Spirit of Place: Portland, Oregon

Rumor has it that those of us born in Portland, Oregon have webbed feet and learn to walk with a flutter kick.  Truth be told we have about the same number of inches of rain per year as New York, Philadelphia, or Boston.  However, we have more days of rain and more days of cloud cover, so it appears that the Pacific North Wet comes close to drowning.  But it makes for spectacular roses.

All those gray days mean that coffee roasters and brewers thrive in Portland.  Aficionados of the brew don’t describe the aroma, the uniqueness of the beans, or free trade organic versus plantation beans grown by corporations with chemical fertilizers.  No.  They describe the lifting of the weight of the clouds…

Unlike Seattle, our sort of neighbor to the north, we don’t have a coffee house on every corner, they only take up every other corner.  The corners in between house micro breweries.  Fresh grains and hops from local farms make it a beer lover’s paradise.

Portland is often called Bridgetown.  The Willamette River (that’s will-am-ette not wila mettee) bisects the city, dividing it east and west.  Nine bridges cross the river.  Major business grew up on the arteries that feed those bridges.  During our Rose Festival in June, we have dragon boat races on the river.  We have rubber ducky races as well.  Distance in downtown is measured from bridge to bridge.

Rising above downtown are a series of volcanic ridges covered in wonderful evergreens, mostly Douglas fir and western red cedar.  We’ve reserved 5000+ acres within the city limits on those hills as a city park, Forest Park, and preserved most of it as wilderness.  We also have the smallest city park in the US.  It’s 2 square feet of green in the middle of an intersection so the Leprechauns can hold slug races.

Portland is not a huge city like New York or L.A. or Chicago.  We’re quite comfortable keeping the metropolitan population around 2 million.  That includes suburbs from five counties and two states.  Vancouver, Washington lies just across our other great river, the Columbia, and is trying very hard to maintain their own identity, but that’s a little hard when over half their population works in Portland.

Newcomers often remark that Portland is an incredibly clean city.  When you can find trash cans conveniently placed it’s easy to deposit your trash there instead of dropping it on the street.  We were one of the firsts states to impose deposit and refunds on pop cans and beer bottles.  Now we’ve extended it to plastic water bottles.  Even if tourists are careless, kids will pick up the cans to supplement their allowance.  And then there’s all that rain to wash the streets clean.

Music, art, and theater thrive in Portland.  Offerings range from high opera and a world class ballet company to grunge street bands and spontaneous street performers, sprinkled with ethnic music and original…um…sounds.  Audiences frequently jump up in the aisles of the theater to dance exuberantly.  Highland Games and Science Fiction Conventions, Greek Festivals and Cinqo de Mayo, live action role playing games and vampire clubs. Don’t forget the outdoor Jazz and Blues Festivals with more costumes and spontaneous dancing.  We have it all, and the costumes spill over into every day life.  When “America’s Got Talent” held auditions in Portland, the judges openly proclaimed Portland to be the weirdest city they’d ever visited.

We have traffic jams, a homeless problem, and crime just like any other city.  We also have a town full of bridges, breweries, spontaneous art, good restaurants, and a lot of people who love our city with all its quirks and beauty.

Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of the Book View Café.  Though raised in the seaports of America she was born in Portland and has lived in and around the city since her junior year in high school.  She thrives in the damp and loves the tall trees.

For more about her and her fiction please visit her bookshelf here on BVC http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Phyllis-Irene-Radford/

Or her personal web page ireneradford.com

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About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: www.ireneradford.net Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.

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Spirit of Place: Portland, Oregon — 8 Comments

  1. Okay, if I move to the US it’s so far a tie between Austin and Portland. I’ll visit New York, but I don’t think I’m cut out for a life there.

  2. Moderate climate that rarely stays in the extremes for long. Of course I live on the mountain that’s part of the spectacular view from any place in town that above the immediate horizon. Our weather pushes the boundaries a bit more at both ends of the extreme. With easy access to recreation, the Gorge, the Mountain, the coast, the agricultural valley, it’s a nice location to start from for retirees.

    Warning: tree-huggers abound.

  3. Estara, here’s how to make a decision between Portland and Austin: Do you need a lot of sunshine or do you do OK with lots of gray days? I love Portland (and Seattle, too, for that matter), but I’m reluctant to move there because of the lack of winter sun. Austin gets lots of sunshine, but the tradeoff is very hot summers. Ideally, I’d live someplace like Portland (or maybe on the Oregon Coast) in the summer and in Austin in the winter.

    But I must say Phyl makes the place sound delightful, and there are a lot of wonderful people who live up that way who I’d love to have as neighbors.

  4. I loved visiting Ru Emerson in Oregon. But trust me — there was moss growing on everything. I mean, Realtors tell people how to clean the moss off their roofs to keep said roofs from being permanently damaged. And I think the NW is a little more expensive (partly because they have so many regulations about safe buildings to protect the environment. I approve — but building a house there is a nightmare, apparently. Worse than here.)

    I didn’t bring boots for waterlogged vegetation, and had to wear something of Ru’s for walking their five acres. It poured (in May) the entire time I was in the NW.

    Austin in winter — and I have a secret place for summer!

  5. Ah, come one, Kathi, It’s not _that_ bad. Ru lives in the rainshadow of the coast range of mountains. She gets dumped on. Upwards of 120 inches of rain a year.

    I live on the west side of Mt Hood and I get dumped on. Average 90 inches of rain a year. That’s why the webs between my toes are so solid, and pretty. I can walk with a flutter kick. <-: The valley is a little drier. only 45-60 inches of rain a year.

    When you were here in May all the roses were drinking up the rain to burst forth in huge splashy displays of color come June.

  6. When I talk to classes about worldbuilding, that’s what I point at — houses. What do we have to spend our money on? Ru has to pay to have moss removed from her roof. Tucson residents pay to have water put onto their roofs (for the swamp coolers). I pay to have water removed from my basement, via dehumidifiers and guttering. In Texas people water their basements and foundations, to keep the ground from cracking and taking the slab with it.