Sunday, November 06, 2005

That Low Door in the Wall

That Low Door in the Wall

"I went full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city."

I’ve always loved that quote (from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh), and it’s sorta-kinda appropriate as a caption for this photo I took today, so I’m whipping it out and using it. Yeah, it's really more of a gate than a door, but it is low and it is embedded in a very handsome stone wall, so—good enough! And, yes, if there are any Waugh scholars out there, I know that the quoted passage isn’t literally describing a low door in a wall. But the image of a literal low door in a wall leading to an enchanted garden captured my imagination back when I first read the book, so I’m always on the lookout for one, even though it's not the kind of thing you find much in the United States. Maybe that’s why I like the image. It has a mystique that promises adventure.

B and I went out for a walk today and was it ever a good thing to do. I have been sitting on my arse almost nonstop since last Sunday. I felt like I was turning into a typical American, i.e., inexcusably sedentary.

Both last Sunday and this Sunday B and I took took “hill walks” described in the unbelieveably excellent, informative, and beautifully written book Portland Hill Walks by Laura O. Foster. Both walks were in Northwest Portland, which is where the heavy-wallet brigade lives. B and I are not members of that particular brigade. Consequently, we really hadn’t spent any time roaming the terraced streets of the Willamette Heights, Nob Hill, and Kings Heights neighborhoods.

They are absolultely lovely—with roller-coastery streets that have evocative names (like Hermosa Boulevard and Alpine Terrace), secret mossy staircases, expansive views out over the city and beyond to the snowcapped peaks of the Cascades, and swanky mansions that sell for well over a million dollars. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of the White House-like home that belonged to the inventress of the curling iron, but to give you some idea, this abomination is selling for $600,000 and is probably about the cheapest thing available in those neighborhoods. It has an air of the trailer park, I think, and it’s UPS brown to boot. Amount of curb appeal? Zero or less.

The streets meander all over the place because they are built into a steep hillside generally known as the West Hills. Foster calls the West Hills the "Tualatin Mountains," which I’m sure is the correct name—she’s a stickler for accuracy. True, they do rise to about 1,000 feet, but here in Oregon, where we have several dozen real mountains that are more than 9,000 feet tall, it seems ludicrous to call them mountains. Plus they’re traversed by countless paved streets. Then again, some of those streets dead-end abruptly with a footpath that leads right into a 5,000-acre forest: Forest Park. I don’t think any other city in the U.S. has a forest that large within its city limits. Yet another reason why Portland totally rocks!

The walks had us dipping in and out of Forest Park and then emerging to give us the opportunity to goggle at more heavy-wallet abodes and to gaze out over the cityscape from the exalted height of the Pittock Mansion (about 1,000 feet above sea level), where I found a birch bolete mushroom (a choice edible!!!) among the rose bushes. (Sadly, it was teeming with teensy writhing worms, so I didn't eat it, but I must report and document my unexpected find nonetheless.)

It’s stimulating enough to just walk through the neighborhoods and the forest, but the reason I’m so in love with Foster’s book is that she provides tons of great background on the history (and natural history) of the stuff you see on the walks, which, I hardly need mention, is right up my alley! For example, Henry Lewis Pittock (1834-1919), the original owner of the Pittock Mansion, was an outdoor enthusiast, which may explain why he built his home at the top of a mountain (albeit the top of one of the shrimpy Tualatin Mountains) in the middle of the forest. One of his daughters lived in Camas, Washington, and he would routinely ride his bike to her home—a round-trip journey of 45 hilly, unpaved miles, with a killer 1,000-foot climb at the very end to get back to his mansion. And get this—he was doing this when he was in his 70s, possibibly riding a contraption that looked like this!

So, pretty amazing. Work and the rain and NaNoing (don’t ask) have forced me into an unnaturally housebound state, so I’m really glad we got out of the house for the afternoon today, and (figuratively, this time) went through that low door.

A few other sights in the vicinity.

Abandoned WPA Building in Forest Park

Red Maples on NW Thurman Ave.


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