Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Evening Strolls and Afternoon Rambles

It seems you just never know what is going to be around the corner, even when in a familiar area.  I've been grounded from running for the last few months due to some injuries so the camera has been an even more constant companion.  Now that summer is finally here (well, mostly here), I've been enjoying an evening stroll after work.  Last week while walking in a different neighborhood, I passed a Buick. Wildcat that had seen better days  I'm a sucker for old cars. I can't imagine anything we drive now becoming a classic in 40 years (who would want a 40 year old Prius?), but then maybe that's what people said back in the 1950's and 60's. Despite the rust and peeling paint, this old Wildcat still had that muscle car attitude.

Earlier last week week, I was in a different neighborhood enjoying the evening twilight (it is nice to have long summer evenings, it makes up for the 4:00 p.m. darkness in the winter) and was struck by the way the sun was bouncing off this upturned rose.  It was rather like a spotlight shining on the lead character on stage in an empty theater. Fortunately, the effect lasted long enough for me to fiddle with the manual exposure on my camera. It's almost impossible (well for me anyway) to take a picture right the first time. If something happens quickly I might as well not even try for a shot, or else be satisfied with something so overexposed it's unrecognizable or a totally black screen.  Good thing roses are not prone to sudden movements.

Near downtown Portland there are rows of older homes that ooze character and charm.  It's difficult to take a picture that encompasses the entire house because they tend to be very near the sidewalk and then there is the matter of the trees looming over everything. If you want a picture of tree limbs and maybe a bit of roof line, you've come to the right place. I've learned to just take pictures of one or two aspects of the house, something that sets it apart from the others. This is a good example, I mean how many houses have yellow and purple stair railings?
Probably one of the more unusual things I've come across was the railroad castle. It's not every day you walk along the road in Vancouver, Washington and come across a castle sitting near the railroad tracks, or near anything else for that matter. And there wasn't just a castle (but wait, there's more!). There was a small pond nearby and what appeared to be a mill house perching on the edge of the water. This of course was a photo op not easily passed up. The sun was not in an optimal place for taking pictures, although here in Portland anytime the sun is out we consider that optimal, but with a little bobbing and weaving I managed to get some shots that weren't totally bleached out.

The main purpose I had in walking along this particular road was to get a picture of Mt. Hood from the river. According to Google maps, and we know it's always accurate, there was a good view of Mt. Hood at the end of a street that ran right to the water's edge. The only problem was there was no mention of the chain link fence that all but blocked the view. Once again, with a little focusing and zooming, and holding my left eyebrow just right, I managed to get some pictures that were something like what I had in mind and had more mountain in them than chain link. If I'd known that part of taking pictures was being able to contort into all sorts of shapes, I'd have paid more attention in ballet class.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Finally, Summer!

Taken on 07/05/12
One of the biggest culture shocks I encountered after moving to the Portland area was that summer typically begins on July 5. Ask anyone on the street what the first day of summer is and July 5 is what they will invariably say. Granted, there are usually a few days here and there of full fledged sun before that, but no one counts on a clear weather forecast for more than a day or two until some time in July (and even then there can be an unpleasant surprise or two). However, this year is living up to the norm and summer is here.

When the sun comes out, so does Portland in all its pasty splendor. Everyone comes creeping out of their homes, eyes all squinty, wondering what that great shiny orb is in the sky giving off something that feels very much like heat. Oh yes, we all say, I remember seeing something very much like that about nine months  ago. I can't remember exactly what it's called but it starts with an "s." You may think I'm kidding but after about eight months of mostly cloudy skies (ever notice how weather forecasters go with partly sunny instead of mostly cloudy?) and a fair amount of rain, everyone in town wants to be outside as much as possible.

Fortunately, today was no exception to the sunshine rule and most of the city was out and about enjoying mostly sunny weather, although a few clouds did creep in, for much of the day. It was a perfect day for a walk along the Willamette River. There's a lovely river walk in Portland that can be reached on either the west or east side and makes a fairly decent loop and includes a walk on top of or below a bridge or two. 

At Waterfront Park there are always geese strutting along the grass. Head north along the sidewalk and to the stairs that will take you to the top of the Hawthorne Bridge. Like most bridges in Portland, this one can be raised to allow ships/boats to pass underneath. Instead of pavement, cars drive along what looks like glorified chicken wire. The tires on the metal make a curious humming sound. There are wide sidewalks on both sides to allow pedestrians and bicyclists room to maneuver past each other. After crossing the bridge to the east side of the river, continue heading north along what is known as the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. 

The Esplanade also goes south to OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, but that will be for another adventure. It's a very pleasant walk along the river, always keeping in mind that a jogger or cyclist might pass by at any moment. The Esplanade has stair access at the Burnside and Steel Bridge and actually goes along the bottom part of the Steel Bridge, giving a birds eye view of well, birds. The Max train runs along the top of the bridge and on the bottom level it isn't unusual to have the BNSF running along less than 10 feet away.                            
This morning there was quite a long wait for the train to go by. When the arms finally lifted, a horde of foot and bike traffic streamed across the track. Continuing north on this side of the river puts you within blocks of the Pearl District, Old Town, and China Town. The Fremont and Broadway Bridge are just visible from this vantage point. I continued on until the sidewalk ended (sounds like a good name for a poem) and then headed to China Town. In China Town, all the street signs are bright red and have both English and Chinese characters. At this point I continued south and soon found my way in the more familiar territory of Pioneer Square and Pioneer Courthouse. A few miles more will take you back through the heart of downtown, along a pedestrian trail, and back over the freeway. There are a number of places to park for excursions like this that are free and have no time restrictions on weekends, if you don't mind walking a bit extra. And on days like this, there's nothing else I'd rather do.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tales of a Tightwad Walker

I'm tight with money, I admit it. The word frugal sounds better, but it all boils down to the same thing: if I can save a few pennies by exerting a little effort, I'm more than happy to do so. Examples of this are walking around the apartment in seven layers of clothes during the winter to avoid turning on the heat, making three meals out of my favorite Chinese  takeout, and walking instead of driving as much as I can. The last one is especially helpful in finding new pictures to take since taking pictures while driving full speed is usually frowned upon. Besides, the pictures are usually rather blurry and about two seconds too late. But I digress.

One other area where this frugality comes through, especially in the summer, has to do with berries. When I moved here it was in October and I wondered what these long, treacherous looking thorny vines were that seemed to grow all over the city. Well, come summer I discovered that what looked like some random relative of the wild rose family was actually a blackberry bush. There's just something about blackberries when they're picked off the vine on a warm summer day (assuming they're ripe of course, nothing will pucker your face up like a tart blackberry). They just smell like summer. During the evenings in July and September, I often spend a bit of time picking blackberries in the nearest neighborhood bramble. They're wonderful in oatmeal, cobbler, fruit salads, well you get the idea.

Flowers abound at the market
A few weeks ago as I was walking home from the local farmers market, I noticed what appeared to be strawberry plants growing along one particular stretch of road. I found that rather odd and didn't bother them in case they were someone's garden. On later reflection, it seemed unlikely that anyone would plant strawberries across the street from their house and I decided the city must have planted them. This was backed up by my discovery last week of blueberry bushes growing along the route I take during my lunch hour walk.

Being the health conscious person I am (ahem, well sometimes am), I decided to go strawberry picking one evening last week. Camera in hand, of course, I started off on the three-mile trek. Along the way, I came across some beautiful flowers growing in the yard of an elderly English couple that I have had the pleasure of visiting with in the past. Further down the street there was a fascinating specimen of a banana slug, but I'll spare you the gory details. Nothing makes me shudder quite like a slimy slug oozing its way through life.

Finally, I made it to the street with the berries. There weren't a lot of ripe ones yet, but there were enough to sprinkle on at least two bowls of oatmeal. After picking the berries, I headed back home along one of the busier streets in town that also runs alongside one part of the local country club golf course. I don't play golf, frankly I find it boring, but I will say that this part of the course is rather lovely with the pond, willow tree, bridge, and fake swan.

Yes, a fake swan, rather like some juvenile giant's rubber ducky. Regardless of the fake bird, I did want a shot of the pond and the tree and bridge reflected in it. There's a guardrail along the road (to keep the blackberry bushes from encroaching) and after stepping over it I started to make my way down the small slope to the path around the course. Trouble was, my feet slid out from under me and I slipped and landed on, sadly, my strawberry bag. I have to admit to holding in a chuckle because it is pretty funny when you think about strawberries being smashed en route to take a picture of a fake bird in a fake pond (for all I know, the tree and bridge aren't real either). Upon further examination I could tell at least three or four berries were still intact so it wasn't a total loss. At least I got some decent pictures out of it. I'm tempted to enter them in the local photo contest under the title "Fake Swan Lake" but I'm not sure I have enough nerve to do that. The swan was photo shopped out of the picture above and to the right. After all, if the swan is fake, then there's no harm in doing a little fakery with the picture either.