Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Miracles at Christmas


A time for miracles.

They don’t have to be big, like the parting of the sea, or water changing into alcoholic beverages. They can be itty-bitty and still be miracles, right?

My mother found a pretty, airy red scarf, with white and green Santas, accenting her red coat, and the red and green hat she wore to church on Christmas eve. After church my parents and I drove over to my sister’s house, where they were serving savory dinner crepes, sweet dessert crepes, cold champagne and warm memories. At the table, my mother threw her scarf over her shoulder and it landed on the Christmas tea candles behind her on the buffet. Luckily, my daughter, whom I've always thought of as a heroine, leaped up, dashed around the table and smothered the flame before the rest of us even knew of the problem. No damage, except to the offending scarf. A miracle.

The next day, after dropping my parents off at their apartment, I waited at the light to return to my sister’s house. There is ongoing construction at the freeway on-ramp/off-ramp, which is confusing enough for frequent visitors, so I cannot imagine being there, just for the day. Some poor soul turned up the freeway off-ramp and started to climb toward the freeway. Because of the construction, there is no shoulder, no room to maneuver to avoid collision. I gripped the steering wheel and scrunched my head into my shoulders, squeezing my eyes shut. I heard the horns, the screech of tires, and the wild racing of my heart. But not the gnash of metal on metal. No screams. I opened one eye and saw the cars exiting the freeway had come to a stop a few feet from the front end of the disoriented vehicle. Another miracle.

Then, on my way home, as I crossed the Columbia River separating Oregon from Washington, I sped by Government Island and on a tree right next to the bridge, a bald eagle shimmered in the sunlight. Sunlight. In winter. In Washington.


How about you? Did you experience any Christmas miracles?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Carols and Apricot Brandy

Merry Christmas

This morning it was 22 degrees. It warmed up to 32, and I was called upon to shiver outside on crunchy, white grass, still covered in frozen fog.

It reminded me of Christmas caroling with my family, years ago. We used to snuggle into ski jackets, hats, scarves, and brave the winter cold in the Bay Area in California, caroling around whichever neighborhood had not yet called the police on us. Sometimes we’d enlist the help of friends, telling them people loved to hear us sing. This was not true. We were the only ones who loved to hear us sing. Everyone else threw the dead-bolt, pulled their curtains and turned up their televisions.

One particular year, the temperatures dipped below 50 and our breaths blew white puffs in the glow of streetlights and blinking green and gold bulbs. We had made up books with the words to carols we could sing in harmony, and we strolled along the quiet neighborhood, blasting out our Christmas cheer, ignored by all humanity. Our heads were covered with the usual assortment of Santa hats, reindeer hats, moose hats and polar bear hats and my mother’s hand-knit mittens covered our hands, but the cold seeped through our jackets and reddened our noses. We began to wonder if it was all worth it.

My mother slid a hand inside her parka and extracted a flask of apricot brandy. My mother, the woman who warned against the dangers of alcohol, and only broke out the wine at special occasions. A little brandy mixed with a cup of eggnog once a year was the extent of my brandy knowledge. “Well, look what I have here,” she said.

“Where did you get that?” I asked, my mouth dropping as wide as my frozen jaw allowed.

“It was a gift,” she smirked. “I think this is just the time to open it.” And she did, right there in the middle of the sidewalk, with red, green, yellow, and blue Christmas house lights reflecting on the brown glass. She tipped her head back and took a swallow, like a hoodlum from West Side Story. My mother! She plucked a white, embroidered hanky from her sleeve and wiped the rim, holding up the bottle. “Who’s next?”

I was probably twenty-one, and possibly still in college, and contrary to the stereotype college student, I rarely drank, and only if there was a designated driver.

But we were walking.

My hand extended toward the bottle. “Lemme have a swig,” I said, in my best gangster drawl. Surprisingly, apricot brandy was yummy out of the bottle. The hanky wiped away any deadly germs and I passed the bottle to the next person. It was like being part of the cast of “A Pocket Full of Miracles.” We sang, we sipped, we strolled, we snickered and we sang some more. What is more, we no longer cared when someone drew their drapes and doused the lights. We harmonized, giggled, crooned and guzzled, until we’d circled the block.

As I shivered outside today, listening to the lecture, and noticed the other people huddled in jackets and coats, teeth chattering and feet stamping to keep the blood circulating, I thought about that apricot brandy. It was not the place to sing Christmas carols, or tipple a toddy, but I smiled when I thought of that evening of Christmas caroling with my family and friends, and I felt the warm flush of memories.

May your Christmas be filled with warmth, and music, and family and friends. And perhaps a nice, hot, buttered rum.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It may seem as though I don't like Christmas

Really, I do like Christmas. Honest I do. I wanted to write a nice, Christmas story to warm the reader's heart, but Bruce Murdock, from Portland's K103 radio station made me veer off the road with a story from Richland, Washington, yesterday. During a living nativity scene in front of the Cathedral of Joy, one of the shepherds burst into flame. They think his robes got too near the campfire and set him alight. While he tumbled down a hill, the three Wiseman tackled him, beating out the flames with their frankincense and myrrh. He was rushed to the local medical center with first and second degree burns to his hands and face.

After a short delay, the show went on.

Bruce Murdock went on to tell about his own Christmas experience back in about 1977. Like me, his house backed up to the woods and he was used to seeing the usual Pacific Northwest wildlife in his yard; raccoons, possums, etc., but as he stood at the kitchen sink, he glanced out of the window and spotted a sheep.

I've never spotted a sheep in my yard. I've had possum, raccoons, rabbits, deer, coyotes, snakes, bobcats and bears, but never have I had a sheep. Apparently he hadn't either.

He noticed it had a collar around its fluffy neck and scooped up his dog's leash, carefully approaching the animal, and slipping the hook onto the ring. He led the walking fleece into the front yard and tied it to the porch railing. Then he dialed 9-1-1.

"Oh, are you near the church?" the police asked.

They had been doing a living nativity at their neighborhood church when something frightened the sheep, causing a stampede out of the manger.

It was probably the flame from the shepherd’s robe.

A coworker told me nativity scenes are really dangerous, even the non-living ones. As a child, in Denmark, his father set up a small scene on his mother's sewing table. His dad had paper colored like stone, with a rough texture, that he'd drape across the table. He then placed Mary and Joseph and the baby, Jesus, into a little manager area made up of moss and rocks, surrounded by sheep and cattle, finally adding the shepherds and Wisemen on the outskirts.

After several years of this, they came home from the midnight service on Christmas Eve and lit the tiny candles to reflect on the coming of the Lord before going to bed. A little spark from the wick drifted down and set the three-year-old-moss on fire and the entire scene when up with a whoosh.

Might be how the shepherd's robes caught fire up in Richland.

Editor's note: Melanie Sherman does not know if it was the three Wiseman who beat out the flames of the shepherd.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Be careful what you say

In the last post I mentioned I sometimes have conversations I don't remember later, even when I was young. It is what people who are running for president should remember. Anything you've ever said or done can be used against you later.

It is amazing how something you say can have a lasting effect on someone else. Something that was so unimportant that you don't even remember it, can color a person's entire perception of you for years to come. What brought this to mind was a co-worker's story not long ago, when I was training a new person. Someone I'd worked with for years said to the new employee, "Oh, Melanie is a good person to have train you. She knows how to make you feel at home."

I stared at her, puzzled. I couldn't remember ever making an effort to make someone "feel at home."

"Don't you remember?" she asked. "You trained me."

I shrugged, vaguely remembering the training ten years before. "I guess."

She turned to the new worker. "It was my first day, and Melanie was showing me how to do the invoicing. I was very nervous, and at some point I opened my mouth and my gum fell out."

You'd think I'd remember that.

"What did I do?" I asked, sure I would have laughed, pointed and maybe handed her a bottle of glue to stick the gum back in her mouth. Or maybe I whipped out a pad of paper and pen and jotted it down, saying she would be in my next book.

"You looked down at the gum," she said, "then back at me, nodded and said, 'Oh, yeah, you are really going to fit in with the rest of us. We made the right choice.'"

I don't remember that at all, but it apparently made her like me from that moment forward. I didn't have the heart to tell her I probably wasn't being kind, but suspect I was merely stating a fact. She did fit in. It was just good fortune she took it as kindness.

But ever since then I wonder how many times it went the other way. How many times did I say something that made someone uncomfortable, or unhappy. I apologize to anyone I've insulted, demeaned, ignored or belittled, including that boy I called a pig-headed freak that time on the bus, riding home from middle school. And no, I'm not running for president, but Santa is certainly checking on his naughty and nice list.

Oh, and I'm really thinking of putting the gum incident into my next book.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I didn't forget, I deleted it

When I was younger, I used to have entire conversations I didn't remember later. There was a time a co-worker and I were discussing reporters, paparazzi, and journalists. We had been talking about how awful it must have been for Jackie Onassis, having tabloid reporters snapping pictures from near and far, with no regard for her at all. I mentioned that sometimes people who work for the tabloid media can be pretty obnoxious. My co-worker said, "Yeah, like that time that reporter was interviewing Abe Lincoln's widow?"

I turned, narrowing my gaze, wondering if this was something she had learned in school. "What reporter interviewed her?"

My co-worker smiled. "You know. When he said, 'Well, besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?'"

I laughed. "Yeah, that is the type of thing I'm talking about. How did you come up with that?"

She stared at me while the clock ticked, and steam rose from her coffee. "You told me that joke a month ago," she said, scratching her nose and tilting her head to check me for obvious signs of blunt trauma.

I chuckled. "Oh, yeah," I said.

But I didn't remember it at all.

It isn't that I forgot. It is just that I had to delete that joke from my memory because my RAM was full and I needed to remember something else. We only have so much ram, you know. Our minds are like computers. It is my theory that people with kids use up their RAM faster than childless people, because you have to remember your own things, plus the things your children are supposed to remember, but don't. So, when your RAM gets full, and you need to learn something new--like a new computer program at work, or your doctor's appointment--then you must delete something you don't feel you need any longer. In this case, it was the Mrs. Lincoln joke.

This makes life so much easier. Using my theory, you don't ever have to forget anything again. If you come home and your husband says, "Did you remember to pick up my shirts at the cleaners?" and you hadn't, it is because you had to delete it in order to learn something else. Certainly there are times we end up deleting something we probably should have maintained. These are unfortunate computer glitches. Occasionally they can be retrieved, but not without a lot of effort.

My motto is, "It isn't that I forgot, it is just that I had to delete that."

I'm running toward the sunset years, and I worry about it. I'll be deleting more and more as time goes on, and I don't know how to run my brain's defragmentation program.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Black Friday is not for the dogs

My cats were really happy to see me go back to work on Monday, after I'd had four days off with them. Apparently, I annoyed them. I wouldn't let them fight, or saunter across the counters, or snuggle on my black, velour jacket. The worst part of it, though, was while I was sleeping through the madness of the middle-of-the-night-Black-Friday-frenzy, one of them knocked over my purse and took my credit card. Later, just in time, I found him at my computer. He was on the Petsmart website, trying to buy cat treats. He already had 700 dollars worth of cat toys in the shopping cart.

Wilson Afonso from Sydney, Australia

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sometimes orders are useless

End of Thanksgiving Weekend

I drove down to Oregon to visit my parents today. It was a high-speed windshield wiper drive, both going down and coming back. The kind where traffic is traveling under the speed limit, and passing a truck is like crawling through a car wash.
So, by the time I got near my parents and saw this Peet's Coffee and Tea truck, and read the "Follow me to the grocery store!" on the back of the truck, I was ready to obey the order.

It took a half hour for me to realize the truck was parked.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thankful for Vancouver

Thanksgiving Week

Every year, around this time, I try to notice all the wonderful things worthy of heartfelt thanks, because I'm thankful, yes, but also in case someone gets the bright idea--around the Thanksgiving table--to make everyone mention why we are thankful. During those times I gaze at the ceiling, and can think of nothing. I'm hoping by posting this, that I'll remember enough to blather out some of the below, instead of having to say the usual, "Um...I'm just thankful...ah," and all the family gathered round the table stare, with eyebrows lifted in encouragement and some of them even nod their heads as if that will help me think of something, "for...um...my family. Yes. And, um, for this meal. And for dessert. There is something for dessert, right?"

How lame is that?

So without further ado, let me take you on a tour of things to be thankful for in Vancouver, Washington. Because it really is a beautiful place, a nice photo opportunity.

Photo of photographer, photographing a family on Officer's Row

Ester Short Park

Ester Short Park is located in downtown Vancouver and is the oldest public square in the state of Washington. It was given to the city by Ester Short back in 1853. If you look all the way across the park, you'll see a silver vehicle which is parked in front of the Ester Short Starbucks. This is important information in case you are planning to visit our city.

Army Air Corps
Pearson Field

Pearson Field is a lovely, small airport, located just behind/beside Fort Vancouver and houses the lovely Pearson Air Museum. If you look in the background you'll see our own Mt. Hood.

Mt. Hood

Okay, I took a close-up of Mt. Hood. Technically, it isn't Vancouver's mountain, since it is actually located in Oregon, and we don't pay any taxes on it. Which makes it all the more endearing to us.

Columbia River, taken from Fort Vancouver Park with PDX in the background

Technically, the part of the Columbia River from the east side of Vancouver, to the west side, belongs to Vancouver. It is what separates the "Normal Vancouver" Washington from the "Weird Portland" Oregon. However, we let Oregon share in the taxes, and even allowed them to place the airport along its banks.

Fort Vancouver is also the home of the Fort Vancouver Fireworks on the 4th of July every year. It is one of the best shows in the nation.

Fort Vancouver Promenade

One of the loveliest spots in Vancouver is the above promenade. It runs along the river and provides ample opportunity for runners, power walkers, dog walkers, strollers, skaters, bicyclists, joggers, and people on scooters to breath in the fresh air while watching sailing vessels and barges floating along the Columbia.

Vancouver Library, 2011

Vancouver has new condos, hotels, parks and libraries, but it also has old, historic sites. This picture shows the old and the new. Above, you see young trees outside of the library, but in the reflection of the library building, you see old, tall Douglas firs.

Fort Vancouver, Tower

Vancouver is fortunate to have its own fort, located along the Columbia River. It was built in the 19th century.
Hudson's Bay Company

Fort Vancouver was not a military fort, but was a fur trading post for the Hudson's Bay Company.

Fort Vancouver

It is now a National Historic Site and is part of the U.S. National Park Service. You may stroll behind the gates of the fort to experience life in the mid 1800's at this facility. They make hard-tack and have trading beads, and Hudson's Bay blankets, and lots of people who appear to be straight out of history.

Marshall House, Officer's Row

The Marshall House is on Officer's Row, and is available to the public to rent for weddings, parties and my birthday.

Lantern Tours

Schedule today. You won't be sorry. Unless you are afraid of ghosts.

Officer's Row

I've read that most of the houses on Officer's Row have ghosts. I've not seen one, but others claim to have spotted them.

Vancouver is a beautiful city and I'm thankful to live here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Anything you say can be used against you

Do you ever have privacy in a cubical jungle? No, but let's not admit it to anyone.

Today, my co-worker in the next cubical, told me she'd invited another co-worker, Cory, for Thanksgiving.

"Her kids are going over to their dad's house, so she would have been alone. All her family is in another state," Ronnie said.

"So is she going?" I asked.

"Yes, she accepted." Ronnie confirmed.

"I'm glad," I said. "She is so sweet."

From across the room, Lynn's soft voice floated over the tops of the cubicals. "Who's sweet?"

"We don't want to say," I chirped, teasing Lynn. "We don't want to spread rumors."

"But I want to know. Who's sweet? Who are you talking about."

I snorted. "We don't want to say. What if we're wrong?"

A moment followed when only the click of keyboards could be heard. "I still want to know who you were talking about," Lynn said from across the room.

I grinned. "We were talking about you, Lynn. You are sweet."

Silence followed for a couple of computer beeps. "Huhn," Lynn said. "And I thought you were talking about Cory."

Good thing we hadn't been discussing government secrets. They have cubicals there, too, don't they?

Note: Names changed to protect the guilty.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Success Story

I went to my friend, Susan's wedding reception on Friday, 11/11/11. She was married at 11 am, and although I wasn't there for the wedding itself, apparently my name was mentioned in the wedding ceremony. Years ago, Susan wanted to place an advertisement on some dating website. The horror of these websites is that you must post a picture of yourself. I discovered quite by accident that if you are leaning over something, like a counter, or desk, that all of the double chins disappear, making you look way younger. But how do you make that look natural?

Susan said, "I know just the place. We'll go take pictures of each other this weekend, and we'll each post an ad on Sunday evening. We can compare the responses we get, and weed out the ones who aren't serious."

I wasn't enthusiastic. I didn't think posting an ad was the best way to find the perfect man, but agreed just to be supportive. That weekend, we went to downtown Vancouver where Susan had found a post we could lean over, and in the background were the Columbia River and the I-5 bridge connecting Washington to Oregon. I brightened. With an interesting background, the men looking at the website would be less inclined to study the person, and more likely to check out the background. Perfect.

I posted my ad on Sunday, and Susan posted hers. Very quickly, she received some lovely responses, met with some nice gentlemen and finally settled on Stuart. He sent her roses, and chocolate, took her to the ballet, the symphony, antique shows, and eventually took her to Seattle to meet her daughter and son-in-law.

She removed her ad. She didn't need it anymore.

And now, years later, after a very long courtship, they are married. And, in the ceremony, they said they owe it all to me. He still has that picture she posted on his desk.

How sweet. I love a good success story. And theirs makes me smile.

I don't have her picture, but above is the one of me. Look at that nice background. And notice you can hardly see any of my chins? How did my ad go? Well, my first response was from a rodeo clown.

No, really.

The second response, I met the man for coffee. He tried to sell me some weight-loss program and, after an hour of trying to be polite, I finally picked up the check for the two coffees and said, "I'll pay for the coffee if you leave the tip."

He left a quarter.

I removed my ad too.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Good vs. Evil

I suppose you all think this is a blog about writing heros and villains, about the struggle for good to triumph over evil, fairies against warlocks, or the living vs. the undead. And in a way, it is. Sometimes the protagonist/hero we write is not a sword-swinging, swashbuckling, caped crusader, cutting a pink "Z" into the blue fabric of sunset. Sometimes our hero is a quiet, well-mannered, gentleman, whose good deeds go unrecognized by the heroine, until the very end.

Somewhere out there, in Vancouver, is a quiet, unsung hero. No one will ever thank her/him for the good deed. She/he won't be asked to join a talk-show host, or have a reality television show, or make the "good deeds" minute on the local news. But I like to think the cosmic universe will extend a benevolent hand to that person, just the same.


It is such a simple thing, and yet so powerful. It matters. It mattered in 1805, during the time- frame I write. It matters now. I hope it will continue to matter in the future.

A co-worker lost her wallet in Vancouver. She inquired at a grocery store, remembering she'd had it there two days earlier. It had been turned in. We all speculated. Would everything be in it when she got it back? We asked her to let us know, not because of idle curiosity, but because we all wanted our faith in humanity to be validated.

After lunch, she returned to our cubical city, clutching her wallet and beaming. "It's all there," she said. "Everything. There was even $80 in it. I didn't even remember having $80."

Several of us let out a gush of relief and smiled. There are still good people out there. Honorable people. I wonder if our hero added the $80? Maybe she/he opened it and thought, "Wow, this woman is poor," and slipped in a couple of extra twenties. Or maybe I just think of someone with honor as being the kind of person who'd so such a thing. Just like a good super hero.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Autumn in Oregon City

Oregon City
The end of the Oregon Trail

Today, just above the Willamette Falls on the Willamette River in Oregon City, the sun lights the autumn trees with fiery colors. It is a peaceful scene, but if you listen carefully you can hear the distant roar of the falls and the clickety-clack of the rails as a train approaches on the far side.

Union Pacific engine 7607 is in the lead, matching the color of the trees around it. Very clever of a railroad to paint their engines the same colors as the foliage.

While you are floating down the river, pay attention to that buoy in the top picture because this is what awaits you just a little bit downstream. Pull up your kayaks unless you think you can navigate the 40 foot drop of Willamette Falls.

Taken by Cacophony on September 18, 2004

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Beckon the Pelican

In sunlight's solace
Crashing waves give the hope of
better tomorrows

Gorgeous day at Boiler Bay

Brown Pelicans

He thought I was more important than watching the water

He was wrong

And he's learned his lesson

Is the pelican on the right going to yawn?


Makes me want to yawn, too

Sunlit pelicans
Rest on the warm rocks beckons
Waves crash, awakens

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pacific Northwest Wildlife

I'm still in awe of what I saw on the way to work today.

Regular readers of this blog know I have a dubious relationship with animals, wildlife in particular, which is too bad, since I seem to have regular encounters with them. My commute to, or from work is littered with animals. There are cows and sheep, horses and pigs (although I can't see the pigs from the road). There are goats, chickens, dogs and cats. Nearly every day I must slam on my brakes for black-tailed deer, or a black bear, a bobcat or raccoons. Possums occasionally saunter across the road, and there used to be lots of tree frogs, hopping in the headlight beams.

I've recently heard the mountain lion population has grown considerably in the area, and they are opening hunting to include the big cats.

But never, in my wildest imagination, did I ever expect to see a zebra on my morning commute.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bridging the Gap on the Oregon Coast

Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport, Oregon
Designed and built by Conde McCullough
Completed in 1936
Photo by Melanie Sherman

Conde McCullough (1887–1946) was a professor at Oregon State in Corvallis from 1916 to 1919. In 1919, he accepted an offer to become Oregon's bridge engineer in the Bridge Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation. He immediately hired four of the five graduating class members of the civil engineering department at Oregon State (the fifth declined). From 1919 to 1925, he and his staff designed and built nearly 600 bridges in Oregon.

I like to think about the types of vehicles travelling across the bridges during those times. Already old cars like this 1909 Pope Hartford, racing across in a blur of maroon and brass.

1909 Pope Hartford
Photo by Melanie Sherman

Or newer cars like this 1913 Case, rolling across on the huge, thin white walls and sporting beautiful wood spoke wheels and upgraded leather upholstery, filled with driver, spouse and four children out for a week's vacation at the coast.

1913 Case
Photo by Melanie Sherman

Or a brand new, spiffy Dodge with the row of oval rear windows and the fancy hood ornaments, and the family bundled in under wool, Hudson's Bay blankets.

1919 Dodge
Photo by Don O'Brien

But the depression arrived in 1929 and what did the Bridge Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation do? Did they collapse and go on unemployment? Well, they certainly slowed their pace, but they continued to build bridges throughout Oregon. Imagine the cement, lumber, gravel and sand industries thriving during this time period because of these bridge constructions. Not to mention the workers that built them. Twelve bridges, designed by Mr. McCullough, were completed between 1930 and 1936, most of them along Oregon Coast Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast.

Did he ever suspect the bridges would carry a set of doubles, or an RV bigger than many homes at that time? Did they have meetings to brainstorm what the future would hold, or what the bridges would hold in 2011? And yet they do hold. He designed them to last. And he made them pretty.

Yaquina Bay Bridge
Photo by Melanie Sherman

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Waves and Cats

Every afternoon, when I roll into my driveway, Schooner waves to me before jumping down to run to the door. If you can ignore the unsteady video, I've finally learned how to post a movie into my blog.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Boredom is not an option

I'm rarely bored. I think it is because I find the simplest things vastly amusing, and I'm quite good at thinking up the simplest things.

It is a good quality to have. Right?

For instance, I used to walk every day at lunch, three times around the same .7 mile loop, listening to the same Caribbean beat CD. Was I bored? No. I'd think up interesting ways to amuse myself, such as plotting out stories or betting that I'd reach the third tree before a car went by, or deciding I'd reach the crosswalk before the particular song on the CD ended.

I've caught myself doing that recently when I return home at night. I keep track of how far I go before I have to dim my headlights. The Pacific Northwest is not as heavily populated as some parts of the country, so sometimes I can leave my brights on for two or three miles without encountering another car. One Saturday night, around 11pm, I drove nearly six miles with my brights on; with no cars in front, behind or oncoming.

As amusing as I found this, I'm worried it is time for me to get a life.

Portland Spirit

I've had a couple of people email me and ask what the Portland Spirit is, and how could I have not seen it until it was nearly on top of us.

I've included a picture below, but the reason I didn't see it is because I was watching the firemen on the fire boat. Need I explain more?

If you plan a trip to Portland, the Portland Spirit provides an excellent brunch cruise, as well as lunch and dinner cruises. I've done the lunch and brunch several times. Perhaps if you come to visit, I'll allow you to treat me to a dinner cruise. Who wouldn't jump at that chance, huh?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Showers, Sheets and Sailing through Portland

Sailing through Portland, Oregon

For my birthday, my sister, Nina, gave me a sailing trip. Not just any sailing trip, but sailing on the Willamette River right through the heart of Portland. The kind of trip you see others taking on a hot, summer afternoon, when they glide past, sprawled on deck in bathing suits, jaunty little sun hats poised atop stylishly windblown hair, and sipping piƱa coladas with festive little umbrellas peeking over the rims. They are always smiling, without a care in the world.

That kind of trip.

We met for a Sunday brunch at the floating Newport Bay Restaurant, wedged between a boat-filled jetty at River Place and the I-5 bridge. My sister had brought Gore-Tex pants, jacket, hat and water boots. I glanced out the window. Something was amiss. Was that rain, coming down in sheets and spilling off the gutters of the restaurant?

I patted my pack. It contained a light jacket, and a wide-brimmed summer hat.

After the meal, we pressed against the glass doors and stared out at the dock. The rain eased until it was a fine mist, then stopped. We ambled outside and watched a 26 foot Hunter sailboat approach, its sails furled and the passengers huddled under tarps and jackets, their stringy, wet hair stuck to their heads under sagging hats.

After they disembarked, we boarded and sat on wet seat cushions in the cockpit. Within minutes, we shoved off, motoring out under the I-5's Marquam Bridge.

"Are we going to sail?" I asked Captain Shane St. Clair.

He glanced at the clouds breaking up overhead, and at the little ribbons hanging from the rigging.

"Well, I guess so," he smiled. "We'll set the jib, first, and see how that goes."

It was at that point he pressed Cort into the crew, assigning him the task of taking the helm, while he jumped up and unfurled the mainsail and checked the lines and sheets. Cort seemed perfectly happy to become a first-mate, however, and steered clear of any misfortune.

The sun came out and steam rose from the deck, and the squishy seat cushions. We raised the mains'l. Nina had arranged for a band to stand under the Burnside Bridge and play for us as we sailed past. She is so organized.
Burnside Bridge (with the little Bavarian Village tower)

The Burnside Bridge was designed by Joseph Strauss and built in 1926. His next bridge was the Lewis and Clark Bridge. After that, he designed a little bridge called the Golden Gate.

The Portland fire boat came out to greet us. I think Nina arranged this, too. They waved to us, and probably thought we were visiting celebrities.
Portland Fire boat

I was so busy doing the celebrity hand wave that I almost didn't see the Portland Spirit until it was on top of us.
Portland Spirit and Portland Fire

In the below picture you can see the Steel Bridge in the foreground. It may not be the most beautiful bridge, but it is one of the busiest. Across its spans run cars, buses, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, trucks, railroad trains and light rail trains. Just beyond the Steel Bridge is the Hawthorn Bridge, and beyond that you can see the graceful arch of the Fremont bridge, the highest of the Portland bridges.

Steel Bridge, Hawthorn Bridge, Fremont Bridge

When we arrived back at the dock, and furled the sails, the sun was just about to be swallowed up by clouds. I expected to see newspaper reporters, longing to interview us, but they were curiously absent.
By the time we got back to our cars, it began to rain.