A Neighborhood Favorite

Dear Liza,

We have lived in this neighborhood for a few years now. We go for walks in all weathers and all seasons, and have come to expect and enjoy some of the majestic, lovely, and quirky icons in folks’ gardens.

The Heron as the February snow is melting…

This wonderful heron, for example. Made of brass and perched in the front corner of a garden, he always looks like he could just turn his head and wink at us.

In winter he stands in the middle of chilly sticks, with the oddly decorated house next door clearly visible.

The same crane last May, with everything in bloom

Come spring, though, his location becomes more secretive, surrounded by leafy protection. Sometimes I have to look carefully just to find him!

I love that the seasons change so much of our neighborhood. Every few months, it’s a whole new place.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Big Little Yards

Dear Liza,

I grew up in the suburbs of Southern California, in a town with ranch style houses on good sized lots, with flat, green lawns front and back. They were a lot like your yard in Salinas.

Our dear Peevee heading home from a party

Now I live in Portland, where the houses are close together and the yards are smaller, but they sure are packed with fun, flowers, and even fruit, come summer.
There is apparently a large Faerie folk population in Portland, as evidenced by the number of fairy houses and doorways set into trees. This tiny neighborhood is home to fairies, plastic soldiers and Disney action figures, all living together in harmony.

Diverse Fairy town

Animals are a common theme in garden decoration. This fence top is home to a half dozen hand crafted birds. As the metal ages, they just become more beautiful! Sometimes a real bird will perch right next to a metal one and make Portland even weirder.

Just a bird on a fence…..

Our area of Southeast Portland has been developing since the 1860s, so there have been lots of houses built, and lots torn down. A law here requires that houses of a certain age be dismantled piece by piece, so toxic things like lead can be contained, and antique parts can be preserved. These bits often end up as decorative highlights, as in this Victorian ceiling panel turned garden fence.

Second life for old decor!

And of course, concrete garden haunts. Our damp, cool weather allows gargoyles and ducks to be beautiful while shrouded in snow, or overgrown with flowers.

Garden creatures in Winter….
And in Spring!

In every season, the tiny gardens are lovely and always show me something new.

Love,

Grandma Judy

…And Back Again

Dear Liza,

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.”

Art made with cables and sky

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.

Kayakers out and about

I found Poet’s Beach, a side path lined with stones that are carved with poetry written by students, years ago.

Thanks, Phoebe!

It is loud, because it is right under the double decker Marquam Bridge, but worth a read and a visit.

The extremely loud Marquam Bridge

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!

The Marquam, Tilikum, and Ross Island Bridges… from the Hawthorne.

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.

The Asylum gates ….

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.

Took the words out of my mouth!

Stay alert, stay well, and remember I love you.

Grandma Judy

Home Again, Home Again…

Dear Liza,

It was really warm the day Grandpa Nelson and I walked to Mt. Tabor. The grass in the park was golden brown from our unusually dry summer. Even the breeze felt more Southern Californian than Southern Portland.

California-golden grass And Grandpa Nelson

We enjoyed watching the people come and go. The cinder cone that is Mt. Tabor is a favorite for hikers and bikers looking for an in-town challenge. They are resolute going up and joyous coming down.

”Mom…..”

Not everyone is equally enthusiastic, however. One young fellow who was cycling with his mom kept up a steady stream of complaints as he rode up the hill. “Mom, you said we were just going to the park!” … “Mom, I don’t want to go all the way up!” … “Mom…” But Mom wisely kept riding and eventually he followed her up.

Lovely lichen


It was hot and dry, but the Pacific Northwest is where I developed my love of moss and lichen, and I was not disappointed. I wandered into some usually- shady spots and found several kinds of lichen flourishing on pine branches. The scaly bits will wait patiently until the rains return.

Pines, firs, and blackberries

Once we had caught our breath, we headed down the hill for hot dogs and fries at Zach’s Shack. A sparsely populated, shady patio and a Chicago dog put me right again, with the thirteen eyes of the weird mural watching over us.

Zach’s Shack back patio

Heading home we found new garden delights. Someone has created this hand-hammered, pomegranate shaped metal fire pit and placed it among blackberries and roses. I imagine it is wonderful on chilly September evenings, glowing in the greenery.

Giant pomegranate fire pit

And just a few blocks from home, we found this carefully tended tunnel of bushes and vines, making a cool passage on the by-now really hot afternoon. We appreciated it and headed home for water and a rest.

Lovely shady tunnel

Five and a quarter miles, and well worth the sweat!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Celebrating Health

Dear Liza,

Nothing makes you want to get out and about like spending a long day in a hospital. So after Wednesday’s eternal visit to the Emergency Room, I took Grandpa Nelson on a long walk. We went all the way to Mt. Tabor Park.

A fence with benefits!

Mt. Tabor is a 636 foot high dormant volcano right here in Southeast Portland, two and a half miles from our house. We started after coffee -and-crossword puzzles, when it was sunny but still cool.

Portlands’s own mythical animal

I love walking through new neighborhoods! I always discover beautiful and unusual houses, gardens, and …. well, things. These sheet copper fence-toppers, shaped like silhouettes of a squirrel, a dog, and Sasquatch, tickled me.

Who knew?

Further on, we found the Lincoln Street Kayak and Canoe Museum, with a small handmade boat in the window, as well as books and other information. It is closed for now, of course, but is delightfully dusty and quirky. According to the website, the collection is mostly full-sized functional replicas of traditional small craft, created by Harvey Goldman, “to augment his research”. Peering through the window, I could just make out the outlines of more than a dozen narrow boats up on racks.

Yep, that’s the frame for a kayak!

As we got closer to Mt. Tabor, the hill got steeper, and we slowed down a bit. It was getting warmer and we were starting to run out of gas. We were thinking maybe we had violated my Dad’s rule of “only walking until you are halfway tired.”

We’re going here…. not all the way up there!

But we soon saw the long stretch of grass that is the off leash dog park, continued past the community garden, and found some shade. We sat and delighted in watching the world go by as we caught our breaths.

Grandpa Nelson, feeling shady…

Tomorrow, I will tell you about our return trip!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Just Flowers

Dear Liza,

Sometimes, between the Covid-19 and the political situation, it’s nice to go out for a walk, and not think about anything. I mean, to just think about what is right in front of you.

Fortunately, in our neighborhood, there are lots of lovely flowers to look at. Sunnyside Elementary and Environmental School has delightful gardens, which are being tended by staff and families while the school is shut down.

Educated flowers…..

On a street down the hill a sunny patch is filled with Black-eyed Susans and zinnias.

Sunny flowers….

Our local community garden up by the Laurelhurst Care Center, sweet-peas and dahlias stand tall in the sun.

Tall flowers….

And between our house and Auntie Katie’s place in Ladd’s Addition, the four rose Gardens are home to hundreds of bushes, all tended by volunteers. This ‘Caroline Testout’ rose, a variety that was created in 1888, caught my eye on our last walk down that way.

And historic flowers!

Have a nice day, sweetie.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Fairy Gardens

Dear Liza,

I have told you about our Rose Gardens, our Japanese and Chinese Gardens, but did you know Portland has Fairy Gardens?

They are harder to find than the City gardens, but this may be on purpose. Fairy-folk are a bit shy among us Big’uns, so these tiny marvels are not mentioned in any city guidebook. When walking through neighborhoods, you have to keep your eyes open and look down amongst the rocks and hedges. The telltale signs are pebbles in a curvy line, an over-large mushroom, or tiny doors leading into hillsides.

Another thing that makes Fairy Gardens hard to find is that they are so small. An entire community of fairies can fit in even a Portland sized yard, tucked between rose bushes and towering dahlias.

Dragons chatting with Fairy folk in the Northeast

I love finding Fairy Gardens all over our city. Clearly, fairy-folk only establish their gardens among sympathetic, gentle humans, and I like that Portland has been given the Fairyfolk stamp of approval.

A thriving village in the Southeast

Also, I think fairies are wise gardeners. They know enough to leave the giant trees alone, focussing on the tiny weeds that can choke a flowerbed. They encourage the ladybugs, bees, and butterflies in their efforts to keep the flowers safe and healthy.

Cousin Kestrel is very helpful to our local fairies

I hope you can come visit soon, so we can go find some Fairy Gardens together.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Hangin’ with the Rhodies

Snow drops looking lovely….

Dear Liza,

Once we got to the Rhododendron Garden, we saw all sorts of interesting things. First we met Chunkers the squirrel, who is famous and has his own Instagram feed. He is also a bit overweight, so the garden folks are discouraging visitors from sharing their treats with him. Chunkers does not approve of this decision.

Chunkers himself!

We also saw that there is quite a bit of repair work being done. As with all trails, the ones in the garden need to be kept clear of small landslides and built up so they drain properly. I’m glad they take care of these chores in the off season!

Path maintenance work
Early rhododendrons

We found the earliest Rhodies tall and beautiful, standing against the blindingly blue sky. The lower azaleas weren’t blooming yet… maybe we’ll come back in March to see the progress!

Ducks, out and about….

The ducks and geese that call the lake home were being very vocal and friendly. They are so used to people, they only pay you any mind if they see you have treats. We didn’t.

Stay at home geese….

There is a small waterfall on a tiny pathway and it may be my favorite part of the garden. It isn’t the sweeping views or the bursts of color, but it sings a cheerful song.

Bouncing waterfall…

When we had seen all there was to see, chatted with all the critters and sat on most of the benches, it was time for the next part of our adventure.

Grandpa Nelson, waiting for the train…

We walked through the neighborhood and caught the Orange Line Trimet train downtown, where we enjoyed lunch at Bless Your Heart Burger. Yummy!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Hallelujah Hydrangeas!

Dear Liza,IMG_7991.jpg

I have told you how sentimental I get about certain plants, especially ones that remind me of your Great Grandma Billie, my Momma. She had a hydrangea that had been a wedding present from her landlady in 1946, and she loved it.img_7989.jpg

You and I found a little hydrangea overgrown by some other plants in your very own back yard, and trimmed the other plants back so it could get more sunlight.

I have found, in Portland, hydrangea heaven. I have never seen so many, or such beautiful colors! It must be the wet winters and the intense summer sunshine, the humidity levels, and the volcanic soil. These plants are really happy.IMG_8012.jpg

And every time I see one, I think of Great Grandma Billie, and you. She died exactly one month before you were born, Liza. She knew you were coming and cherished the idea of another great grand child, but never got to meet you.

Watching you grow up to know the difference between a magnolia and a maple, learning to ride your bike and read, being brave and smart, would make her smile and warm her heart.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Lan Su

Dear Liza,

Thursday was the Summer Solstice, which means it was the longest day of the year. The sun stayed up here in Portland until 9:00. But most of the fun was much earlier.

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Kestrel, Lion, and Jasper at the gate to Lan Su

I walked to Auntie Katie’s house, and the cousins and I got on the number 4 bus to the Lan Su Chinese Garden on Northwest Everett Avenue. This is a whole city block with a wall around it, filled with trees, bushes, a big pond, pavilions, bridges, and even a tea house. It feels so magical and peaceful, you forget you are in the middle of a big city.

The garden was built in 2000, but feels much older. Many of the larger magnolia trees were transplanted full-grown from other gardens, and give the place a feeling of solidity. You can see the tall city buildings above the walls, but they seem very far away. It is easy to imagine fairies living in the crannies of the rocks, dipping their tiny cups into the pond.IMG_7367.jpg

There are so many things to see every step of the way. The pathways are all pebbles laid in lovely patterns, pleasantly bumpy underfoot. From the tiny mondo grass to the fragrant gardenias, there are a hundred delights for all the senses. Sitting in one place and looking, I mean really looking, at the pond, you see the reflections of the clouds and buildings on the surface, then the shadows, then the  water skippers, then the golden koi and pebbles underneath the surface.

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Looking at the Tea House across the pond

At the tea house, we enjoyed pot stickers, bao, edamame, baked tofu, and Kestrel even had a small pot of rose tea. We sat on the second floor by the window and had a lovely view of the garden below. Everything was so calm and quiet, even the smaller children remembered their manners.

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Chinese Tea House Snacks

After a few hours of exploring, nibbling and imagining, we headed out to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The kids climbed on rocks, played in fountains until they were drenched, then walked themselves mostly dry until we all caught an orange line train home. A few hours quiet time, making dinner and reading stories, got us ready for a nice evening.

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Kes in the fountains

I went back to my house and Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I had a nice walk around the park and neighborhood, happy to be here in Portland for whatever lies ahead.

Love,

Grandma Judy