London Stories: Dover

Earlier this month, Americans celebrated Veterans Day, an observance that originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I.

One hundred years after the first Veterans Day, I found my thoughts skimming across the Atlantic Ocean to the southeastern coast of England and the humble little town of Dover.

During my second summer of teaching abroad, I had the opportunity to take a day trip from London. I considered my options and chose Dover for two reasons: One, the city is home to the world-famous White Cliffs of Dover and, two, I wanted to learn more about the community’s role in World War II.

I wasn’t disappointed on either count.

***

The White Cliffs are part of an 8-mile-long ridge of chalk hills along the English coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France. They don’t make the list of Seven Wonders of the World, but that doesn’t mean they are any less impressive.

From Dover, you can walk along a national trail that takes you up and above the seaport town, providing stunning views of the Strait as well as a path leading to Dover Castle, an 11th century fortress where the Brits first housed troops and equipment in a complex of barracks tunnels during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). During World War II, the tunnels were converted first into an air-raid shelter and then later into a military command center and underground hospital. Amazing.

You’re only 21 miles from the European continent when you’re in Dover. With the naked eye, I could barely make out the distant coastline.

I was captivated during the few hours I spent there, touring the city on foot and meeting a few people. I vowed to learn more and bought myself a book written by a couple of locals: “Dover in the Second World War.” (More on that later. Bear with me as I share more on one day in Dover.)

***

I left London’s Victoria Station early on a Sunday for a relaxing train rise that would take me about 67 miles east in roughly 90 minutes, allowing for several stops along the way. I brought along a book and a journal, looking up occasionally to catch glimpses of the pastoral countryside once we got beyond the city.

Arriving at mid-morning, I joined a gaggle of other passengers walking toward the center of Dover. The town had a working class feel, with mom-and-pop restaurants, tattoo shops, discount variety stores, and posters slapped onto walls and telephone poles advertising a pro wrestling event.

Near the town center, there was a church with an adjoining cemetery on the main street. It was St. Mary’s Church, one of several that would be mentioned in the book I bought. Nearby, the central plaza known as Market Square had a visitors center and museum, where I began to appreciate the historic significance and geographic vulnerability of Dover to invading armies over the centuries. During WWII, Market Square was bombed relentlessly.

From there, I headed to the seafront, where I observed new construction alongside older residential buildings, dipped my hands in the seawater at Harbour Beach, and met a young couple out for a walk on the esplanade with their charming niece.

I made my way to the White Cliffs, passing through a picturesque neighborhood and soon found myself among a passel of international visitors on the national trail.

The hike was an easy one along dirt trails and I welcomed the quiet after a week of being in London. Afterwards, I sought out a policewoman to ask for the best fish-and-chips place in town, only to discover it was closed. I settled for a tasty lunch of roast lamb that I consumed at an outdoor table as I watched townspeople and visitors alike pass by on Cannon Street.

I would have liked to stay longer but with time running short, I bought myself the aforementioned book and headed to the train station.

***

Back in Portland after the end of my study-abroad program, I, ahem, dove into the Dover book. I loved it.

At just 147 pages, co-authors Terry Sutton and Derek Leach do a masterful job of describing the hell-on-earth that Dover residents experienced during the Second World War. Though I’ve been exposed to stories of wartime loss in Britain and other countries, I have to say, somewhat sheepishly, that I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of death and destruction until I read this account.

Drawing on the first-hand descriptions of survivors, as well as newspaper accounts and historical archives, Sutton and Leach vividly recreate the terror of those times. And the assault was staggering.

Beginning in July 1940 and continuing for the next four years, 2,226 shells landed on the town of Dover with many more in the harbour waters, in the Dover Strait and in the nearby countryside. In addition, around 464 high-explosive bombs, 1,100 fire bombs, three highly damaging parachute mines and three V1 flying bombs dropped within the town’s boundaries.

No wonder, the authors said, Dover became known throughout the world as “Hellfire Corner.”

Dover’s population fell from about 40,000 in early 1939 to an estimated 12,000 in 1940-41 before some of those who evacuated began to drift back to the town. Imagine a similar-sized community in Oregon — Lake Oswego, Keizer or Oregon City — sustaining that kind of damage and losing two-thirds of its population.

Owing to its location, Dover had felt the wrath of war before, going back to the days of Roman invaders and up to World War One, when German planes dropped bombs on the town and enemy destroyers in the English Channel shelled the city.

King George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill both visited Dover during WWII as regular troops and reservists arrived in the port city in the early days of the war. As the fighting grew more fierce, schoolchildren were evacuated to the west to South Wales, and town councilors feared the city and its remaining shopkeepers would go bankrupt.

In 1941, Dover played a huge role in the evacuation of 338,000 British and French troops from Dunkirk. The majority of them — 220,000 — were landed at Dover’s western docks, and local hospitals were swamped by hundreds of badly injured soldiers and sailors. So many died that mass graves had to be dug at the town-owned cemetery.

The book is filled with black-and-white photographs showing before and after shots of bombed-out buildings as well as soldiers, civilians and children. What’s especially haunting is reading the names of ordinary people who were perished in the attacks.

One of the worst incidents came in 1941 when a parachute mine floated down onto a row of working-class homes, causing 16 deaths.

The authors soberly reported: “Those who were killed were Mr. and Mrs. John Willis, their sons Horace and Brian, their 16-year-old daughter, Vera; and a married daughter, Hilda Mills (six out of the seven in the family); Mr. and Mrs. Fred Moore and their two-month-old son, Frederick, and Minyon Elise (aged four); Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Cock; Doris Smith (aged three), and Charlie Talbot, whose wife Minnie died in Maidstone Hospital three weeks later from her injuries. The damage was so bad that more than forty houses on Randolph Road and Union Road had to be demolished.”

Every other page, it seems, there is a similar listing of three people killed here, five people there, 10 soldiers perishing in combat.

Reading about the pummeling that Dover took during both World Wars, and especially the Second, made me appreciate the resilience of the city and its people. To walk those streets in the present day, knowing that 70-plus years earlier they had been bombed into oblivion, is to behold the legacy of unbelievably courageous people who’ve rebuilt their city by the sea.

Dover’s population today is about 30,000. It’s almost beyond my ability to imagine a time when nearly every day brought air-raid sirens, low-flying planes and devastating shells.

As best as I can tell, nearly 500 civilians died in Dover and nearby towns and another 2,500 were injured, according to a tally by the volunteer-run Dover War Memorial Project. Never again will I join in honoring America’s armed forces without thinking of this scrappy little city on the other side of the ocean.

Southern California Dreaming: Romance and Reality

There’s nothing like a romantic wedding and a well-thrown reception to bring people together in the best of ways. At least, that was my takeaway following our visit to Southern California last weekend.

We hadn’t been to that part of the state for a while, so it was nice to get away and make the most of a few hours at a local nature park and beach access point. But the real reason for going was a special occasion.

My best friend’s daughter was getting married on Nov. 16th, and Lori and I were invited to join in the crosscultural celebration.

On one side, Nicole Lee-Rodriguez, the only child of our friends Al and Elizabeth, who’s grown up in Santa Barbara with parents of Mexican and Anglo heritage. On the other side, Andrew Myung, the oldest son in a family of Korean immigrants who’ve settled in Orange County.

They got married on a Saturday afternoon at Calamigos Ranch, a beautiful venue tucked away in a canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains a few miles inland from Malibu. The outdoor wedding was lovely, with chandeliers hanging from the trees, a string trio playing soothing music, and heartfelt vows that left no doubt these two young people were meant for each other.

Andrew was tearing up even before the first groomsman and bridemaid made their way up the aisle. Nicole looked radiant and relaxed. The groom’s two grandmothers were the scene-stealers, though, as “flower grandmas.” They wore colorful, traditional garments, carried woven baskets and tossed rose petals onto the ground, bringing smiles from everyone.

The reception was fun. How could it not be with an open bar, a sitdown dinner and good company at our table? The DJ kept people on the dance floor for hours — including Lori, who busted a move with the best of them and kept me out there for all but a handful of songs.

***

On the front end of things, our experience wasn’t quite what we had envisioned. We arrived on a Thursday about 5 pm, just in time to join rush-hour traffic on a 90-minute ride from LAX to our hotel in Westlake Village.

We had imagined we’d be closer to Malibu, where we imagined we’d be able to walk along the oceanfront and do some window shopping at local businesses in the central business district. Well, there really is no center. Malibu stretches out for 21 miles along the Pacific Coast Highway.

When we took a Lyft car to the oceanfront community, we were dropped off at the Malibu Country Mart, a boutique shopping mall consisting of high-end clothing and souvenir shops with eyepopping prices. There was a cool art gallery, a Starbucks and a Chipotle, but other than that it felt like I’d wandered into an exhibit of conspicuous consumption.

I don’t know why I wasn’t better prepared. I mean, the freeways leading to Malibu and nearby cities were lined with BMW, Porsche and Ferrari dealerships. And Calabasas itself is home to the Kardashians, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Drake, among others.

Thank goodness we discovered an asphalt path on one side of the mall that led us into a nature park dedicated to improving water quality, restoring native riparian habitat, and preserving open space. The 15-acre project is known as Legacy Park and it was a welcome respite from the Country Mart’s dedication to consumerist capitalism.

We enjoyed the peace and quiet along with the cartoonish figures of a coyote, an owl, a king snake and other critters scattered throughout the park. Little did I know this area was so arid.

Once we were done there, we crossed the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu Lagoon State Beach, where Malibu Creek meets the Pacific Ocean.

Once again, reality proved different than what I imagined. In place of wide-open beaches populated by visitors from around the world, there were several luxury homes literally built onto the sand, a solitary lifeguard shack, and lots of shorebirds on the small spit of sand we were able to walk on.

Don’t get me wrong. It was calm and I enjoyed the view of the lagoon, but it was hardly the postcard scene I had imagined.

***

Sunday morning came, bringing with it a chance to take a run in the residential neighborhood near the hotel and an opportunity to chat with Al about the wedding as he drove us to LAX for a mid-afternoon flight.

Lori and I both grew up in and near San Francisco, so I had something of a rose-colored view of Los Angeles and its environs as an adolescent. But as someone who’s lived in Oregon now for more than 40 years, the place holds little attraction other than to visit. Yeah, L.A.’s got some great fish tacos, but I’ll take Portland’s eclectic personality, bodacious food and beer, and change of seasons anytime.

Lady power on a Friday night

The muititalented Clara Baker in the lobby of the Alberta Rose Theatre.

Lori and I had second-row seats in the cozy Alberta Rose Theatre last night as we watched Portland native Clara Baker and her band Five Letter Word knock out an hourlong set during an evening of excellent music and beautiful harmonies.

Clara is a musical prodigy who plays guitar and fiddle, sings and writes songs, and someone we’ve known since she was a baby. (Her brother Marshall, an equally talented musician based in New Orleans, went to preschool with our youngest son, so we’ve known them and their parents, Greg and Rebecca, for almost 30 years.)

It was Clara’s mom and dad who invited us to Friday’s show, just days after they had joined me at a Liz Longley concert on the other side of town while Lori was out of town. And, boy, were we in for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of versatile musicianship and dazzling harmonies. .

Five Letter Word was the opening act in a show headlined by a Portland-area duo, Beth Wood and Ara Lee James, who perform as Stand and Sway and were celebrating the release of a new album.

Between the two bands, we heard folk, Americana and bluegrass and a couple of songs with a hint of gospel, thanks to James’ soulful voice. Each group did an a capella song that was just breathtaking. And when they all took the stage together during a couple of songs, well, it was pretty amazing to see all that female talent on display.

Five Letter Word takes its name from the unlikely fact that all three band members have five letters in their first and last names. In addition to Clara, there’s Leigh Jones on guitar, percussion and vocals and Audra Nemir on upright bass and vocals.

All three are songwriters and the music they produce is truly greater than the sum of their parts. (Check out Willamette Week’s review of their CD, “Siren” here.)

Jones has a striking soprano voice that reminds me of Alison Krauss. Nemir lays down the beat and brings great energy. In fact, she ended the set by climbing on top of her instrument while still playing it.

And Clara? Well, she does it all, and joined Stand and Sway for a song that highlighted her fiddling. She’s toured nationally, most recently in California, as a solo artist as well as in duos and trios, and has released a couple of CDs of her own.

We would have been happy had the evening begun and ended with Five Letter Word. But things went to another level when Beth Wood and Ara James came on out for their own set.

With 20 years of touring and 11 studio albums to her credit, the Texas-raised Wood also is an accomplished songwriter and poet. Her second book of poetry, Ladder to the Light, won the 2019 Oregon Book Awards Readers’ Choice Award — a remarkable achievement in a city full of writers. She plays guitar and piano and sings beautifully.

James, raised in Tennessee, has been singing professionally for over 20 years as a soloist and studio vocalist. If I had closed my eyes, I’d have imagined someone like Annie Lennox or Florence Welch. Together, the two have a lovely sound that’s been described as “gospel-infused folk.”

Oh, and did I mention their lyrics reflect their politics?

The first single they put out together was “Nasty Woman,” titled after the comment Donald Trump made about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. What was intended as a slur became an anthem for the pair and the subject of a video that you can see here.

We left the theatre on a musical high, grateful to know that both of these bands perform locally as well as throughout the Pacific Northwest. With any luck, we’ll see them again. Separately or together, either one will be fine.

Back in school: Media studies

Teachable moment following the second day of class.

Waiting for the streetcar after class last week at Portland State, I came across the above scene in the middle of campus and realized it could be a teachable moment for students in my Media Literacy class. Here is the prompt I gave them:

“Check out the attached photo and think back to our conversation about what elements in a media message tend to attract our attention. With that in mind, what would you say stands out in the photo? Without caption information from me, do you know what’s going on?”

What stands out? The color pink. The heart-shaped cutout for selfies. The gathering of nearly all females, nearly all of them young. The hashtag #pinkoncampus.

What’s going on? It’s a promotional event for Pink, a lingerie and clothing line by Victoria’s Secret targeting young adults and teenagers. Through students who serve as campus reps, the company can give away swag and reap free publicity through social media. Sharing the hashtag on Instagram means you can spread photos of the event with friends who may have missed it and also make them visible to anyone who comes upon the online site. (In the case of Pink, how beneficial is it for the company to have young women publicizing your products from Boise State to Ohio State to Florida, as well as Portland State?)

How does that reach compare to the bulletin board on the first floor of the campus library? It’s overflowing with flyers competing for space and attention, with design elements featuring different colors, typography, symbols and language. In essence, it’s a physical representation of the mass media messages (from news, advertising and entertainment) that assault us every minute of every day. But if you’ve produced one of those flyers, you’ve got to understand its reach is limited to the number of people who just so happen to be in that one building among dozens on a campus serving 30,000 students — and who just so happen to pick your flyer out of all those others above, below and next to it.

Competing for views on one wall of the PSU Millar Library.

Is it any wonder advertisers, marketers, PR firms, news organizations and nonprofits have turned away from static, two-dimensional platforms and turned toward digital images and information, which are timeless, less expensive to produce, and can be shared without limit?

That’s the kind of approach I try to take in teaching Media Literacy, as well as in Media Ethics. Textbooks are great for presenting and explaining basic concepts and principles, but the real world outside the classroom can be a great complement to helping us understand what we come across on our screens. Why do we scroll past some things but pay attention to others? Do we quickly understand what we are reading or viewing? How do we assign meaning? Is it the tone or specific content of a headline or photo? Do we have prior knowledge or experience with the subject or producer of the message? If the topic or source are new to us, how do we know to trust what is in front of us?

I could go on, but that’s the gist of what I am trying to get students to think about.

***

The fall quarter began on Sept. 30 at PSU and today marks the end of the second week of classes. It’s a good time to look back (just briefly) and look forward to what lies ahead.

This year marks the beginning of my fourth year as an adjunct college insttructor and my first as a full-time faculty member. I’d been splitting my time between PSU and Washington State University Vancouver, but Portland State offered me a one-year contract that allows me to focus my efforts on a single campus. I will teach three classes during the fall, winter and spring terms, including an online class for students who are doing Comm-related internships for academic credit.

I have about 100 students total in my three classes, and one teaching assistant to help me in the largest one, Media Literacy, a 300-level class that can be taken as an elective. In that class of 56 students, about one-third are people of color and one-fourth are foreign-born. They come from Canada, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Pakistan, Mexico, Malyasia, the Philippines and the Czech Republic.

Among the students are speakers of Arabic, Hebrew, German, Spanish, Japanese, Czech and American Sign Language. One student, born in Pakistan but raised in Afghanistan, speaks Dari, Urdu, Hindi, and a little bit of Pashto — oh, and English, too.

Many are the first in their family to attend college and most of them work at least part-time. Some are parents. Some grew up in Portland and its suburbs, others in rural communities scattered across Eastern, Southern or Coastal Oregon. Others are from throughout the West — Washington, Idaho, Alaska, California, Nevada, Arizona.

13 students are Communications majors, 12 are studying business and the rest are scattered across the spectrum — political science, psychology, philosophy, English, economics, graphic design, art history, computer science, sociology, women’s studies and more.

All of these things make for a wonderfully diverse set of perspectives and experiences that enrich our class discussions and enable students to learn from their peers, as well as from me, guest speakers, readings and videos.

I have 35 students in the Media Ethics class — a 400-level class populated entirely by Comm majors who are juniors and seniors. There’s quite a bit of diversity there, too, with racial or ethnic minorities accounting for about one-third of the class.

During my three decades at The Oregonian, I often thought I was privileged to hold two of the best jobs in the newsroom. As recruitment director, I got to travel widely, meet talented prospects and established pros from all over the country, and help recruit many of them to Portland. As Sunday Opinion Editor, I got to work directly with a tremendously talented group of editorial writers, columnists and a cartoonist (hello, Jack Ohman!) and solicit commentary pieces from politicans, professors, business people, community advocates and ordinary citizens on issues of public policy affecting our city, state and region.

But you know what? I’m enjoying this second career every bit, if not more, than my first as a journalist. Adjunct pay is notoriously horrible and the hours required to prepare a syllabus and weekly schedule for each class; assign and grade papers, quizzes and exams; and prepare for and follow up each class meeting are too many to count. But the rewards are so worth it.

I get to share what I know and what I keep learning — often from my students. And I get to feel a measure of pride in seeing them grow before my eyes as they engage with the course content, connect the dots, and express themselves orally and online. Afterwards, it’s gratifying to have so many ask me to be a job reference.

When the academic year ends next June, I will retire. Well, sort of.

I’ve taught a course in London each of the past two summers through PSU’s Education Abroad office, and I have plans to do so again in 2020. Next year, though, it will be a different program in a different city. Details to come.

VOA 8.0

The motley crew at McMenamin’s on Sept. 21, 2019. From left and across the front row: Al Rodriguez, Elizabeth Hovde, John Killen, Eric Scharf. Andrea Cano, Kate Carroll de Gutes, Lakshmi Jagannathan, George Rede, Raghu Raghavan, Jason Cox, Alana Cox (seated with Cece). Back row dudes: Bob Ehlers, Eric Wilcox, Leroy Metcalf. Not pictured: Melissa Jones.

It’s coming up on four full days since a motley crew gathered at a local brewpub to celebrate another year of writing, reading and friendship — and the glow is still mighty warm.

I’m talking about the Voices of August meetup, the annual gathering of friends, neighbors and work colleagues that happens after each iteration of the guest blog project I started in 2010.

We skipped a year last year because of my work commitments, but VOA 2019 was pretty awesome, both online and in person. We had the usual wide variety of topics, a high degree of writing quality, four new writers among us, and stimulating conversations on the digital platform.

On Saturday we had the opportunity to engage face-to-face in a private room at McMenamin’s on Broadway, a place that I think may soon become our official “home.”

We had about two dozen people in attendance, nearly twice as many as in 2017. I think the extra numbers contributed to an exceptionally positive gathering.

A few highlights:

— Once again, we had people come from Oregon, Washington and California, with Al Rodriguez and Elizabeth Lee coming up from Santa Barbara and Lakshmi Jagannthan and Raghu Raghavan coming up from the San Jose suburbs. Those who couldn’t join us contributed their blogs from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey.

— We had four new writers this year: Eric Scharf, who described his passions for cycling and food; Melissa Jones, who reminisced about her stash of ticket stubs; Kate Carroll de Gutes, the author of two award-winning memoirs; and 12-year-old Ayumi Mori. the youngest VOA participant ever, who wrote movingly about her gay older sister.

— A trio of writers/cyclists — Al Rodriguez, Eric Scharf and John Killen — took it upon themselves to organize a Saturday morning bike ride. Nothing like a 50-mile-plus ride to wake up the senses, right?

— After 8 years of doing this, VOA writers account for about 250 of the more than 700 posts on my humble blog. The beauty of this endeavor is that it draws out thoughtful commentaries on so many different topics. This year alone, we had essays covering the spectrum from birth to death and everywhere in between — pregnancy, miscarriage, breastfeeding and parenting. Writers also touched on education, religion, travel, wildlife, politics, gender identity and recreation (thanks for that put-us-right-there piece on skydiving, Eric Wilcox).

***

Finally, thank you and congratulations to the four writers whose essays emerged as this year’s favorites. They are not “the best” per se. But they are the ones that resonated most broadly with the writers and regular readers of VOA who cast a ballot for their three favorites.

The top vote-getters win a gift card to a bookstore. Oddly, not a single one of these four writers was at the meetup. Nevertheless, here’s a hearty online round of applause for those whose essays struck us as extra special:

Jennifer Brennock: “The way men sit in chairs” — A powerful piece about “manspreading” that calls out the way some dudes intrude on others’ physical and psychological space.

At the poetry reading, someone sits down on my left. The man extends both legs fully, each jutting out directly from the corners of his seat. It makes the lower half of his body into a big v. A big valentine v. As if he can’t help from spilling over. You know, cuz he’s so big. He has a right to all this space because he was randomly born with some anatomy that is apparently a foot wide. Men sit like this.

Lillian Mongeau Hughes: “When you’re sitting on a plane: a reflection about a mother’s love” — What does it feel like to be jammed into in a middle seat on a plane from Portland to Boston to see your mom when you’ve just learned she’s been diagnosed with cancer? This is how.

“(You) cycle through all the things your mother has ever said to you about living so far from her. And you cycle through all the things she hasn’t said to you, but you know she thinks. And you settle on the one she’s repeated the most. She wants you to be happy. If you’re happy, she’s happy. And because you have a daughter now, you know that’s true, so you try to stop the cycling.” 

John Knapp: “To no one in particular” — Laura was the oldest of six kids and the anchor in John’s eastern Oregon family. When his sister died on Valentine’s Day, she broke everyone’s heart. I’ve never read a more touching tribute.

“Laura was not famous, held no public office and was not high profile in her local community. She led a straightforward life, with the usual markers and life events that others experience. She was a wife, mother, daughter, sister, artist, baker, and did an above average job in all those roles. But still, you might say she was no one in particular, except to those who knew and loved her.”

Jacob Quinn Sanders: “Up to my ass in alligators” — A former newspaper reporter recalls the time a certain police captain in small-town Arkansas was left in charge of the department while the chief and the public information officer were away on vacation. When the captain refused to comment on a minor shooting, insisting he was “up to my ass in alligators,” Sanders was left with little choice.

“I went to my editor. People should know that’s what he said, I told him. I’m going to quote him directly in this little brief. From there, you can do what you like. No hard feelings if you have to take it out — but I’m putting it in there. My editor thought that was a pretty good idea.”

Ha! Already looking forward to VOA 2020!

Discovering Dunthorpe

Just before August ended, I dug out my guidebook of urban hikes and headed for a part of town I’d otherwise have no reason to visit.

This would be Dunthorpe, a wealthy enclave of homes in unincorporated Multnomah County, just south of the Portland city limits and a few miles north of Lake Oswego, the affluent suburb that lies in Clackamas County not far from Tryon Creek State Park and Lewis & Clark College.

On this particular weekday morning, I set out to see two public gardens about two miles apart on opposite sides of Oregon 43, the state highway running along the west side of the Willamette River. I wound up seeing one.

No big deal, though, because I saw plenty in my two-hour hike following the directions outlined in Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Hill Walks.” She does an amazing job of providing ground-level detail and historical context no matter which neighborhood walk she is describing.

This walk was titled “Dunthorpe Gardens.” And so here we go:

***

Starting at the intersection of SW Riverwood Road and Military Road, a stone’s throw from the river, I headed west, up a hill toward a leafy neighborhood full of big homes and lots of gated driveways. A plaque nearby informed me of what had been there long before: an 1870s-era structure called the White House that featured a casino, dining room, dance hall and racetrack. It was destroyed by fire in 1904 and the area was later developed with homes.

In recent years, the area has become popular with the Portland Trail Blazers, as players have bought homes here or further south and east in Lake Oswego and West Linn. I didn’t see anything that screamed “NBA player lives here” but I had just barely begun my walk when I spotted an open garage with a silver Jaguar. Talk about the Dunthorpe stereotype.

Moving forward, I heard the banter of a Spanish-speaking crew hired to maintain the grounds of one of these sprawling homes.

(Quick aside: Military Road is an old American Indian trail that once ran across the Tualatin Mountains. Farmers would bring their produce via this road to the ferry landing, whose owner so happened to be a business partner of the man who owned a mill directly across the river in Milwaukie. The pair would offer free passage to any farmer who ground his grain at the Milwaukie mill. Can you say “monopoly”?)

It wasn’t long before I turned onto a quiet side street, SW Military Lane. Beyond two giant sequoias at the end of the lane was my first destination: Bishop’s Close.

According to Foster, close is a Scottish word that refers to a road, usually with private homes, that vehicles can enter only from one end. A bishop’s close is a cloister area set apart from but still accessible to the public.

In this case, a wealthy couple who moved into this area in the early 1900s are the ones responsible for the lovely garden found beyond the end of the lane. Peter Kerr, a grain merchant from Scotland, and his wife Laurie built a home on an estate that also included a garden, tennis courts, swimming pool and golf course. The grounds were designed by the stepson of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous designer of New York City’s Central Park.

After the couple died, their two daughters set up an endowment to provide for maintenance and gave the property to the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon with a stipulation that the grounds remain forever open to the public.

And that’s how I found myself visiting Elk Rock Garden with its impressive collection of trees, plants and flowers, and a footbridge.

The sun was still rising and the automatic sprinklers were going, keeping everything green and misty. I followed a small stone staircase that took me onto narrow gravel and dirt trails that passed through the rock garden. At the southernmost end of the trail I came to the Point.

The Point is where you can peer carefully over a low wall built on sheer cliffs and see down to the Willamette River. Here at the Point the view is somewhat narrow — a 180-degree panorama at best — but you can get a good view of Milwaukie on the east side of the river as you walk back to he main garden. Also plainly visible is Elk Rock Island, which the Kerrs owned and later gave to the city of Portland in 1940 on the condition it be preserved as a natural area.

***

With my garden tour completed, I headed back out to Military Road and resumed my hike. I crossed the busy highway and soon came to Riverdale Grade School (pre-K through eighth grade). The grade school and its sibling, Riverdale High School, are the only two schools in the exclusive Riverdale School District, which serves about 600 families in the neighborhood.

Leaving the grade school behind, I was grateful for the shade as I made my way up the twisting two-lane road without sidewalks. As with residences nearby the river, the homes in this area are characterized by luxury and privacy. At one point, I came upon a cluster of streets carved out of the former Henry Corbett estate, named for a U.S. senator who served during the 19th Century.

I turned off Military Road onto a side street and headed for my second destination: Berry Botanical Garden.

According to the guide book, the garden is known worldwide for its species plant collections and conservation efforts. The garden is named for Rae Selling Berry, a Northeast Portland resident. She and her husband bought nine acres of previously logged-off land here in 1938 after she had run out of gardening space at the family’s home in Irvington, the neighborhood where we live.

There was no sign for the garden and as I reached the end of the street, just past the last house, the road headed downhill, as if I were about to walk down someone’s private driveway. That’s when I spotted the “No Trespassing” sign.

Turns out the garden is closed.

After Rae Berry’s death in 1976, a nonprofit group bought and maintained the property but sold it in 2011 because of funding problems. The new owner? The Environmental Science and Management Program at Portland State University.

Foster’s book was published in 2005 and reprinted in 2006 and 2007. How was she to predict the Berry Botanical Garden’s fate?

I was only mildly disappointed to learn the garden had closed. After all, I had enjoyed the solitude at Bishop’s Close and got in two solid hours of walking up and down hills. I turned around, took a few more photos on SW Summerfield Lane, and headed back to my car, this time going downhill.

I was grateful to have Foster’s guidebook. Without it, I would have never known about these public gardens in Southwest Portland. More to the point, it’s been an indispensible resource as I’ve ventured out beyond my neighborhood and learned more about the history and topography of this city I’ve adopted as my own.

I may have missed Berry Botancial Garden, but I will gladly return to Bishop’s Close for another visit to Elk Rock Garden.

Ora Rede: A community treasure

Announcing the winner of the Catarino “Cat” Rede and Ora Rede Scholarship at an awards banquet in August.  (Photo by Mary Alice Murphy as posted in Grant County Beat)

Silver City is a quiet town of about 10,000 residents in southwest New Mexico. Today I want to tell you about one of those residents: Ora Rede, my stepmother.

Civic boosters would describe Silver City as a “gem” with forest recreation,
a vibrant historic downtown, art community, and dozens of festivals and events. That’s fair, but I also know it as a culturally conservative place where Latinos make up 52 percent of the population, the median household income is about $26,000, and one in five residents lives in poverty.

It’s also a long way from any sizable city — 200 miles or more from Tucson and Albuquerque and 150 miles from El Paso.

Considering its geographic isolation and demographics, there’s ample opportunity for community volunteers to lend a helping hand. And that’s where Ora comes in.

The Silver City Daily Press and Independent recently published a story with this headline:

“Rede selected LULAC 2019 Woman of the Year.”

The story reported that my stepmother was selected as the local, district and state Woman of the Year by the League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States with a mission of advocating for advancement in education, civil rights, health, and employment for the Hispanic community.

“Her dediciation, hard work and desire to help the community were exemplified by her involvement in several community organizations, including LULAC, the library board, and the Literacy Link-Leamos program, and working with veterans and widows of veterans through American Legion Post 18,” the newspaper said.

“Her service also included volunteering for the after-school food program and the St. Francis Food Pantry.”

In addition, “She tutors Spanish and enthusiastically teaches others about the culture. She is fluent in Spanish and has served as a translator of many community events where needed.”

I happen to know that her “students” include a couple of parish priests, one a native Spanish speaker who wants to improve his English, and the other an English speaker who wants to improve his Spanish. I also recall seeing her in action during one visit, when she pitched in to help prepare and serve enchiladas for a community fundraiser.

On top of all this, the Daily Press and Independent noted that a scholarship in the name of Ora and my late father, Catarino, was awarded to a high school student to attend the local college, Western New Mexico University, and major in nursing.

That’s fitting because Ora was a registered nurse before she retired. She and my dad met in Oakland, California, when she was working in the emergency room and he was a stationary engineer, responsible for maintaining the hospital’s boilers, air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment.

In retirement, they volunteered in their adopted hometown, regularly attended church and community events, and even traveled internationally,

When my dad passed away in 2 1/2 years ago at age 91, he had been married to Ora for 46 years.

Source: City-Data.com

“Marrying Oralia was the best thing that ever happened to him,” I wrote then. “It was as if my dad (had been) born again, given an opportunity to live life to its fullest alongside an affectionate and dedicated wife who fully embraced his adult children and cared for him to the very end.”

I’m very happy, but not a bit surprised, by the public recognition given to Ora’s volunteer efforts. She is a genuinely kind and gracious individual who has endeared herself to Lori and me — and everyone in our extended family — through the love, care and concern she expesses in word and deed.

Ora singing at a community event in Silver City.

Oralia Caballero Rede, at age 85, is many things. She is humble, deeply religious, and fiercely proud of her Mexican heritage, growing up in San Antonio, Texas. She is adventurous, having once ridden a zip line on a trip to Costa Rica. And she is caring, recently traveling to Honduras to help deliver medical and dental services as part of a humanitarian team.

We are so very proud of Ora — and I know my dad would be proud of his Lala, too.

Ora and C.A. Rede outside their New Mexico home in April 2014.
Ora enjoying a ride on the Portland Aerial Tram during a visit to Portland in 2018.

Heart & Joan Jett: Some bad-ass rockers

Ann Wilson, lead singer and songwriter for Heart, getting into the music.

Wow! Make that double wow!

Got a chance to see two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acts at one concert and they were g-r-r-r-eat!

Imagine Joan Jett & the Blackhearts opening for Heart, led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson.

Tuesday night was four hours of rock music, featuring bad-ass frontwomen and talented band members happy to take a back seat to the ladies, who’ve been performing since the ’70s.

The venue: Sunlight Supply Ampitheatre in Ridgefield, Washington, about a 30-minute drive north of Portland under normal circumstances. (More on that later.) It’s an outdoor venue that seats 18,000 and a place that draws some pretty fine artists. I’ve seen Steely Dan and Michael McDonald, the Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum at previous shows.

Joan Jett came on 8 pm sharp and performed for an hour. At 60, she appeared and sounded just as you would expect: dressed in black from head to toe, layered jet-black hair, wailing on a wine-colored Gibson guitar, and belting out her vocals with a growl.

She had a lot of the crowd on their feet as she ripped through “Cherry Bomb,” “Bad Reputation,” “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” and the anthem “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

She did covers of “Crimson and Clover” and “Everyday People” and genuinely seemed to be having fun.

Joan and her band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 — and for good reason. A founding member of the all-teenage girl band The Runaways, she is often called the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Godmother of Punk.

She set the mood beautifully for Heart, who followed up with a 90-minute set.

The Wilson sisters are flat-out amazing. The two are military brats whose family settled in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, so Tuesday’s concert was a Pacific Northwest homecoming on their national tour.

Ann, who just turned 69, is the heart and soul of the band (pun intended) as lead vocalist and songwriter. Nancy, at 65, is a virtuoso on guitar and lends a nice change of pace when she’s the featured singer.

While the Blackhearts pounded away at nothing but hard rock, Heart displayed more versatility. Sure, they ran through a pile of hits: “Magic Man,” “Even It Up,” “What About Love” and “Little Queen.”

But they also did a cool version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard Through The Grapevine” that segued into “Straight On.” They harmonized beautifully on Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” and followed up with “These Dreams” and “Dog and Butterfly.”

They ended their set with “Crazy On You” then came back with a three-song encore: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” the ballad “Alone” and the kick-ass “Barracuda.”

Heart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, nearly 40 years after they hit it big with the 1975 album “Dreamboat Annie.”

I’d been wanting to see Heart for a long time. What a bonus to catch Joan Jett at the same time.

***

If you’re thinking of attending a concert at Sunlight Supply Amphitheatre, be forewarned. Although the parking lot has space for 7,000 vehicles, they strongly encourage using the park-and-ride lot in Vancouver and a shuttle bus to and from the venue.

I did just that, but rush hour traffic meant a one-hour drive to the parking lot shuttle and leisurely arrival that was too late to catch the warmup act at 7 pm. No biggie. I was there for the headliners.

But…after the concert ended at 11, it took nearly an hour and a half to get home. Had to wait in line with throngs of tired, cranky people to catch one of the shuttles and get back to the park-and-ride lot just before midnight. I got home about 12:30 am. Hardly ideal.

Voices of August 2019: Your favorites?

August may bring the hot, lazy days of summer but it also brings a month’s worth of great reading.

Thanks to those of you contributed to the 8th annual edition of Voices of August, we were treated once again to a daily dose of wisdom, laughter or contemplation.

Call me biased but I think it would be difficult to find another collection of essays with as many different topics, voices and perspectives with writers ranging from age 12 to 70-plus and based in seven states.

As much as I enjoy reading each piece, the greater reward is seeing the conversation each guest blog sparks among those of you in the VOA community and beyond.

I have my favorites this year — and I’m sure you do, too. So now comes your opportunity to give a tip of the hat to those who made time for VOA 8.0. Whether you were a writer or a reader, you’re invited to vote for your three favorites. Your deadline: Sunday, September 8th.

Here are the rules:

  • Who can vote. As with previous years, anyone who has written a guest blog (this year or previously) or who is simply a regular reader of VOA can vote for three favorite pieces. You decide if you’ve read enough of this month’s contributions to cast a ballot.
  • Criteria. There are none other than your own. What grabbed your attention? What resonated with you? What made you laugh or cry? What challenged your assumptions? What made you see things differently?
  • How to vote. Take some time to review the month’s posts here at the VOA 8.0 index page and then send the titles of your three favorites to me at ghfunq@msn.com.

As you go back through the essays, please take the opportunity to leave a comment on one or more posts. Be generous with your feedback, both on Facebook and especially on the posts themselves. Your comments are gold.

Thanks, everyone!

— George Rede

Photo: Thinkstock

VOA 8.0 index page

Words are like bridges, carrying us from one person’s experience and perspective to a place of broader understanding.

An archive of who wrote what during this month of guest blog posts for Voices of August 2019

Aug. 1: Tammy Ellingson | The last checkbox

Aug. 2: Jason Cox | The finite universe of opportunities

Aug. 3: Al Rodriguez | 3.5 months to go – Yes, I’m counting

Aug. 4: Rachel Lippolis | Just a spark

Aug. 5: John Knapp | To no one in particular

Aug. 6: David Quisenberry | To live is Christ, to die is gain

Aug. 7: Mary Pimentel | “Chez-soi est dans le cœur” (“One’s home is in the heart”)

Aug. 8: Tim Akimoff | The wild place next door

Aug. 9: Lillian Mongeau Hughes | When you’re sitting on a plane: A reflection on a mother’s love

Aug. 10: Gil Rubio | Our hands

Aug. 11: Midori, Ayumi, Aki Mori | A butterfly named Midori

Aug. 12: Michael Granberry | Fear and loathing between a farter and a fatso

Aug. 13: Alana Cox | Let’s talk about breastfeeding

Aug. 14: Elizabeth Hovde | Striving for higher ground

Aug. 15: Eric Wilcox | Falling from the sky

Aug. 16: Andrea Cano | Tears

Aug. 17: Michael Arrieta-Walden |The treasure of diversity

Aug. 18: Kate Carroll de Gutes |On meaning, memory, and desire

Aug. 19: Nike Bentley |Don’t blink

Aug. 20: Leroy Metcalf | Viva España

Aug. 21: Eric Scharf | My name is Eric. I am an addict.

Aug. 22: Lakshmi Jagannathan | One step at a time

Aug. 23: George Rede | The ‘other’ Thames

Aug. 24: Lynn St. Georges | It is never gone

Aug. 25:  Jacob Quinn Sanders | Up to my ass in alligators

Aug. 26:  Monique Gonzales | The meaning of democracy

Aug. 27:  Bob Ehlers | Renovating and reuniting

Aug. 28:  Jennifer Brennock |The way men sit in chairs

Aug. 29:  John Killen | Chasing Kristin

Aug. 30:  Patricia Conover | Thoughts on returning to Oregon

Aug. 31:  Melissa Jones | Please print! And don’t recycle.

Photograph: George Rede