It’s a good life

Well, here it is, one week and a day from the new year. Along with writing this blog, I keep a personal open-ended list of “ah-ha” zingers and epiphanies. I list little thoughts or ideas that occur to me – things I want to remember in relation to this blog. Some of them are ideas for future entries, while others are more moment-realization-type thoughts. They aren’t exactly profound or necessarily uniquely insightful epiphanies, but for me, reading them later helps me keep perspective and not get lost. They help me see where I am and not forget where I was or have been.

Yesterday I felt a little down and a bit frustrated with my current situation. Lately my days have been focused on job searching, family challenges, holiday preparations and getting over a nasty cold; I haven’t gotten out much, seen many friends or taken my camera out for anything this month. As I was dourly contemplating my life, I paused to read my list.

I have been to some beautiful places.
I have seen some truly lovely days.
I have experienced some serene moments.
I have experienced a good life.
Looking back over the places I have featured, reflecting on my travels, makes me grateful that God has given me those moments. How easy I forget what a good life I have. Despite the rainy, day-in day-out humdrum days, I get opportunities to experience a wonderful life, if I choose to see it.

The reminder discovered from over-a-year-ago-me encouraged me. So far I have had a good life. I expect it will continue to be good, if I choose to have a good life. I hope you are choosing a good life and are doing things that help you remember the good in your world.

As this is most likely my last post of the year, I’ll leave sharing one a few of my favorite photos from this past year.

Merry Christmas! Peace on earth and good will toward all! Happy New Year!

Willamette Falls & Oregon City, Oregon

Oregon City, Oregon. I don’t know about you, but to me it has a ring to it (like New York, New York).  Despite the name, it’s more of a hamlet of hub-Portland than a hub itself. When a friend of mine came to town a couple weeks back and invited me on an adventure, we decided on visiting Oregon City. Why? Because of the Willamette Falls on the Willamette River. In my own travels I’ve paused to gaze at the Falls numerous times, but my friend hadn’t. Ever.

Once in Oregon City, I was unsure of the best place to view the Falls and figured we could explore or ask a local. Before we found anyone to ask, we spotted the Oregon Municipal Elevator – an outdoor elevator. While I’d seen it before, I’d never taken it; so what’d we do? We parked, fed the parking meter a silver Washington and dashed across the street to the hallway leading to the elevator. A trippy hallway with 10 or 12 frames on each wall, each frame held three images that changed as you shifted position. The pictures documented the elevator’s construction and history. Fascinating, but our goal of going up and down the elevator and on to the Falls overshadowed it. When we got in the elevator, we discovered a nice public employee running it. That same public employee turned out to be our nice local who directed us to the best viewing spot.

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Municipal Elevator

Once we stepped out of the elevator on the viewing deck, she directed us to our left and down the McLoughlin Promenade, a 7.8-acre park on the bluff overlooking the Willamette River. Dedicated in 1851, the park benefited from the Work Progress Administration with a stone walled concrete pathway built in 1938 and benefited from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which funded the restoration of the Promenade in 2010.

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A short easy walk brought us to truly the best spot I’ve found to view the Falls. Now if you’re like my friend and thinking “vertical” falls, you, like she, may be a little disappointed. The Willamette Falls, as you can see in the photos, flow more “horizontal,” with a short drop amongst an industrial setup. Also, the industrial buildings (power, mills and the like) mashed right up into the Falls appear rather weathered and decrepit. After viewing for a short while, we proceeded down the Promenade and walked the footbridge over 99E, a Blue Star Memorial Highway, and along and then under the train tracks, looping back to my car. The trek took us a grand 24 minutes.

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Oregon City, Oregon

Deciding on the Molalla State Park as our next destination, we headed out of town on 99E, but before completely leaving, I pulled the car over at the scenic area and historical marker. I’d viewed the Falls here many times. Here as we read the informational signs, the Falls’s value, with all its industry evidenced there, began to increase.

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Willamette Falls

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Willamette Falls

With basically a 40-foot drop, we learned that the “Willamette Falls is the second most powerful waterfall in North America.”  While some of the buildings at the Falls sit empty, some of them actually still see use and from the informational sign we learned what many of them are.  For example, one of the buildings is the T.W. Sullivan Powerhouse, built in 1893 and rebuilt in 1953, and is one of the oldest continuously operated power plants in the United States. The Museum, which I have to return to explore, has more information about the significance of the river and the Falls.

After properly admiring the Willamette Falls, my friend and I headed on to the Molalla State Park, took a soggy walk around and wrapped up our adventure by dinning at MOD Pizza. It’s amazing how hungry a person can get while adventuring!

Yellowstone National Park Reflection

Rafting down the Snake River, Wyoming

Growing up and having family on both coasts, we usually visited one or the other side when my family took “vacation”. By time I turned 12, I’d traveled across America nearly half a dozen times. Traveling was a means to valued family time. Despite having friends who’d never flown or traveled out of state, at age 12, I was jealous of the ones who’d been to Disneyland!

Living on the West Coast meant more trips along Interstate 5 than cross-country. Around Christmas and at least twice again in the year, we packed up our silver grey Volvo station wagon and drove north for a long weekend. By pinching pennies, nickels and dimes, my parents saved enough for us to fly out to see our East Coast grandparents for a few weeks about every other summer.

Then one summer my mom’s favorite big brother and his wife came out West to go camping. And they were taking me (and the rest of the family) with them. They flew to PDX where we picked them up before packing up and driving to Yellowstone National Park. I was super excited. We were really going on a real vacation, a real adventure. We were off to see not some member of the family but solely to see a new location and experience a new place.

There in Yellowstone we saw waddling porcupine, sparring elk and shaggy lumbering buffalo. We attended reliably spouting Old Faithful’s water show and gazed at gorgeous snow crested mountains – the Grand Tetons and the Rockies. We rafted down the Snake River, walked around the hot brilliantly colored Paint Pots and waded in sparkling blue Jenny Lake. We ate scrambled eggs cooked over a camp stove, slept outside in a tent at a KOA, took the junior ranger pledge and learned all about preventing forest fires. The time flew by with all we experienced.

Charlie Tremendous Jones, a motivational speaker, has been quoted, “You’ll be the same in five years, except for the books you read and the people you meet.” A college professor of mine thoughtfully added, “And the places you visit.” Arguably you could say the places you visit lead you to the people you meet and thus that’s covered, but considering my Yellowstone experience, I’d have to agree with him. Sure, we spoke with rangers and exchanged greetings with the rafting guide, but being a kid, I really didn’t talk to those people. The people I interacted with were family. The people I barely met didn’t influence me like the place I visited.

All the memories came back the other day when I found a cassette. The recording my Aunt bought while in Wyoming – Goin’ Wild by the Banana Slug String Band – sounded just as peppy as it had the first time we listened to it while driving some highway in Wyoming or Idaho with miles of western scenery stretching out before us.

Did visiting Yellowstone change me? Am I a different person because of my Yellowstone experience? While I can’t say for certain that due to Yellowstone I resulted in changing these exact ways, looking back, I know it influenced me.

It changed my dreams. I dream of ‘returning’, which a different dream than the dream of ‘someday going’. Dreams of someday going always have an element of wonder and can take more belief that the trip is worth it. I wonder what xyz is really like; it’s gotta be amazing. Dreams of returning are more confident and more tangible in the memory. Dreams of returning to Yellowstone also bridge my dreams of other places and future trips. While I don’t know what it’s exactly like to ride with a pack string in the Rocky Mountain Range, having been to Yellowstone gave me a glimpse into that world. Someday I’ll take such a trip, and I know it will be amazing.

It increased my awareness of the world around me. The Paint Pots are a natural wonder had I not seen, I would not have remembered by only hearing or reading of them. Oh cool – colored hot springs. Ok, on to the next thing. No, no, no – they are more than that! They are BRILLIANTLY colored and acid-burn-you-to-death-HOT. Seeing them looking so clear and curiously deep, innocent and mesmerizing in a gorgeous mountain region, smelling the gases rising off them and leaning against the sturdy wooden rails to peer more closely at a sapphire blue pool – those are experiences you only get being there. Having seen such phenomenon of nature tantalized my appetite to see other wonders of this world. What else is out there?

It satisfied as only vacation travel can. The pressures involved in traveling to visit family are not there. Before cell phones my parents called my grandparents just as we left our house. My grandfather then estimated our time of arrival. We were always under time constraints to get there at or before Grandpa’s estimation. That pressure isn’t there. When we’d go visit the East Coast, my grandparents always expected us to stay with them. They’d raised seven kids in their old large New England home, and there was plenty of space and no reason we shouldn’t stay with them. That pressure isn’t there. The pressures are more internal with vacation traveling. When do you want to get there? Feel free to adjust that mid way along. Where do you want to stay? Let your imagination and wallet decide that.

Okay. Now I want to go on a vacation! While I still haven’t been to Disneyland, there have been other trips solely for suspending normal life to escape elsewhere for rest, relaxation and fun. Each one has influenced me, and it’s fun when something simple, like a cassette, can bring up such good memories.

Whatcome Co. Washington

“Oh, you were in Bellingham? Did you do anything fun?” Her voice reflected a smile. She looked ahead out the front window as she sat in the shot-gun seat.

“Yeah. Sunday we took Grandma on a three or four hour car ride…”

“Three or four hours?” She demanded, whipping to look directly at me over her left shoulder.

I hadn’t finished my thought. “Yeah – about three or four.”

“That’s a long car ride for – how old is she?”

“Um… late 80-something.”

I started to feel a little guilty about my part in the torture of Grandma when everyone in the carpool began chiming in about older people and how even for young people three or four hours in a car is a long time. In my defense though, she wanted to go on a car ride and her son was driving; she’s the one who taught him how to drive! Despite the lengthy drive, or probably due to the length, we covered a lot of ground in Whatcom County.

We began by driving to Greenwood Cemetery on Wiser Lake Road, off the Guide Meridian, next to the fire station. Apparently my great-great-grandmother (my grandma’s father’s mother) resides at Greenwood. She died in the early 1920s before Grandma and I were born. I’d never heard of her, nor had my grandma any recollection of her (remember, she died before we were born), but my dad had heard from his sister about her and decided it would be interesting for us to visit. The cemetery was easy to find and turned out to be a very tranquil and peaceful place. The place had a friendly neighborhood feel to it, and a number of dogs with their walkers passed through. Along with my ancestor, men from early wars and more currently deceased people are buried at Greenwood. Apparently the notables number a large enough collection to warrant a monthly tour of the plots. Every last Saturday of the month at 3:00 you can take “A Walk Back in Time.” Not being able to find great-great-grandmother Anna during our short visit means my dad wants to return.

As we drove back to the Guide, we almost passed a gravel drive with public access to Wiser Lake. I stopped Dad in time, and we pulled in.

“Why are we stopping here?” He asked as the car gently bumped along.

“Grandma and Uncle Fred used to go row boating out here on Wiser Lake.” That’s why.

“Mom, did you and Uncle Fred boat on Wiser Lake?” Grandma heard him, his voice deeper than mine.

“Oh yes!” Her eyes brightened as she began to recount happy summer days with her big brother.

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Wiser Lake from the Guide

After surveying the lake, we continued on. Back on the road, we contemplated where to go next. After stopping for a brief visit with my dad’s cousin, we decided to head out to Lummi Nation and maybe get dinner out there. On the island there is a diner my dad and grandma have enjoyed before. I had only seen the photos text to me while they enjoyed the hearty fare. It took us a little while to drive out to the Lummi Nation, but we enjoyed the rural scenery.

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Ferry Ramp to Lummi Island

When we arrived at the ferry dock, we were the third car in line. As time passed more cars pulled up. We began getting nervous. Grandma needed to be home around 7:00 p.m. It got later and later, and finally we looked the ferry schedule up online. When we discovered the ferry wouldn’t load until 6:10 p.m., we decided to skip the ferry ride and just sail home.

It was a good decision. By time we drove back to Bellingham, stopped for dinner at a Wendy’s and arrived at Grandma’s assisted living home, it was nearly 7:30 p.m., and Grandma was quite tired.

While it all may have exhausted Grandma, when we saw her the next day, she was back to her chipper lively self. I bet she slept well that night!

Travel Oregon

When your friends or family come visit our wonderful state of Oregon – where do they want to go, or where do you want to take ’em? When you finally decide to vacation in Oregon, what do you want to see? When you’ve lived your entire life in Oregon and get adventurous, where do you want to explore?

For travel in Oregon, there are the favorite go-to spots: Multnomah Falls, Mount Hood and Timberline Lodge, Seaside and naturally, Crater Lake. Once you have hit those places, where do you go? With a rain forest, a desert, a prairie, an award winning hipster city, a completely free public access coast and two mountain ranges, there are many Oregon wonders to discover! Here are six I highly recommend.

1) Astoria
With a span of 1,232 feet (376m. – almost a quarter of a mile), the Astoria-Megler Bridge is the world’s longest continuous truss bridge. If you’ve ever wanted to walk or run the 50-year old bridge,October 16th is your opportunity this year. Annually the city closes the bridge to cars and opens it to walkers and runners.

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The darker sand in the photo on the right is magnetic.

2) Fort Stevens State Park
While at PCC I took Oceanography, complete with a required science project. In passing our professor mentioned magnetic sand on the Oregon Coast. I took that and ran with it. It turns out that yes, near and along the Columbia River (not far west of Astoria) where the river meets the Pacific Ocean, there are patches of black magnetic sand.

2) Pendleton
One of Eastern Oregon’s largest cities and quintessentially Old West, Pendleton bustles as a hub in north-east corner of the state. One of rodeo’s oldest and much-loved events, the annual Pendleton Roundup held the second full week of September, draws visitors and competitors from across America. The Pendleton Roundup is known for having one of the sport’s largest arenas, and not only is it uniquely large, but it is also uniquely a grass arena. Let ‘er Buck!

3) Steens Mountain area
Steens Mountain rises up above the ridges and hills of the southeastern desert region. At 9,700 feet high, it seems perpetually covered in snow.
When I was a kid, the Alvord Hot Springs below the Mountain were free. It’s been awhile since those days, and I’ve heard the owners have capitalized on its popularity. In the area there is also the Alvord Desert, a dry desolate ancient lake spreads out about five by ten miles; it is great fun to drive on! While I have not hiked the area, I’ve heard about the trails and Alvord Lake. I also understand mustang bands roam the area. These attractions keep Steens Mountain on my further exploration list.

4) Powell’s Bookstore in Portland (and the smaller branch in Beaverton)
The largest independent bookseller in America, Powell’s City of Books was the pioneer in selling new and used side by side. With new titles as well as old, book buying has never been so much fun.

Ask any book-loving Portlander about this bookstore that takes up one full city block, and you are likely to hear a story. One of my friend’s first dates with her now husband were at Powell’s. Another friend exchanges wallets with her husband to fortify their weakened power and resist buying another good book. For me, this was the go to place each term of college and university semester. I’d compare the recommended newest edition with the older ones sitting next to it; Powell’s saved me money.

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Upper North Falls

5) Silver Falls State Park 
The State Park in Silverton has an easy walking loop taking you by 10 different falls. The paved trail gets you close, even behind, some gorgeous waterfalls. However, to get in the water you need to drive over to lesser-accessed walk – to the Upper North Falls. A short walk from the parking area gets you right to falls. There the rocky edge is usually shallow enough for wading out a little ways before any drop in depth. Once in, relax as you are in a real rustic swimming hole – Pacific Northwest style.

Happy Trails!

Good Old Books – Good Reads

While I love AAA TripTiks and Google everything, I still use printed material, including my Webster’s Geographical dictionary. There is something about the feel, the smell and the act of opening the book that arouses imagination and prompts creative thought to flow. Something about the low-noise, the focus and the simplicity of using a book resonates with me. Unlike the hi-tech, one page can only lead to another page on the same topic – travel. The lure of one idea leading to another completely different idea does not rise up.

If you were to open my Geographical dictionary to my home state of Oregon…well, actually allow me to share a glimpse of what you would see:

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Geographical Dictionary – Oregon

Why Travel?

Day-in, day-out, I travel the same dustless hard gray asphalt roads and frequent the same places in the same silver gray Chevy. The same old job with its route rhythms, the same chain grocery stores with such minor discrepancies in prices it’s hardly worth changing them up and the same town with only so many variations for my commute to work, all tempt me to simply shift to cruise control.

Living in the same house with its set layout, with senior cats who demand the same food, water and turn out daily, along with the same food and water needs of my own, not to mention the laundry, the plants, the bills and the family with needs of their own, creates humdrum. Monotony. I mean, the same white ceiling stares down as I drift to sleep and continues staring as I roust from slumber, day after day. Night. After. Night.

The vistas, textures, odors, flavors and noises absorb not into my senses, but rather fade in the background of life. Each morning brings a new day, but dang, with routine and to-do-lists its newness sure evades notice.

Traveling refreshes senses and an awareness of the world around. As cliche as it is to even say, my childhood gave me a slower pace and more vivid life experience. I see this perception change as due to how present I was then verses how present I am now. As a kid, I was very present and my thoughts of the future formed differently*. So many things were new, and I zoned in intensely. I took them not for granted. Traveling in new environments offers the opportunity to practice being present and more aware.

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Columbia Hills State Park Art Walk

During my mini-vacation to Horsethief Lake, I had no pressures of going to work that day and put it out of mind. Though unable to just stare out the window with unhurried thoughts as I did when a kid, with the car in cruise control, my thoughts relaxed. I consciously noticed the changing landscape and weather the further east we drove. We left the tall green leafy trees and overcast sky of home as we entered the winding gorge with denser green leafy and tall evergreen trees, but still cloudy sky, and by the time we reached the State Park, a few wispy trees and shrubs sprinkled the landscape and the sky sparkled clear, bright blue and sunny. The air smelled differently too –more like dry baked forage than the earthy fresh mown smell of damp green grass.

Traveling simply takes me to new places and helps me stay present, reminding me that I can still discover flavors, feels, scenes, sounds and scents.

*There is a legit reason for this – it has to do with the frontal lobe. That is the section of the brain that finishes developing last, in a person’s 20’s. It is the part of the brain that thinks abstractly about the future, gauging and weighing out possible outcomes, along with tempering impulse behaviors.