Thursday, June 28, 2012

Life is a Photo Op

Like most people, I go to work every day and have to be inside an office building. During the summer I see all the landscape crews working in various yards and envy them being outside playing in the dirt all day (although they probably don't see it like that). 

To offset having to be cooped up all day, I take a walk on my lunch hour, rain or shine, almost without fail. When it’s raining I’m not quite as thrilled about bundling up in rain gear (especially if I happen to be wearing my glasses that day, rain and glasses do not mix), but on sunny days, it’s all I can do to stay inside until my lunch hour. 

I've learned to always take my camera with me, in fact if I don’t have it in my hand it feels like some part of my body is missing (two hands, check, two feet check, what’s not right?). Depending on how energetic I feel, there are several different routes to take. My office backs up to a residential area so I have my pick of gardens and flowering shrubs during the summer. 
During the autumn months, the sidewalks and parking lots explode in every shade of fallish color imaginable. Although I rarely take pictures of parking lots (I know, I know, they’re so photogenic), every year it seems I end up with a new picture of this parking lot because the colors demand attention. The only bad thing about fall is that winter is right around the corner. 

But even the gloomy winter months can yield an occasional surprise. This year we had some really late snows (please don’t say global warming causes things to get colder; that makes my head explode) and I spent several mornings running around before work to take pictures of daffodils in the snow because I knew by the afternoon the snow would be gone.
 Spring is hit and miss when it comes to getting good pictures because the weather is so unreliable. While raindrops look beautiful on irises, they don't do much for camera lenses. Fortunately, there are usually enough dry days interspersed with the rainy ones that I have a chance to get pictures of the tulips, daffodils, and irises before they are past their prime. 

A woman once asked me why I had my camera with me every day and when I said it was to take pictures, she looked as if I'd lost my mind and said she’d never heard of such a thing. My immediate thought was "maybe you should get out more, there's more to life than these beautiful brick buildings we work in.”

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Friday Afternoon Adventures

Adventure is a rather ambiguous term. For some people it can be hoofing it through a crosswalk while the red hand is flashing a warning and for others it's skydiving. For the most part, my idea of adventure is heading off in search of good photos in unfamiliar areas and seeing what happens next. Not sky diving but at least a couple of notches above sprinting through crosswalks.

My employer offers a summer schedule from Memorial Day to Labor Day. By working a little bit extra Monday through Thursday I am able to leave at 12:30 on Fridays. It's almost like having a three-day weekend all summer (not too shabby as a college friend used to say). Through the month of June the typical schedule is a quick lunch and then driving up to Vancouver, Washington before the 5:00 rush hour traffic, which on Fridays starts around 10:00 a.m. I have managed to cram the 19-mile trip into two hours but generally it's only about 45 minutes to an hour in slower moving traffic. The reason for making this trek each Friday (besides the photo ops) is the chance to take part in a Scottish Country Dance class that takes place farther out in the Columbia River Gorge, in the town of Stevenson, Washington. I meet up with a carpool in Vancouver around 6:00 and we drive out, have class, and get back around 10:00 p.m. It's a long day but worth it. So, all that to say I usually have about two to two and one-half hours to explore the area and look for photo-worthy sights.

Notice the blackberries
Clear days between January and July 4 are way too few and far between for this former desert rat. Every week when I drive up north I can't wait to see if Mt. Hood will be visible from the bridge that crosses the Columbia River. Finally, this week most of the mountain was visible. Driving across a smaller arm of the river, I noticed the marina was especially colorful with the mountain in the background and all the houseboats seemingly clustered around its base. After parking my car I started the long walk back across the bridge and headed towards the marina. Imagine my dismay when I saw a sign that said "Pedestrians Prohibited" posted on the bike path. I must admit to being a bit miffed. After all, bikes go absolutely everywhere in Portland, even where they shouldn't in my humble opinion. Surely one pedestrian wasn't going to gum up the works. But, being the usually law-abiding citizen that I am (and knowing people get tickets for offenses as minor as jay walking) I turned back to see if there was another way to get the same shot of the houseboats and Mt. Hood. I found a park near the water's edge and made my way down a steep hill covered with blackberry bushes (I have the scratches on my legs to prove it). I was pleased with the photos shown above, but they weren't quite what I had in mind.

As I turned around to leave the park I saw a woman coming toward me pushing a wheelbarrow. I asked her if she knew of another way to get a shot of the houseboats and Mt. Hood without going on the bike path. She didn't but was sure someone in one of the nearby stores could tell me. She herself was an artist and had painted the scene. She lived in one of the houseboats and I was really hoping she would offer to show me her work and I could snap a photo from her houseboat. No offer was made so I trooped back up the way I had come. I went across the street to a Chevron station to ask someone there if they knew about the bike path.
One of the attendants (in Oregon it's illegal to pump your own gas), a tall man with longish hair and a gap-toothed grin, spoke to me as I came up, noting that I had made a big loop around the area. I asked him about the no pedestrian sign and if it was a serious no trespassing sign or just a cautionary kind of sign. He said pedestrians were always using the path and it wasn't a problem. I thought to myself as I left "yes, but are you sure, I mean you have no teeth," but he seemed like a nice guy so I figured I would give it a shot. As I neared the beginning of the path, I decided the sign was intended for the freeway entrance on the other side of the bike path. And, even if that wasn't the case, it would make a good defense if the need arose. I was very glad I talked to the man at the station because the shots with the houseboats and the mountain were exactly what I was looking for in my afternoon quest.

After taking at least 100 pictures, probably only a slight exaggeration, I headed back across the bridge and to my car. Along the way, the orange poppies and the sailboats caught my eye. Fortunately, there were a lot of boats because I had to fuss so much with the shutter speed and aperture that by the time I was ready for it, the boat had moved out of range and I had to wait for the next one to come along. 

This completed the first phase of my picture outing and it was time to move onto the second part. I parked on a residential street and headed off to look for unsuspecting flowers to pounce on and add to my growing collection of closeups. I wasn't disappointed. Roses are always a favorite and the bluebells in the next block were posing up a storm so I had to take their pictures too. All in all, it was another successful adventure and one which I hope to repeat for the next few weeks.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mt. Hood - The Mountain that Moves

Mt. St. Helens 
Mt. Rainier
Growing up in the southwestern part of the United States there weren't a lot of opportunities for mountain sightings.  Now, don't get me wrong, there are lots of places to hike and be in the mountains and enjoy nature, but there aren't many snow-capped mountain peaks hanging around in the high desert. The first time I traveled to Oregon and saw Mt. Hood it was hard to comprehend that in the middle of the summer, and while enjoying 70-80 degree weather, it was possible to see this looming white presence from downtown Portland.

I remember driving along I-5 and seeing over 11,222 feet of mountain ahead and wondering how it was that the other drivers on the highway were just going about their business instead of doing the obvious thing, which was to pull off the road and stand staring in rapt amazement. I guess it's possible to get used to seeing mountains on your morning commute, but I don't see how.

One of the little games I started playing when I first moved to the Portland area was finding the different spots where Mt. Hood was visible. Sometimes it was the whole mountain or the top third and sometimes it was just the tip, and only then on a clear day and at just the right spot in the road. A friend who has lived here for many years remembers when she could easily see Mt. Hood from an upstairs window, but now has to stand in the bathtub and hang her head out the bathroom window to get a glimpse of it through the trees. I haven't posted any pictures from those particular vantage points because there's nothing photo-worthy about them (and I don't often go standing in other people's bathtubs just to take a picture of the side of a mountain).

The pink sunrise picture was taken about a mile north of where I live on a crisp January morning. Now, if I do an about face, go to the top of the street, turn right, go down a block, turn left, and then wind my way up, the view is more like the picture above taken on a sunny June afternoon. Just to throw in an extra twist, if instead of crossing the street and turning left, I continue straight ahead, I can see the mountain bobbing and weaving ahead of me.  At the four-way stop if I turn left, guess what? The mountain turns with me, although now it's mostly hidden by the trees. Throw in a few more twists and turns on the way to the downtown area and this is the view you'll have on a clear fall day (full disclosure, I edited out the phone lines, I figured Mt. Hood was there first so it's not cheating). After six years, I'm still finding places in the city where the mountains are visible and I hadn't realized it. It's rather difficult not to stop and point at the mountain and, as someone is passing by, say to them, "Oh look, there's Mt. Hood." You get the oddest looks from people as they slowly back away from you.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Portland - The Staircase City

One of the fun things about moving to a city you know absolutely nothing about (and this may be the only fun thing about moving to an unfamiliar city) is the exploring you get to do once you've gotten over the shock of moving. Because I didn't have a job when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I spent my days online searching for work and in between submitting resumes and unpacking, I did a lot of walking. Since I didn't know anyone, it gave me something to do and helped me learn my way around the area without having to spend money on gas.

After I conquered my town, I moved onto bigger things: Portland Neighborhoods. Now, something to understand about the Portland neighborhoods is that the majority of them, at least on the west side of the Willamette River, seem to make a concentric circle as they climb to the top of the various hills overlooking the city. Back in the day (as in the early 1900's) the city was connected by street car. The easiest way for people who lived at the top of the hill to make it to the street car lines below was by staircase. This street car/staircase connection is still evident by the number of bus stops at the foot of a number of staircases.

I first discovered Portland's staircase history after reading  a short book by Laura O. Foster called, oddly enough, The Portland Stairs Book. The book has detailed instructions for four different routes (one for each quadrant of the city) and also lists the staircases by location in the back. Armed with my book, GPS, camera, and trusty iPod, I have spent many a weekend in various Portland neighborhoods in search of staircases. Now, not all staircases are created equal. Some are over 100 steps while others are quite short. There's one in NW Portland that has benches half-way up, no doubt put there by someone with a sympathetic nature. Others travel past beautiful yards lined by picket fences, as seen in the picture above.

One of the more rewarding aspects of exploring neighborhoods is going down a dead end and finding either a trail to another dead-end street or a staircase. This seems to happen at least half of the time, which is good because if there's anyone out in their yard I always feel rather ridiculous traipsing past the "Dead End" sign, going down to the end of the street and turning around and going back out. Some staircases will put you smack dab in the middle of someone's yard, like the staircase on the right, but the homeowners don't seem to mind as long as you stay on the garden path. 

At times, you also encounter how people have a sense of humor about the amount of effort it takes to get up the stairs. One particularly long staircase had a spray painted saying on it referring to the great effect climbing stairs had on one's backside (backside of what I'm not sure since all you want to do after running stairs is to sit on it). On another long, multi-flight staircase, some sadistic soul numbered every 50th step. As if I felt better knowing I was on stair number 189.

While I've done a lot of the staircases in Portland, I still have a number of them to put together into a Saturday hike. That's another nice thing about the northwest, there are plenty of options for climbing, whether it be stairs, trails, or rocks, to see a mountain view.