June 30, 2017, almost three and a half years ago, was the day of my first blog. I had come up to Portland by plane, then the Red Line train to get to downtown, where I had lunch and met an itinerant poet named Shannon. Then I took a bus to Auntie Katie’s house. The next day I picked up the keys to our first apartment here in Portland. I signed papers, measured the new place, and flew back to Salinas.
That day was a good omen of my life in the city so far. I have pushed myself to walk further, get around on public transit, explore further afield, chat with all sorts of folks, and spend more time on my own.
I have written about dinners out, concerts, zoos, and parks here in Portland;
vacations to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.;
trips back to Salinas to see you and your family and friends;
and some less-fun trips to hospitals and doctor’s offices.
And lately, I’ve written about coping with NOT being able to do those things.
Writing this blog, now 900 essays long, is part of the coping. Writing how I feel makes it real and solid and more manageable.
This past Friday evening, a 75 foot Christmas tree erected in Pioneer Square, also known as Portland’s Living Room, was lit up beautifully as the whole city sang. This has happened the night after Thanksgiving every year for 36 years.
Thomas Lauderdale, China Forbes, and the rest of Pink Martini played and sang Christmas Carols. Thousands of Portlanders sang along, led in the lyrics by a projected Christmas tree bouncing along the words. It was just like always!
Except that this year we were in our own living rooms and Pink Martini was on television, broadcast by local station KGW. We were sitting down and warm instead of standing up and freezing, we had our cat on our laps, and it was cozy.
But I still miss the crowds, the being together-ness, the palpable feeling of goodwill and community. Christmas isn’t just a time for family and friends, at least not in a big city. It is a time to make merry, eat, shop, walk, and sing with a whole bunch of strangers.
Thinking forward, we will be in for New Year’s, as well. Two years ago we went to Pink Martini’s show downtown, walking for hours between a fine dinner and the 10:00 show. It was cold, alright, but so beautiful. I took one of my favorite photos ever of the tree all lit up and the New Year’s moon.
This year will continue to be different, and I go back and forth on how I feel about it. Usually, my parents’ good natures win out and I know it will all turn out right if we all hunker down and do our best, but every now and then I get cranky and feel very put upon. That is when I try to have some alone time or take a nap, to keep from spreading the virus of my melancholy to the rest of the household.
Happiness, as Ruthie says, is a choice. So I will choose it.
On Thursday we got a chance to do good work for Portland. Grandpa Nelson got us signed up with a group called SolveOregon, who use volunteers to cleanup and repair around the state.
We got up early and drove downtown to help with litter clean up. Except in the area just around the Federal Building, (where the protests and conflicts with police have been happening every night for three months), most of the storefronts are fine and businesses are open.
Our check-in location was at the Mark Spencer Hotel, where ninety masked but friendly people waited in line to get directions and equipment. We collected our long handled grabbers, gloves, and plastic bags, and headed off.
It was slow going, because most of the litter we were picking up were small, like bottle caps or cigarette butts. It took us a while to get the hang of handling the grabbers. We walked along, heads down, focusing on the sidewalk. About every fifteen minutes we would look up and check in with each other and figure out where we were.
I am sorry for the lack of photos to tell this story, but it was difficult to use my phone while wearing gloves, a mask, and carrying a bag and grabbers. I made a choice to do the work well instead of photo-documenting.
As we walked along, we were pleasantly surprised by folks’s reactions. People would roll down the window of their cars and holler “Thank you!!”. A postal worker stopped us and told us how much he appreciated our help to make the city better. Auntie Bridgett made sure he knew that we appreciated his work, too.
After two hours, we had a satisfying amount of garbage in our bags, and were pretty much done in, and turned in our grabbers. We chatted with Sarah, our group leader, who let us know we could help in other ways, and directed us to the website to check it out.
We had a wonderful, filling lunch at the Zeus Cafe, a McMeniman’s restaurant just a block from where we were working. I hadn’t realized how hungry or tired I was! By the time we got home, I could hardly walk up the stairs.
I am happy that we spent a few hours doing something to help our city. We have had recent problems, caused by the pandemic and social unrest, but we are also just a big city with millions of people smoking, doing business, and eating. It takes maintenance to keep it up.
Once I got to the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, I had intended to head right back home, but my Dad’s voice whispered “Go home a different way, so you see something different.”
So I continued across the bridge to the Westside. The pedestrian walkway has recently been finished and makes for a very pleasant, if warm, walk between the bridges. There were more adventurers out and about.
I found Poet’s Beach, a side path lined with stones that are carved with poetry written by students, years ago.
It is loud, because it is right under the double decker Marquam Bridge, but worth a read and a visit.
By this time, my feet and my phone batteries were telling me it was time to head home. I decided to cross back over the Hawthorne Bridge. I love the views of bridges from other bridges!
Of course, political statements are everywhere. I liked this re-purposed public service message.
You can see a lot of Portland from bridges, too. Joggers, cyclists, the Burnside Bridge and the Convention Center are all in these shots.
Once I was back on the Eastside, I realized I was hungry, and came upon Asylum, a food Court on the site of Dr. Hawthorne’s Oregon State Hospital for the Insane. This much-respected institution stood from 1862 to 1883. It closed when the good Doctor died and burned to the ground a few years later.
The space has a steampunk cartoony vibe, with trash containers that made me laugh, and really tasty food.
I had pot stickers from the Thai place and enjoyed some people and art watching.
Once I was fed, I still had a mile walk, all uphill, to get home. I paced myself, admiring gardens, appreciating shade, and visiting with nice folks. I had done what I had intended to do, walked a total of 6.2 miles, and it felt good.
By the way, as you can tell, Portland is not “in flames”. We are fine. The protests are being exploited by the President and his allies who want to use Portland as an excuse to use strong arm tactics against his political enemies. He is lying.
We haven’t been to the Portland Art Museum since early February. That’s when we visited the Volcano! Show, about art and science from the Mt. St. Helens’ eruption. Then we got sick, then the city shut down, then the riots started, and we haven’t been downtown since.
Saturday, we went. We had booked an hour time slot (They are limiting visitors to maintain social distancing) at PAM for the three of us, got the car out of the garage, and crossed the bridge. The river was bright in the early Fall sunshine, and I realized how much I have missed being out in the city.
We drove through downtown, noticing some damaged and boarded up buildings, mostly high-end shops, but also a lot of open businesses. Killer Burger and the food carts were doing a good business.
There are more homeless folks than before, napping in their tents. Many streets had a sort of down and out vibe, and it made me sad. I feel bad for the folks who have no other place to be, and also for the folks who are scared to walk down the street where they have lived for years.
As we walked to the museum we saw construction cranes and buildings making progress. When we had used up our hour time slot we sat outside in the plaza for a while. We heard flash bangs and chanting from down toward the Willamette River, and knew enough not to head in that direction. We drove north to cross over a different bridge to head home.
I checked the news on my phone and found that we had heard (And just missed) a clash between a far right group called The Proud Boys and an anti-fascist group, who were throwing rocks and insults at each other. This has become a common theme here in Portland, and it also makes me sad.
Violence only begets violence, and people seem to be aiming their hatred at each other instead of the powers that be, who have created this mess.
But don’t get the idea that all of Portland “is in flames”. People are jogging, eating, and visiting. Our iconic bookstore, Powells, opened up for the first time since March, and there was a line around the block to get in. To buy books! Sizzle Pie Pizza had folks waiting for their goodness.
Between the political unrest and the pandemic, people are feeling very stressed these days. The big signs of this are protests and violence, which can overwhelm the small goodnesses that are happening in corners of neighborhoods.
When I go out walking, I look for these small signs and take comfort in my fellow humans’ capacity for kindness, cleverness, and joy.
And yet, amid the apples and sweetness, we need to remember that the fight for fairness isn’t over yet.
We need to keep those who have been killed and brutalized in our mind as we make decisions about who will run our cities and our country.
Besides being shutdown because of the Corona Virus, Portland is now dealing with Federal troops in our downtown streets every evening. It is also about 100 degrees by noon these hot July days. So I am staying inside.
I have taken Hitoshi Shigeta’s sketchbook islands, sent to us by Jennifer Coile, and run with it! I made a few islands in the original drip-and-spread method, but wanted the features to stand out more. I gave the accidentally created features more contrast with my paintbrush.
As I worked, I began to see where the snow would accumulate, how the melt would flow, and what the topography of the island would be. It became a very real, very happy place for me. I named it Welcome Home.
I realized that my calligraphy skills were not up to labeling the features on my map, so Auntie Bridgett suggested using cut-out letters and words in a sort of collage technique, and I am really enjoying it. Years of Portland Monthly, Better Homes and Gardens, and Sunset Magazines, and all our old maps are getting harvested.
Having gotten my island to this point, I am not sure what to do with it next. But my Dad always said that if you can’t decide what to do, maybe it isn’t time to make that decision yet. So I will put my maps in a safe place and figure it out later.
There is an expression,”It’s a sign of the times.” This usually means something is a clear, visual example of what is happening. Today I decided to share some of my signs of different times with you.
When I first started traveling to Europe, I was struck by signs and posters that would not have existed in the U.S.
This 300 year old sign for Jesus Lane is on the campus of Jesus College at Cambridge University in England. In our country, religion has become so politicized and I doubt this sign would survive vandalism.
On the other side of the coin, this poster for theater tickets would probably be considered too weird for the American market. It’s ironic that in a country that touts Free Speech there is such a “you can’t say/show/ wear that” reaction.
This street construction warning sign makes me laugh, because of its original nickname in England, “Man wrestling with umbrella.” Also, if you look closely at the smaller sign, horrible things are happening.
Other signs make me smile because of where they are. Seeing this wonderful sign showing an entrance to the Paris metro would mean I am in that magical city.
And not far from that sign is this one, for the narrowest street still existing in the ancient part of Paris. The name means “The Street of the Cat Who Fishes.”
Back in California, this sign touches my heart and feeds all my senses. Crows and cypress trees grow in my happy place at Asilomar, and looking at this parking sign, I can smell the fog and feel the sand between my toes. Oh, and taste the good food at The Fishwife, just up the hill a bit.
And in my new home, there are signs, too. This one, at The Enchanted Forest south of Portland, is greatly improved by Jasper showing his high score on the “Return to Mordor” ride.
And these signs at a protest for the Trump administration’s policy of separating and imprisoning immigrant families touched my heart and let me know I was in good company.
What are your signs of the times? What visuals make you smile, or travel to another time or place?
Yesterday we got to do something normal! That is, something we have done since we have lived in Portland. We drove out to pick blueberries on Sauvie Island. Sauvie Island is the largest island in the Columbia River, and is a big dollop of farms and wild area just minutes from downtown Portland.
To get there, we crossed to the west bank of the giant Willamette River, drove north a bit, and then crossed the tiny Multnomah Channel, and there we were. Pastoral paradise.
Now, of course there were accommodations for Covid-19. We all wore masks, kept our distance, and used the farm’s boxes to keep from giving them any of our germs.
But the picking was the same. Pulling pounds of juicy berries off bushes, planning the dozens of cobblers and muffins, is very satisfying, in a hunter-gatherer sort of way.
Among the bushes, we listened to parents chat with their kids and smiled at our first post-Covid babies. We watched dozens of swallows swoop low to get berries, only slightly discouraged by the broadcast hawk shrieks. We reveled in just being outdoors, being part of the world. As the box filled up, we picked slower, not wanting our time to end.
There is so much of Sauvie Island we haven’t seen yet. There is a nature preserve full of water birds. There are farms that specialize in Marionberries.
But eventually, the call of lunch got too loud to tune out, and we needed to head off. Of course, this lead to another adventure! More tomorrow.
On Friday, Grandpa Nelson finally felt lousy enough to call the doctor. He had been having fevers every night for weeks, along with fatigue and dizziness. I mentioned this to your Mommy (Dr. Olga), and she said Grandpa Nelson should talk to his doctor. They chatted via an on-screen meeting and agreed that Grandpa should visit the hospital and get checked out.
Auntie Bridgett drove and I rode in the backseat as we three traveled across the river to the west side for the first time since the shut down began in mid-March. It was so good to see the Willamette River sparkling and the bridges arching in the sunshine. Downtown, though emptier than usual, was beautiful. The parks and statues glowed, and the shining buildings reflected the clouds and sky. It felt like coming home.
We continued up the hill to OHSU, where we have been many times, but we didn’t just park and walk in. As part of the new procedures for limiting everyone’s exposure, we waited in the car and called to let them know we had arrived. A doctor walked to one of the small tents and Grandpa Nelson left the car to be escorted in. Auntie Bridgett and I had to wait in the car. I understand that fewer folks in and out of the building is safer for everyone, but I still wished I could go with him. We read, sewed, and drew, for nearly an hour.
When Grandpa came out he said that his had been checked for blood oxygen (fine, at 97%) blood pressure (a bit high, at 160) and been swabbed for the corona virus. That result won’t be back for a day or so. He was told to stay inside and rest and limit exposure to other folks. He was also told that whether this was Covid or some other virus, he would not be “well” until he had three full days with no fever.
Once we were home he had lunch and slept for a long time, got up, had dinner and went back to bed. Now we just wait for the results and do what we’ve been doing. Positive or negative, it won’t really make a difference. There is no cure, or even effective treatment. But we will know.
PS. We got the results back. No Covid-19 in this house! Grandpa Nelson still feels icky, but at least it’s not big and scary. Just small and irritating.