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The sun attempts to penetrate our world over the Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland over the Wilamette River.

I maintain a childlike appreciation for the natural forces and landscapes in my world that does not seem to fade as I grow older. The Columbia River holds my awe as a local landscape and a force itself. August reminded me constantly of the forested landscapes, and how they are changing under the force of wildfires.

I have been able to capture some remarkable photos of rivers and smoke from those wildfires, as the two converge.

Mondays I work at a tall building right on the shores of the Wilamette River. The rest of the week I work at home. Monday mornings before work I try to get in a short run before work, and thus have been able to see the effects of smoke from area fires on our city.

Jogging past the marina is always picturesque.

One morning I caught this blurry photo of teams practicing their paddling.

Each week I find the sun at a different place in the sky. Here the red orb peeks through struts on my favourite Portland bridge: Hawthorne.

Smoke was so thick for a few days that I could actually smell it outside. I am pretty sure that most of it is coming south to us from British Columbia, but the smoke is likely worsened by fires in Washington and southern Oregon as well. Every summer the West burns.

A view of the afternoon sun from my house.

All day long the light cast over my world has been orange. From morning, through midday, and into evening, the light is surreal: dimmed, tinted, and seemingly still. Maybe Mother Nature is holding her breath, watching and waiting, like me. I am grateful daily that my own community is not burning, while I see facebook reports of my friends evacuating from their homes in other places. Smoke in the air reminds me that the threat is close to me as well.

Returning across the Lewis & Clark bridge from Longview, Washington, I was startled to notice that from one shore I could not see across the Columbia River to the other shore. Instead of going home, I drove down to the waterfront to take a closer look.

From the Rainier marina, looking toward the Lewis & Clark bridge, the last bridge to cross the river before you get to the coast, and the bridge at Astoria.

The bridge is almost obscured from my viewpoint, a half a mile away.

I moved down river to a spot closer to the bridge, but it remains faded in the murky skies.

While at the Rainier marina, I stopped to read some information signs that talk a little about the Columbia and about my tiny town of Rainier. I’ll reproduce some of it here, because I am so proud of my beautiful river, even when it flows beneath worrisome skies.

The Columbia River is the second longest river on the continent. It will fall more than 2600 feet in elevation as it flows 1270 miles from the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. The elevation drop and the large water flow give the Columbia enormous potential to generate electricity. Currently the dams of the Columbia River Basin generate one third of all the hydro-electricity produced in the United States.

The location of Rainier on the Columbia is a primary reason why it was established. Two days were needed to travel from Portland to Astoria before roads were built. Since Rainier is located in the middle, travelers spent one night in Rainier before they completed the second day of their journey.

In 1792 American Captain Robert Gray successfully crossed the Columbia River bar and sailed upstream approximately 13 miles. He named the river after his ship: “Columbia Rediviva.”

In 1805 Lewis and Clark traveled down the Snake River where they entered the Columbia. They finished their journey to the Pacific Ocean traveling down the Columbia.

In 1852 Charles Fox donated 24 acres for a town site that would become Rainier.

For the past two days it has been raining. For folks around here, the rain is a relief.

Update: August 30, 2108. We had clear skies tonight and I stopped by the marina to take another photo so you can compare.

The Blue Basin is named for obvious reasons: the clay formations here are not only beautiful, but blue and green.

We had a busy day of exploration planned, so we left early after the complimentary breakfast at Hotel Condon to get started on day three of our series of mini road trips. Our first stop was Blue Basin. I had hiked Blue Basin last year during the eclipse, and knew it was worth another visit.

The sun was beating down, but we grabbed some water, Vlad grabbed his hat, and off we went. The most remarkable thing to the casual viewer is the colour of the canyon. I was told that it’s most stunning during a rain, and I believe that. Just imagine the bright colours if the picturesque cliffs here were wet.

An easy, well-maintained path leads 1.3 miles to a great overlook.

Along the path we saw a green stream. I put my hand in the water and confirmed it is clay – that slimy feel – that is the sediment clouding the water.

Also along the trail are replicas of fossils found in this area.

Even the dry clay is distinctly blue-green.

The blue is more noticeable next to the reds from oxidization.

We were only a short drive from the gorgeous Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. It was built in 2005 and named after an Oregon scientist who recognized the value of this fossil collection in the 19th century. It is an impressive, modern museum and information center for visitors, as well as an active research center (with windows so you can watch paleontologists at work!). It’s in the middle of No Where Oregon. I’m serious. Part of the reason I love this place is the impressive quality of the facility in a place where there are very few people and the local economy struggles. Thank you thank you to the entity/grant/taxes/ whatever-it-was that made it possible for this facility to be built. It’s top notch.

And it’s certainly money well spent. By geologic and climactic chance, this region reveals 40 million years of fossils in one spot. Yes, fossils have been found here as old as 44 million years old, and fossils as new as 7 million years old, and lots of stuff in between. What an incredibly valuable resource to be able to track the change over time. In fact, fossil collections around the world that span only a couple million years will send samples here for comparison and confirmation of age. This period is after the dinosaurs, with tropical plants like avocados and animals like three-toed horses.

A fossil display of a three-toed foot inside the museum.

The Dawn Sequoia, which still grows in the US today.

For Maureen who loves fossils: a 44 million year old cicada.

We arrived at the Paleontology Center as a ranger was beginning his talk. He explained the significance of the place, and how it was found after erosion exposed the fossils and locals began talking about it. It was a famous place for awhile, and scientists flocked here to excavate and collect. He passed fossils around while he talked, so we could handle them.

View from the Paleontology Center

Ranger tells us about the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

I got to hold leaf fossils. In my hand!

After the talk we went inside and explored the museum, watched a movie, and spied on the research facilities. We went out to the Jeep again to hit the road and hit the next stop.

Ok. Disclaimer. I love the Painted Hills. I’m telling you: such wonderful photographic opportunities. So I’m just gonna post a string of photos, and you’re going to deal with it.

The view from the summit of a short hike.

The colours and formations are simply stunning. And otherworldly.

Vlad and I are former weather forecasters, so we got very excited when some afternoon thunderstorms began.

Here you are, Derrick: flower shots.

Flowers in the desert.

At the Painted Hills, boardwalks are installed to help people resist the temptation to walk on the hills.

The colours along the trail include, red, yellow, and even lavender.

The red comes from oxidization.

Are we on Mars?

Up close, the hills are even more interesting.

Is this not fascinating? Vlad wondered why there is no vegetation on the hills. There was no ranger on site to ask.

Contrasts between green and red were intriguing.

By this time it was late in the afternoon and we were ready for home. We left and drove through thunder, lightning, and downpours for much of the return journey. As any proper forecaster would be: we were both delighted.

Saline Courthouse in Rose, Oklahoma

Looking along the porch.

In 1841, two years after the Cherokee in Oklahoma had adopted a new constitution, they organized into eight districts, and in 1856 a ninth was added. One of these was the Saline district, the center of which today is in Rose, Oklahoma: due east of Tulsa and north of Tahlequah. In 1883, the Cherokee government voted to build courthouses for all of its districts. Of the nine courthouses built, only the Saline district courthouse survives.

The Saline Courthouse closed in 1898 and passed into private ownership. It remained a private home (and sometimes a party pad) until the Cherokee Nation was able to purchase the structure and surrounding property sometime in the 1980s. The building was in serious disrepair at the time, and required some major rescue efforts from the Saline Preservation Association, Preservation Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Parks Department. Today the site is the Saline National Park.

I can’t think of a historical building in the country in a lovelier setting, though with all the gorgeous places in our amazing country, maybe there is a place that will give Saline a run for the title.

The spring house, just down the slope from the courthouse.

Beneath the front awning of the spring house, this inviting structure is built, to encourage you to take the water. It’s hard to tell, but the dark hole opens to two feet of crystal clear, cold springwater bubbling up.

The creek as it continues down the slope from the spring house.

A different view of the creek, as I made my way to the cemetery. One of our group pointed to the rocks and said, “This is limestone, and” he pointed out several spots revealing water bubbling right out of the rock on all sides of us, “This is limestone-filtered water. Any real Kentucky bourbon uses limestone-filtered water, just like this.” Since I’m a bourbon fan, this was of particular interest.

The courthouse, while not necessarily beautiful – since it was built for function not form – occupies an irresistibly green, sun-dappled place. It sits on a sloping hill above a generous spring that bursts from the ground nearby. There is a stone building built atop the spring, with sheltered access to the pristine and sparkling pure water from inside and outside the building. So much water gushes from the spring that it’s instantly a creek, that winds its way through trees, rock outcroppings, and the lovely Oklahoma hills till it reaches Snake Creek nearby.

The preservationists have addressed the courthouse itself, attending to the outside preservation first, by restoring the siding the roof and the vandalized window glass. Inside is gutted, but dry and clear and ready for the next step.

The kitchen area inside the courthouse.

Upstairs chimney restored.

At the top of the stairs.

Me, on the stairs in the courthouse.

There was no jail at the time this was used as a courthouse. None of them had a place to lock up criminals except the Tahlequah district, which had a jail. When criminals were on hand, they were chained to a tree or a wall and guarded until they could be taken to Tahlequah. Unfortunately, this is exactly what was occupying Sheriff Jesse Sunday when a storekeeper was shot September 20, 1897. He was far away, guarding prisoners when he got the news, and deputized someone nearby to take his place and headed back to Saline to see what was going on. By the end of the day Sheriff Sunday and the newly elected Sheriff Ridge had also been shot, in what people now call the Saline Courthouse Massacre. The murderer escaped from prison, but then then served a short tour in the Army and came back to Saline and lived the rest of his life in the community. Talk about a get out of jail free card.

I wandered in a wide arc around the area, along the creek, through the trees, and found myself at a cemetery. From the dates, you can see that these people lived here during the time this place was used as a courthouse, and was actually the center of a community.

A small cemetery sits beside the road, not far from the courthouse.

Next we went to see the Cherokee Nation Buffalo Herd. Our Chief is very excited about the buffalo and proud to tell us while we were in Tulsa that we would soon be able to see them. His excitement was contagious for many of the people attending the conference in Tulsa.

I was not appropriately impressed because buffalo herds are not that uncommon in the West. It seems like they would not be that uncommon in Oklahoma too, but perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve grown up seeing buffalo herds here and there, raised like cattle, and I’ve seen buffalo on the menu and in the meat counter. I’ve been close to buffalo herds multiple times in Yellowstone NP.

But still….buffalo are cool. And maybe here’s the difference: the Cherokee buffalo herd is out there just being buffalo. Not being fattened for market.

The sight was pretty spectacular, and I think you’ll agree.

One of the TV buffalo poses for me.

I wouldn’t mind being one of the Cherokee buffalo herd, if it meant living here.

Cherokee tourists.

On our way to the caretaker buildings, we spotted them from the road. The vans stopped and people exploded out into the gravel road with glee, stepping through thistles and nettles and cockleburs to lean up against the barbed wire fence to snap shots. The buffalo ignored us and we soon moved on.

When we arrived, we consolidated into only two vehicles and followed the caretaker (who lugged his year-old grandson on his hip the entire time – adorbs) as he drove us in a careful trek in a road defined only by the fact that you could tell cars had driven that route before. We crossed hills, forged valleys, and finally came out: on the other side of the buffalo! I was puzzled and frustrated about this. We weren’t allowed out of the vans and since I was squished in the back, and on the wrong side, I was not able to use my camera most of the time.

There are 92 buffalo in this herd, and they are living the life. I was glad to have seen them, their massive, massive bodies lumbering to get away from our vans, flowing over landscape changes like you see in movies. You know, that surge of giant bodies moving like a brown liquid into dry creekbeds and then up over mounds and splitting to flow around a tree.

Cherokee tourists now trapped in a van.

The “wild” buffalo. You can tell. Can’t you.

Looking back, as they make their escape from us.

Cherokee tourist beside buffalo sign.

Finally, when we had all returned and were talking in the shade, the caretaker explained that our buffalo have segregated themselves into two smaller herds. “The TV buffalo – those are the ones you saw when you came in,” he said, “and the others are what I call the wild buffalo.” The TV buffalo? Turns out, the group we saw beside the road don’t mind people, and tend to hang out by the road. When Oklahoma television crews come out to do a story on the buffalo, those are the ones they shoot because it’s such an easy shot. The other buffalo don’t like people, don’t go near the road, and don’t even mix with the TV buffalo. “I wanted you to see the wild buffalo,” he explained. “That’s why I took you out so far to see them.” Ok. All is forgiven.

A gorgeous man’s shirt on display at the Gilcrease Museum.

The CCO Conference was open to all Cherokees, but there was a special trip planned afterward for At Large Cherokees. These are the Cherokees who live outside “the 14 counties” considered to be Cherokee country in Oklahoma.*

First thing Sunday morning we piled into vans and went to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and arrived before they were open. This was because the Universe wanted to feed my soul. I had been inside a hotel for the greater part of three days and my nature-spirit was dying. The only thing to do while waiting for the doors to open was to visit the adjacent garden. I was also cold and needed to thaw out.

One thing I can never figure out about desert-dwellers is their love affair with air conditioning. And I’m not talking cool-things-off-a-bit AC, what I mean is let’s-recreate-the-arctic AC. If it’s 90 degrees outside, I think cooling things off to 70, maybe 68 is appropriate. But instead we get 54 degrees (maybe I’m exaggerating) and I need to wear boots and a jacket indoors when it’s summer. What a waste of resources. Anyhow, what I’m getting to is that my body needed some warmth. I flew in from a region with a heat deficit to begin with, and then was in a climate-controlled building. I was ready for summer weather!

Let me assure you, after 30 minutes of waiting for the museum to open, I turned into a much happier Crystal. Warm and filled with the quiet sounds and scenes of nature.

The garden has a walking path around a pond, where I tried to identify plants. Luckily I spotted the poison ivy before I walked through it, and also luckily another Cherokee near me pointed to a tree and named it. It was probably the first Redbud I have seen, and I thought of Laurie who is not shy about her love of the tree. The trail passed a demonstration Pre-Columbian garden with plants known to have been in those earliest gardens. Near that was a demonstration pioneer garden. I watched red birds flash through and could not get a photo. Then I listened to the most astonishing bird call that never repeated itself. Cheeps, trills, clicks, warbles – this bird had it all. I was in awe! I think it was a scissor-tailed flycatcher. Oh how I wish I could hear this Maestro every day. I spotted a frog and a turtle too. I’ve had a knack for seeing turtles lately. I didn’t tell you that I found one on my island in the pond at home before I left. But I did tell you about the turtle on the walking trail in Tulsa, and now a turtle at the Museum garden. Pretty good for a girl who has to wear glasses.

The museum has developed 23 acres into themed gardens. I walked through Stuart Park, which holds the Pre-Columbian and Pioneer Gardens.

Statue beside the pond in Stuart Park.

A turtle! One thing I did not expect to find in Oklahoma was so much water: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds…water is everywhere in this part of the state.

After my soul was filled up, I hiked back up the hill to the museum. I was in for a treat. The long name for the Gilcrease Museum is Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. It was founded by Gilcrease, a member of the Creek Nation. The collection today holds paintings and sculptures from famous artists of the American West, like Charles M Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Remington, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and John James Audubon. Our guide told us that the museum is famous for Southwestern Art, and since I’m from the West, that brings to mind a particular style of art. I was soon delighted to find that my assumption was wrong, and while the collection includes faves like original CM Russells (I’ve got a print on my wall at home), most of the art draws from creators across the Americas. Indigenous carvings and masks from Central and South America, a Tlingit totem pole from Alaska, a photographic collection of Indigenous people of the West, and another of landscapes. What I love the most, at nearly every museum, is the classic style of oil paintings of real world scenes that tell a story or beg me to escape into them. And portraits by masters. I could stare for hours at portraits.

The Gilcrease Museum leans heavily on Indian artists and Indian themes and Indian influence. It felt warm and validating to be there surrounded by Cherokee people, in a Cherokee part of the country, with Cherokee art on every side of me. I noticed the unfamiliar feeling of validation regarding this weak little Indian vein flowing through me and trying to get bigger. Wanting validation for being Indian is not something I think much about and did not realize I was craving it. Maybe it’s harder to be Indian when there is nothing Indian around me. But there in the museum, being Indian was practically cheered at me. It felt so good.

I think my jabbering will not add much to the experience, so I’ll just fill the rest with photos and captions. Please enjoy the ones I’ve chosen for you.

The Mourners by Joseph Henry

If I could hang Sierra Nevada Morning by Albert Bierstadt on a wall in my home, I’d never have to rent movies. I could just sit in front of this painting and disappear into it.

Blackhawk and His Son Whirling Thunder by John Wesley Jarvis

A painting of Mt. Hood! It was pretty fun to discover this one, while visiting as a representative of the Mt. Hood Cherokees.

I tend to love the paintings best in any museum, but this one had many other impressive displays, that were not of oil and canvas. Though we were not able to see it, there are documents here like an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. We saw less valuable but still exciting documents.

An actual cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face hovers above casts of his hands.

Our van driver, Kevin, gets a close-up shot of this amazing story created from string glued in place.

Close up

We spent a lot of time OOooo-ing and AAhhhh-ing over the Plains Indians displays of clothing, moccasins, and bags, with beadwork on everything. Some of the stitching and beading too intricate to be believed without seeing it yourself.

So many beautiful moccasins.

Dresses I would be proud to wear.

Indian toys.

Beaded tobacco bag.


Plaque beneath the Sequoyah statue. Please click the image to be able to read it. Seqyoyah is the most famous Cherokee because, among other things, he invented our written language.

One of the At Large Cherokees gets a photo of the famous statue, found on many Oklahoma license plates.

*If you’re curious, this is from the Cherokee Nation website: The Cherokee Nation is not a reservation; it is a 7,000 square mile jurisdictional area covering all of eight counties and portions of six additional counties in Northeastern Oklahoma. As a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation has both the opportunity and the sovereign right to exercise control and development over tribal assets which include 66,000 acres of land as well as 96 miles of the Arkansas Riverbed.

On the way into Denver, my view looked like this.

On my way into Tulsa, my view looked like this.

I’m in Oklahoma. Before today I had never been here on purpose, though I did drive through a few times on the Interstate.

Monday, a co-worker asked me the purpose for the visit. “Dream vacation!” I quipped. He replied, “Your idea of a dream vacation is different than mine.”

My little joke sat in my head that day.  Oklahoma seems to be perpetually the butt of jokes. Another co-worker recommended I watch a stand-up comedy routine disparaging Oklahoma. My dental hygienist remarked that her father was from Oklahoma, and someone asked once if he ever missed it, after he moved to Oregon. The man laughed.

And isn’t that exactly the point? In fact, it’s uncomfortable for me to think about it. The terminus of the Trail of Tears continues to this day a place that many people don’t value. It is the reason why east-coast Indians are here. I am hoping to improve my perception of Oklahoma before I go.

I have mentioned before that I belong to an Oregon group called the Mt. Hood Cherokees. We are one of 22 official satellite groups recognized by the Cherokee Nation. We call ourselves “At Large” Cherokees.

Years ago, our modern Cherokee Nation became concerned at the large number of individuals and groups with very little real training or experience who were claiming to be able to pass on genuine Cherokee knowledge and traditions. At the same time, many Cherokees, or people believing themselves to be Cherokees, sought out these groups and the information they held, sometimes even paying for the erroneous information, hoping to make a better connection to their ancestry. Unfortunately, wrong information was widely spread as genuine Cherokee knowledge.

The losers in this scenario were not just the duped hopefuls, but also the Cherokee Nation, already a fringe society in the United States, but now actively undermined as people began studying information that was not authentic to the Cherokee way of life. The Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, created Community & Cultural Outreach (CCO) and Community Organizing Training and Technical Assistance (COTTA). From the Nation’s website: “The CCO-COTTA program’s mission is to assist community organizations ability to increase their effectiveness; enhance essential services to those most in need, and build upon the organizational capacity of each community, diversify resources, and create collaborations to serve those in Cherokee Communities.”

When an At Large group meets the Nation’s requirements, it is officially recognized. Once recognized, the Nation then proactively supports the group by periodically sending employees who are experts in different fields of the arts, histories, language, government, and traditions.

Another step the Nation took was to create an Annual Conference of Community Leaders that is designed to teach visiting At Large Cherokees more about life close to the heart of the Cherokee Nation. The conference also provides workshops with tools the satellite groups can use, like how to manage (or get!) donations or how to manage our social media presence. The At Large groups each have a council, and the council votes on a representative. Once the selection is approved, the Nation provides resources to assist the traveler.

In 2017, the council selected ME! I am so excited.

Canada Geese mildly annoyed by my interest.

Yellow-crowned night herons equally tolerant as I approached, pointing my phone at them.

I started this post talking about how Oklahoma gets picked on. Through the Cherokee Nation visitors I’ve met over the years, I’ve come to see there is a great love of the land of Oklahoma among Cherokee people. I’m hoping to learn more about that love.

I did not expect to find a trail within easy walking distance of my hotel.

Stuck for hours in a slow part of Tulsa with no car, I went for a walk and stumbled quite unexpectedly upon a path beside Mingo Creek that begins about two blocks from my hotel. I followed the path, sharing it with a fisherman, some joggers, some dog walkers, some kids, and eventually came to a park. I explored the park, then wandered back, admiring the homes that some people are lucky enough to have right on the edge of this green space. The entire walk was through green grassy fields with huge trees all around me. I found birds and a turtle!

I have only been in Oklahoma a few hours, but I think I’m already on the right track.


Rainier City Hall with a diminutive & dark Christmas tree at its side, awaiting official tree-lighting time.

A couple weeks ago I attended the Rainier tree-lighting ceremony. It was a small affair. My new community of Rainier is pretty tiny. Its heyday was when the Trojan Nuclear Facility  was running, which lasted until the plant was closed in 1993. Rumor has it that the TV show The Simpsons modeled their nuclear plant after this one, which makes sense, since so many Simpsons characters are named after streets in Portland. When the nuclear plant shut down, the town of Rainier slowly began to disintegrate. It still exists because of the logging industry, with multiple mills on the Longview, Washington side of the Columbia River (two largest employers there are Weyerhaeuser and Kapstone, timber/paper companies). But it’s not enough to keep a town thriving, so my home of Rainier is understated and I can almost see it shrinking.

The indefatigable citizens organized a caroling event and tree-lighting on the steps of the impressive City Hall building. It’s the only impressive building in town. The tree appears newly planted, and is about 8 feet high and not quite grown into its oversized decorations. About 30 of us stood on the sidewalk along Highway 30 in the rain, and listened to Christmas carols.


Carolers were energized when Chief Elf showed up.


Tree is now lit

Soon the city fire engine pulled up next to us, and Santa himself climbed out. The kids all broke into a rousing version of Santa Claus is Coming To Town, and Santa helped sing. When the song was over, Santa led us in a countdown, and the lights of the tree came on at our command.

Then everyone hurried inside and out of the rain. Kids got in line to talk to Santa, grownups grabbed hot cocoa and cookies to wait for the kids. There was a long table piled with donated goods from local businesses. Each person who walked through the door got a raffle ticket and so everyone stayed to see if they won anything good.


Soon the little tree will be a big tree, and these ornaments will look just right.


Tree comes to life with lights.

This waiting around took a long time, and I entertained myself by wandering the main hall of the City Hall. There are historic photos on the walls and I was delighted to discover that one of the largest original industries in the town was the Rainier Soap Factory, providing critical employment for women as well as men.

Finally, Santa was done talking to the kids and assisted with the raffle. I won a little basket with a stuffed animal and some Christmas dishes, but traded it with the next door neighbor girl for a squirrel magnet. Squirrels are my favourite.


Homemade antiquey looking clocks were the only thing I wanted, but no such luck.


Photos of the Rainier Mineral Soap Factory and its employees (mostly women) are along the walls of City Hall.

Rainier soap

Rainier Mineral Soap – keeps out blood poisoning, cleans ink spots, polishes metals, and protects from pestilence. This natural antiseptic contains no dirty fats. It’s a miracle product! This great little advertisement for the Preston Manufacturing Company tells a story and lauds the many benefits of Rainier Mineral Soap.

I also found an old photo of the City Hall (not very good, so I didn’t include it here) with interesting bits from the back of the photo posted beside it on the wall. “The new City Hall. The American Legion post here was given the privilege of obtaining two cannons, which in a moment of enthusiasm they decided would be fine placed at either side of the entrance to City Hall. It didn’t seem like such a good idea after they were installed, so they were moved to the grounds of the new High School on Nob Hill (1926).

“In the building, provisions were made for a hall above for the American Legion. Also for the library on the east side.

“Bord Kegh, carpenter, built the fire bell tower to the south east side of the building (1922). On Sunday morning, young Robert McKinley (1925) begged the janitor of the Methodist Church across the street for special permission to ring the church bell for Sunday School. In his youthful enthusiasm, he rang it with such vim and vigour that he called out the fire department – the bell tones were similar.”

My first question about those notes from the back of the photo is “Why was it a bad idea to have cannons at City Hall, but a better idea to have the cannons at the High School?” I’m also curious about the timeline, since it appears that the fire bell tower was built in 1922, but the cannons weren’t removed till 1926. Apparently it took years for the bad idea to be discovered. And finally, look at that vigour: Americans in the 1920s also used the British spellings, just like me. Maybe I’m channeling my inner frontierswoman.

It wasn’t the flashiest Christmas party I’ve ever been to, but it was a good night because I visited my City Hall and learned some great little tidbits about the building and my town’s history. These are the kinds of things to make a person feel more connected to her home.

"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.

An orchard viewed from Panorama Point, a drive-up viewpoint in the valley.

An orchard viewed from Panorama Point, a drive-up viewpoint in the valley.

The Hood River Valley is famous for its fruit. The valley is in the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon side. The dominant fruits are apples, pears, and cherries, and orchards have been producing fabulous bounty for over 100 years.

Apple orchards flourished in this rich valley from 1890 to 1920, and Hood River became famous for its apples. In 1919 many apple trees were struck by a killing freeze. Farmers replaced the apple trees with pear trees, and now Hood River county leads the world in Anjou Pear production. {source: The City of Hood River}

Many Hood River Valley orchards are relatively small and operated by families, but together they account for about two-thirds of the state’s pears. Since 1992, the Hood River Valley has branded itself as the Fruit Loop, the brainchild of growers Kaye White and Thom Nelson, who proposed an excursion map of U-pick-it orchards and country stores. {source: The Oregon Encyclopedia}


Blossoms draped across the hills

Blossoms draped across the hills

The incomparable Mt. Hood, somewhat less remarkable in hazy skies.

The incomparable Mt. Hood, somewhat less remarkable in hazy skies.

Apple trees grown at an angle. I've never seen this before!

Apple trees grown at an angle. I’ve never seen this before!

The Fruit Loop is popular with tourists here, especially among the day-tourists coming from Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA, both about an hour downstream of the Columbia. The route begins at the river and makes a loop to the south, passing through Parkdale (the terminus of the Mt. Hood Railroad) and back. Along the way you can visit wineries for a little tasting, stop at fruit stands (that sell much more than pears, apples, and cherries), and if the season is right you can enjoy all the best of U-pick opportunities. You can bring home armloads of blueberries, strawberries, lavender, raspberries, pumpkins, and more.

The Mt. Hood Railroad is another attraction of the area, offering sightseeing trips through the valley, as well as murder mystery excursions, a train robbery brunch, romantic dinner excursion, and when the season is right: polar express! I’ll definitely have to do that some time.

Another view from Panorama Point. It's like a sea of white blossoms.

Another view from Panorama Point. It’s like a sea of white blossoms.

I couldn't stop admiring the orchards draped over hills.

I couldn’t stop admiring the orchards climbing over hills.

Mt. Adams, capped in a cloud over on the Washington side of the river.

Mt. Adams, capped in a cloud over on the Washington side of the river.

All of these attractions are bound between the volcanoes Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood, in lush valleys filled with rivers and streams and the mighty Columbia with its famous kite surfing and wind surfing. What a place!

Click the images below to see how much honey bees love this time of year.

Yummy flowers

Yummy flowers

Happy Bees

Happy Bees







At the end of our tour, we stopped by a deli, picked up an amazing lunch and a couple of microbrews (yet another thing Hood River is famous for), and had a picnic lunch at the beach.

At the end of our tour, we stopped by a deli, picked up an amazing lunch and a couple of microbrews (yet another thing Hood River is famous for), and had a picnic lunch at the beach.

Mossy snaking vines through the sky

Mossy snaking vines through the sky at Champoeg State Park

Not too far out of Portland, just southeast of Wilsonville, is Champoeg State Park. The morning was wet, and more wet was forecast for the entire weekend. The temperature was 37 degrees. We thought a flat park close to home might be the ticket on the cold, wet, grey day. Neither of us had been to Champoeg, so of course the burning question on our minds when we got to the visitor center was: “How do you pronounce it?!” (You were wondering, weren’t you?) It’s pronounced like the stuff you wash your hair with: Shampooey. It’s from the Kalapuya language of one of the Native tribes that lived in the Willamette Valley before Lewis & Clark showed up.

Runners doing laps through the trees for the Champoeg 30k/10k

Runners doing laps through the trees for the Champoeg 30k/10k

And guess what? Crazy important history happened here, and I had no idea. This was the area jointly held by two nations, called the Oregon Territory by the United States, and the Columbia Territory by Britain. Non-natives first showed up in great numbers for the fur trapping trade. When the beavers had nearly gone extinct, French trappers who had been working with Hudson’s Bay Company turned to farming, and the area became known as French Prairie. The town of Champoeg had a couple of steamboat landings that first hauled pelts and now took on wheat to be shipped to Russia or to nearby Fort Vancouver.

Daffodils are up in central Oregon! They didn't care if it was 37 degrees and raining.

Daffodils are up in central Oregon! They didn’t care if it was 37 degrees and raining.

With the population and economic growth, it became apparent that Oregon would need some sort of government, and so the very first democratic vote on the entire U.S. west coast was held. Though disguised as a vote on other topics, it was in truth a vote for who should own that piece of land once and for all. Wealthy British Hudson’s Bay Company was hoping to capitalize on the burgeoning local economy. The United States was embracing the concept of Manifest Destiny, and believed it was American’s destiny to expand from coast to coast. The two main groups of people here were United States citizens who for the most part wanted wanted Oregon to belong to the United States, and the French-Canadians wanted whichever would give them the best deal in the end.

In 1843 that first vote happened, and it was close: 52 to 50 in favor of establishing a provisional government and thus paving the way for Oregon to become a part of the United States (even though some people still wanted to annex Oregon at the time). Thank you French-Canadian trapper-plowers!

The only one of us that day who was happy about how wet the weather was.

The only one of us that day who was happy about how wet the weather was.

As the population swelled, the Indians were pushed into smaller and smaller areas till they began to resist. In 1855 the remaining Kalapuya were forcibly moved to the Grande Ronde reservation.

Just as the city of Champoeg was getting a good start, a terrible flood came through in 1861 and wiped out absolutely everything. Today a single structure remains from the original town, Robert Newell’s house. He is one of the 52 who voted to form a provisional government. The house is now a museum, but it is closed till June.

I love the mossy trees. If you look carefully, you can see a post marking a street location, there in the middle of the image.

I love the mossy trees. If you look carefully, you can see a post marking a street location, there in the middle of the image.

DeGrasse ST

DeGrasse St.

Arno and I walked the paths of the park and through the old town site. The streets had been planned out, though the town didn’t exist long enough for the blocks to actually be filled with businesses and homes. Today wooden posts mark the old named streets and strips of grass are mowed to show where they would have been.

Monument erected in 1901. Click to enlarge.

Monument erected in 1901. Click to enlarge.

At the location where the vote was held, a granite marker is placed. The monument was installed in 1901 and attended by Francis Xavier Matthieu, one of the 52. It was a very busy spot when we were there, since the Champoeg 30K run was in progress in the wicked cold rain. The monument site was also the race finish, and it was filled with the usual tents with music playing and freebies like keyrings and energy bars, and inside the Pioneer Memorial Pavillion, water bottles and pies were being handed out to runners.

High water mark is mounted on the pavilion.

1961 high water mark is marked on the pavilion.

The pies made our mouths water, so we headed into Newberg to look for food. We finally found a good restaurant on the highway south, toward our second park. After we ate a stone-baked pizza and some soup to ward off the unpleasant weather, we went south again.

Along the way, we went through the cute little town of Dayton, Oregon, and Arno spotted a blockhouse in the city park. The design of this one is so clever. By rotating the upper story 45 degrees, it provides better cover for the rifles inside. “No blind spots at the corners,” Arno pointed out.

The blockhouse was in a different site originally. It was near the Grand Ronde reservation. See, when increasing numbers of Indians were hauled in, the local whites feared they would revolt. So, this blockhouse was built and put on a hill to defend the whites from the Indians (who, I might add, would have nothing to revolt against if they hadn’t been put there in the first place). In 1911 the blockhouse was brought to Dayton to be placed into the city square, carried by <slaps self on forehead> Indians with wagon teams.

Blockhouse in Dayton, Oregon

Blockhouse in Dayton, Oregon. You can see the rifle holes.

We came around a corner and suddenly we were in line to get onto the Wheatland Ferry.

We came around a corner and suddenly were in line to get onto the Wheatland Ferry.

Arno in the middle of the swollen Willamette River

Arno in the middle of the swollen Willamette River

Suddenly, we were in line to get onto a ferry. A ferry! I didn’t even know there was a ferry across the Willamette till this trip. Walking through Champoeg Park it had seemed that the river was high, but here we could tell without a doubt that the river had overflowed its banks. We pulled in behind a small trailer of cattle. Our ferry ride went smoothly, as we were drawn along by cables. I was as excited as a little kid. That’s what discovering something totally unexpected will do to me.

Next we arrived at Willamette Mission State Park. Missions are another thing I hadn’t previously associated with Oregon. The mission here was established in 1834 by Reverend Jason Lee. Interestingly, he had been sent by the Methodist Church in response to a request from Nez Perce and Flathead Indians who wanted some of the power of the “white man’s book of heaven” for their own people. Lee established his mission amongst the Kalapuya (nowhere near Nez Perce or Flatheads) and was almost completely ineffectual with the Indians. When more and more white settlers arrived, Lee gave up on the Indians and began ministering to the white folks.

The 1861 flood wrecked the mission too, but not Lee’s legacy. He was instrumental in the establishment of the state of Oregon, by building the area’s first school and founding the city of Salem, now our state capital.

Just beyond the first parking area, the road was gated, with a sign that the road was closed due to high water. We were content to park there and walk into the park. The park maps here show all the old meandering arcs that used to be riverbed before the river changed its course. You can see different routes happened at different times. History made so very clear. If only the founders of Champoeg had access to an aerial map.

Rose hips in the rain

Rose hips in the rain

Rabbit has it's eyes on us

Rabbit has it’s eyes on us

We walked along the Willamette Vision Educational Trail. It was pretty muddy and not too remarkable, but we were happy to walk along and read the tree identification plaques. We startled a rabbit at one point, but stood very still until he came back out beside the path to munch leaves again.

The Nation's Largest Black Cottonwood Tree

The Nation’s Largest Black Cottonwood Tree

This park hosts the nation’s largest Black Cottonwood Tree. I had been very eager to see the Oregon Heritage Tree but was disappointed with this one. Possibly because I have lived in redwood country, possibly because it’s winter and the tree looked lifeless, but it’s not impressive to look at. It is believed to be 270 years old, measured at 155 feet tall with a circumference of 26 feet.

We reconnected with the paved road, and immediately saw why the road was closed. The path of the water here mimics a river, and this is what I was talking about with the map: it’s a historic path of the Willamette. Not the river, but a narrow curved lake on mild weather days. This day the water was raging through, however.

Our trail passed beside it uninterrupted, and we continued on. Soon we were back at the car again. It was time for us both to get back to our children. Miss Tara had spent most the day in Wilsonville for “Battle of the Books,” an academic competition where students read from a book list and then compete with quiz questions about the books. I had been receiving texts and knew they almost made it to the final round, so her team had done really well this year. What a great kid. I’m so proud of her! Arno’s boys were out in The Hood (what we call Hood River) and hungry. Though they can cook for themselves, they knew Dad would be showing up eventually to do it for them. Ha ha. We were close to I-5, so in minutes we were flying north again through the rain.

Arno stands beside Mission Lake, which is behaving much like the river it used to be.

Arno stands beside Mission Lake, which is behaving much like the river it used to be.

Me, in front of the cottonwood tree. (Look at the horrible bands I now have to wear on my braces. Vampire girl.)

Me, in front of the cottonwood tree. (Look at the horrible bands I now have to wear on my braces. Vampire girl.)

I had to lie on my back to get the whole tree into this shot

I had to lie on my back to get the whole tree into this shot

You do this too, I’m sure: plan what you’ll do with your lottery winnings. My fantasy includes the traditional dream of taking care of my family, paying off everybody’s debts, setting aside college money for the kids, getting a new car, etc. And then we get to the good stuff, the plans that say a little more about who I am. Anyone who has played the game of Lottery Fantasy with me has heard me describe the old train depot in New Meadows, Idaho.

I moved to New Meadows in 1980, when I was 10 years old. The little town in a high mountain valley was the biggest population center I had ever lived in. My parents preferred to live away from people, so the sign reading “Population: 576” was thrilling to me.

Most of you won’t remember what it felt like to see the lights of a city at night for the first time. For most of you, that memory is too far back to recall it, but I was a 5th-grader that first time. I do recall. I stood in the center of the highway (because there was no traffic) and felt my heart stop at the magic of lights at night.

Our only lit street was where Highway 95 passed through the business center. At the time it hosted Shaver’s Grocery Store, the Post Office, two gas stations plus Freeman’s which was more bait&tackle shop than gas station, three bars, a drugstore/doctor’s office, LeFay’s barbershop and ice cream, Myrt’s Cafe, a second hand store, and a bank. It seemed humongous.

Beyond the “city center” was a park. And beyond the park was the depot.

It’s the grandest building in the entire valley, and when I lived there, it was mostly abandoned. For a time there was a library on one side of the main floor, and I had the opportunity to walk through the front door and beneath the high ceilings. My best friend and I were such frequent visitors that once the librarian held a brand new children’s book for us, so that we could be the first to write our names on the check out list inside the cover.

One of the boys I met that first year wanted to show off and told me he could get inside. Soon enough, yep, we had squished through a broken window and got inside the dusty and dark space filled with forgotten rubbish and spiders. I was scared of getting in trouble and climbed right back out. Now though, looking back, I wish I had explored the whole building, so that I could compare the before and after.

Over the years the building fell into greater disrepair and the library was closed and the front door barred for good. The broken window was sealed so that children couldn’t climb inside.

The grand and beautiful brick train depot is the main character in the story of when the city of Meadows was too far away from the train tracks, so the city of New Meadows then sprung up beside the depot. When I moved there the trains were no longer running, but the tracks were still there. I’d pack a lunch and grab a couple of friends and walk the tracks for hours in the baking sun. We’d fish off the trestle bridges, swim in muddy cow creeks, and gather mussels and eat them, after they had been cooked in an old Folgers can filled with river water over a fire.

Eventually the tracks were pulled up. Somehow it wasn’t as romantic to walk along the cleared lines. And I was getting older and less romantic anyway.

So my dream all this time has been to restore that place. One of my high school teachers forwarded this video to me. He and his wife have remained in touch after I graduated and left town. I am truly delighted to see what’s been done with the old beauty of a train depot, and I have fingers crossed that the Idaho Heritage Trust can gain enough financial support to address all their needs. I am delighted to see other familiar faces in the video, and shots of that little town of New Meadows in the Heartland of Idaho, that I remember so fondly.

Though I can help now with a smaller donation, the fantasy of what I’ll do with my lottery winnings remains. I’ll pitch in to help polish that tiny town when I’m disgustingly rich. In the video, a couple other historic buildings are mentioned. I remember them, and they need care too. It will be magnificent one day.

Oh! I almost forgot. This is from my teacher:

IF YOU FEEL YOU COULD HELP US IN ANY WAY GET ON BOARD. Our address is P.O. Box 352, New Meadows, ID 83654  Our web site is    Thanks, Morris

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