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Before the show starts is often the only time we are allowed to take photos.

Somehow, the culture people of Portland got my email address, and now I’m at their mercy. I get periodic emails that show up with special price offers at irritatingly convenient times, like Just In Time For Christmas Gifts!

I’ve mentioned before that Tara is crazy about Broadway shows. I sent them a text last Fall. “Hey, Finding Neverland or RENT?” The response was 19-year-old appropriate: “Duh.” I should have guessed that they would want the classic show inspired by La Boheme.

“Classic” sounds kind of funny, because I actually saw RENT not too long after it came out, and that wasn’t terribly long ago. Right? Ahem, the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour is what we went to see. Apparently, I’m old enough to be classic.

The first time I saw the show was in rural Arcata, California, in the late 90s. I remembered that the storyline addresses AIDS, which was still a national scare in those days. And racy for the time and location were the homosexual relationships on stage. Most of all, I remember Angel, the dynamic cross-dresser who was the voice of love and reason for the group of young, desperately poor New York singles.

Arcata is a college town, but most of the audience was made up of patrons of the arts in their 40s or older, who didn’t know the story. And don’t forget that I said “rural.” The audience first sees Angel dressed in masculine clothing, when he meets and falls in love with Tom Collins. But soon comes the big entrance as *Angel!* with glitz and glitter and makeup. Angel pranced out on stage in a white and silver skin-tight costume, ruffles, high heels, red lips, and a dazzling smile that lit up the theatre. She came right up to the edge of the stage – so close I had to tilt my head – and struck a pose.

You could hear a pin drop.

I think I could actually hear people snapping their mouths back shut when they realized they were gaping. There was no cheer, no laughter. Total paralyzed silence. Maybe a muffled sneeze in the back. I had been just about to give a “whoop!” but then realized something was wrong and held it in.

This time the show was different for a few reasons. Notably, I’m in Portland, which is like a baby San Francisco, for all the tolerance we’ve got. And furthermore (it’s apparently 20 years later, and) concepts like homosexual love, drug use, diseases that kill you, and breaking into empty buildings because you’re homeless are not as shocking to find on the stage anymore.

This audience was fully on board. No, not just on board, but cult followers or something. The scene when Angel comes out in drag was preceded by raucous cheers before I even knew what was happening. The outfit was different this time, but the people went crazy for it!

The production still uses telephone answering machines to bring in missing characters (like parents) and to make connections in the story line. And it still works. The difference is that the first time I didn’t pay it any mind, and this time, it caught my attention every time. Answering machines! I remember those!

The first time I saw RENT, there was one relationship that carried it for me. The interactions between Angel and Collins are lovely at every stage, from the joy in the beginning, to their successful negotiations to unite their friends in times of trouble, to the heartbreaking hospital scenes when Collins takes care of Angel. Their love is pure and immense – big enough for all of us.

This time the relationship that carried it for me was between Roger and Mimi. He’s a musician struggling to be true to his art. However, his bigger struggle is with self-worth. He doesn’t really believe he’s good enough to be a musician, so he never finishes a song. And then he and Mimi fall in love and he suspects he’s not deserving of her either, so they break up. She’s an addict and really really wants to quit, but just can’t admit to herself or to Roger that she is weak, and she wants to be loved and forgiven despite that. They wrench apart, and fall together, and wrench apart again.

It was just awful, watching their pain, and knowing we so often bring our pain upon ourselves like that. We are happy or satisfied or loved purely based on our perception of who we are. Arggh, humans!

The ending is sad and hopeful, and Tara and I were still wiping the backs of our hands across our cheeks when the actors bowed. I wonder if art is supposed to make its audience find a truth? Maybe that’s why the same story hit me two different ways at two times in my life. When the artists don’t use direct words, we have to give it our own meaning, and then, it has a distinctly personal message for the most dramatic impact. Oooh, those artists. So clever.

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“For us the violin is the vehicle for a bigger message, which is not to be afraid to be different,”

~ Kev Marcus.

Six years ago, Tara was dancing ballet at the Laurelhurst Dance Studio, which is a part of Portland Parks and Recreation. It was a great environment, with talented dance instructors. For one seasonal performance, Tara’s instructor chose a song for the kids to dance to by a group called Black Violin. The song was Dirty Orchestra.

If you’ve ever participated in practicing something, or were a parent watching someone practice something, you can guess how many times I heard that song. I ended up purchasing the song on iTunes, and I even made CD copies for all the kids and handed them out at one of the early practices, so they could take their dance home if they liked.

After a couple years, I still couldn’t get enough, though I had purchased the album. It’s fun to discover musicians whose appeal turns out to be long term.

Tuesday I received an email from Portland’5, the local arts email that gives me a heads up when anything is happening in PDX, from opera to ballet to music to Broadway. It announced Black Violin, the very next night! In person! I bought tickets without even thinking about it.

Stage before Black Violin's show

Stage before Black Violin’s show

The show was even better than I was hoping for. Black Violin are packed full of energy to back up their irresistible music. Both classically trained violinists, these two men, Wil Baptiste and Kev Marcus, lean more toward hip hop and R&B. So, they pull it all in together: the appealing sounds of the strings with the funky, soulful beats. The sounds were rounded out with a DJ on stage (and I’ll admit it’s probably the first time I’ve ever attended a concert with a DJ in the band), and a drummer who held his own. In my opinion, the mix is fabulous!

If you would like to read the program insert for more information about this group, and in particular their new album Stereotypes, I scanned it here: Black Violin 1 Black Violin 2

Most of the performance was their own work, but the guys also covered a lot of familiar songs that were fun for the audience members who didn’t know Black Violin songs very well. My favourite was a mash-up of Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud and Barry White’s Let’s Get It On. I was singing at the top of my lungs for all of it.

The only down side (and this is a pretty high down side) is that they weren’t willing to let us sit through the show. Though I had recently had a small operation on my toe, I expected to be seated most of the evening, and assumed my toe would be alright. Nope. “Get up! This is a party!” yelled Kev. I had no choice, but was forced to shake my tailfeathers for hours.  My toe was angry the next day, but it was worth it. The show was a blast.

Unlike every other show I’ve attended at one of the Portland’5 events, the artists told us right from the start that we SHOULD be using flash photography, and video, and posting it online as much as possible, and to tag it with #blackviolin. I love it when people grab onto trends and use them, rather than fight them. I managed to get a couple of poor quality videos, so you get a sense of the show.

 

A and Tara pose for me at the Japanese garden

A and Tara pose for me at the Japanese garden

This post can be a complement to my post from several years ago, Japanese garden in the rain. Both times I forgot to bring my camera, so the photos from both posts are taken by phones. In comparing the two, the advances in cell phone camera technology are evident.

Tara met an Italian exchange student at their school, two weeks before school was out. The visiting student had not yet had a chance to see many sights of Portland, and it was almost time to return to Italy. Tara was dismayed. I got a text while I was at work, “Will you please take us to the Japanese garden this weekend? She has to see more of Portland!”

It was a very sunny and hot day and we looked forward to the shady glades of the Japanese garden.

“Designed by Professor Takuma Tono in 1963, it encompasses 5.5 acres with 5 separate garden styles, and includes an authentic Japanese Tea House, meandering streams, intimate walkways, and a spectacular view of Mt. Hood.” ~from the brochure we received at the garden.

Sun filters through branches, colouring everything green and magical.

Sun filters through branches, colouring everything green and magical.

The Flat Garden (hira niwa) is a central focus of the garden, beside the pavillion.

The Flat Garden (hira niwa) is a central focus of the garden, beside the pavillion.

On the other side of the pavilion is this view of Mt. Hood, reminding many of Mt. Fuji because of its symmetrical shape.

On the other side of the pavilion is this view of Portland and Mt. Hood, reminding many of Mt. Fuji because of its symmetrical shape.

Inside the pavilion, events are held. It was a bonsai exhibit in my

Inside the pavilion, events are held. It was a bonsai exhibit in my “rainy” post. This time a pottery exhibit. Most of the pottery displays were traditional, but this artist was fanciful.

A look inside the pavilion

A look inside the pavilion

The Flat Garden

The Flat Garden

I was pleased with the fine touches in the garden, such as the gracefully curved railings.

I was pleased with the fine touches in the garden, such as the gracefully curved railings.

Irises grew from the water beside a wooden walking path that kept our feet dry.

Irises grew from the water beside a wooden walking path that kept our feet dry.

It was past peak spring colour, but these azaleas still added a spark to the shady greenery.

It was past peak spring colour, but these azaleas still added a spark to the shady greenery.

The Strolling Pond Garden

The Strolling Pond Garden

Shady stone path

Shady stone path

After our time in the shade, we crossed the road to another famous Portland garden: The International Rose Test Garden, named for its mission of testing new rose varieties. Built in 1917, this garden holds over 7000 rose plants of 550 varieties. It was in full sunlight and roasting. Despite the heat, it was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and was filled with visitors. The roses were spectacular, and the scents intoxicating. Our new friend A kept a brochure to send home to her family. We had done our small part in encouraging good international relations. 🙂

Looking down onto the Rose Test Garden.

Looking down onto the Rose Test Garden.

Aisles of fragrance and colour.

Aisles of fragrance and colour.

Most of the roses were as tall as we were, and the blossoms were nose-height: perfect.

Many of the roses were as tall as we were, and the blossoms were nose-height: perfect.

"Keep it badder, PDX." Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

“Keep it badder, PDX.” Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

For some Middle School reason, I think using the word “art” as a verb is hilarious. As in, “Don’t interrupt, I’m arting.”

One of my inexplicable Crystal diversions is that I like to catalogue wall art. Many cities have murals and many cities have spectacular graffiti, and I am crazy about it. I am even won over by 3-D wall art, like parts of airplanes or cars built to look like they are jutting out, mosaic tiles that lift from the wall, and religious icons set into walls. I am impressed with this living art:

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

Last week I talked a friend into driving me around to look for wall murals to photograph. This morning, Andrew at Have Bag, Will Travel posted wall art and it was the push I needed to get my photos out to you all.

There is a street in Portland called Alberta Street, that has been building its reputation for 100 years. From the 1920s, Alberta Street was known as a place where inexpensive housing could be found, as well as bus and streetcar service to transport workers into the city. This reputation attracted many immigrants, and it also became the site of a massive relocation in the aftermath of a devastating flood in 1948 that wiped out a large Black American community. In the 1950s and again in the 1970s, public works projects leveled impoverished areas close to the city center and forced the people to relocate. Many of them crammed into the Alberta neighborhoods.

The people in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

The residents in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists' styles.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists’ styles.

Crowding and poverty resulted in unrest. I was not in the area during the 1980s and 90s, but the reputation north Portland garnered for itself decades ago is still spread as fact by well-meaning neighbors in other parts of the city, in their attempts to help me learn the area. It was famous for gangs, drugs, and violence. At the same time, the Alberta residents put their collective feet down and said, “No more!” Always leaning heavily on the arts, a concerted effort of neighborhood improvements began, and was ultimately successful.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast, shown in a recent post.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

Today, as often happens in diverse neighborhoods all over this country, the hard work of community activists has paid off, and the wealthy weekend explorers from downtown have “discovered” Alberta. The street hosts organic groceries and free-range chicken, gourmet ice cream, and a 100% gluten-free bakery. The cultural diversity of the local entrepreneurs overlaid with new trendy shops draws an entirely new crowd and – I assume – new growing pains as property values soar and gentrification claws its way in.

The character, the activism, and the arts from the complicated and heroic history shine through on Alberta Street today. It is one of the best places in Portland to park your car, get out into the air and join the community.

{Credit to Alberta Main Street for the historical facts.}

{My collection of Portland wall art on Flickr.}

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

We share the same sun.

We share the same sun.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can't tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked "on top" of the recycling bins.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can’t tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked “on top” of the recycling bins.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when spray-painted graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

California Condor shows off his lovely profile for us at the Oregon Zoo.

California Condor shows off his lovely profile for us at the Oregon Zoo.

My landlady wants us out of the house so she can sell it. We actually had this conversation a year ago, but I begged her to let us stay another year so Tara could graduate from high school first. Graduation is in one month and that means no more stalling: we have to go.

The Blue House, as I like to call it after its distinctive colour, went live on RMLS Friday, and my phone has been going bananas ever since, with realtors wanting to bring their clients through. The real estate market in Portland is astonishing, considering we are only a few years away from record foreclosures and joblessness and plummeting home values. These days, twenty people show up at once to view a house, offers come in at $30 thousand in cash over the asking price, and places sell in 24 hours. It is a piranha frenzy out here. I remember being confronted with this kind of competition when I looked for homes to buy near Berkeley, California in 2003. But that was before any of us knew what was coming. This time we should know better than to encourage a housing bubble. But we are humans, so we do not learn.

Tara and I have been asked to scoot out of here when people want to look around, and to be particularly absent last weekend. I worked 10 hours of mandatory overtime on Saturday and was off work at 4 pm. By 4:15 pm, there were people standing in our front yard. Waiting. We left to catch a movie and then a birthday party for a friend.

Sunday we needed something that would take more time. Our first stop was to Oswego Mortgage who is helping me with a VA loan so I can purchase my own home, so I stopped by the office (on SUNDAY! That’s how busy they are; it’s 7 days a week at the mortgage company) to sign eighty bazillion pieces of paper. Yes folks, I have been searching since November, and finally found a house. If Old Mother Hubbard kept homes in a cupboard, her cupboard in Portland is bare. And that’s why house-hunters are behaving like piranhas. I found a *beautiful* place. Negotiations are still underway and I don’t close till the middle of June, so I’m not sure yet if it will be ours in the end, but I will definitely leave updates here. The property is like paradise, and I am only slightly exaggerating. Just you wait. 🙂

“Whatchyoo lookin’ at, Huh?”

The bears were fun to watch. One played in a water trough for awhile, one rolled around on the ground playing with a branch, and a third napped in the background.

The bears were fun to watch. One played in a water trough for awhile, one rolled around on the ground playing with a branch, and a third napped in the background.

After signing documents we went straight to the zoo. I haven’t been to the Oregon Zoo for about 10 years, so it was high time. I could only remember the bats and the polar bears. The bats were again one of my favourite exhibits. Portland has a pretty nice zoo, and there is a lot of construction going on. Some of the structures are the original buildings from when it was constructed in 1959, and some, though newer, are still not to the standards that modern zoo-attendees want to see.

Construction has totally disrupted viewing of the elephants, but the elephants may appreciate being separated from the people. The elephants at the Oregon Zoo are a big attraction, since they are a healthy family group. Their current home was state of the art, revolutionary design in 1959 – a new idea in zoos to allow elephants to mingle together and sleep unchained. As a result, Portland became host to the continent’s first successful pachyderm nursery. Go figure. Six of the elephants here were born at the Oregon Zoo, including little Lily, born in November. We also host Packy, born in 1962, he was the first elephant born in the United States for 44 years, and the first to live past the age of 1 for 80 years. The new enclosure will provide them more space and a pond.

This is our actual view of the Asian Elephants, while barriers keep us safely at a distance during construction of Elephant Lands.

This is our actual view of the Asian Elephants, while barriers keep us safely at a distance during construction of Elephant Lands.

Luckily my camera has a zoom lens and I could get a better look at them. Here, one elephant appears to have open-mouthed delight as it scratches an itchy thigh on that log.

Luckily my camera has a zoom lens and I could get a better look at them. Here, one elephant appears to have open-mouthed delight as it scratches an itchy thigh on that log.

Ambitious zoo construction plans also include a much more homey primate area, which they certainly need. It is hard to view such expressive faces behind bars, even though I know a pretty cage is still a cage.

The Oregon Zoo partners with other organizations to promote strong populations of other animals, such as the California Condor (the lovely face at the top of this post) and Oregon Painted Turtles.

Baby turtles identified with nail polish on their shells.

Baby turtles identified with nail polish on their shells.

DeBrazza's Monkey gazes out at me from behind bars.

DeBrazza’s Monkey gazes out at me from behind bars.

These spirited Cotton-top Tamarins were leaping around and entertaining us.

These spirited Cotton-top Tamarins were leaping around and entertaining us.

It was difficult to get a good shot through the thick and scratched Plexiglas, but this one turned out ok.

It was difficult to get a good shot through the thick and scratched Plexiglas, but this one of an otter licking its paw turned out ok.

This is a different otter, who was swimming along the length of the pond, delighting the children who stood with their faces pressed again the glass. When one of the otters flashed past, the children would shriek and squeal!

This is a different otter, who was swimming along the length of the pond, delighting the children who stood with their faces pressed again the glass. When one of the otters flashed past, the children would shriek and squeal!

A Northern Shoveler trying to find a nap spot away from the eager crowds.

A Northern Shoveler trying to find a nap spot away from the eager crowds.

Look at the face of the Malayan Sun Bear! This one was in a playful mood.

Look at the face of the Malayan Sun Bear! This one was in a playful mood.

Northern Sulawesi Babirusa, or pigs with bloody great tusks.

Northern Sulawesi Babirusa, or pigs with bloody great tusks.

We stopped for a late lunch at the Africa Cafe, built with a view of the aviary so we watched the birds fly around while we ate.

We stopped for a late lunch at the Africa Cafe, built with a view of the aviary so we watched the birds fly around while we ate.

One of the lovelies inside the aviary.

One of the lovelies inside the aviary.

This photo makes either the giraffe look small or the birds look enormous. Answer: these birds are enormous!

This photo makes either the giraffe look small or the birds look enormous. Answer: these birds are enormous!

Tara pretending to be a baby eagle. A cranky baby eagle.

Tara pretending to be a baby eagle. A cranky baby eagle.

Polar bears enjoying the shade and the cool water of what turned out to be a very warm day.

Polar bears enjoying the shade and the cool water of what turned out to be a very warm day.

An Egyptian fruit bat. Gosh they are so beautiful I just want to cuddle. I love bats.

An Egyptian fruit bat. Gosh they are so beautiful I just want to cuddle. I love bats.

Straw-coloured fruit bat seems to be cackling with glee. Perhaps he is particularly big fan of bananas for lunch.

Straw-coloured fruit bat seems to be cackling with glee. Perhaps he is particularly enthusiastic about having bananas for lunch.

Our plan worked, and before we knew it, the sun was dropping toward the horizon and our home was again empty so that we could return. It was a Sunday well spent, and I may even have to thank the landlady for how our weekend turned out.

I’m not sure this pole is as squirrel-proof as the company who sold it to me believes it to be. However, I added some olive oil, and that was more effective.

P.S. Don’t you just love the symphony of bird voices I get to hear while I work from home?

The tea house

The Tower of Cosmic Reflection tea house

Right in the middle of Chinatown (but of course), Portland boasts the lovely Lan Su Chinese Garden. There is bounty for the senses in this carefully arranged space. Occupying the land of one city block, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, and that makes the experience even more remarkable when you step inside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.

This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.

This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.

A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

Portland’s sister city is Suzhou, famous for its gardens. Sounds from the word Portland and Suzhou were taken to form the name Lan (orchid) Su (arise/awaken), so the name of the garden can be poetically interpreted as Garden of Awakening Orchids. It was completed in 2000 by professional artisans from Suzhou in only 10 months, using materials that came primarily from China (including all that rock – wow!).

It’s surprising how much of the city outside disappears once inside the garden.

From the scholar's courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.

From the scholar’s courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.

The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

We arrived just as a tour was beginning, so we followed the group on stone-paved paths beneath covered walkways  and through courtyards and buildings. When the tour was over we continued to wander wherever our fancy took us.

After some time the sky darkened and the rain fell harder, and we stepped into the tea house. We were able to select from a large menu of teas which was brought to us in a tea service. After we were shown how to properly use the tea service, we were left to enjoy it. Tara ordered a moon cake, and we shared that. The sweetened bean paste reminded me of the bean paste desserts I had in Japan.

The inscription above the moon door reads "Listen to the Fragrance," encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.

The inscription above the moon door reads “Listen to the Fragrance,” encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.

The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.

The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.

Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.

Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.

A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.

A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.

Sunbeam casts winter shadows.

Sunbeam casts winter shadows.

Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.

Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.

Our tea service.

Our tea service.

This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

It was a good way to share the day with with my child, and I’m so glad I have a teenager who was actually excited to come here and couldn’t wait to eat a bean cake. Tara is so very different than who I was at age 17, and I am in awe of that wonderful person.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

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Portland lights sparkle off the Willametter River at the end of 2014.

I stood in the middle of the Hawthorne Bridge last night and took lots of blurry photos. I don’t know if it was the vibrating bridge that shook a little more each time a car pounded past me, or the dry cold air blasting into my face that had me in tears the entire time. No, seriously, ha ha. Tears streaming down my face from the cold wind in my eyes. Almost funny enough to keep me from being annoyed.

When I arrived in my fancy Jeep, the two dashboard screens read: 27 degrees. My first thought was, “oh, that’s chilly!” My second thought was, “and that’s about…60 degrees warmer than my buddies in Burlington!” That morning on facebook, one of my forecaster friends (remember I was a forecaster in my past life?) had posted a National Weather Service temperature map of Vermont, showing 30 degrees below zero in Burlington and 50 below out in the Northeast Kingdom.

(I mumbled my sincere thanks to the Universe for not having to live through Vermont winters anymore.)

I parked under the I-5 overpass where it meets the Hawthorne Bridge on the East side of the river and returned an enthusiastic “Hi,” and “I’m doing great!” in answer to the homeless man walking briskly past in Carhartt overalls, asking how I was that evening. He seemed very cheerful despite the weather. I walked past two dozen tents and another dozen sleeping bags under the bridge before I came to the ramp that led me up top. Under the I-5 overpass is a good place to sleep. It’s large and sheltered and dry and clean. 27 degrees while taking nighttime photos is one thing, 27 degrees and trying to sleep in a tent is a different thing. A woman sat outside her tent in a hat and fingerless gloves, with a cigarette and the blue screen of her phone lighting up her face.

When I was done collecting all those blurry and colorful photos for you, I returned to where I had parked and took the Jeep farther under the overpass till I could find the right street to pull me to the surface of the city. It feels underground there, where the multiple bridges across the river intersect with the huge I-5 bridge and beneath all of it are restaurants, and warehouses, and parking lots and office space. And tents, and tents, and tents, all along the streets beside the river.

I waited for a passing train beside a pretty sweet spot on a concrete slab bound on four sides and just big enough for two tents covered in tarps, two outside sleeping bags, and a large tricycle with a basket on the front. The spot was directly at the base of a staircase leading to the bridge, so the space didn’t feel so trapped. There were three young men and a young woman talking and laughing beside the tents, and hopping around in the cold, slapping their hands together. Everything about their spot seemed perfect except for the train, about 12 feet away, shrieking and rumbling along the tracks. The red flashing lights and warning bell: “clang, clang, clang” the whole time. Really loud. They must be going deaf if they live there.

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The Willamette River, Morrison Bridge with the blue and green lights, Moda Center (home of the Trail Blazers) in red, and the identical towers of the Oregon Convention Center on the right.

I guess what struck me – what I’m trying to say here – is that I saw people living their lives. I wasn’t squashed as much as usual beneath the burden of privilege next to a person at a bad place in their life. I felt instantly guilty at first, when I climbed back into the car and it was still warm from the heater, but the feeling didn’t last long. Mostly I looked at all the tent-dwellers and felt interested in their lives. I’m sure that must be terribly arrogant, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like, for one rare night, I was able to see the humanity and the community and the emotions of a group of people who are usually closed to me. I saw that the unusual cold was drawing some of them together like shared events do, and making some of them more animated than usual. And I felt lucky to be a part of this city, with all its citizens.

Apartments and a restaurant at water's edge.

Apartments and a restaurant at water’s edge.

I purchased a 2-hour Friday Escape cruise on the Portland Spirit for Tara and me, and then she wasn’t able to make it. Tara had to go to an overnight training camp for Outdoor School counselors. She’ll be gone this coming week, serving as a camp counselor for Portland Public School 6th graders. Outdoor School is one of my favourite Portland traditions: 6th graders across the entire school system spend a week of school at camp. They eat there, sleep there, everything! The curriculum is all science-related, so kids learn about watersheds, and ecosystems, and soils. The high school counselors are used not only as temporary teachers, taking small groups onto the trails and the river beaches and teaching hands-on science, but also to help with things like making sure kids eat, and sleep, stay focused on learning, and don’t get too sad. For some kids, this is their first time away from family, first time sleeping in a place other than a house, and first time living in the woods. It can be very upsetting. Tara loves all of it: the teaching (her specialty is soils), the comforting, the excitement, enthusiasm, the songs around campfires at night.

Anyway….

I had 5 days to find a new date. I called about 10 girlfriends, and half of them couldn’t get care for their kids and the other half had stuff planned already. Two friends would be at weddings that same day, go figure. By the end of the week I was getting a little desperate. Thursday I was writing a Craigslist ad in my mind: “Come hang out with me on the river! No druggies, no lonely college boys, no creepy people.” Luckily, I received a phone call Thursday night.

“Hey, Crystal, I’m in town for a couple days. I’m hoping we can find time to get together,” said my Uncle Mike. Yay! I’m saved from the creepy people! Mike is my mom’s twin brother and I don’t see him enough.

It was a beautiful day and we talked non-stop out on the deck. The Portland Spirit has indoor seating, served a meal, had a live band, and the whole gamut. Mike and I hit the prow and found no reason to move for the next two hours, but the music from the band was piped out to us at least.

Perhaps because of the light, or the non-stop conversation, I am not happy with most of the photos I took. No biggie. The point was to hang out with Uncle Mike. After we docked, Mike and walked around downtown and stumbled onto a new Irish Pub. The weather was still amazing, so we found a table on the sidewalk and kept talking while they brought us food and drinks. The gathering darkness forced us to wrap it up.

This is actually the only photo I really like from the whole cruise. A new bridge is under construction, and this scene was part of the construction equipment.

This may be the only photo I like from the whole cruise, maybe the one at the top too. A new bridge is under construction, and this scene was part of the construction equipment.

I find sailboats romantic

I find sailboats romantic

An uncommon perspective of Portland downtown.

An uncommon perspective of Portland downtown.

In no time, we were south of the city in some rural-looking areas. This is Waverly Golf Course and the club house.

In no time, we were south of the city in some rural-looking areas. This is Waverly Golf Course and the club house.

Two of Portland's 12 bridges spanning the Willamette River and the Columbia River.

Two of Portland’s 12 bridges spanning the Willamette River and the Columbia River. Actually, on the left edge of the photo, you can see a third bridge.

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, and the famous submarine out front - part of the museum. Scenes from A Hunt For Red October were filmed in that tiny capsule.

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, and the famous submarine out front – part of the museum. Scenes from A Hunt For Red October were filmed in that tiny capsule.

Western Scrub-Jay checking the area to see if it's being watched.

Western Scrub-Jay checking the area to see if it’s being watched.

I should have been focusing on my work, I know. But sometimes it’s much more interesting to gaze through the window at the backyard.

One of the ubiquitous Western Scrub-Jays was digging with its beak. He must have been hitting a small rock in the soil, because it went “tink, tink, tink,” as the bird gouged its beak repeatedly down. It seemed curious to me that the jay was going to so much trouble to peck a hole. If it was after insects, they surely would have scurried away by now, but the bird focused on one spot.

Tink, tink, tink, tink.

Then it picked up something that looked like a peanut, dropped it into the hole, and scratched dirt over it. What?! As I watched, the jay looked around, picked up a leaf, and dropped it onto the top of the place it had just been digging. I told myself it was coincidence. I would never have guessed a bird would be savvy about camouflage.

A little later, I watched the same scenario again, with another peanut, and a leaf. (That morning I had emptied the last of the contents from my peanut bag, that I keep to feed the squirrels.) I looked it up online, and sure enough, Western Scrub-Jays will cache food. I learned something new today!

Jay up on his tip-toes looking for a good spot to cache.

Jay up on his tip-toes looking for a good spot to cache.

Jay about to drop some food into a hole.

Jay about to drop some food into a hole.

I am so impressed with what I learned that I am going to share some of the fascinating facts with you. Scrub-Jays will also collect and bury treasure, and they actually remember their caches and can go right to them when they need to, remembering not only where they are but also what’s in them. Squirrels can’t be that smart. I’ll bet squirrels just wander around and hope they get lucky. Western Scrub-Jays are not necessarily honorable, but they are clever, and will spy on another jay burying its cache, so that they can go steal it. And, get this, Western Scrub-Jays will remember if they were being watched while they cached something, and will come back later in privacy, and dig it up and move it.

i saw my first Stellar's Jay in the yard today! I see these all over the forest, but now finally, in my yard too. Aren't they gorgeous?

i saw my first Steller’s Jay in the yard today! I see these all over the forest, but now finally, in my yard too. Aren’t they gorgeous?

She says, "Um, excuse me? it isn't polite to stare."

She says, “Um, excuse me? It isn’t polite to stare.”

One of my many guises

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