BootsnAll Travel Network

Bright explorations

I’m stumped. How do I talk about discovering the great Pacific Northwest without sounding like I’ve joined the Oregon tourism board? I’m gasping in wonder at some of the most breath-taking natural beauty I’ve ever seen in my life. I sent Stephen a few pictures and he found it “Sublime, the visionary New World that inspired the philosophers and drew the huddling masses ….” I should just leave that on this entry and say no more. I don’t have that much restraint, but if you’re sick of me raving about Oregon, feel free to skip this and do something that makes you feel good about being where you are.

Sunday morning I went over to Susan’s house: daffodils quivering in a chill wind in front of a little blue cottage with beet-colored shutters right off Alberta Street, an up-and-coming neighborhood with interesting second-hand clothing shops along with more of Portland’s ubiquitous coffee shops, microbreweries, and bakeries. Susan is a bright-spirited social worker and silversmith who shares my interest in literature and history and sinks easily into deep talk about ethics, politics, and human behavior.  She’s a smart, cultured, savvy woman who grew up in Jewish community in Ohio with summers in the Catskills till the family moved to California. She’s five years younger than I am and laughs as she tells me she’s been in Oregon for years and still wakes up in the morning in a state of wonder. “How can I be so lucky?” she asks.  And then I chime in.

We get to live in this lush, wet, mossy, ferny, mountainous green place with spectacularly dramatic skies and well-marked trails of every level of physical difficulty. I’ve never known what it was like to live somewhere this gorgeous. I had to work myself into a sweat to teach Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals to college students in Houston, because those students (like me at that time) had no concept of living somewhere that is simply so breath-takingly beautiful to look at, that a person could spend their whole life walking around in it and never see it all or get bored. This is America’s Lake District without the gentility, America’s Yorkshire Dales without the sheep, America’s fjords and firths and gorges. You don’t have to be a Romantic to swoon at the vistas that are not much changed from the days before “America” existed as a nation. I’m going to paste in some links to pictures on the net that look like what I saw. Susan and I both took cameras, and some of our pictures are now on my Flickr site, but these googled images are about as good as hers and better than mine, so click on the highlighted words if you’d like to see what we saw on a day in the Columbia River Gorge.  In half an hour of driving along the old winding (but well-kept) Columbia River Road, in sight of the broad blue white-capped river most of the time, we got to the viewpoint from which we could see Vista House. It looks just exactly like the picture, except the sky was moody and gray, and it was misting rain for the first hour or so. About the time we got to Multnomah Falls, the sun came out, and suddenly it was a dazzling bright day. No mist, just enough clouds for interest, warm sun. Talking and laughing and marveling at the rock-faces of the mountains, the ice and snow on the hilltops and sometimes right up to the road, the stunning views of the deep river gorge, and everything else we saw, we worked up an appetite, so we stopped for lunch at Hood River. We got a table by a window with a view over the rooftops of the town to the river. It took us about half an hour to read the menu, and by the time I got through it, I was sore from laughing.

I wish I could remember the paragraph-long description of the Mambo Taco, which was the most insane concoction I’ve ever read, so wild Susan almost ordered it just to see if it was true. I think it was fried fish laced with an aioli-chipotle-mango salsa, on shredded cabbage and radicchio, topped with herbed goat cheese. I’m leaving out a whole sentence or two, but this is the kind of thing they do. I got something much tamer, a salad of wild greens, shredded carrots, roasted hazel nuts, and dried cranberries, with a maple-syrup-and-balsamic-vinegar dressing on the side (cloyingly sweet). Susan had a hamburger and a locally-made beer. We talked and ate and gazed out the window. The restaurant didn’t serve decaffeinated coffee or capucchino, so we went to a coffee house down the road after lunch where, dazed by over thirty varieties of coffee, I asked for a decaf cappuchino. The “barista” (as coffee-house wait-people are called here) asked me, “Wet or dry?” I paused to wonder what she meant and Susan leapt right in and asked, “What does that mean?”

“Wet is less foam; dry is more foam.”

“Right,” I said. “Dry. I like the foam.”

What’s interesting to me, beyond the beauty and the majesty of the land and the pretensions of the young entrepreneurs trying to make a living off it, is that Oregon has done a good job of making this area accessible and inviting without wrecking it or allowing people with no taste to destroy its beauty. No housing developments on the gorge. There are hotels and condos and resorts off to one side or another, but they’re hidden from view, behind the cedars, clustered in little communities like Hood River, with its outdoor outfitters and shoe stores. Most of the land is unspoiled, untamed, unbroken. The trails (which I’ll explore after I build myself up a bit–I’m still huffing and gasping from years of sedentary academic life) are too demanding for weekend sybarites pondering their coffee choices. Trails appear at parking areas but then slant sharply upward to wind and curl and hide and dip among untouched mountains that appear from where I stood to be free of styrofoam containers of aioli-chipotle-mango salsa. In time, I mean to get out among those ferns and mosses, cliffs and rock faces. A gale-force wind came up as we drove back to Portland on the Washington side of the river, and as we neared the city the hail came down like shot. In town the hail was even heavier, knocking the cherry blossom petals off the trees. The weather here really does keep you paying attention.

Tags: , ,

One response to “Bright explorations”

  1. The little blue cottage with beet-colored shutters sounds eccentrically appealing for a start, we couldn’t have a photo of that could we? Sounds right up my street…..

    It was rather a happy accident that the invention of an aesthetic of the Sublime happened to coincide more or less with the exploration of North America, because much of that country certainly nourishes the concept. You can keep your national gastronomy to yourselves, though, please ….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *