Portland City Hikes (#3) – Sauvie Island

October 18 and November 1

Andy and I hiked the Sauvie Island Warrior Rock Lighthouse trail on bright autumn day in mid-October. And later, on November 1, I returned to hike around Virginia Lake.

The one and only bridge to Sauvie Island.

Sauvie Island is a special Portland destination and it sits just 10 miles northwest of downtown. It is the largest island in the Columbia River (32 square miles) and is home to approximately 1,500 nice gentlemen and lady farmers and some ne’er-do- well houseboat dwellers. A large portion of the island is a protected wildlife area.

Houseboats of Sauvie island.

The Lewis and Clark expedition originally named the island Wapato after the plants that grew there in profusion. Wapato is also known as “Indian Potato” and it was a food source for the 2,000 Native Americans who were the island’s original settlers. But you know the story, by early 19th century trappers and white settlers brought beads, weird religions, and population-devastating disease to the natives.

Historians recorded that most Wapato Island natives were wiped out by the “ague” epidemic of 1829. And by the early 1830’s the native population was so decimated Hudson Bay Company burned the native lodges and removed the remaining survivors. That last sentence encapsulates how I was taught history –annihilation stories told in single sentences with a soft casualness. Words like ‘removal’ and ‘burning’ were used as if they were synonyms for ‘meet’ and ‘greet’.

In the 21st century Portlanders bring their children to Sauvie to walk through corn mazes, pick berries and pumpkins, and get a feel for rural life. Besides a good variety of kid activities in the summer and fall the island also offers outstanding bird watching year-round.

The Audubon Society of Portland website informs there are 500+ bird species in Oregon and 250 of those use Sauvie Island for one thing or another. In fall migrating Sandhill cranes, Snow geese, Tundra swans, and Osprey all nest on the island. On our hike Andy and I saw multiple Osprey nests within feet of one another. Bald eagles breed and celebrate the winter holidays on Sauvie along with other big birds like Northern Harriers and those randy Rough-legged Hawks. Waterfowl on the island exceed 200,000 in the winter.


Osprey nest on Sauvie.

At first glance Sauvie Island looks Midwestern-agrarian but views open up to 3 close-by mountain peaks (Hood, Adams, and St. Helens) and stands of native evergreen trees punctuate the island. There is a sense of familiarity to the place. Sauvie could well be the source of that pastoral print ripped from a free calendar handed out by an insurance agent your grandma tacked up somewhere in her old craftsman.

Our hike to the Warrior Rock Lighthouse was over a wide flat trail that is good for running, and multiple runners zipped past us that sunny afternoon. The trail follows one channel of the Columbia River and along our hike we were treated to views of blue water, white sail boats, and deep sandy beaches – sections of which are designated as clothing optional. (Google images of ‘Collins Beach, Sauvie Island’ and you’ll get an eyeful of naked Oregonians.)

After 3.5 miles the trail ends at a point marked by the Warrior Rock Lighthouse. Warrior Rock is Oregon’s smallest lighthouse and only one of two not on the Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse is automated and sounds a bell and shines a beacon for boats and ships to be wary of the Sauvie Island reef.

The second time back to Sauvie I walked another wide flat trail around Virginia Lake. I found the hike on a web site but when I returned home Andy checked to find the trail and Virginia lake on a map and couldn’t find either. In fact, we couldn’t find a reference to the lake on any official map of Sauvie. So, the whole trek has a tinge of the surreal to it.

To add to the strangeness of the day, at the turn-around point for the Virginia Lake trail I found a dock where no one spoke English nor did they acknowledge me -they didn’t lower their eyes or look away as I passed, they acted quite simply as if I was not there, as if I was unseeable. Side note: it was Day of the Dead when I took this hike. Draw your own conclusions but I plan on returning soon to figure out that “lake”.

Sauvie Island Farm

Both trails were comfortable out and back trails. And those two trails (uhm…if there really was a Virginia Lake trail) are just two among a good number on this bucolic island, just northwest of dense and bustling Portland. We’ll come here when you visit if you would like. The options are endless for a good day of outdoor activity: flat hiking trails, naked swimming, berry picking, kayaking, bike riding, bird watching, and maybe even a tibble if its between October and April (see the final pictue).


Warrior Rock Lighthouse.


A “person” at the so-called Virginia Lake dock.

Feel free to drink it up between October and April on Sauvie Island.




































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Portland City Hikes (#2) – Mt. Tabor Park

September 29 and October 3

Mt. Tabor Park is the crown jewel of a southeast Portland neighborhood of the same name. The park wears an exuberant carpet of green that runs under tall firs and traverses alongside gravel paths. Tabor stretches for 190 acres and is crisscrossed by multiple hiking, biking and walking trails. It also reaches into the sky; at 650 feet above the Willamette Valley floor you can catch glimpses of the park from lucky parts of the city. The park’s most unique characteristic is that it is built on an extinct volcanic cinder cone.

The crisscrossing trails through Mt. Tabor.

Recently, I have hiked through this city park twice, the first time with Andy on a Saturday morning and then again a few days later with my friend, Lori.

More cool things about this park: the cone is part of the Boring Lava field – which is a network of cinder cones and small shield volcanoes that run from Boring, Oregon to southwestern Washington. Three other cinder cones of the Boring Lava field sit within Portland city limits.

–>Boring, Oregon is a sister city to Dull, Scotland. Boring and Dull couldn’t milk that partnership enough so they created The League of Extraordinary Communities and invited Bland, New South Wales, Australia  to join their exclusive club. 

On Mount Tabor there are 3 beautiful open-air water reservoirs and gatehouses, all were built at the turn of the 20th century to supply drinking water to some east Portland neighborhoods. The reservoirs are no longer used for water supply but have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and must be maintained. In 2011, a man was seen peeing into one of the reservoirs and the resulting citizen uproar led to a decision to drain that reservoir’s water, costing about $36,000 to do so. There have been other grumblings of money mismanagement regarding the reservoirs but that story is one of the juiciest.


One reservoir and a gatehouse. Portland in background.

I checked with my friend Janet, who is a water scientist for Portland, to confirm that what I had discovered about the reservoirs and the peeing incident was correct. “True,” Janet confirmed, but she also shared that the continued maintenance of the reservoirs is not assured. It’s expensive and just because people in the Mt.Tabor neighborhood like the reflecting pools they’ve walked around for years doesn’t mean that the Parks Department is willing to support this indulgence forever. In anticipation of the eventual shut-down requests have gone out on what do with the reservoirs.  Many proposed designs have been eccentric and over-the-top (to be expected?) but one that captured Janet’s imagination: pipe the hot mineral water that may be flowing beneath the lava field into the reservoirs and create public hot springs. I love this idea, Portland as Reykjavík South.

Honestly, I couldn’t get Harvey’s head into the picture. The blog software cut it off. Click on the picture to see the full Harvey.

Mount Tabor Park also has a well outfitted playground, an outdoor amphitheater, basketball and tennis courts, softball fields, and the requisite statute of an old dead white guy, Harvey Scott who was a local newspaper editor. Lori shared this bit of wisdom as we walked up to the statue during our hike, if we moved Harvey off his pedestal and looked at him straight on, his head would look as if he was suffering from hydrocephalus, which by the way no one suffers from any more, because of shunts (Lori knows this stuff, she is a nurse). Lori clarified, sculptors create them with very big heads and put them on pedestals so as we gaze up in awe, the perspective looks right. A side note, Harvey Scott’s likeness, including his boulder-sized head, was created by Gutzon Borglum while he was at work on the Mt. Rushmore presidents.

Soapbox Derby, 2018.

Mount Tabor Park is home to an annual Adult Soapbox Derby. Every year home-made cars, some of which go as fast as 50 miles per hour, race down the cinder cone. This year over 40 people registered for the race which is seven-tenths of a mile. I have seen the videos. Race Day looks to be my kind of fun with its hints of cartoonish danger, clever car designs, and costumed drivers who are urged on from the sidelines by their slightly inebriated but enthusiastic buddies. This is not a sanctioned city park event, but has grown in popularity, and exaggerated pomp and circumstance over the last 20 years.

→An aside, my advice to someone looking to settle in a new city would be this: live in a place that is not afraid to be a bit silly.

Andy and I hiked through Mt. Tabor on a Saturday morning and covered 4 miles of trails. Different from hiking in wilderness where views consistently open to broader expanses of nature, this urban hike presented phenomenal cityscapes. Mt. Tabor has well-placed park benches and we passed people taking time to look back on their city. I am slow to realize things, and it took me until I was 60 years old to understand nature can also help us appreciate the constructed world. It is obvious the architects of the park took time to make this point by laying out key landscape features to frame city views.

Citizens sharing secrets.

The biggest activity in the park the day Andy and I hiked through was being driven by a large group of park volunteers. The volunteers were prepping the park for autumn and cleaning up the causalities of a long hot dry summer.

Mt. Tabor volunteers.

–>Here’s another bit of advice I’d give to someone looking to move to a new city: consider someplace that is not afraid to be silly and where volunteering and activism is as common as the rain.     

My second time through Mt. Tabor Park I hiked with my friend Lori, who was touting a Victorian style knee brace. But Lori is ever the optimist and I am not quite sure what would ever slow her down. During our walk she found something else injured, a lamppost, and we admired people’s futile attempt to save it (more silliness).

The Victorian apparatus Lori wears for her knee.

I am learning something about feet-to-ground (hiking/walking) and hands to ground (yoga) that sparks my mind and memory. But I don’t have much more to say than that right now, I’m still figuring it out, & maybe there is nothing more to it than just that. I can say that Lori and I talked for 4.5 miles and 28 stories (iphone app) as we randomly moved from trail to trial. It was a stunning fall day enhanced by the surrounding nature, a vibrant friendship, and perfectly framed city views.

Injury empathy.

Urban hiking involves sharing the road a little more than hiking in the forest or on remote spits of sand. There are children, hordes of volunteers, and cyclists all of whom can step into and out of your path from moment to moment. But rather than this feeling like a nuisance, it really is a glorious mashup of nature, fellow citizens, and the city that surrounds it.





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As Easy as Breathing

Sometimes only hyperbole will do.

Adrianne Lenker’s songs have a heavenly effect, but are very much derived from her observations of the earth.

Adrianne Lenker has made abysskiss, the greatest, most timeless sounding guitar folk record since Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. Lenker recorded her new masterpiece, abysskiss, in one week. (She sometimes performs as the singer and guitarist of Brooklyn band Big Thief.)

Dripping with glorious minor keys and chords, the songs are delivered as easily as breathing. There are ten jewels to wonder at, given in 34 minutes. Upon finishing listening, the feeling one gets while rushing to restart the whole enterprise is that someone has just spent a half an hour sharing with you her most beautiful secrets, her most marvelous observations.

Nothing Lenker presents us with seems remotely forced, rushed, or insincere. In addition to Nick Drake, there are pleasant reminders of other artists. She invokes Mark Kozelek when he is at his kindest, Elliot Smith at his breeziest, Suzanne Vega at her barest, most stripped-down confessional.

Incredible playing and singing. The song’s effects are heavenly; almost sacred. But the effects are formed by this generous artist’s acute observations of the earth, and her stunning willingness to lay them open to us.

How could a better set of songs have come to us in autumn, when the spinning world turns crisp and colorful and we contemplate the plays of light and shadow between bright days and long nights?

Here are two to try by Adrianne Lenker from abysskiss (2018 Saddle Creek Records):


10 miles

23 october 2018

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Fall 2018

Bye summer 2018. It was a trying one; a summer that delivered a mountain of crummy things but once we got over it all, well the other side seems, for now, all sunshine and pirouetting daisies.  Despite the summer rigmarole I read an armful of books that provided constancy while the rest of the summer tumbled onward willy-nilly. Here are a few recommendations:

Shirley Jackson had it rough throughout her too short life and if you read her biography, A Rather Haunted Life, you will see what likely gave rise to her horror stories, many of which centered around ‘home’ or ‘house’ or ‘hometown’.

A Rather Haunted Life aligns to a theory I have that women of the Silent Generation are the saddest generation of all women (it includes women who were born after WW1 through 1940 or so). They were told things like –now you can vote! yes, we will accept you to college!– but they weren’t supported in those things and it took extraordinary women to vote their minds, go to college, and take paying jobs that were

Jackson and her children

often beneath their abilities and/or education. This was the generation of women who felt they had no choice but to leave a job when they had their first child, or they were fired for getting pregnant in the first place. And the truth is most women of the Silent Generation moved from their family’s house straight to their husband’s house. It took decades of incremental changes to bolster the opportunities women of the Silent Generation were told were theirs for the taking. The stacked deck of society really screwed with these women’s expectations and dreams. I  think this made them very sad, a lot frustrated, and a little bit crazy (check: my mother, Carmen Esperanza b. 1931). In the 70’s things started to change, here are two small examples that helped make opportunities more fair.

1974: Equal Credit Opportunity Act: Until then, banks required single, widowed or divorced women to bring a man along to cosign any credit applications.


1978: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: Until this law, women could be legally fired for being pregnant.

Shirley Jackson was a bright young woman born to an unstable society mother who discouraged Shirley’s intellectual development, made fun of Shirley’s looks and weight, and even went so far as to say she wished she would have aborted Shirley. Nice, mom.

After those agonizing years with Mom, Shirley married Edgar Hyman, a writer for The New Yorker and a professor at Bennington. Things weren’t much better at her second home. Edgar had many affairs, mostly with his ex-students (nice hunting ground, Edgar). And Shirley ended up having numerous children, 4 to be exact. She also kept a sloppy, disorganized home, which drove her fastidious adulterous husband nuts, and in the thick of all that, Jackson produced stellar horror fiction, which today is still critically acknowledged.

Jackson is probably best known for her short story “The Lottery”, originally published in The New Yorker in 1948. You’ve read the story if you are an American of either the 20th or 21st century, but you may not know that Jackson’s provincial Vermont neighbors were used as the prototypes for the creepy townspeople in the story.

Shirley Jackson wrote that when she went to the hospital to deliver her third child, the admitting admin asked for her occupation. “Writer,” Jackson said. To which the admin responded, “I’ll just put down housewife.”

Jackson is the author of two slim novels I read this summer, The Haunting of Hill House and We have Always Lived in the Castle. Both are wonderfully gooey Gothic horror / witchy ghostly treats. And in both novels clever talented women are trapped in decaying or haunted homes. You should read both books; the novels are straightforward and superior horror stories that would be fun to read around Halloween. And if you are interested in biographies on the unique ways in which talented women writers thrived and failed in pre-1970’s America, Franklin’s A Rather Haunted Life, is mesmerizing.

I read other books about women in their houses this summer. Circe by Madeline Miller is the story about the goddess witch who was banished by her father (Helios) to an isolated island, Aeaea. I know nothing of Greek Mythology, but Miller’s retelling of Circe’s life was captivating. I am ready to learn more.

Miller reconstructs Circe’s childhood and imagines the roots of Circe’s personality and witchcraft. As a young goddess Circe is mocked by her more elegant and powerful family members. Because her family makes Circe feel like such an outsider, Circe escapes their presence often and wanders outdoors alone. On a sunny morning she meets a handsome human sailor and falls in love so completely she creates one of the world’s first spells capable of turning a human into a god. Circe’s witchcraft is found out and she is banished by her father and Zeus.

The novel takes a feminist lens to Circe’s life, which I imagine was not how Circe’s story was originally told. Here’s one of my favorite parts: vulnerable because of her isolation and banishment, sailors come ashore to Circe’s island and surreptitiously plot to take advantage of her and her hospitality. To protect herself, Circe spends a millennium perfecting her potions and spells. My favorite: she turns would-be rapist sailors and thieves into pigs.

Here’s another favorite part, Circe creates a lovely home for herself, stocked with fine cloth, bottles of wine, stores of scrumptious food, and gardens of herbs (not to mention a teeming sty of pigs). So, as her life on Aeaea progresses, Circe’s isolation enables her to flourish and create a magical safe home.

Circe is a sprawling tale and Miller’s writing adds layers to Circe’s story with many different personalities I’ve heard of but never had a reference for (characters like Pan, Helios, Minotaur, Daedalus, and Circe’s second great love, Odysseus). My guess is that Circe will be on many of the Best of 2018 list.

Khong’s first novel, Goodbye, Vitamin

Goodbye, Vitamin is Rachel Khong’s first novel and I look forward to her second. This is a story of a young woman, Ruth, recently dumped by her finance who is asked to come home to her parent’s house to help with her father, who is suffering from dementia. It is a sad, serious subject especially since Dad in this case is a cheater and taking care of the old philanderer stirs up conflicted feelings in Ruth and Ruth’s mom.

This book smartly lacquers the bright over the dark by adding love interests and fun friends. The diary format keeps the story light and moving along. If you pick this book up to read, you’ll finish it in a day.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams oF Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser dispels the idea that the life and times we read (and watched) of the Ingalls’ family in the Little House books were an accurate portrayal of their life. Fraser’s well-researched book examines the Little House mythology by factually tracking the Ingalls family difficulties as they tried to build a sustainable farm in a variety of places.

The 3 oldest Ingalls’ girls. From L to R: Carrie, Mary, and Laura.

Fraser brings in a broader historical context in her book as she tracks the Ingalls’ pioneer life, and while it was less than ethically stellar, it wasn’t much different from what other pioneers did as they settled the frontier. The result of all this detailed research and expert storytelling is not just a great biography but also a disturbing book on How the West was really Won. This book is a great read, and an eye-opening one too.

Remember Patrick DeWItt the author of The Sisters Brothers? His newest novel is called French Exit and I just finished it. It’s funny; it’s a comedy of manners set in present time. I’ll tell you just a few things about the story. There are 3 main characters, Frances, Malcolm, and Small Frank. Frances is a wealthy 65-year-old New York socialite who is running out of money rather quickly. Frances is also mother to a 32-year-old man-child named Malcolm, who is loveable despite his bored detachment with everyone and every place. And then there is Small Frank who is an old decrepit black cat that really is Frances’ dead husband, Franklin.

I’ll tell you another thing about this book, French Exit is a phrase used to describe the situation where someone covertly leaves a party or formal event without saying goodbye to the hosts and friends. The book opens and closes with a French Exit. And between the start and the end you’ll meet all other kinds of reckless, charming, and eccentric characters. And I would wager you’ll have a big smile when you read DeWitt’s 4th novel.

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Portland City Hikes (#1) – Tryon Creek State Park

September 18, 2018

Summer 2018 was filled to the brim with challenges, and I discovered my sixth grade English teacher, Sister Gabriel, was right again –with every challenge comes a valuable lesson. Here was mine:

I had the crappiest boss ever this summer. For months she made work miserable, spewing verbal abuse that she followed up with days of complete silence. I likened her to the classic abuser boyfriend who had perfected the “beat-up the bitch then sail into the honeymoon” cycle. Here is the lesson I learned, an interesting friend does not naturally translate to a good boss.

Her instability had my gut in knots and I was disappointed in my inability to act and simply walk away. I told myself next time she called me an embarrassment I would quit.  And like the common batterer returning to the boxing ring, she threw her go-to punch. And then I quit.

I had planned on stopping work next summer, so I was not completely unprepared for not-work, yet it’s a little earlier then I had anticipated and it happened quickly. So I admit to being caught a little unprepared; it is as if I had a small amount of wind knocked out of me. For now I am willing to let the days unfold quietly as I catch my breath. (Did you know this is what you should do when you are lost or stranded – unpack everything you have with you, lay it all out, and contemplate what is available to in front of you that can be of help).

While I don’t want to set large goals now, I do want to lay out some small milestones, you know to set some guardrails. So here is something I have set my cap for, I’ve decided to take local hikes, Portland hikes. Not hikes out in the country or up on Hood or further afield in Washington, I am going to focus on local hikes –around the corner or across the river.

I took my first city hike yesterday on September 18th at Tryon Creek State Park. The park is just a little over 650 acres and sits across the Willamette River from our house, north of Lake Oswego and snuggled into Portland’s southwestern canyons.

The tall Dougs at Tryon

The area that makes up Tryon was originally an 1850 land claim which was later sold and logged. Some of the roads used by the loggers back then are trails hikers use today. In 1900 the upper part of the land parcel burned and the old snags remain in place, you can see them from the trails.

Tryon is an example of why Portland is one of the best cities in the US. There is plenty of culture and fun to be had but politically there is a serious focus on supporting and maintaining natural areas. Tryon is a preserved parcel of typical Willamette Valley ecosystem and it is used extensively for public study and education and….recreation. Dogs, horses, bikers and hikers are all welcome. About 350,000 citizens visit annually. There is a nature center that anyone can use. I spent time there with my girl scout troop around 1971 before Tryon became a state park.

Komorebi #1.

There are nearly 300 plant species in the park and 90 types of wildflowers. The trees in the second growth include alders, maple, Doug Firs, red cedars, and hemlock. There are more than 50 species of birds and small mammals in the park including beavers. Tryon Creek is one of the few creeks in Portland with a run of trout and salmon. This is a humbling list, an awe-inspiring outcome of people’s work to protect this parcel of land and make it available to everyone.

I took the big loop trail and hiked up and down the canyon. Unlike hikes in the coastal range or Cascades some of the hikers I passed were in flip-flops and carrying iced drinks from the coffee shops down the road. There were plenty of mothers too, leading children and naming trees and fern species, and occasionally stopping everyone in order to listen to woodpeckers.

Komorebi #2.

I was captivated by the early fall light that fell through the trees and the patterns it made on the forest floor. Komorebi, even saying the word brings a wave of calm.

I passed others with cameras pointed at autumn colors and at the remaining late blooming species of wildflowers. It was a bustling park but for many stretches I was on my own. Despite my stiff ankle and cranky knee that day I was able to move easily in and out of the warm yellow light and cool shade. The air is finally fresh again in Portland after a long summer of suffering from wildfire smoke. And all of it at that moment, the light, the shade, the cool on my face, knowing the effort people put forth to assure this park in the middle of our dense city is available to everyone, well I felt renewed, unscathed by the challenges of the summer. And at th

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