Spring Comes to Irvington

A wreath of flowers hangs on the cross on Easter at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon

Easter arrives at Augustana Lutheran Church with a wreath of flowers on its cross and a tree in flower behind. Augustana is a neighborhood church, snuggled in at the corner of 15th Avenue and Knott Street between the homes of Irvington. Homes such as the one below, a short walk from the church, taken a few minutes later as Ellie and I made our way back home. There is much I love about this old Portland neighborhood, from the walkability to the old trees to the variety in the landscaping and the homes. And especially what you don’t see in the pictures but I see in my mind when I look at them, the faithful pup beside.

A house in Irvington in the spring


The base of fence shows layers of wood, brick, and concrete, all covered by moss

Ellie and I came across this archaeological dig in our neighborhood where the excavation has revealed several layers that allow you to see back in time across Portland’s geographic past. There’s the oldest layer on the bottom that dates from the Concrete Era. What creatures must have roamed the land back then! After that comes the brief Brick Era, followed by the Wood Era. Unfortunately the dig was accidentally left uncovered one night and has now been exposed to the modern era, the Moss Era.

In Memory of My Father

A view of green trees and moss and plants in the Columbia River Gorge

My father passed away earlier today.

He was diagnosed with an untreatable brain tumor months ago and had been in slow decline since. We weren’t close, I hadn’t seen him in a couple of decades, but there were parts of him I loved. I post this in his memory because many of my fondest memories of him were when we hiked in the hills of eastern Tennessee where I grew up. They weren’t grand scenes or amazing vistas, just what became my favorite hikes – through forests and past mountain streams. This picture is from Oregon, not Tennessee, taken a month ago in the Columbia River Gorge up above Horsetail Falls. It’s too chaotic to be pretty but illustrates one of the reasons I love hiking here, the explosion of green in many shades from the leaves, moss, and ferns. Behind the trees are basalt walls, as covered in moss as the trees. Large ferns grow below the trees with little ferns growing on the tree itself. Not far away are mountain streams that plunge through the canyons in beautiful waterfalls. I think of him most when I hike, wishing we could have had an emotional bond, but very thankful that he taught me to appreciate the beautiful and the quiet and the serene.

I grew up knowing I was loved, unconditionally, I never felt like I had to earn it through good grades (which I had) or being good at sports (which I wasn’t). That’s a powerful gift to give a child. He never encouraged me to seek money or power and get blinded by the rat race that I saw in some other fathers. There were plenty of happy times, like playing ping pong in the basement as I grew up. I’ll never forget the joy I felt the first time I beat him, or realizing years later that he must have let me beat him as a kindness. We camped and hiked. We spent hours in his workshop in the basement as he made things with his table saw and other tools, despite the fact that his son hadn’t inherited his mechanical skills and would be far too absent-minded to ever use dangerous power tools.

But as I grew into adulthood I came to realize that being in a close relationship with him was going to be destructive emotionally. The details aren’t important but by leaving them out I don’t want to make things sound worse than they were, he wasn’t abusive, but he had a way of seeing the world, and a tendency to take things in a negative light, that made it hard to get close to him. One incident in particular during my college years, after I spent a summer with him and thought we had set a more positive baseline for moving forward, made it clear to me that I was going to have to keep him at an emotional distance and hope for better in the future.

One of the last times I saw him was when I was in graduate school and he came to pick up his old Pontiac that he let me borrow when I needed a car to go between school and home on holiday breaks. I didn’t need it anymore as my stepfather had found a used car he thought I might like near his hometown and that ended up being the first car I bought. Dad came into my apartment for a while and when it was time for him to go, as we walked to the door and he turned to say goodbye, he had tears in his eyes and I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and let him know that this was the side of him I wanted in my life, the part that took pleasure in spending time with me and didn’t want it to end. I didn’t expect our relationship to be perfect or even easy, but at least open and honest. It wasn’t to be. He had a vision of me in his head that fit a narrative he needed it to, something we all do to an extent with others and even ourselves, but his was a wall I couldn’t climb.

At some point during those years I asked him if I could keep a picture he showed me, he was surprised and said yes but couldn’t understand why I wanted it. I didn’t tell him but it was simply because he had the most wonderful smile on his face. Not the kind you make when you smile for the camera, but a natural one, caught in a moment of pure joy. I hadn’t seen that smile in a long time and hoped one day to see it again. I never did but I’m sure others did and I’m thankful for the friends he had over the years, even if we couldn’t be close I’m glad he found happiness with others.

That picture, that smile, was a reminder of the beautiful part of him and it’s how I’ve visualized him for the many years since. It’s not that I don’t remember the bad, the bad is obviously why we’ve never been close, but I didn’t want to forget the good. We sent email occasionally over the years but never very often, but there was never a point where I felt like we could have a meaningful relationship. He knew about the blog but I don’t know how often he read it if at all. I sent him an email months ago when I first heard he had a brain tumor, letting him know how good my life was and how I still loved to hike like we had when I was growing up. I tried not to phrase it as a goodbye, he was still in decent health even though the long term prognosis wasn’t good, but it was a goodbye. I have no idea what he thought of me over the years or in the end, but I wanted him to know I love my life and am grateful for his part in that.

When I was young we were traveling somewhere to camp when someone in the car asked him what he would be if he could be anything he wanted (like me he was an engineer). He said he’d want to be a forest ranger and I laughed, thinking he was goofing around, and asked him what he really wanted to be. He said no, really, a forest ranger, and he said it in a way that even as a child I realized he was speaking a fundamental truth about himself. I reflected on his answer often, he didn’t choose a job that would make him wealthy or famous, but one that let him be out there in the quiet, near the trees and the babbling brooks, helping others enjoy them too. I didn’t ask him why he didn’t become a ranger, maybe he chose a higher paying job with a family to raise, maybe he realized that about himself too late. Maybe I took him too literally.

I don’t know if he continued hiking through the years, but even if not it was certainly a gift he passed on to me. He also was interested in computers even in the early 80’s and bought a Mac when they first came out to use in his business, he let me type my school essays on it at night and I fell in love with computers because of that beautiful thing. We had a wonderful dog that was with me through most of my childhood and if you’ve been here long you know how much I love my pets. Part of me feels like my father’s son, part of me not at all. I’m sure I could have been a better son, but even at the end some of his behavior reminded me why he hasn’t been a meaningful part of my life for so long.

The tears I shed as I write this are for decades of frustration, at wishing I could have known more of the beautiful part of him. I’m thankful that some people got to know it, and that for a while I did too.

The View From Our Sidewalk

The New View From Our Sidewalk

Last fall the good folks at Habitat Gardens landscaped half our yard. The most visible change is the front, where we replaced a mass of juniper bushes that covered the front slope (shown below) with a garden with terraced rock walls (above, covered in a dusting of snow). It’s hard to tell from the angle of this picture, but there’s a nice gentle curve to the rock walls, and we love the natural look of the stacked rocks. The garden above this, below the big picture window, was also replaced with a rain garden, and the gardens on the side of the house to the right were also replaced, including a French drain and another rain garden.

I love seeing this view when I walk home from the train station, it will be more work to maintain (and I need to learn how to prune all the new plants) but it feels more like home. Mandi was great to work with, we said we wanted either native or drought-tolerant plants so that once established everything would be fine with our dry summers without need for a watering system, and she picked out this wide variety of plants, as well as everything for the rain gardens. It was all very easy on our end and we love the result.

I hoped to test out my old macro lens with the new camera as the plants have started blooming but it’s been a bit too breezy the last few weekends.

The Old View From Our Sidewalk

My Kicks

My orange New Balance running shoes

We had a sunny day on Friday so while I was taking pictures on the way home from work, I took a quick picture of my favorite pair of shoes, orange New Balance trail runners that are coming out of winter hibernation and returning to the regular rotation. I picked them up a couple of years ago after I returned to commuting by train and wanted to be more visible as I walk to and from the station or around town. The sun was low in the sky when I took the picture, and I in shade, but you can get a glimpse of how visible they are in low contrast light that causes human vision to stumble. I love everything about the shoes and should have bought a handful when I realized how much I liked them so I could store them in the closet and have a supply for years to come.

I was walking Ellie a couple of weeks ago on one of her long morning weekend walks when I felt the sole break in my other favorite pair of shoes, a black pair of New Balance trail runners from four years ago (a different style), finally succumbing after years of steady use. I stepped carefully for the rest of the walk and thankfully they held together enough that I didn’t have to cut her walk short. I sadly placed them in the trashcan when we got home, thankful for the years of use, they started out as shoes for summer hiking but I loved them so much they became one of my main shoes until they started to show signs of wear and were relegated to dog walking the past year or so.

The ID is Retired. Long Live the ID!

My Tom Bihn ID messenger bag in Aubergine

I bought my beloved Tom Bihn ID messenger bag (which I reviewed first after eleven years and updated at twelve years) over thirteen years ago and finally decided to retire it as the strap pad was getting worn and the zipper compartment was coming apart in one section. It was my daily companion nearly every day during those thirteen years and one of the best products I’ve ever owned, in any category.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to replace (Tom Bihn no longer makes the ID) but I couldn’t find anything I liked quite as much until I saw this lovely ID in aubergine on eBay. I had never used eBay before but it all went smoothly and I’m thrilled with my new bag, new but also familiar. This ID is a newer revision than mine, it has a different strap (which I’m already familiar with since I use the same type on my Aeronaut travel bag and my tripod bag) and different pockets, but the overall design is still very similar to mine.

I used the old bag for a week after the new one arrived, partially because I hadn’t unclipped the laptop bag that fits inside and moved it to the new one, and partially because it was nice to spend one last week with the old one. But it didn’t take long to move everything to the new bag and I put it to work to get me to work last week, and I put it to work at home on Friday as I moved from my office to the guest bedroom while I kept our cat Boo company as he recuperated from getting teeth pulled.

The ID at Work at Home

The ID is a great fit for my 15″ laptop and can be expanded to carry bulkier items but can be cinched down into a flat profile while lightly loaded (my normal configuration), which I greatly appreciated while standing on crowded trains during the week. I’ve thought about getting a backpack to use at times, and might yet, but there’s no question that a thin over-the-shoulder bag is more convenient on crowded trains. I almost bought a briefcase style bag for times when I don’t need to carry bulkier items, typically the winter and summer, and if I move to a smaller laptop I’d probably also move to a smaller bag, but for now I’m all set. And happy. Thanks Tom Bihn!

Aubergine & Black

Where Do I Live Again?

The snow-covered Subaru logo on the front of my XV Crosstrek

Our winters here in Portland are generally mild, but this fall has packed a bit of a punch at the end. We got a little bit of snow on Thursday a week and a half ago, and thankfully since I have some flexibility with vacation time right now, I was able to take the day off and let our dog Ellie enjoy the snow. But then as so often happens in Portland, we got some freezing rain and suddenly everything is coated in ice and trees and branches started falling all around our old neighborhood. We lost power a few times on Friday but never for too long. While walking Ellie I noticed a tree had fallen on a lovely old Mercedes a couple of streets over, completely crushing the back.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning while we were asleep the power kicked off and we didn’t get it back until that evening. Sadly the house was at its coolest when we lost power since we let it cool down at night, so I piled on extra layers and a hat until we had heat again. The house never got that cold so we weren’t exactly suffering, it was only down to 57 when the electricity returned.

This past week we got more snow, not very much but it arrived right before the evening rush hour and made a mess of everything. Fortunately I had also taken that day off but my wife wasn’t so lucky, since the train she was going to take home got shut down when some switches froze, she ended up spending the night at work. It’s going to warm tomorrow and the remaining ice should be gone, which will make a certain dog (and her walker) very happy, even if it takes the snow with it.

That’s enough winter weather for me this year, and winter hasn’t officially started yet!