Archive for September, 2009

Chimney swift slumber party

September 22, 2009

It’s a chimney swift slumber party every night in September at Chapman Elementary School in Portland. Since the late 1980s, Vaux’s Swifts have used the school’s smokestack as a roosting spot during their fall migration to southern Central America. As many as 35,000 of the small black birds circle the chimney each evening around sunset and then pack in to spend the night.

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Chapman Elementary, at the intersection of NE Pettygrove Street and NE 26th Avenue in Portland

Some friends and I wanted to see it all go down. We arrived by bike around 6:45 p.m. and positioned ourselves among many others on the grassy hillside overlooking the school. Members of the Audubon Society of Portland stood by to loan out binoculars and answer all swift-related questions, and a neighborhood boy sold his mom’s chocolate chip cookies at a stand across the street.

Munching, we waited for the spectacle to start.

The birds arrived one or two at a time at first, but after a while, they came in droves and filled the sky. They swooped and rose, dipped and dove and eventually took up a counterclockwise direction, circling again and again above the smokestack. Then, as if on command, a segment of the flock began spiraling into the chimney like coffee grounds in a draining sink.

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The birds continued funneling into the chimney on and off for about half an hour, majorly interrupted only once when a hawk swept in and picked one off. (Is fishing in a barrel really fair?)

Eventually, only a few dozen birds remained outside. The group tried diving into the chimney once, twice, three times, but without success. It was full. After a few more attempts, the birds gave up and flew west toward Forest Park to fend for themselves.

The audience applauded, and the show was over. Until the next day.

By the way: Byways Café

September 9, 2009

Byways Cafe

If you’ve never been humbled by a plate of French toast, it’s time you make a trip to Byways Café, a 1950s diner at 1212 N.W. Glisan Street, right in the heart of Portland’s ritzy Pearl District. The down-home café serves a killer plate of Amaretto French Toast — four thick, fluffy pieces of brioche served with honey pecan butter and maple syrup — piled so high you’ll have to take a moment to admire before you dig in.

Mmmm

Good thing we split a plate between the three of us. Trying to tackle servings solo would have done us in.

The walls and glass cases above the booths in the café are filled with the type of travel kitsch your grandmother would bring you home from summer vacation — snow globes, porcelain bells, commemorative plates. The decor gives the place a comfortable, retro feel.

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Cabinet fillings by our booth

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The counter, during a rare moment when it’d cleared out

The wait staff was friendly enough that I forgave them for not bringing me a cup of coffee until the third time I asked (once it arrived, it was good).

Also on the breakfast menu: blue corn pancakes, biscuits and gravy, all sorts of scrambles and hash. Lunch is apparently available sometimes too, and on that menu, you’ll find burgers, corned beef sandwiches, fried egg sandwiches and BLTs. Portions are hearty.

To know what’s going on at Byways RIGHT NOW, find them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bywayscafe.

While I was out

September 8, 2009

I’m terribly sorry to have disappeared since, well… April 12. I got caught up in my job reporting for The Times (serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Ore.) and funneled most of my writing energy into covering a rabbit hoarder arrested for breaking her restraining order against rabbits, a police investigation of a hobo hit by a train, the rise of a rapper from suburbia, the school district’s firing and rehiring of its teaching force and other stuff involving the city of Tigard, 10 miles south of Portland, and its 15 schools.

I loved my job at The Times, but, alas, Friday was my last day. I’m headed for the creative nonfiction graduate writing program at Portland State University, which starts Sept. 28. I’m looking forward to dedicating the next two years of my life to learning everything I can about the craft of writing and stretching myself into new territory. I’ll also be teaching undergraduate composition classes as part of an assistantship, which will be an adventure in itself.

In an attempt to make up for my months away from Out to See and offer a glimpse into the summertime scene in Portland, I’ll post a few photos from the last few months.

Bikey fun

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Portland celebrated Pedapalooza 2009 from June 11 – 27. The two-week bike festival featured a naked ride through the downtown streets, rides in which all participants dressed up as pirates, cowboys and zombies, a couples-only Bike Kiss-In during which riders smooched at intersections, and an urban homestead ride where participants visited three expert veggie gardens in the Portland area. Above, unicycle jousting at the culminating event, a bike fest in Colonel Summers Park. It got ugly.

Oops

My sister Laura and I went backpacking in the Elwha River Valley in Olympic National Park in late July. Unfortunately, we didn’t take a good look at each other before we left town and realized on the way — after several sets of strangers commented — that we were wearing the EXACT same outfit: blue shorts, gray shirts, hiking boots. Unfortunately, neither of us had brought a change of clothes, and we had to put up with the comment “I’m seeing DOUBLE!” from multiple people we passed on the trail.

Morning light on ferns — the view from our tent.

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The peeling bark of the evergreen Madrona tree.

Full of hot air

Hot air balloon on the inside

I went up in a hot air balloon for a story I wrote about Tigard’s annual balloon festival for The Times. I took this shot from the basket just as the pilot released that black piece of fabric from the top to lower us. The story I wrote about the experience is here.

A rock in a haystack

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When our parents visited, we took a field trip to Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach. Then we ate Shrimp Louie at a nearby restaurant.

Lots of pots

Pots!

Laura has continued her study of pottery at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. I’ve continued my study of breakfast, out of pretty bowls.

The Decemberists in July

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Unlike most of Portland, I wasn’t a huge Decemberists fan before I saw them play with Blind Pilot and Andrew Bird at the McMenamins venue outside the historic Edgefield Manor near Troutdale, Ore. But after seeing the band perform its rock opera “Hazards of Love” live, my mind changed. They were incredible.

Opal Creek

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We could hear rushing water all during our night hike into the Opal Creek Wilderness on the west slope of the Cascades (the beams of our headlamps picked up a a frog, a newt and two scorpions — ack!). In the morning, we realized we’d been walking beside a crystal clear creek full of deep, wide swimming holes. They were freezing, but the sun was out, and we jumped in.

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The broken windshield of a rusted car we encountered along the trail on the way out.

Soapbox Derby

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A giant rodent, miniature ice cream truck and normal-sized coffin roared down the road winding around Mount Tabor during the 9th-annual Adult Soapbox Derby on Aug. 22. The event required them to get down the mountain in a car powered soley by gravity in the quickest time possible.

Among the rules:

  • Each car must be piloted by a driver that will remain sober until the car is no longer racing
  • The car must have functional brakes
  • The car must have a horn
  • The car may not weigh more than 500 pounds
  • Teams may not spend more than $300 on their vehicles

We watched from a grassy spot along the road — and pretty much avoided getting wet from the competitors who opted to douse spectators on their way down the track.

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Team Lego Maniacs hydrates for the competition

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They might look like they’d go fast, but team Twin Barrels Burning crept and swerved unsteadily down the mountain

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That would be team Pigs in Space (note the pig ears and noses on the participants).

OK, well that’s pretty much all I have in my “things I should have blogged about” file. I hope to be more attentive to this site during my next venture.