Friday, April 28, 2017

Falling through the Cracks

"Living in a van down by the river!"...for me, I'd call that a good night! Most nights that I'm out traveling, I'm finding sleep between rumbling semis at a rest area/truck stop or in a shop parking lot (if I'm lucky). Sometimes I just find a quiet residential area and roll in late at night. Quietly park the truck/camper/trailer and take the dog for a quick walk and then bed down. Always on the move before 7am so as to not bring attention. Sometimes, a large hotel parking lot will do. And once in awhile, I wind down a national forest road and sleep beneath the stars out in the woods. But most often, I'm right in "it". I'm in the belly of cities as most folks are tucked beneath their covers and behind locked doors. Fueling the truck before finding sleep, or a late night grocery run for the standards (avocados, nuts, coffee, vegis) all gives you a viewpoint I don't think most see. And when you are sleeping out on the street your street smarts have to keep you safe. You are tuned in just a bit more than your average person driving back to their home on a route they do daily.

There are no "office hours" for this job. I wait for traffic to subside and then I drive by night with the big rig pros who are more predictable on the highway than a texting commuter.

I lived in Portland from 2000-2004. Right out of college I moved west and settled into the "home of the strange". But, everyone would say how Portland had that small town feel for a big city. And it was true. The quadrants of town and nano-hoods really let you feel a sense of community. It was charming and electric. Especially in the spring when all the winter moisture fueled an incredible bloom of flora in the streets. This is still my favorite part of Portland and Seattle. I still enjoy leaving the arid sunny central Oregon to arrive in these two cities and breathe in the fragrance from the springtime bloom.

Some say change happens slowly, but if you live in these cities you have seen the homeless and drug epidemic explode. Every bridge and building overhang has occupancy and the cities seem to only have options that resemble sticking your finger in a leaking Dam hole. I took a walk this morning in Portland. About 5 city blocks in an area of town that hosts restraunts/bars/retail/apartments/homes. I left the dog in the truck because there is just too much bad stuff for him to get into with his curious snout. Two weeks ago, I took my family to Portland to visit OMSI. My 6 year old really wanted to see Burnside Skate Park so we went down to watch for a bit. They got to see a couple drug deals go down and walk around a few discarded needles on the sidewalk. We got out of there as fast as possible. My "spidey sense" while at the park watching just said to keep moving. Two days later I biked along Portland's beautiful riverfront to get to the Pearl District's REI. The cherry trees were in blossom along the riverfront but the beauty of this sight and smells was juxtaposed by the squalor of drugged out encampments and strained humans bedding down at the end of their high. And to be fair, not all homeless are choosing the high life. Some are deeply suffering from mental illness and some just can't find work or afford to make ends meet. The street doesn't know the difference and I think that it is easy for most folks to not see the difference either.

I'm sad to say that I don't see solutions. I see "splints" and "bandages" and sometimes "coffins" but there is no solution to the desperate crimes and struggle all over the city now. Everyone's car is subject to window shopping now days in Portland/Seattle/SF/Sacramento. The thief that feeds their hunger feels justified. The homeowner that peers through their drapes at any noise outside is conditioned to be watchful and guarded. It feels like war now.

Encampment along a very busy Sandy Blvd, SE Portland

I was told that this building has to get painted every 3 weeks

A sleeping bag and makeshift shelter beneath this overhang

4 basecamps along the sidewalk

That is about 30 tents under this I-205 bridge

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Paddling under the covers in Portland

One benefit of this winter is that some of the small rivers and creeks that become murky in the summer are now flowing with fresh water.  I lived in Portland for 5 years before moving to Bend but I had not paddled the Columbia Slough near Whitaker Ponds until this weekend. Given the huge truck and trailer, I arrived at the meet up location a couple hours early. Did a bit of computer work in the new camper to the sounds of a territorial rooster in the park. He walked around the grounds of Whitaker natural area like he owned it. His morning wake up call rustled some of the folks that make their homes in the bushes and banks of the Columbia Slough. Homeless in Portland is no easy task. Wet, muddy and cold is how I described the look of a few individuals that I saw leaving their makeshift shelters hidden in the forest. Yet, they may be closer to the nature of this town than most. A lot has changed in Portland since I lived there. As with any urban area, the waterways are a good indicator of the health of a city. We saw beauty but also a lot of bruises on the Columbia Slough. Thanks to the crew at Next Adventure in Portland OR for setting up this outing.

I met some great new paddling friends. Here is Steve paddling a 1999 Falcon 18 from Eddyline that he picked up as a 3rd user for the great deal of $1000. Eighteen years later, I'd say this kayak is aging with Beauty!

Sad to say that some of this Slough did not share the same beauty. I've heard there are resources and clean-ups in motion and that is great. I'l like to think that each new paddler brought to the Columbia Slough will feel a deeper connection to the watershed. They might push back at some of the less harmonious industrial practices (not all) or think a bit more when purchasing products that create waste. Like bottled water as seen below.

Not exactly what you want to see at the far end of your route.

Still, there was plenty of wildlife and beauty to see. There was a turtle coming out on a log to enjoy the almost forgotten Portland sunshine. We saw beaver and nutria. A Heron watched our progress through their hunting grounds:

Paddling along a golf course brought forth my memories of forestry education where one of my professors said that despite golf courses using too many fertilizers, they were a perfect place for open-canopy trees to represent themselves:

But, don't let this manicured golf course fool you! There were a few other intrusions:

Not sure what was coming out of here but it certainly
was flowing fast! 
Some storage totes and tents wrapped up in the logs

It was a wonderful 1/2 day paddle deep under the covers of Portland. We were near the airport, homes and industry. Yet, for a couple hours, we witnessed some vibrant nature and also some sorrowful sights. Just like in life, you have to choose your attitude when you see ugliness out on the water. I was inspired to appreciate the strength of nature and try to do my bit to help her succeed. Never again will I paddle without garbage bags on sections like this. Assuming they don't fill up right outside my truck:

Thursday, March 9, 2017