Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Encounter on a Cinder Cone

Yesterday evening, B and I set off at about 7:30 PM to do some grocery shopping. But first we thought we’d hike up a cinder cone that's been in our neighorhood for, oh, a few million years or so. For some reason, we’d never explored it. True, the trail is not super pristine, being that at times it passes within 15 feet of the deafening traffic on Interstate 205 and that at one point we noted that the side of the cinder cone has been tagged with an ominous-looking skull. True, also, that we had to hike past rubbish such as a flattened box of Camels and a ripped-open strawberry-flavored condom packet (ew!) and—a few strides later—sidestepped the actual used (double-triple-quadruple ew!!!!) strawberry condom, but soon we were walking up what for all intents and purposes was an old country road. Really olde. Could this gutter be any more medieval looking? I guess it could, say, if there was a slurry of raw sewage running down it. Fortunately, there was not.

Eventually, we found ourselves standing in front of this stone fortress. Welcome to the Middle Ages.

Rocky Butte

The 360-degree view from the top is splendid. Mount Hood looms, of course, but also Mount St. Helens and the very top of Mount Jefferson. Who knew you could see Jefferson from Portland? I sure didn’t. We could see almost the entire city, including the IKEA that is finally being built out by the airport. What a huge footprint that thing has. I could totally live without it. But even with that blot on the landscape, I still had to get all warm and fuzzy about the number of mature trees we have in even the most densely populated parts of Portland. It’s a bit hard to tell exactly where the city leaves off and national forest begins.

Mount Hood from Rocky Butte

We had a bit of a wander and because my mind was so boggled by the view and the whole medieval thing, I really had some trouble when we started heading down a set of rustic stairs and the strains of an a cappella rendition of “Desperado” started wafting toward us. Was it the 1370s or the 1970s?

There behind the fortress, sitting on the edge of a steep drop-off into the forest were three people in sunglasses and a puppy named Dojo. Spread out between them was a waxpaper sleeve of Ritz crackers, a rolled-back tin of sardines, and a six-pack of Olde English 800s. And they were smoking weed. Mainly because of the sardines, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that they were bona fide hobos and walked extra slow as I passed them, hoping to engage them in conversation. Luckily, the puppy came bounding up to us, causing the guy singing “Desperado” to stop and start calling after the puppy. My wish was granted! Engagement with suspected hobos.

Desperado congratulated us on living in a beautiful part of the country (I didn't dispute it) and volunteered that he was from California, as if that Eagles song, his blue-mirrored oval sunglasses, and the way he wore his bandanna didn’t totally give him away. The other guy tipped his oversized sunglasses (the kind senior citizens with cataracts wear) briefly up toward his forehead and stated “South Dakota.” There was a youngish woman there, too, but she just sat there with her back to us and said nothing. I was on the brink of asking them how they got here—in my mind I was totally prepared to hear and almost certain they would say “freight train,” maybe even being as specific as “Burlington Northern” or “Southern Pacific,” but South Dakota started quizzing me about which species of woodpeckers he could hear. I think he got a bit annoyed with me for blathering on about how much I didn’t know about local woodpeckers and drowning out the woodpecking sounds he'd been enjoying so much. Our conversation sort of petered out.

We decided to leave them to it and started hiking back down. The closer I got the better I felt about not having blurted out a question about how they had gotten to Portland. I’m sure they just drove a car (or a flatbed Ford) here. Just because people are eating straight out of a can of sardines, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’re hobos. But, I’m telling you, for a while there I had myself convinced.

We got back to the bottom of the cinder cone and then drove to the grocery store to buy cat food and people food where, it being about 9:00 PM on a Monday night, we had to dodge beeping forklifts (loaded with pallets of Cheerios and barbecue sauce) that were barreling down practically every aisle. Back to 21st century Portland. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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