Blogs: Northwest

Are you moving out to a house in the country anytime soon? No? Me neither. And yet there's always that little 'what if' in the back of my mind. Find a nicely formed plot of land with swoops, curves, nooks and crannies, and build a small, self-sufficient house nestled into the hillside. Solar power, check. Gravity-fed water suppy, check. Composting toilet, uh, ...

Luckily those of us who make our living in the city can experience country-living vicariously through others. We can mentally inhabit the space that Dee Williams created in The Big Tiny (though even our ghosts might take up too much space in her tiny house); and now we can also enjoy the view from Evelyn Searle Hess's handbuilt house in the Coast Range in Building a Better Nest. Though the title might lead you to believe that you've picked up a how-to manual for building a sustainable house, the book is really a rumination on the meaning of home, how much is enough and the significance of community as we grow older. 

Hess and her husband aren't neophytes; they lived in a tent on their land for many years while dreaming of the home they'd build. Then, finally, when they were both in their 70s, they began. Yes! That's just one of the remarkable elements of this story, that reads more like an adventure than an instruction manual. And throughout there's Hess's calm and wondering voice thinking aloud about living more mindfully among the myriad creatures whose home she has invaded. I have a feeling she'll put out the welcome mat should you chose to inhabit her space for a while.

cover of walking in rainI found a single remaining copy Of Walking in Rain by Matt Love on the shelf of a coffee shop in Manzanita. It was high summer, but I couldn’t resist its pull, the feel of the paper, the promise of reading it on a rainy day in autumn. There was no price tag and the cashier seemed baffled as to what to charge. I had a $20 bill in my pocket and offered that. A signed copy for $20? Done.

It sat on my bookshelf the rest of the summer. And it was an unusually hot, long, and dry summer too. By the time the rains came and leaves began to change colors and fall, it was November. At last. Historically I have been a sun worshipper, but have long had a love affair with rain. Especially stormy downpours. The sun brings out the super efficient doer in me, while the rain gives me a reason to take a breath, pause, reflect.

This is Matt Love’s contemplative musings on rain. Will it make you a lover of rain?

Notes to Mr. Love:

p.s. Counting Crows have some of the best rain songs around and none were mentioned.

(Raining in Baltimore and Amy Hit the Atmosphere)

p.p.s. Also, I carry an umbrella and refuse to feel guilty about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland and Vancouver book jacketBridges are one of the bonuses of living in Portland. Did you know there are 22 bridges over the Columbia and Willamette rivers in the Portland and Vancouver area? I love all of the different styles and types of bridges we have. Getting out of my car and seeing them from the river bank or a boat on the river adds to my enjoyment of them. The more I learn about our bridges the more interesting they become. It is easy to learn more about our bridges with Sharon Wood Wortman's great new book, Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland & Vancouver.

What makes this book special is that it is written for kids. It has lots of art and graphics as well as facts, bridge poems and interviews with bridge designers and workers. It includes the new Tilikum Crossing and Selwood bridges. Adults needn’t worry about this being a kids' book, there is plenty of information about the bridges. You also will learn about bridge building and design. There are even plans to build model bridges out of popsicle sticks that you can load test.

Sharon Wood Wortman also wrote The Portland Bridge Book. The first and second editions are illustrated with neat line drawings and the third edition, which came out in 2006, has photographs of the bridges. These books are also worth looking at, but they’re not as much fun as Big & Awesome Bridges. You can find out more about Portland’s bridges online at  Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland and Vancouver and at PDX Bridge Festival.

Driftwood fortAs a teenager growing up in Newport, Oregon, I couldn’t wait to hightail it out of town, but in more recent years, my nostalgia for the coast and all its beautiful quirks has led me back to books that feel like home.

I first recognized home in literature with my all time favorite novel Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, but I owe much of my renewed appreciation for my Oregon Coast upbringing to local author Matt Love.

I’m a big fan of Love’s unfiltered writing style and his keen observations on Oregon Coast life.  I appreciate the way he celebrates rain, astutely describes people as OTA (Oregon Tavern Age, meaning anywhere from forty to seventy years old), and that he’s not afraid to quote both Rod Stewart and Walt Whitman in a single paragraph.

Super Sundays in Newport, Love's collection of essays about his first year teaching English at Newport High School and his exploration of the local taverns, perfectly captures my home town with its mix of natural beauty, offbeat charm, uneven characters and plentiful watering holes.

Matt Love is a vocal champion of public beaches as a great birthright of Oregonians, so it comes as no surprise that he writes the introduction to Driftwood Forts of the Oregon Coast by James Herman. Part guidebook to an age-old Oregon beach tradition, part exuberant call to participate in the gratifying work of driftwood fort building, Herman’s book is a rare gem that you ought to check out before your next trip to the beach. Whether you end up building a classic a-frame, a rotunda or repurpose an existing structure, how you use your fort is up to you. As the book points out “One man’s tuna sandwich-eatin’ shack is another’s love shack.”

You can find more Oregon Coast related reads on my list here.

Oregon sign

Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation

I visited again and again. I loved it.  I moved. 

People move to Portland for an assortment of reasons.  Access to nature, food, a slower pace from larger cities, and for some, the opportunity to grow a beard without abandon. Personally, I can't grow a beard, but three out of four isn't bad.

Chuck Palahniuk's Fugitives and Refugees fueled my early Rose City explorations. However, I quickly discovered there was so much more.  The stories of Oregon have something for everyone.  Want a true crime thriller? Try Sky Jack by Geoffery Gray.  It reopens the case of  hijacker D.B. Cooper who, in 1971, parachuted from a Northwest Orient Airlines jet with $200,000 cash. For a fictionalized version of the story, there's William Sullivan's The Case of D.B. Cooper's Parachute. How about a trip down to Corvallis to investigate the fascinating life of Edmund Creffield and fanatical following that would rather be forgotten in Holy Rollers?  Perhaps settling in with an Oregon classic is more your taste? Below is a sampling of interesting Oregon histories.  If you'd like more like these or any other recommendations you can always ask me.

bungalow1928. Our Portland house was built in 1928. As an east coast girl growing up in the suburbs, I couldn't imagine living in a house that was built in 1928. That's just so OLD. Then life brought me to Portland, and to the lovely story book cottage that we now call home. It was already a work in progress when I arrived, and the finishing touches are being added as I type. The house has special meaning to my partner, and it has been his labor of love for ten years now. 

The move from the suburbs to the city has been challenging, invigorating, and enlightening in so many ways, but none so much, I think, than making the transition from newer house to older. Our house has great character. I know some of the history of who has lived in the house, and I love to sit in the living room in front of the fireplace on a cold winter's day imagining the daily interactions that used to take place in that very room. We are fortunate enough to have photos of the house in its earlier days, both inside and out, and those only fuel my imagination. Yes, we work hard to keep our home period correct, and it is an ongoing (and sometimes messy and expensive) project, but the feeling that I get when I walk in the door at the end of the day is nothing I ever experienced in my homes in the suburbs. This old house welcomes me with its sturdy and strong arms, and I look forward to keeping them strong for decades to come.

Looking for more great old house resources? Uncover the history of your home at the library's House History page. You might enjoy Craftsman Bungalows: Designs from the Pacific Northwest. You can place a hold on that title here . And after doing all of that legwork, get busy renovating with our Do it yourself reading lists. Happy hunting!

Plover bookjacket"I think everything that ever happened to us is resident inside your head and heart and often you just need the right key to get it out -- a snatch of song, and angle of light, a taste, a smell, a tone of laughter..."

This quote by Brian Doyle aptly describes what happens in his latest book The Plover. Though one reviewer accused the book of being 'plotless', really the main character's thoughts, the accumulation of all that he learns and sees as he floats around on his sailboat, seemingly aimlessly, is the plot.

The Plover is the story of Declan, who flees society to sail around the world with only his thoughts and his beloved author, Edmund Burke, for company. Starting with a persistent gull (yes, another sentient bird!) he is obliged to take on passenger after passenger and has to adjust both his physical and mental space to make room for each one. From a father and his injured daughter to a larger-than-life woman and a singing shiphand, each subsequent passenger challenges Declan to emerge from his introspective life.

The storyline is often meandering, evoking the meditative state of being on water, of being on long journey and having time to ponder whatever comes to mind. There were many times when a plot point was introduced, and I thought with a certain dread, 'this isn't going to end well'; but Doyle resists cliche. Even though the people on board are tormented, Doyle treats both them and the reader with compassion.

If you enjoy meditative reads that make you think, stories rich in language and a sense of place and all things sea and sailing, this might be the book for you.

I love the Columbia River. I spend much of my free time on or near it and enjoy its beauty and grandeur. When I travel, I am reminded that most other rivers are not in its league.  The Columbia River defines this region. Without the Columbia River, Portland would not be an important port. There would be no Columbia Gorge and also no Bonneville Power Administration. These four books help to capture what the Columbia River was and now is.

Sources of the River book jacketI always like to start with history. Sources of the RIver: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America by Jack Nisbet tells the story of David Thompson. He explored western North America from 1784 to 1812 and was the first person to chart the entire route of the Columbia River. Two hundred years ago he was one of a handful of white Europeans and Americans to explore the area which was home to many Native American tribes. He was looking for better fur trading routes and ended up helping to expand trade and settlement in the Northwest.

The Columbia River was a wild and free flowing river until the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams were built in the 1930s. They were A River Lost book jacketthe first of fourteen dams that changed the river into the relatively tame river it is today. A River Lost: The Life and  Death of the Columbia by Blaine Harden looks at the modern river. He tries to explain what has happened to the river and how it is perceived by those who live near it and depend on it for their livelihoods.

Voyage of a Summer Sun book jacketThe book that opened my eyes to how dams change a river is Robin Cody’s Voyage of a Summer Sun: Canoeing the Columbia River. It is a journal of his trip down the entire river, from the headwaters to the ocean by canoe. His voyage is down a modern managed river whose ecology has been greatly damaged. It is a river that David Thompson would hardly recognise.

Wanting to end on a happier note, my last book is by Sam McKinney, an Oregon native and a  respected maritime historian. He has written several books about the Columbia River. Reach of Tide, Ring of History: A Columbia River Voyage is about his journey up the lower Columbia River from the mouth to Portland. He tells about the towns and places along the way and the people who lived and worked on the river. Most of the towns have faded into obscurity, but the lower Columbia being is still free flowing and is most like the river it used to be.

These books will give you much to ponder while you hike, sightsee and go boating on the Columbia River this summer. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

We Live in WaterI loved Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, but I hesitated before checking out We Live in Water, his new collection of short stories. Short stories can seem like a trial--you have to go through that process of getting involved again and again--but I found that with these stories, I slipped in quickly and easily every time.

The characters  in We Live in Water are getting by in Portland or Seattle, or most often, in Walter’s hometown, Spokane, and none of them are doing very well. They’ve either fallen already or they’re headed for a fall. The title story was clearly by the same author as Ruins, with multiple narrators and a complicated structure, shifting back and forth between the '50s and the '90s. It told of a man who disappeared long ago and his grown son's efforts to find out what happened to him. It read like a film noir story, I thought, imagining Robert Mitchum as the lost father.

My favorite story in the collection was “Virgo,” narrated by the now unemployed features editor of a small local newspaper. When he and his girlfriend are together, their morning ritual involves going right to her favorite page in the newspaper, the page where you find the horoscopes and the crosswords. He notices that on the days when her horoscopes are good, she has a better day, and is more generous with her, ahem, amorous attentions. After they break up and she has a new boyfriend, he begins changing the horoscopes, giving her endless one-star days and entries like “one star: hope your new boyfriend doesn’t mind your bad breath”. He changes the crossword clue that reads, "Jamaican spice"--answer: “jerk”--to her new boyfriend’s name. I thought this was hilarious, and a great idea for a story.

If you're in the mood for a good short story, consider investigating some of the books in this list.

 

Why this cure? An antidote to screen time, a break from the princesses and ninjas, finding time to share a passion with your children of all ages, even something to read for grownups that can be digested in small bites.

Where’s this cure? Right here in the greater Portland metro area, in our backyards and urban forests.

What’s this cure? Reading books that have inspired me to delight and revel in the natural world, followed by a visit to a nearby park to answer questions I didn’t know I had. What? I was trampling on efts? What are those again?

Here are some of my favorites: fiction that includes natural history and natural history that reads like a story. Find out why voles turn somersaults or learn to tell bird nests from squirrel dreys in books about your backyard or our urban forests.

Did you know that there are regular programs for preschoolers at many of our natural areas?  Or that you can see live owls and vultures at Audubon’s Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center? You might also try a guided family hike to explore painted turtles or working to evict invasive species. One great website that consolidates these opportunities is Exploring Portland's Natural Areas.

Maybe instead of a cure we should just call it fun.

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