Slip Slidin’ Away

“…Cry. Swear. Laugh. Cry more. We are making a river with our tears and rivers quench the thirsty…”

I had a massive headache for the past two days — the sort that makes you not even want your morning coffee and leaves you feeling nauseous. I worked through it the first day and made it worse. I tried to appease it the second day by lying prone wrapped in blankets on our couch with a cool washcloth on my eyes and forehead.

This is what couches in living rooms are for, and with four people in the house we get a lot of mileage out of ours — though of course the thing I thought about was that this was exactly where Travis was when I came home and found him sick on the couch back in May.

His was a much more advanced ailment, of course, but it was with roughly the same treatment. He was balled up on the couch, had a bucket and a blanket — I administered the cool washcloth, asked if the light level was okay, asked if he wanted windows open or closed, asked if he needed a lighter or heavier blanket, asked if he wanted water. Brought him some anyway after he threw up the first time while I was there, and brought him a fresh cloth to wipe his mouth with. Held his hair back when they next wave came.

I found a book on grieving for teens at the end cap of our library recently. I found myself deeply moved by this item:

” 21. Know that your relationship was unique.
You’re probably not the only one mourning this death.
Others share your sorrow, and there’s comfort in knowing they do.
But it’s also comforting to know that the relationship you had with there person who died was unique. You behaved differently around one another than you did around other people. You affected each other in different ways.
You’re a different human being now than if you had never known that person.
Your life is enriched forever.”

Travis and I were not best buddies. I honestly had not known him that long, as far as things go. But we’d lived together, and his partner was a fixture in Anthony and I’s concentric circles. To be roommates, for me, means you become a sort of family. There’s a lot of late nights, early mornings, weird household emergencies (like chickens escaping or discovering two of your angelfish are a breeding pair), and just a lot of casual stuff that bonds you in ways that are difficult to explain.

So our friendship was stirred up pretty quickly, because in addition to all this we were similarly laid back, similarly in favor of being quietly attentive rather than overtly demonstrative. Similarly wary of Too Much Directness, and often balancing something really deep and meaningful with something kind of surface-silly, to even things out.

We clicked. That’s really all there is to it.

During the three months of cancer, our interactions were exactly as they would have been if he had just caught a bad cold. I never tried to Say Anything Meaningful, nor act outwardly that this could be the Last Time I Saw Him — though of course I always knew that in the back of my mind. That knowledge did not push me to a heightened state of sentiment, rather it pushed me into a heightened state of awareness. Appreciation. Openness. I was just unexperienced enough to think to myself, with a sense of quiet bemusement, this is what a Last Moment could be. Digging in pizza boxes for a cheese pizza, that he absolutely should not eat anyway. But that’s what he wants, and by God I’m not going to police him. Enough people are doing that. Sure, bro, I’ll help you look.

He told us at the beginning of all this that he was eager to come see us because he knew we weren’t going to treat him any differently. And we never did. Illness strips you of bullshit — of tact, of propriety, of all the tip-towing we do to keep other people at ease. There’s no patience for that when you are plagued by a gnawing nausea, when something else is gnawing at your liver and lungs.

And it seems like this sudden, utter, abject directness causes a lot of healthy people to wrap extra layers of indirectness around themselves, to protect themselves from it. And it’s just because you don’t know what to say, how to help — because of course, you can’t help. You can’t make it better. And you can’t say anything that will help the fact that he’s dying and going to leave his two year old daughter with no memory of his devoted, pure love.

We’ve been writing letters to his daughter. In my first one I said:

“I never knew what a father was until I saw your daddy being one.”

One of the last things Travis did on this earth was to arrange for a slip ‘n slide to be purchased for his daughter, and watch her play on it in the hot summer sun, with the kind of wild abandon reserved for two year olds.

Three months later we were at Orcas Island, a place he loved almost as much as his daughter. The place he shared with Anthony and I (along with a handful of folks who had been there before.) A place I have not done justice to at all, and intend to, because it is unreal.

It’s where we all would have gone again this summer if he had been well — it was a place he himself was able to spend his last week on this earth. It was a place I said I need to get to this year, long before I knew we were holding his memorial there. Because he is connected to the place in a deep way, and I felt his spirit would be heading there. In our circle one cannot set foot on the island without thinking of him.

We were there to formalize this connection.

During the memorial I was throwing pebbles into the sea with his daughter while above us, on a large rock, family members scooped into the Big Lebowski inspired Folgers can containing his ashes. (This can was purchased on eBay at Travis’ request, about a month or two before it was needed. The phrase “volume of human remains” was Googled to ensure one can would be sufficient — it is, as it turns out, at least in his case.)

Music was playing from a loudspeaker. After several key people hurled a scoop of ashes into the sea, they yelled my name. I hadn’t expected them to, and was deeply moved.

I was unofficially in charge of his daughter, who looked at me inquiringly when they yelled my name.

“They’re calling my name. Let’s go see them.”

Someone else threw ashes while I got myself up on the rock. I had his daughter in my arms, and I checked someone’s program to confirm the song we were dancing to: Paul Simon’s Slip-Slidin’ Away.

I learned later that Travis had selected all the music for the memorial himself. Doubtless this spurred on the last minute slip ‘n slide purchase. Full circle.

“What they doing?” his daughter asked. I was frank. We are always frank with her.

“They are throwing your daddy’s ashes. And now it’s our turn.”

The memorial was planned months ago — and when I heard the date I was ecstatic, because it was being held the day before my birthday. How correct, I’d thought. How beautiful. A celebration of death and then a celebration of life. It meant I’d be spending my birthday doing things I loved: camping, sitting around in nature.

After a good hearty camp-stove breakfast I went for a walk back along the place we’d been to the day before, the place one spends a good deal of quiet time if one is at that campground. The place where we’d thrown his ashes.

It was earlier in the day, so the tide was further out than it had been during the memorial.

I wasn’t exactly walking where the ashes had landed, but closer. I was looking casually for good pebbles, as one always does on a pebbly beach. Things catch your eye and you examine them.

I posted these on instagram earlier, and haven’t been able to say it any better than I have already:

It was there that I saw, rolling around in the sea…

…an agatey-geode he left just for me.

There are people who got real closure from the man himself.

There are also people who didn’t, and for whom that stung very painfully at the end.

I wasn’t CONSTANTLY around during Travis’ illness, though I think I give off that impression. There were some people that were there almost every day, administering massage, helping with the steam baths, managing medication, and just generally trying to keep him comfortable and loved. It was like a massive rhythmic dance going on for those three months. A stomping, clapping, tapping kind of rhythm. And my role as I saw it was to add a clap in the gaps. I was the gap filler. I would drop in, nudge something into place, then leave again.

I tried my best to strike a balance between giving help and giving space. (And, very often, LEAVING space for others.)

It didn’t matter to me who was visiting them, what mattered that SOMEONE was visiting them.

It didn’t matter to me who was bringing them dinner, what mattered was that SOMEONE was bringing them dinner.

It meant I was slightly outside of the real work — the drama, the frustrations, the tears, the moments where it got especially dark. But as such it meant I could pick up the slack, or direct others to pick up the slack for them, when energies waned. It meant I felt my role was not as important as those folks who were always there, and I was never out trawling for acknowledgment, though I received a ton.

Of course, this also meant I was occasionally very privileged and lucky to be at the front seat of things.

Of course, “privilege” and “luck” are not usually words you’d use to describe holding someone’s hair back as he vomits into your trashcan because of his stage IV terminal cancer. But it felt lucky to me. To have a chance to be there with him, to be helpful, and to not make a big deal about it at the time. To not need or seek any thanks at all. That wasn’t the point – the point was the real, hands-on time. The gift of time.

He surprised the hell out of me by alluding to it once, when he came to visit me out of the blue on a Saturday morning about a month later.

“I owe you a pitcher…” he said.

He was talking about the plastic pitcher I’d sent him home with the day his partner came to get him from our house — he had been wrapped up in one of our quilts too, but the pitcher was the Thing To Throw Up In. A comforting thing.

I laughed. “No worries. I know where you live.”

We understood each other.

I understand this stone as a birthday gift from Travis, from the other side.

And that’s how I’ll take it, because I like going on that kind of ride.

Slip Slidin’ Away 2017-05-11T09:09:34+00:00

The Sparkling Salish Sea

I didn’t want to talk about this until I could show you, and short of standing with you on the shore and demonstrating, this is the next best thing.

Apparently the waters surrounding the San Juan islands (which we visited recently) are filled with noctiluca scintillans (also known as sea sparkle!) a microscopic organism. (Not a plankton itself for it eats plankton, but just as small.) Agitation of the water’s surface causes a chemical reaction within their little organelles, and they glow for a brief moment with a fascinating blue-greenish tinge that you have to really pay attention to at first, because it seems unreal. (It reminded me of the table-cloth we were “seeing” at the blind cafe.)

Once you do finally accept that what you are seeing is real, it becomes captivating. I was particularly mesmerized by the waves crashing onto the pebbly shore, and the sparks of light that would dance of the surface of the bouncing pebbles — the bright hiss of the peebles tumbling in the surf registered as a sizzle, coupled with the dance of light so quick it seemed like electric sparks.

These guys are dinoflagellateflagellate meaning they travel via flagellum (like sperm — they have sperm tails) and dinos meaning they are tiny dinosaurs. (Just kidding. It is latin for “whirling.” They spin!)

(…whirling-lizard?) *checks Wikipedia and the OED via the local library website* No, we’re good: the Greek root “dinos” means whirling, whereas the Greek root “deinos” means terrible, potent, or “fearfully great”.

Back to our creatures. They feed on plankton, which is apt to bloom in the nutrient-rich waters surrounding the San Juan islands, and evidently this bloom is reliable enough that bioluminescent tours exist. We knew nothing of this phenomenon before we went out to the shoreline at night, so in our case the discovery was as serendipitous as it was delightful.

You know now, so I’ve spoiled the surprise for you, but I don’t think I’ve diminished the wonder, because there really is no picture I can show you that will replace seeing the thing for yourself with your own eyes. So get to it, will you?

The Sparkling Salish Sea 2017-03-06T08:39:30+00:00

On or about the San Juan Islands

I drew this picture as a bit of wishful thinking last year, long before we’d ever actually done anything like look for orcas of a rocky coast north of Seattle. Last weekend we finally did just that, and many other classic summer vacation things up in the San Juan islands.

We met up with a group of friends who had already set up camp, and then for the next four days explored the island.

We didn’t manage to see any whales, (I suspect they hang around the Haro Straight more than they venture into the smaller sounds,) but one member of our party did see porpoises playing in the water just off the coast of our tiny pebbly beach. And there was lots of other marine life to admire.

It was a glorious trip. Filled with happy surprises.

( Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was that Hugh made it there and back with no trouble.)

For the journey home, rather than retracing our steps, I cajoled my brother-in-law into helping us drive around the Olympic peninsula, and visit some of the Hoh Rainforest, where we spent not nearly enough time on a trail called the Hall of Mosses.

The thing that struck me most about this trip was how lovely is was to come home. It was probably one of the best trips I’ve had in a long time — very simple, filled with natural wonders, and weather nice enough to sleep under the stars as I did the first night, all moss and deer creeping through the underbrush.

And to sink into a bed after four days on the ground (and six hours propped up against bedding and tents in the hatchback,) was just the crowning jewel of it all. To come back to plumbing and ice cubes and running water.

The best kind of vacation is the sort of vacation that really makes you appreciate what you already have.

On or about the San Juan Islands 2017-03-06T12:17:47+00:00

#ShellNo

Yesterday morning I put on my big sun hat and went up to St. John’s to watch the Greenpeace protest. It was with an equal blend of civic duty and curiosity. I brought a big jug of ice water and finished my morning coffee there as I marveled at the people’s pluck. All of this was going down — fittingly — in front of the Water Pollution Control Laboratory.

From where I sat on the bank it was impossible to really see the climbers, though variation in their set up was apparent. Some clearly had platforms, much to my relief (the scant coverage I had glanced at led one to believe they were just free-floating up there, dangling bodily in space).

Luke Strandquist, a Greenpeace activist interviewed by our local CBS affiliate (from his cell phone, whilst dangling from the bridge,) indicated everyone involved was an experienced climber. Some of them had hammocks, some had platforms and some were just on chairs.

I’m not entirely sure how their resupply-ing was accomplished — I know they themselves had supplies in their gear, but there was also talk on Twitter of their being resupplied in some mysterious capacity. Which is a good thing, because while you can compact calories to a certain extent, water is very heavy, and goes very quickly on a hot day like that.

From afar of course, they just looked like beautiful flags, flapping silently in the wind. Hues nicely contrasting with the pale green of the bridge, yet catching the light to offset the dark underside of the bridge, forest park, and the petroleum industry. Honestly during this quiet morning it felt not like a protest but like a Jean-Claude and Cristo installation, all silky fabric reacting to the wind. Mimicking the hypnotic movement of the water.

I was particularly interested in the network of safety cables (and, of course, the big boat-deterring cable). All support cables were attached to the underside of the bridge, so removal from the upper deck was impossible. (You couldn’t just “cut them down”, as many counter-protesters frothily demanded). I watched the climbers raise this cable many times to accommodate tugboats and barges, lowering it again once the boats passed under.  All watercraft gave a toot of their horn — either in solidarity or merely indicating they wished to pass by.  Of course by and large the dangling protesters were far too high up to interfere with most water traffic — there was only one boat they wanted to stop, and it was too tall to pass below.

I was there morning to late afternoon — arriving after the boat had been turned around the first time, and leaving just before the police really started to exert force to make way for the boat’s eventual departure. The bridge was still open, and traffic was relatively light on highway 30 opposite, and every so often a car or truck would blare its horn as it passed overhead. The people on shore would cheer and clap. The kayakers would whoop in salute.

Kayak numbers varied wildly while I was there. Visitor numbers varied wildly as well. It was a relatively quiet time down at the bridge. Every so often a chant would start from somewhere, and it would ring out weakly over the water, and then die out.

If anything it really brought home the drudgery that can be holding out. Waiting for the inevitable.

I was only there for five hours, and of course got to leave once I felt uncomfortable — when my water ran out and my shade disappeared. The protesters held out for just about forty hours, in direct sunlight, during the hottest day Portland has seen this year.

That's in the shade, mind you. That’s in the shade, mind you.

It is, of course, futile to attempt to stop something so vast as a federally sanctioned multinational oil conglomerate with thirteen brave mountaineers, but I don’t think that was the point of this protest. Delaying the ship was, of course, intensely gratifying — and it was incredible to see the sort of ferocity that people express themselves out here. But the larger point was to get attention for the cause, and to once again call upon that most effective symbolism for environmental destruction — the human wall.

It was with a feeling of inevitability that, just in time for the prime time news block (so cynical!) Portland Police closed the St. John’s bridge to all traffic and successfully removed two protestors — lowering them like spiders into the waiting arms of the coastguard flotilla.

These two had dangled above the deepest part of the channel, and their removal cleared a tiny space for Fennica to squeeze under. It was at this point that the kayakers redoubled their efforts, launching into the river faster than the coastguard motorboats could arrest them. I know at least three personally who were in boats, out there in the fray, and countless others watching live from shore, or from the floating fishing docks out in the water.

The rest of Portland watched from home — both via live footage from our local television stations and via Twitter, in my case following both the #shellno hashtag and the unofficial PDX police scanner.

Fennica was escorted out to the Columbia river with what looked like 11 coast guard boats. One for each of the remaining Greenpeace activists.

Later, on Facebook, I saw something posted by Travis Wittwer, a scoutmaster with the 55th Cascadia Scout Group . It was getting passed around on Twitter, and is something I relate to very strongly:

Took my sons to St. Johns bridge to witness the #shellno protest. I wanted my sons to see of what people are capable. 

On way there, I briefed them on the situation and the sides. They had emotional opinions, but are neither educated enough in this area, nor mature from years of experience to make a decision that is sustainable. I suggested that they go and witness and watch. They did not need to come to an opinion on the protest. 

I wanted them to see the people. Think about how much planning and personal conviction is needed. And to be in awe of people. 

While there, we would find a spot and sit and just watch and listen. Sometimes nothing seem to happen, and that is good–I want my sons to experience the pause and length of what the activists are doing. To hear it relayed or to see a photo is not the same as to be there, watching the banners wave in the wind, wondering what is going through the minds of the men and women hanging from the bridge, in the water, or lending support. 

I wanted my sons to see a polite and peaceful protest that displays passion for an idea, a belief. This is something different than blasting a hole in the ship.

#ShellNo 2017-03-06T17:36:23+00:00

Day 2: Ann’s tour

GET READY FOR PHOTOS. I was not economical with my snapshots. Partly this was because the weather during my first two days here was incredibly hot, and I alas did not bring either of my straw hats. (I missed them very badly on this trip.)

I also just crammed a lot of sight seeing into this day, and it was not conducive to a lot of sit-and-drawing. I shall remedy that on future outings, because I would have liked to take more time to soak it all in. I was eager to tackle Ann’s list though, and it was a long one.

Most of Ann’s destinations were routed through Union Station, and the first suggestion was to head back there and really look around. It is sort of two buildings in one. The Bus Terminal side is where I came in yesterday (and today), is all golden bricks on the outside, very grand and modern (in an old school way — modern like 1960s).

If you come in at the top, (the floor above the fishtanks) you are greeted by a giant mural.

LA is covered in murals, and I regret that I did not spend lots of time with the ones I saw. (I blame the heat sizzling up my unaccustomed Oregonian skin). There was a particularly beautiful one on a…federal building? mere blocks from here. But they are everywhere, and they are all a sight to behold. This one is domed by a gorgeous ceiling with intricate glasswork.

Underneath we see hints of the true era of the building in the typography of the signage.

The passageway is very interesting because you pass additional passageways that lead to train platforms.

You aren’t supposed to go up through those passageways unless you have a reason — in fact there’s posted signs everywhere telling you NOT TO, so you can’t really see anything other than the main passageway you’re walking through. But you CAN hear the sounds of trains, leaking up through all those passageways. It’s like walking through corridors of possibilities.

Most of the rest of the building is in a high art-deco style, with very ornate embellishments throughout.

Very posh waiting area. (For ticketed rail passengers only) Very posh waiting area. (For ticketed rail passengers only) Gorgeous ceiling Gorgeous ceiling

Every detail was so perfect. I honestly spent an hour on the western side of the building, taking photos and marveling. This is no forlorn wooden bench in an empty room. Union Station here is a major transit hub, servicing Amtrak, inner city rail, city buses, shuttle and express buses to various locations in the metro area, and of course a taxi waiting area. This was the first place I could have picked up an Uber yesterday. It feels more like an airport. There’s lighted lists for departures and arrivals. There’s a little shoe shine stand in the center with a news stand and a few refreshment places.

It seems like it has undergone massive renovation in preparations for the 75th anniversary of the building in 2014. Everything is clean, colorful, and beautiful. The waiting area features roomy bench-chairs have upholstered leather cushions. The original ticketing booths were roped off, but I hope to God they actually use those, because what could be better?

As you leave you are greeted with a mess of palm trees, and spread of whitewashed adobe buildings that lead you to Olvera Street — the birthplace of Los Angeles. And the epicenter of cute.

The first thing you actually see (apart from this darling thing, excellent for people-watching) is the Biscailuz Building, built in 1925 as a conference headquarters for the United Methodist Church. Today it searches as the Consulate-General of Mexico. And of course the first thing you really notice see is the mural of St. Francais’ Blessing of the Animals, painted by Leo Politi in 1979.

According to the plaque, the building is named after a county sheriff who ‘assisted Christine Sterling in preserving the area’. I’m not sure how he assisted her exactly, there is surprisingly little information about Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz online. I at first assumed he provided the inmates that served as Sterling’s restoration crew in 1928, but these were actually provided by Police Chief James Davis, who sounds like a fairly ruthless character. Maybe they just didn’t want to name a Christian conference center after a man who “emphasized firearm training” and became entangled with allegations of corruption.

Christine Sterling’s name comes up several times on signs on Olvera Street. She is the reason the oldest building in Los Angeles is still standing, and the person we have to thank for the overall feel of the place — an odd mixture of romanticized historical stereotype and celebration of heritage. Alvaro Parra has a great write up that explains more about Sterling and her vision of “a Mexican Street of yesterday in a city of Today”.

Because the reclamation and rechristening of Wine Street was a calculated act of marketing, it’s a tricky place to wrap your head around. There’s a Disneyland-ish, movie-set-like feeling to the area. It’s beautiful, of course — nice textures and colors and smells everywhere you look. (And what else — that’s precisely how it was designed.)

It’s hard to know what is “real” (that is, original to the 1800s), what is staged to look “real” (that is, inserted in the 1920s), and what has been restored to either state due to earthquakes. And whether any of that matters since it is all part of the complicated timeline of the place.

However, it was a grand place to eat my picnic lunch, and it was fun to stand around in ancient home compounds restored/saved from the days when California was still Mexico.

From here I walked to City Hall, which is of course bustling with official activity. There were hints of something special — more secret paintings tucked in behind blinding white stone — but inside was all grey and official business.

It felt a little weird to breeze into here, all sunshine and floral cotton, and pass through a metal detector just to see some scenery. I was a felt a little sheepish as the security guard asked me to state my purpose.

….I…I’ve been told there is an observation tower on the 27th floor?

He winked at me and said, did anybody tell you to go to the 3rd and 4th floor too? No? Well, make sure you do.

Boy was he right.

In Portland such a dazzling display would come with plaques explaining where all this glamour comes from, or why it exists. I haven’t looked that hard online, but as yet this is all a beautiful mystery to me. The most I have learned about the building was that it was built in 1928, has been retrofitted for earthquakes, and wa featured quite a bit on mid-century television. (It was Clark Kent’s Daily Mirror in the 1950s, and the building played itself in Dragnet, as the show (at least on the radio) took place in Los Angeles and the police officers worked out of…city hall!) I have since learned that the the concrete in the central tower of the was made with sand from each of California’s fifty eight counties and water from its twenty-one historical missions, which is exquisite. But no word on why these floors are dripping with adornment.

These photos were taken from the 4th floor, looking down at the third, and when I got off the elevator on other non-restricted floors briefly it looked like most of the building is not like this, but in fact the sort of Bureaucratic Drab typical of city office buildings.

To get up to the 27th floor — where the observtion deck is — requires a musical-elevator sequence. (Take a floors 1-10 car and then transfer to a 11-22 car, from there a 26 car, which leads you to a grand staircase to the top.) One is briefly on the 22nd floor which appears to exclusively house the Mayor’s office. On his door it also says “gang reduction and youth development”

There is only one big room on the 27th floor and it appears to be where the Mayor gives press conferences. There is a podium with the city seal on the front, and great tall windows that were closed with big red velvet curtains, so it was fairly cool up there. You exit through green doors and enjoy a 360* view of the city, with signs pointing out various landmarks, which helped. LA is a bewildering, vast place, but I could at least see where I had been, and sort of where I am staying.

I am ending this because it is HUGE and I feel like there needs to be a break in the narrative. But we are getting to the most important part of my day: Watts Towers.

Day 2: Ann’s tour 2017-03-10T08:44:42+00:00

Day 1: Arriving

By the time I reached Union Station I had been in transit about seven hours. City bus to light rail to airport, airplane to fancy shuttle bus to Union Station.

The fancy shuttle bus was suggested to me by my AirBnB host in one of our final logistics emails. I was grateful for the tip — the flat fee was MUCH cheaper than a taxi would have been, and it gave me at least an hour to relax just one last time before the burst of mental activity that comes from trying to navigate a new place. And fortunately Union Station at Los Angeles does a lovely job of trying to calm passengers down.

The place was covered in plants and tilework, and featured a gorgeous, ENORMOUS pair of fishtanks flanking the main foyer. I did not linger — as I didn’t want to keep my AirBnB host waiting too long — but I did think, I need to come back here.

THE CONFESSION

I fly with confidence and I tend to bus and subway with a similar confidence, which can get one into trouble if one is not careful. I blame New York for this: my first real encounter with public transit was the New York subway system, and I had to navigate not only myself but my mother, who is a dear but didn’t take to the rapidity of adopted city life as quickly as my 17-year-old brain did. (We were only there a few days).

I also fall into that trap of not wanting to seem like a tourist, because TOURIST sends the dual signals of CLUELESS and OUTSIDER, which when you are a traveling alone can seem like bad signals to send. I don’t mind the whole gaping at things / taking pictures / staring in awe, because I do that anyway, a lot longer than most civilians. And it’s definitely not about blending in, because that’s NEVER been something I go in for. It’s just the Obviously Not From ‘Round Here thing I dislike.

Where did this come from? I didn’t grow up with these silly notions — we traveled a lot and played tourist in our own hometown, because what good are sights that remain unseen? I think Portland may have instilled this tourist-dread to me, because the demographics of Portland are shifting very quickly. The story often boils down to: Californians being ‘left behind’ by the technocrats move up to my neck of the woods where by local standards they are rich, and buy eye-sore condos that stand atop the ashes of beloved historic buildings. These transplants thereby drive the rents up, attract incomprehensible restaurants, clog our dainty streets with their big cumbersome cars, and drive away what made Portland worth coming to in the first place.

The story is obviously way more complicated than that — and that story does not take into account the historic displacement of people of color via red lining nor its countless previous instances of indelicate gentrification — and of course not EVERYONE who visits Portland falls in love with it and wants to stay. But it may be where desire to “pass” as a local comes from. This deft stepping from one bus to another without looking at a map.

It is something I need to shake, because it was to be my undoing on two notable occasions on this trip. The first happened now: as I hopped onto a bus and left Union Station. The direction was right and the route was right, but as soon as it pulled away from the curb, I thought, how am I going to know where my stop is?

Undoubtedly I assumed a look of mild panic. Or maybe it was just how I was dressed, (not like LA women), clutching the tell-tale SUITCASE which was not fooling anybody. I was from out of town, from another PLANET really, utterly alone and without a soul to turn to. Until, that is, an older woman across the isle from me caught my eye and smiled.

Are you from out of town?

I said yes, just flew in, and she smiles and welcomes me to Los Angeles. Her name is Ann. She’s lived in LA over ten years and LOVES the city. She takes transit all the time. You don’t need a car in LA!

I agreed, telling her I intended to spend my whole week here without renting a car.

She grins and says that’s GREAT. You’re doing it right. No need to spend your visit stuck in traffic.

She crosses the isle and begins to point out landmarks as we pass them. She asks me what I’m here for, I say an art show, and she says oh! You’re an artist! She begins to suggest things to do — things an artist might enjoy. I pull out my notebook and start to try and write these things down, and she says, you know what, you email me. I can give you a better list that way.

She fishes out a little slip of paper with her name and email address on it, and I hand her my card. And finally, with a little urgency, I tell her, I don’t know where my stop is.

I give her the neighborhood, and the cross streets, and tells me that I am actually on an express bus, that may not actually stop where I need it to. (Blast!) But before I can stop her, she is up and talking with the bus driver, and cajoles him to stop at the cross street I mention. What a gal! I thank her, we shake hands, and I walk up the hill towards my home base.

The view on the way to home base.  The view on the way to home base. This is the porch of my AirBnB, where I spent essentially ALL of my time.  This is the porch of my AirBnB, where I spent essentially ALL of my time.

Not twenty minutes later, after settling in a bit, I email her to assure her that I have indeed made it to my destination, and to thank her for rescuing me.

In response, Ann sends me an itinerary.

This is only a piece of it, transcribed onto paper for the following day. It was organized by region, little tours including points of interest great views, and things of artistic and cultural importance. And each tour was routed clearly via transit around Union Station or the neighborhood I was staying in.

It was such an incredible gift to be given, and such a generous thing for this woman to do for a complete stranger. I resolved that the following day — my first full day in Los Angeles, I would adopt Ann’s itinerary.

Day 1: Arriving 2017-03-06T12:08:15+00:00

LA: Intro

When I was about fourteen my family and I went to Disneyland.

Going to Disneyland is not the same thing as going to Los Angeles, particularly as we didn’t really venture that far beyond Anaheim. Aside from the obligatory Hollywood Day we pretty much stuck close to the world of fantasy, keeping reality at bay with the hefty entry fee. (One could argue that’s what Hollywood does too.)

What I remember most about LA from that trip was a lot of pollution, and a grey drab city off in the smoggy distance, impossible to capture with my disposable camera.

Other than this, my impressions of Los Angeles came from two very different eras:

1.) the impression one gets from old movies and radio shows circa 1930s – 50s, of LA being the dream machine, a place where movie magic happens, where Echo Park is mentioned constantly as a romantic date night spot.

2.) The modern consensus that LA is a dirty, vapid, consumerist city that is married to the automobile and refuses to join the 21st Century.

Because I’d never really BEEN to this city — and because these impressions that surely did not tell the whole story — I resolved to visit during the Manifest:Justice show.

I solicited help from a friend, a former Angeleno who is constantly advocating for the city. He gave me lots of great pointers, big and small. (Among them: eat a dirty dog and visit the Time Travel Mart.)

On his advice I set about looking for accommodation in the Echo Park neighborhood. I am new to AirBnb and was amazed at the range available — when I looked it was everything from an entire house in Beverly Hills to a beanbag on the floor of someone’s livingroom in Koreatown. Whatever your needs or style of travel, it was there. What this naturalist artist wanted was something peaceful, affordable, and historic (read: charming, functional and shabby. A place the muppets would have stayed in the late 70s).

I finally found something just right, whose images even promised a tranquil porch to sit and collect myself after what would surely be a rattling experience in the daily bustle of Somewhere New. I began to look at maps and make lists of things I might do, got packing, and somewhere in there did those pictures for the Willamette Week.

Then, I was off.

LA: Intro 2017-03-06T12:09:38+00:00

Oaks Bottom: Amusement Park or Wildlife Refuge?

It’s both, really. Or at least, both use the name Oaks Bottom. (It’s also a Lompoc pub not far from here.)

I’m not sure how many of the amusement park patrons partake in the wildlife refuge — I know that when I come down here I’m usually much more interested in the nature scene than I am in carnival rides.

Prime tadpole habitat -- both frog and salamander.

Prime tadpole habitat — both frog and salamander.

Pacific chorus frog, the color of spring.

Pacific chorus frog, the color of spring.

So, the proximity seems strange, but you can’t argue with geography. The pond (which will be all dried up by high summer) is almost all that remains of what used to be a series of wetlands and seasonal ponds, fed by tributaries feeding into the main river. There are several signs along the Springwater Corridor that show sobering aerial photographs — first of the original flood plane, and then of the urbanization and cementing over a lot of that habitat. It’s not a story unique to Portland, but it’s rare that you are made aware of this so bluntly, standing on the very concrete slabs that choked Johnson’s Creek.

Nor can you argue with the oldest continually run amusement park in the country. This was one of those parks built by trolley companies — to lure city folks to use the lines on the weekends. So there’s a delightful old-timey feel to the place. It’s not big on rides (there are some, but none of the glossy vomit-o-matics you get with a larger establishment), but it has a dance hall — resevable for events but just a gorgeous building in its own right — as well as picnic pavilions and innumerable picnic tables dotting the walkway by the river. And you can’t argue with the view.

Painted from the picnic tables of Oaks Bottom Amusement Park, in a moment of non-rain in late spring. Painted from the picnic tables of Oaks Bottom Amusement Park, in a moment of non-rain in late spring.

It also has a skating rink, gloriously kept, with the original pipe organ. Occasionally on Sundays an old man will play it intermittently for one of the afternoon sessions. (This is NOT TO BE MISSED. Check their calendar to find out when and go, if you are near enough.)

Summer’s gearing up and now when you go down to look for ospreys and bald eagles you can usually hear carnival sounds echoing through the valley. Sometimes you can even hear the heritage train, chugging along what used to be trolley tracks to bring happy patrons from OMSI on the eastern waterfront down to the amusement park just as they might have back in the 1920s. It’s a lively little area.

Oaks Bottom: Amusement Park or Wildlife Refuge? 2017-03-06T17:03:38+00:00

Magic at Sauvie Island

So in an impeccable act of anti-climax, our eagerly awaited expedition to Sauvie Island with the Oregon Mycological Society was cancelled at the last minute, owing to another expedition taking place the day before. In fact, when we called the Office of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to secure our REMOVAL OF VEGETATION permits, the woman on the phone kept asking if we meant “Saturday” instead of “Sunday”.

Alas, Sunday it was. There were rumors that the overall secrecy of the morel-picking spots have been betrayed, and promises were made that “new spots” would be found in the future.

As we had all requisite permits so we decided to go anyway and try and see what we could find — no easy feat when you have no frame of reference. A good part of the first few hours was spent tramping through undergrowth. Not nettles, as on Kelley Point, but blackberries. Which have thorns.  Delightful.

We eventually gave up and drove to a few other sites, building theories on where the lucky morels might be hidden. And finally, maybe out of luck more than anything else, we did in fact strike gold.

We came away with two by the end of the day, and in comparing stories with other mushroomers it seems is a fairly typical morel score at Sauvie Island. Better luck up in the hills, which we’ll have to go attempt because now that we have tasted the meaty goodness that is a morel (a first for both of us) we are hooked. There is a reason people tramp through nettles and blackberries to look for these things, and it is because they are delicious.

Magic at Sauvie Island 2017-03-06T17:02:43+00:00