For months this past winter, we stayed inside. We did art, read mysteries, watched movies and cooking shows, baked cookies, and petted the cat. Rain and cold and remaining Covid concerns kept us home. It’s like hibernation, but for humans. Auntie Bridgett calls it Hermitting.
Now we have the opposite situation! Summer in Portland is an absolute avalanche of activities, and there is no way to attend all of them.
There are Jazz and Blues Concerts, street festivals, Shakespeare in the parks, and art shows in every gallery.
There are Baseball and soccer games, boat races and floats on the Willamette River.
Picnics in public gardens and parks make the most of summer sunshine, and evening walks extend the fun to after dinner.
It can be exhausting. But we do try to do our part.
It has been a long time since I’ve been able to have an adventure with young people. You live far away in Salinas and the shutdown has kept Cousins Jasper and Kestrel inside for almost a year and a half.
So Friday, we headed off. We put on our masks, hopped on the number 2 Trimet bus, and rode clear through downtown to the Lan Su Chinese Garden. This garden was built 30 years ago on a full city block in what has always been the Chinatown section of the city. Skilled workmen came from China with beautiful rocks, tiles and timbers, and built this oasis of beauty and tranquility .
We took off our shoes, the better to feel the variety of stones that pave the paths and bridges of the garden.
It was a hot sunny day, and we appreciated the curvy roofs over the pavilions. The shade made the stones underfoot cool and even allowed some soft moss to flourish. It was wonderful. We were happy to see that the Tea House was open, for take out only, of course. Little tables and stools set right out by the lake made for a gorgeous view as we nibbled steamed buns and moon cakes made with sweet red beans.
When we were fed, we walked around Zither Lake to the bridge. Dozens of koi came up to us, thinking we were going to feed them.
We had learned that the huge yellow-gold colored one is called Cob, (as in Corn-on-the), and Kestrel called the big silver one Luna. We stood on the bridge for a long time, appreciating the colors and movements of the koi as they moved between the sun and the shade. A lady who walked by told Jasper, “They must like your energy.”
Before we left the garden, I asked Jasper to choose a place for he and Kestrel to sit for a photo. He chose this nicely shaped doorway. Here are your handsome cousins!
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.
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.
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.
I hope you can come visit soon, so we can go find some Fairy Gardens together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today I got up really early and Grandpa Nelson drove me all the way to San Jose. I caught my flight and landed in Portland, in a warm, sunny day. I got the Red line Max train and got off around 1st street and Washington, where the buildings were tall and beautiful and I could smell good restaurants making lunch.
I walked to a restaurant called the Rock Bottom Brewery and had southwest eggrolls…not really egg rolls, but tasty and filling. I sat at a table on the sidewalk, enjoying the sunny day and all the people and traffic going by. I listened to bits of conversation, watched workmen load and unload trucks, and just enjoyed being in a vibrant, busy city.
I knew I wanted to see the big Willamette River, so I walked downhill to the Tom McCall Riverfront Park. It is a wide walkway with trees, benches, grass, and a big, changing fountain, at Naito Parkway and Salmon, for everyone, kids, grown ups and dogs, to play in. One fellow was trying to get his big dog into the fountain to cool off, but the dog was having none of it. When the man finally carried the dog in, the poor wet dog looked so embarrassed! But I bet he was more comfortable. I chatted with John, an older gentleman from Adena,Texas. We swapped stories about the places we’d been and what we learned about them.
I continued wandering north, heading for the best bookstore in the world!
POWELL’S!! A whole city block, at Burnside and 10th, four floors high, and all books. New, used, kids books, atlases, french, German, Arabic, comic books….you name it, it’s here. There are so many you can’t even see every room in one visit. It is like a national park of books. The coffee shop, with pastries, makes sure you have sustenance to continue. Sitting in the foyer resting up from my travels, I watched my species interact. A group of teenagers were having an existential crisis. Parents were bribing their kids to leave the bookstore (!!) by promising them ice cream.
Then I heard the unmistakable sound of an old fashioned typewriter. Click clack, music to my ears. It turns out that Shannon, a young poet, was sitting on the sidewalk just outside Powell’s, writing poems on any topic you requested for whatever you felt like paying. She said she was incredibly grateful to be able to do this for a living. What a joy. She wrote me a poem, but it is sort of personal. I may share it with you sometime.
Having rested my feet and rejuvenated my spirit with books, snacks, and good conversation, I headed to the Lan Su Chinese garden at 2nd and Everett. It is just a city block, but the walls seem to hold the noise and heat of the city out and the peace and cool of the garden in. The tiny lake has koi and water lilies, and is viewed from pagodas, bridges, benches, and even a tea house. The pavings were mosaics of pebbles and intricate stonework.
I realized, coming back out into the city, that I was done in. Walking down 2nd street, checking the bus stop signs, I found the stop for the number 4 bus that would take me to Auntie Katie’s house.