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An orchard viewed from Panorama Point, a drive-up viewpoint in the valley.

An orchard viewed from Panorama Point, a drive-up viewpoint in the valley.

The Hood River Valley is famous for its fruit. The valley is in the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon side. The dominant fruits are apples, pears, and cherries, and orchards have been producing fabulous bounty for over 100 years.

Apple orchards flourished in this rich valley from 1890 to 1920, and Hood River became famous for its apples. In 1919 many apple trees were struck by a killing freeze. Farmers replaced the apple trees with pear trees, and now Hood River county leads the world in Anjou Pear production. {source: The City of Hood River}

Many Hood River Valley orchards are relatively small and operated by families, but together they account for about two-thirds of the state’s pears. Since 1992, the Hood River Valley has branded itself as the Fruit Loop, the brainchild of growers Kaye White and Thom Nelson, who proposed an excursion map of U-pick-it orchards and country stores. {source: The Oregon Encyclopedia}


Blossoms draped across the hills

Blossoms draped across the hills

The incomparable Mt. Hood, somewhat less remarkable in hazy skies.

The incomparable Mt. Hood, somewhat less remarkable in hazy skies.

Apple trees grown at an angle. I've never seen this before!

Apple trees grown at an angle. I’ve never seen this before!

The Fruit Loop is popular with tourists here, especially among the day-tourists coming from Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA, both about an hour downstream of the Columbia. The route begins at the river and makes a loop to the south, passing through Parkdale (the terminus of the Mt. Hood Railroad) and back. Along the way you can visit wineries for a little tasting, stop at fruit stands (that sell much more than pears, apples, and cherries), and if the season is right you can enjoy all the best of U-pick opportunities. You can bring home armloads of blueberries, strawberries, lavender, raspberries, pumpkins, and more.

The Mt. Hood Railroad is another attraction of the area, offering sightseeing trips through the valley, as well as murder mystery excursions, a train robbery brunch, romantic dinner excursion, and when the season is right: polar express! I’ll definitely have to do that some time.

Another view from Panorama Point. It's like a sea of white blossoms.

Another view from Panorama Point. It’s like a sea of white blossoms.

I couldn't stop admiring the orchards draped over hills.

I couldn’t stop admiring the orchards climbing over hills.

Mt. Adams, capped in a cloud over on the Washington side of the river.

Mt. Adams, capped in a cloud over on the Washington side of the river.

All of these attractions are bound between the volcanoes Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood, in lush valleys filled with rivers and streams and the mighty Columbia with its famous kite surfing and wind surfing. What a place!

Click the images below to see how much honey bees love this time of year.

Yummy flowers

Yummy flowers

Happy Bees

Happy Bees







At the end of our tour, we stopped by a deli, picked up an amazing lunch and a couple of microbrews (yet another thing Hood River is famous for), and had a picnic lunch at the beach.

At the end of our tour, we stopped by a deli, picked up an amazing lunch and a couple of microbrews (yet another thing Hood River is famous for), and had a picnic lunch at the beach.

Mossy snaking vines through the sky

Mossy snaking vines through the sky at Champoeg State Park

Not too far out of Portland, just southeast of Wilsonville, is Champoeg State Park. The morning was wet, and more wet was forecast for the entire weekend. The temperature was 37 degrees. We thought a flat park close to home might be the ticket on the cold, wet, grey day. Neither of us had been to Champoeg, so of course the burning question on our minds when we got to the visitor center was: “How do you pronounce it?!” (You were wondering, weren’t you?) It’s pronounced like the stuff you wash your hair with: Shampooey. It’s from the Kalapuya language of one of the Native tribes that lived in the Willamette Valley before Lewis & Clark showed up.

Runners doing laps through the trees for the Champoeg 30k/10k

Runners doing laps through the trees for the Champoeg 30k/10k

And guess what? Crazy important history happened here, and I had no idea. This was the area jointly held by two nations, called the Oregon Territory by the United States, and the Columbia Territory by Britain. Non-natives first showed up in great numbers for the fur trapping trade. When the beavers had nearly gone extinct, French trappers who had been working with Hudson’s Bay Company turned to farming, and the area became known as French Prairie. The town of Champoeg had a couple of steamboat landings that first hauled pelts and now took on wheat to be shipped to Russia or to nearby Fort Vancouver.

Daffodils are up in central Oregon! They didn't care if it was 37 degrees and raining.

Daffodils are up in central Oregon! They didn’t care if it was 37 degrees and raining.

With the population and economic growth, it became apparent that Oregon would need some sort of government, and so the very first democratic vote on the entire U.S. west coast was held. Though disguised as a vote on other topics, it was in truth a vote for who should own that piece of land once and for all. Wealthy British Hudson’s Bay Company was hoping to capitalize on the burgeoning local economy. The United States was embracing the concept of Manifest Destiny, and believed it was American’s destiny to expand from coast to coast. The two main groups of people here were United States citizens who for the most part wanted wanted Oregon to belong to the United States, and the French-Canadians wanted whichever would give them the best deal in the end.

In 1843 that first vote happened, and it was close: 52 to 50 in favor of establishing a provisional government and thus paving the way for Oregon to become a part of the United States (even though some people still wanted to annex Oregon at the time). Thank you French-Canadian trapper-plowers!

The only one of us that day who was happy about how wet the weather was.

The only one of us that day who was happy about how wet the weather was.

As the population swelled, the Indians were pushed into smaller and smaller areas till they began to resist. In 1855 the remaining Kalapuya were forcibly moved to the Grande Ronde reservation.

Just as the city of Champoeg was getting a good start, a terrible flood came through in 1861 and wiped out absolutely everything. Today a single structure remains from the original town, Robert Newell’s house. He is one of the 52 who voted to form a provisional government. The house is now a museum, but it is closed till June.

I love the mossy trees. If you look carefully, you can see a post marking a street location, there in the middle of the image.

I love the mossy trees. If you look carefully, you can see a post marking a street location, there in the middle of the image.

DeGrasse ST

DeGrasse St.

Arno and I walked the paths of the park and through the old town site. The streets had been planned out, though the town didn’t exist long enough for the blocks to actually be filled with businesses and homes. Today wooden posts mark the old named streets and strips of grass are mowed to show where they would have been.

Monument erected in 1901. Click to enlarge.

Monument erected in 1901. Click to enlarge.

At the location where the vote was held, a granite marker is placed. The monument was installed in 1901 and attended by Francis Xavier Matthieu, one of the 52. It was a very busy spot when we were there, since the Champoeg 30K run was in progress in the wicked cold rain. The monument site was also the race finish, and it was filled with the usual tents with music playing and freebies like keyrings and energy bars, and inside the Pioneer Memorial Pavillion, water bottles and pies were being handed out to runners.

High water mark is mounted on the pavilion.

1961 high water mark is marked on the pavilion.

The pies made our mouths water, so we headed into Newberg to look for food. We finally found a good restaurant on the highway south, toward our second park. After we ate a stone-baked pizza and some soup to ward off the unpleasant weather, we went south again.

Along the way, we went through the cute little town of Dayton, Oregon, and Arno spotted a blockhouse in the city park. The design of this one is so clever. By rotating the upper story 45 degrees, it provides better cover for the rifles inside. “No blind spots at the corners,” Arno pointed out.

The blockhouse was in a different site originally. It was near the Grand Ronde reservation. See, when increasing numbers of Indians were hauled in, the local whites feared they would revolt. So, this blockhouse was built and put on a hill to defend the whites from the Indians (who, I might add, would have nothing to revolt against if they hadn’t been put there in the first place). In 1911 the blockhouse was brought to Dayton to be placed into the city square, carried by <slaps self on forehead> Indians with wagon teams.

Blockhouse in Dayton, Oregon

Blockhouse in Dayton, Oregon. You can see the rifle holes.

We came around a corner and suddenly we were in line to get onto the Wheatland Ferry.

We came around a corner and suddenly were in line to get onto the Wheatland Ferry.

Arno in the middle of the swollen Willamette River

Arno in the middle of the swollen Willamette River

Suddenly, we were in line to get onto a ferry. A ferry! I didn’t even know there was a ferry across the Willamette till this trip. Walking through Champoeg Park it had seemed that the river was high, but here we could tell without a doubt that the river had overflowed its banks. We pulled in behind a small trailer of cattle. Our ferry ride went smoothly, as we were drawn along by cables. I was as excited as a little kid. That’s what discovering something totally unexpected will do to me.

Next we arrived at Willamette Mission State Park. Missions are another thing I hadn’t previously associated with Oregon. The mission here was established in 1834 by Reverend Jason Lee. Interestingly, he had been sent by the Methodist Church in response to a request from Nez Perce and Flathead Indians who wanted some of the power of the “white man’s book of heaven” for their own people. Lee established his mission amongst the Kalapuya (nowhere near Nez Perce or Flatheads) and was almost completely ineffectual with the Indians. When more and more white settlers arrived, Lee gave up on the Indians and began ministering to the white folks.

The 1861 flood wrecked the mission too, but not Lee’s legacy. He was instrumental in the establishment of the state of Oregon, by building the area’s first school and founding the city of Salem, now our state capital.

Just beyond the first parking area, the road was gated, with a sign that the road was closed due to high water. We were content to park there and walk into the park. The park maps here show all the old meandering arcs that used to be riverbed before the river changed its course. You can see different routes happened at different times. History made so very clear. If only the founders of Champoeg had access to an aerial map.

Rose hips in the rain

Rose hips in the rain

Rabbit has it's eyes on us

Rabbit has it’s eyes on us

We walked along the Willamette Vision Educational Trail. It was pretty muddy and not too remarkable, but we were happy to walk along and read the tree identification plaques. We startled a rabbit at one point, but stood very still until he came back out beside the path to munch leaves again.

The Nation's Largest Black Cottonwood Tree

The Nation’s Largest Black Cottonwood Tree

This park hosts the nation’s largest Black Cottonwood Tree. I had been very eager to see the Oregon Heritage Tree but was disappointed with this one. Possibly because I have lived in redwood country, possibly because it’s winter and the tree looked lifeless, but it’s not impressive to look at. It is believed to be 270 years old, measured at 155 feet tall with a circumference of 26 feet.

We reconnected with the paved road, and immediately saw why the road was closed. The path of the water here mimics a river, and this is what I was talking about with the map: it’s a historic path of the Willamette. Not the river, but a narrow curved lake on mild weather days. This day the water was raging through, however.

Our trail passed beside it uninterrupted, and we continued on. Soon we were back at the car again. It was time for us both to get back to our children. Miss Tara had spent most the day in Wilsonville for “Battle of the Books,” an academic competition where students read from a book list and then compete with quiz questions about the books. I had been receiving texts and knew they almost made it to the final round, so her team had done really well this year. What a great kid. I’m so proud of her! Arno’s boys were out in The Hood (what we call Hood River) and hungry. Though they can cook for themselves, they knew Dad would be showing up eventually to do it for them. Ha ha. We were close to I-5, so in minutes we were flying north again through the rain.

Arno stands beside Mission Lake, which is behaving much like the river it used to be.

Arno stands beside Mission Lake, which is behaving much like the river it used to be.

Me, in front of the cottonwood tree. (Look at the horrible bands I now have to wear on my braces. Vampire girl.)

Me, in front of the cottonwood tree. (Look at the horrible bands I now have to wear on my braces. Vampire girl.)

I had to lie on my back to get the whole tree into this shot

I had to lie on my back to get the whole tree into this shot

You do this too, I’m sure: plan what you’ll do with your lottery winnings. My fantasy includes the traditional dream of taking care of my family, paying off everybody’s debts, setting aside college money for the kids, getting a new car, etc. And then we get to the good stuff, the plans that say a little more about who I am. Anyone who has played the game of Lottery Fantasy with me has heard me describe the old train depot in New Meadows, Idaho.

I moved to New Meadows in 1980, when I was 10 years old. The little town in a high mountain valley was the biggest population center I had ever lived in. My parents preferred to live away from people, so the sign reading “Population: 576” was thrilling to me.

Most of you won’t remember what it felt like to see the lights of a city at night for the first time. For most of you, that memory is too far back to recall it, but I was a 5th-grader that first time. I do recall. I stood in the center of the highway (because there was no traffic) and felt my heart stop at the magic of lights at night.

Our only lit street was where Highway 95 passed through the business center. At the time it hosted Shaver’s Grocery Store, the Post Office, two gas stations plus Freeman’s which was more bait&tackle shop than gas station, three bars, a drugstore/doctor’s office, LeFay’s barbershop and ice cream, Myrt’s Cafe, a second hand store, and a bank. It seemed humongous.

Beyond the “city center” was a park. And beyond the park was the depot.

It’s the grandest building in the entire valley, and when I lived there, it was mostly abandoned. For a time there was a library on one side of the main floor, and I had the opportunity to walk through the front door and beneath the high ceilings. My best friend and I were such frequent visitors that once the librarian held a brand new children’s book for us, so that we could be the first to write our names on the check out list inside the cover.

One of the boys I met that first year wanted to show off and told me he could get inside. Soon enough, yep, we had squished through a broken window and got inside the dusty and dark space filled with forgotten rubbish and spiders. I was scared of getting in trouble and climbed right back out. Now though, looking back, I wish I had explored the whole building, so that I could compare the before and after.

Over the years the building fell into greater disrepair and the library was closed and the front door barred for good. The broken window was sealed so that children couldn’t climb inside.

The grand and beautiful brick train depot is the main character in the story of when the city of Meadows was too far away from the train tracks, so the city of New Meadows then sprung up beside the depot. When I moved there the trains were no longer running, but the tracks were still there. I’d pack a lunch and grab a couple of friends and walk the tracks for hours in the baking sun. We’d fish off the trestle bridges, swim in muddy cow creeks, and gather mussels and eat them, after they had been cooked in an old Folgers can filled with river water over a fire.

Eventually the tracks were pulled up. Somehow it wasn’t as romantic to walk along the cleared lines. And I was getting older and less romantic anyway.

So my dream all this time has been to restore that place. One of my high school teachers forwarded this video to me. He and his wife have remained in touch after I graduated and left town. I am truly delighted to see what’s been done with the old beauty of a train depot, and I have fingers crossed that the Idaho Heritage Trust can gain enough financial support to address all their needs. I am delighted to see other familiar faces in the video, and shots of that little town of New Meadows in the Heartland of Idaho, that I remember so fondly.

Though I can help now with a smaller donation, the fantasy of what I’ll do with my lottery winnings remains. I’ll pitch in to help polish that tiny town when I’m disgustingly rich. In the video, a couple other historic buildings are mentioned. I remember them, and they need care too. It will be magnificent one day.

Oh! I almost forgot. This is from my teacher:

IF YOU FEEL YOU COULD HELP US IN ANY WAY GET ON BOARD. Our address is P.O. Box 352, New Meadows, ID 83654  Our web site is    Thanks, Morris

image by Jeff Widener, China, 1989

I am astounded to be reminded that the tragedy of Tiananmen Square was twenty years ago. That long?

Mt. St. Helens, Washington, 1980

Ok, Ok, I am finally coming to terms with the fact that the Mt. St. Helens eruption is ancient history, though I can still remember the daily drama of facemasks and shoveling ash off bridges and roofs before they collapsed.

I have even begun to relax a little bit since the reunification of Germany. As I blogged about not too long ago, I am still trying to resolve my thoughts about walls.

Tiananmen was the same year as when the wall came down? Crazy. The pain and dread of young, beautiful, unarmed people standing up to an army is still so present in my consciousness. I can’t believe it is yet another one of those stories that is history.

Astonishing that the Chinese government won’t address it. They refuse to even allow dialogue. Really? Just like people believe there was no Holocaust, some people believe there was no Tiananmen? But, but, but… I still carry the pain of it! It was real! And I’m among The Ugly Americans, which normally causes us to forget. But this we remember…

And that image.

Thank you Jeff Widener for what you were able to give us. I recalled so clearly that there was a lone man standing with his hand up. But when I looked for the image, it is even more compelling: a man holding grocery bags. A symbol worthy of any activist’s respect. You can’t get more grass roots than: “I was on my way home from the market and saw the tanks and, well, something had to be done.” Mr. Widener said about his composition that he thinks it’s best not to know the identity of the man. Without knowing his name, he’s one of us, and that makes him so symbolically powerful.

I asked my partner if he remembers “that image” from the Tiananmen Square massacre? In answer, he raised his arm to stop the tanks in the exact way I remember it. He, too, has remembered the message the way I did. Isn’t that interesting?

Gracious! This one could be too big for me if I dug to the roots of it.

Actually, my first knee-jerk reaction is to remember that book I read when I was 8 called “Where Did I Come From?” Remember that cute little sperm all dressed up in a tuxedo and top hat, with a red rose, going to look for the egg? Wherever I did come from, it was a place that created my sense of fun and humour.

I think of the Pacific Northwest (US) as my home.

I also came from my parents, who are remarkable in many many ways and shared their gifts with me through the miracle of reproductive biology.

I also come from my community: the people who surround me (strangers too!), my family, the mountains, rivers, the air, animals, my failures, my successes…ALL that is where I came from. So that, there is no way to be like me except to have been me. (I guess that means I can never be like you, which makes me like you for being so interesting)

I look forward to finishing this life eventually and becoming nice, healthy, worm food so I can properly contribute to the circle of life in which I am borrowing resources for my brief stint here.

One of my many guises

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