Some Serious Rain

Dear Liza,

In Portland, winter is wet and grey. That’s part of what I love about living here. But usually, the rain is slow and gentle… a few days of rain can total an inch or so.

But this past weekend, we had a STORM. The rain came thick and fast, blowing against the north, then the south, sides of the house, waking us all up. There were almost three inches of rain in just a few hours!

Luckily, Portland is designed for rain. The streets are properly built to make the water flow into the bioswales, which collect water and let it soak gently into the ground instead if carrying trash and pollutants to the river.

With a well designed city and a nice warm house, I can sit by the window and smile with the rain.


Grandma Judy

Rainy Day with Kestrel and Jasper

Dear Liza,

Yesterday I took a walk in the rain down to visit Cousins Jasper and Kestrel. I took an unfinished doll Auntie Bridgett found while cleaning out her studio, and some fabric and other bits. It was a pretty, but drippy, walk, and I was glad for my umbrella.

Bioswale, doing its job

Along the way, I noticed all the swales in people’s yards had filled up. Swales are low parts built into yards, which usually look like dry ponds. Their purpose is to catch rainfall and runoff and let it soak into the aquifer instead of running down the street, carrying oil and pollution to the river.

Yesterday, they were full and happy, looking like actual ponds. I kept looking for frogs, but didn’t see any.

Lovely Kes….

When I got to Auntie Katie’s shop, I gave her some pinwheel cookies and headed upstairs to see the Cousins. They had a day off from school and were in art project mode. Kestrel was making a hibiscus headpiece as part of her Marin costume. Marin is a character from The Legend of Zelda. It is adorable.

And her doll

I showed her the doll and she figured stuff out while Jasper showed me an old video game console with Mario and Luigi punching a giant pink piranha plant.

La Sabrosita, the first food cart at Books with Pictures!

We got hungry and Kes and I braved the rain out to the FIRST food cart, La Sabrosita, in Katie’s parking lot. Basilio and his daughter make good burritos, tacos, and carnitas. We ate back in the house, but on sunny days in summer, the picnic tables are going to be a happy place!

When we finished lunch, it was time for me to head home. I walked, not wanting to end my adventure before I had to. By the time I got home I was very wet and cold, but that’s what dry socks are for!


Grandma Judy

Colonel Summers Park

Dear Liza,

In our neighborhood there is a park I haven’t told you about yet. It is called Colonel Summers Park.


When it was developed as a park in 1921, it was called Belmont Park, because it was on Belmont Street. But in 1938 the name was changed to honor Colonel Owen Summers.

Colonel Summers was a Civil War veteran who, in 1883, combined all the local militias in Oregon (volunteer soldiers) into one group that was The Oregon National Guard. At the beginning of the Spanish American war in 1898, Colonel Summers organized this group into the 2nd Oregon Volunteer Infantry Regiment, with himself in command. They were the first American soldiers to sail to the Philippines in that war. After many engagements, Colonel Summers and his men accepted the surrender of 15,000 Spanish soldiers.

Bioswale and paved area

The soldiers who fought under Colonel Summers’s command remained loyal to him even after the war. In 1903, General Beebe, another famous military man, was chosen to be the Grand Marshall of a parade honoring President Teddy Roosevelt to Portland.

Community Garden

The Spanish American War veterans saw this as an insult to their beloved commander and at first refused to be in the parade if Colonel Summers wasn’t the Grand Marshall. But Colonel Summers refused the post, asking General Beebe to remain. The veterans, following their commander’s order, marched in the parade without him.

The park named after Colonel Summers had been getting a little worn in recent years. The huge boulder from Kelly Butte with a plaque of himself had been spray painted. The grassy area had been flooded and was muddy or dusty, depending on the season. But a new makeover has made it lovely again. The boulder has been cleaned, and the flood-prone grassy area has been outfitted with a bioswale to collect rain and a paved bike and skateboard area. There is a basketball court and a fenced community garden where people can grow flowers, fruits, or vegetables. There is even a public toilet that cleans itself after every use! img_6991.jpg

I am happy to see that the city is working to make sure all the parks in Portland are safe and welcoming places to play, read, work, and just enjoy this wonderful area.


Grandma Judy


Dear Liza,

Portland is known for getting a lot of rain. Not now, of course, it has been dry and in the 80s! Most years, in fall, winter and spring, we get about 36 inches, or three times as much as you do in Salinas. Building a city where there is that much rain has its own problems.

You want to make sure the streets drain nicely so houses don’t flood. You want to make sure soil doesn’t erode and turn hills into mud slides. And you want to make sure that pollution and trash from city streets don’t end up in the Willamette River.

City engineers work hard at making sure the first two problems are solved. Storm drains are kept clear and streets are graded so they carry water away quickly. But keeping trash and pollution out of the river has become something a lot of homeowners are helping with.

Bioswales are part of this solution. They are a sunken part in a garden, designed to catch rainfall from the roof of buildings. The water flows into the bioswale and slowly soaks into the ground water, or aquifer. This keeps it from running along the street picking up oil and trash, and also helps clean it before it goes back into the water cycle.

I am noticing small bioswales in front yards all over our neighborhood. They are all set up with conduits from the downspouts to direct rainwater into them. They are lined with rocks and gravel to resist erosion, some lined with plastic except at the bottom. The prettiest ones are landscaped with plants that are comfortable being very wet (even underwater) for part of the year.

I love that people here are taking responsibility for helping keep our beautiful Willamette River clean. For many years, factories along the river dumped all sorts of nasty chemicals into the river, hoping they would just wash away. Now there are companies helping clean the river, and people want to help, too.

Yay Portlanders! Yay bioswales!


Grandma Judy