Thursday, July 07, 2005

All Play, No Work, and a Smidgeon of Toxic Waste

For the past four days, I enjoyed an exceedingly pleasant existence of all play and no work, while hanging out with my brother and his girlfriend who were visiting. My brother's girlfriend brought with her a wonderful and strange new book—Portland Hill Walks: Twenty Explorations in Parks and Neighborhoods by Laura O. Foster. It is a very poor reflection on me--a gung-ho walker of Portland neighborhoods--that a person who lives in Illinois discovered this book (in Illinois!) before I did, but there you are. You can be certain I will be acquiring my own copy very soon.

In my opinion there is no better way to experience a place than on foot. I happen to think that when you sightsee in a car you miss 85% (at least) of what there is to see if you are a passenger and 98% if you are the driver. My brother and his girlfriend heartily agree, so we spent three of the four days of their visit taking walks described in the book. These walks are not going to be up everyone’s alley. They are, as the title suggests, hilly--one we took had close to 1,000 feet of elevation gain over five miles or so. That’s OK by me, though. It’s a fine way to work up an appetite for a pint of microbrew or a slab of chocolate cake.

I consider myself to be fairly familiar with the territory covered in two of the walks we took—Mount Tabor and Washington Park—but I realize now how much more there is to see and learn about the areas. Foster definitely takes you off the beaten path, although fortunately the directions she gives are so Germanic in their precision it is impossible to get lost, even when you’re or skulking alongside a chainlink fence encircling one of Portland’s several reservoirs. (If I have one criticism of the book, it would be that Foster seems rather reservoir-obsessed—in both the Mt. Tabor and Washington Park walks she had us circumnavigating reservoirs and regaled us with more information about Portland’s water supply than even I could tolerate—and I have a high tolerance for that sort of thing.)

Anyway, back to the positive. The Mt. Tabor walk was absolutely superb! It took us through secluded neighborhoods on all sides of the (extinct) volcano’s flanks and afforded us splendid views that I’m sure very few people in Portland know about. Not only that, the book is jam-packed with quirky little factoids about sites/sights on the route. For example, if you’d like to know where the first woman to get an Oregon driver’s license lived, I am now in possession of that bit of knowledge. I am also privy to the fact that it was once thought that “pure milk” should be sold from a concession at the top of Mt. Tabor (probably where the restrooms are now) and that it would be just the thing for wheezy, possibly tubercular infants.

The walk I was most eager to try was a tour of St. John’s, a neighborhood in North Portland that, until yesterday, I had only a fleeting acquaintance with. St. John’s business district seems not to have changed since the 1940s or 1950s, and I wanted to take a closer look at those places, and possibly, as long as I was there, sample an egg fu young burger at this place. However, the walk first had us strike off in the direction of a sketchy strip of undeveloped land along the Willamette River. Before long, we came upon a graffiti’d sign informing us that we were in the vicinity of a Superfund site. The book--which has an uncanny way of anticipating every question you might have--cheerfully informed us that, well, the site isn’t completely cleaned up yet, but that there is an amazing diversity of tree species growing right next to all that toxicity. Scenic though the book suggested the Superfund site to be, we decided (wisely, I think) to skip that part of the walk. We continued on along the river past a road lined with scrap metal, truck differentials, and barbed-wire fencing to the Water Pollution Control Laboratory, which has won all sorts of awards for its ecofriendly design and so forth. It is quite handsome and definitely something I would never have stumbled across on my own, but I have to say this particular route has got to be something of an acquired taste. Suggested attire: Hazmat suits. We finally made it to the retro business district on Lombard. Unfortunately, by then we were rather pressed for time what with the Superfund debacle and my brother’s inability to ever pass a Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift store without entering, so I didn’t get to even pop my head into the fencing (as in en garde and touché) shop, the Blue Balls Pub, or--the biggest tragedy of all—the Tulip Pastry Shop.


Post a Comment

<< Home