…

By the time I had eaten, the band stands had been cleared away, getting the parking lot ready for the dancing in two hours. I found Todd Ouchida, who played trumpet, visiting with friends under the tent. He allowed me to take his photo so I could remember the people and the logo of the band.

Prepared for the Taiko show

Japanese Taiko drumming and Bon Odori dancing would be happening later, but I was suffering from the heat and really needed to get home.

I bought the lovely piece of glass art and headed back down the hot street, grateful for the air conditioned bus all the way home, wishing I had been able to stay, or maybe gone later to see the drumming and dancing. Maybe next year.


Grandma Judy

The Tempest

The early arrivals are here…

Dear Liza,

It has been hot this week, and the grass in the cemeteries and parks has been getting dry. It was still very warm at ten o’clock last night as we walked home from seeing The Tempest performed by Original Practice Shakespeare.

Act 1, Scene 1: A ship in a stormy sea

OPS, as they call themselves, are a talented group of professional actors who perform up to nineteen of Shakespeare’s plays every summer. They do it the way it was done in Shakespeare’s day, using small scrolls with just each actor’s lines on them. The actor keeps the scroll with them during the play.

This method has the advantage of performing numerous plays in a season, and of us getting to see different performers doing different parts. We have seen Jen Lanier, for example, as both Prospero and Stephano in The Tempest. But it has the disadvantage of keeping us always aware that the actors are reading their lines. It doesn’t allow us to suspend our disbelief.

Valient Ferdinand

Still, Shakespeare for free in a lovely glen three blocks away is not to be sneezed at. We took a picnic and our lawn chairs and joined about 60 folks, including little old ladies in wheelchairs and babies in tummy packs, among the tall firs of Laurelhurst Park.

Caliban, really angry

The play started just as the sun began to go down behind the trees. The opening shipwreck scene, with a rattled aluminum sheet for thunder and lunging actors, set the tone of boisterous performances and direct audience response. Shouts of “Look out!” and “Oh, no!” enhanced our involvement in the action.

A very drunk Stephano meets his old friend, Trinculo the jester

As the play continued we saw the light change, Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love, a drunken Stephano attempt a coup, and all end well as families are reunited and forgiven. By the time Prospero says “We are such stuff as dreams are made of,” it was time to go home.

A perspective: Small actors, enormous stage

And this morning, it is raining. The dry grass of last night’s performance will be greener by afternoon, and our lovely city fresher. Just like tears through laughter is my favorite emotion, rain between sunshine could become my favorite weather.


Grandma Judy

Closer to Home

Heritage River Birch Tree

Dear Liza,

In case you thought we were only going on long adventures, let me tell you about our walk the other day. It was predicted to get up to 90 degrees, so Grandpa Nelson wanted to head out early.

Heading down Yamhill Street, we enjoyed dappled shade, friendly dogs and overheard shouted conversations from cyclists. We even found another one of Portland’s Heritage trees! These are trees …….

This one is a River Birch at the corner of 21st and Yamhill, and it is huge. I couldn’t reach around its trunk, and I needed to get well across the street before I could fit it all in to a picture. I am glad that Portland values its trees.

Water fun at Colonel Summers Park

We walked down to Colonel Summers Park, which I have told you about. It is named after an officer in the Civil War and later, the Spanish American War in the Philippines.

Some cool contraption!

The last time I saw the park, it was being remodeled. Now it is complete, and delightful. The low area that used to flood in winter has been given drains so that won’t be a problem. Delightful, silly water features have been added, for kids (even old ones like me) to play in. These are only on in Summer, and use the same plumbing for the water to drain away.

Thriving community garden

Today, the fountains were being enjoyed by half a dozen kids and a few grown ups, splashing, cooling their feet, or just enjoying the show. We found a piece of shade and hung out for a while.

We passed the Colonel Summer’s Park Community Garden, where local folks can use beds to grow flowers, herbs, or fruits and vegetables. Everything was doing so well!

Free stuff!

On the way home, we passed an informal sort of garage sale. The owners of this house have put a cover out front where folks can put things they don’t need and take what they can use. I imagine it has been useful when people need shoes or other such second hand goods. It takes a certain amount of maintenance, I’m sure, but so do most worthwhile things.

We got home from our walk to have lunch and see Auntie Bridgett off to her shift at the SideStreet Arts Gallery. See you next week!!


Grandma Judy

Random Adventure

Bee in Ladd’s Addition Roses

Dear Liza,

Last week I got to spent the day with Cousins Jasper and Kestrel, and, as usual, it was a fun time.

I walked to their apartment because it was such a pretty day, and the bees were very busy in the north rose garden of Ladd’s Addition. These rose gardens are being maintained by teams of volunteers (who go by the delightfully dramatic name “Off with Their Heads!) because of city budget cuts, and the folks are doing a fine job. I helped a little by pulling off some spent roses.

First on the list of To-Dos was some house work. I folded laundry and they put it away.

We decided on a short walk to Palio first, because juice and pastry is a good start to any adventure. As we ate, our spirits rose and we brainstormed the next step.

Mount Tabor? Train to OMSI? Downtown? I gave them their pick of the city. We decided to start downtown.

As always, Tri-Met (the Portland public transportation system ) didn’t let us down. The number 10 stopped just outside of Palio and took us into the heart of the city. We saw some new public art and wandered around for a while, playing a new game called Random Adventure.

At each corner, a different person would choose the next direction: straight ahead, left, right, or back. We found Schrunk Plaza, with its own Scholar Stone Memorial to Veterans of the Vietnam Nam War.

Jasper had fun squirting us with one of Simon Benson’s Bubblers in Chapman Square.

After a while, Kestrel asked, “How far is it to the Chinese Garden?” I checked google maps… “About ten blocks north,” I told her. “You guys interested?” They were, so we headed north.

The garden, whose name Lan Su means “The Garden of the Awakening Orchid”, was not very crowded. We wandered, sat on benches and told stories, chatted with the fish, and of course, had moon cakes, buns and dumplings at the Tea House. The familiarity and tranquility of the lovely space seemed to do us all good.

When we were full up on stories and lotus blossoms, we caught the number 2 home and rested.

Another great day on the books!


Grandma Judy

To Sellwood! (Part 2)

Looking south toward the Sellwood Bridge

Dear Liza,

All kinds of traffic!

As Grandpa Nelson and I walked south from Downtown along the West Bank of the Willamette, we saw how quickly the environment changed. Glass condominium towers had views of wooded banks and open river. The paved path passed under dense canopies of cottonwoods.

Adorable memorial

There was traffic on the river, but it was more recreational than industrial. A small sailboat had to pull over and make room for a large river cruiser taking tourists upriver to Oregon City, and we even saw a fellow water skiing behind a motor boat! This is where the river comes to play.

Just another beaver selfie

We found this charming bronze beaver installed at Heron Point. It is a memorial to Stuart Wells Jr., who worked to clean up and maintain the river and its ecosystem. It was next to an informational sign showing how the river’s channel has changed over the years, making it better for shipping, but worse for wildlife.

Kids and SUP boards

We passed the Willamette Sailing Club, where young folks were carrying their paddle boards to the river, and eventually entered our destination, Willamette Park! It was five miles from home, and we felt very accomplished as we sat in the shade, watched the trees dance in the soft breeze, and took inventory of our feet.

Lovely shade in Willamette Park

“How are you feeling?” Grandpa Nelson asked. “Because the Sellwood Bridge is right there… I mean, it’s only a mile away.”

The Sellwood Bridge, literally RIGHT there…

I looked upriver. The Sellwood Bridge, which I had not even counted as being in the city, was indeed, right there. It was sort of waving to us. We could so do this.

The walk between the park and the bridge was hot. There were no trees along the path for shade, but there were a few places where you could walk right down and get your feet wet. I did, once, and even picked up two river stones.

I can’t believe we’re here!

But I knew that the longer we spent in the full sun, the less we would enjoy the rest of our walk. So we hustled along, finding our first shade in a half hour under the Sellwood Bridge.

Downtown Portland from the Sellwood Bridge

I stood for a minute, just relishing where we were and how we had gotten there. I felt pretty good about it, I must admit.

We walked up onto the bridge, looking upriver and down. We were amazed at the views of wooded banks upriver and the sparkling city of Portland, our new hometown, in the opposite direction.

Wild upriver

The city of Sellwood was founded in the 1890s and has a history all its own, of a playground for the well to do of Portland, of golf courses and rowing clubs. It has a population of about 10,000 and is now a neighborhood, rather than a city, but it still has its own distinctive flavor.


We knew just where to stop for lunch! Ancestry Brewery was just a few blocks from the bridge. We had stopped on our way back from the Lake Oswego Arts Festival last month. The beer, cider, burger and fries refreshed us from what was now an EIGHT mile walk. We sat for quite a while, enjoying conversation, air conditioning, and rehydration.

And it turns out, the number 70 bus back to town runs just a block away! We caught it and enjoyed the parade of humanity and neighborhoods from our seats, transferring to the magic 15 to complete our ride home.

What a great day!


Grandma Judy

To Sellwood! (Part 1)

Looking upriver

Dear Liza,

You won’t believe it, but last Friday Grandpa Nelson and I did another, even longer walk. The day was predicted to be between 65 and 80 degrees, with a nice breeze, so we decided to head out.

First we walked south through our own Sunnyside neighborhood and into Ladd’s Addition, enjoying the now familiar old houses, trees, and rose gardens. We stopped by Books with Pictures to visit Auntie Katie. She was busy making a Scavenger Hunt for Jasper to keep him busy for the morning. Cousin Kestrel was in a MOOD and not interested.

Transit everywhere!
Portland Opera offices… nice view!

We continued west, across train tracks and under electric streetcar wires, along a busy, well-marked set of paths for buses, pedestrians, and bicycles. It felt like we were in the middle of a very busy world, but since it was past commuter hour, there wasn’t much traffic. We crossed the iconic, harp-shaped Tilikum Bridge, and took time to look upstream and down to get a better sense of where we were.

View of The Ross Island Bridge, from the Tilikum Crossing

Walking the bridge gives so much more perspective than even cycling over it.

Lovely River lapping

I got to stop near the West Bank and watch the waves from a passing boat lap along the sandy shore.

Ready to head off

On the west side, we walked along through the glass condominium towers and came to the Lower campus of the OHSU. We had cookies and sodas to hold us until we found a good place for lunch. Grandpa Nelson had researched and knew that the South Waterfront Greenway continued south from here, so we wandered around, and there it was!

Shiny condos

As we walked along, I was surprised by two contradictory things.

The first was how many people lived in this area. A hundred buildings, glassy and new or older and woodsy, housed what must be thousands of people. It was like a small city of high – and low-rises and condos!

The second thing I noticed was how green and wild this part of the Willamette was. Blackberry bushes, cottonwoods, and all sorts of brambles flourished along the path. Sometimes there was no sound at all except the lapping of the river and the breeze in the trees.

I will tell you more about what we found in my next letter.


Grandma Judy

King Lear at Lone Fir

Dear Liza,

Lone Fir as the sun goes down

Last week we got to attend our first Shakespeare in the Park of 2019. It was wonderful!

The play was performed at Lone Fir Cemetery by the Portland Actors Ensemble, and attended by about sixty adults and kids. People brought blankets, folding chairs, and picnics to enjoy.

The audience

The play, which is about vain King Lear and the bad choices he makes, isn’t a comedy or a romance. It is a tragedy through and through. Brothers and sisters turn on each other, and children against their parents. Good people die, as well as bad.

Grandpa Nelson watching the violin exit

But the acting, music and setting were so perfect, we didn’t mind the sadness. A violin, pipe and some dissonant singing gave the piece a very courtly, other-worldly feel.

Brothers Edmund and Edgar, before Edmund’s betrayal

The acting was extraordinary. Isabella Buckner, who we saw last summer as Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet”, stole every scene she was in as The Fool. Her role was part comic relief, part Greek Chorus, and part BFF of the fading King.

“Have more than thou showest, Speak less than thou knowest..”

King Lear, portrayed by Jim Butterfield, was old enough to be forgiven his foolishness, but still carried the remains of his former glory with him.

King Lear, displeased with Cordelia’s declaration of love

Lear’s evil daughters, Goneril and Regan were well played, Jill Westerby as Regan being completely believable in her insane greed. Cordelia, the daughter who loved her father best and who was treated the worst, was played by Sam Reiter with earnest, unsimpering love.

The Fool and Cordelia realize the tragedy that will unfold

As the play goes along, Cordelia is banished and Lear thrown out into the storm, while his steadfast friends and enemies of his enemies work to keep him and themselves alive. Summer winds whipped through the cemetery at just the right moments, showering us with leaves and making proper sound effects.

Sunset behind the trees

By the time the play was over and more than a few bodies lay on stage, night had fallen and we applauded and packed up in the dark. It was still very warm and the walk home through the neighborhood was a good place to talk about the play and fill in plot points we had missed.

Another fabulous day in Portland!


Grandma Judy