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View of Mt. Jefferson as I drove to Bend.

One of Tara’s summer classes this term was geology field camp. Oregon State University has a great geology program, and Tara has field trips as part of a class multiple times a year. But field camp is when the entire class is on location. This latest class was 5 weeks out in the desert of eastern Oregon, near a tiny town called Mitchell. OSU geology students have been going out to the field camp location for so long that locals in Mitchell refer to them as “dirt nerds.”

The students had only two days off during the entire class. In addition to those two days, once a week they did get what the professor called “free days,” which were not so much free, as a few mandatory field trip days. The professor felt these were days off because the material was not testable, but students were still expected to learn. On one of these field trip days, which would be around the Bend, Oregon area, I got permission from the professor to meet up with the group when they went out to Smith Rock.

It’s a 4 hour drive to Bend from my home. After I arrived I checked in with my AirBnb host and then got some coffee while I waited for Tara to let me know where they were. It was clear immediately that either I was in a very geology-friendly town, or PALATE is a geology-friendly coffee shop. In the bathroom I found this gorgeous giant rock with a note that said, “I thought the Bolivian Rose Quartz needed a friend.” Not sure if what I saw was the rose quartz, or if this rock is the companion. I got my coffee and took it outside to enjoy the sun, and saw that the entire courtyard was surrounded by rocks. There was a lot of obsidian – very common in this highly volcanic part of the US.

In the bathroom of the coffee shop.

Courtyard of the coffee shop.

Tara got in touch with me right away because the group had come into a zone with cell phone service (not at all commonplace out there in the desert). They said they were on a hike and expected to arrive at Smith Rock State Park around 4pm.

With hours to kill, I had time to play in Bend. I used my AllTrails app to find something quick and easy, and soon found myself walking along the Deschutes River South Canyon Trail. I walked first toward the center of town, along a very pretty waterfront walk, clearly a hit with summer tourists. The trail crossed the river and I headed back out of town for an unexpectedly great 3-mile loop back to my car.

Walking the Deschutes River Trail in Bend, Oregon.


desert blossom

As the trail got closer to the city center, there were murals and outdoor coffee shops and people using all kinds of wheeled contraptions on the paved trail.

I get a kick out of duck butts.

This is the bridge I used to cross the river and head back out of town.

The Deschutes River South Canyon Trail provides educational signboards along the way that taught me about the health of the river, the fish, the flora and fauna in the area, as well as some geological perspective. There are also name plates that identified trees and bushes. It was nice to see a lot of people on the trail enjoying the weather and the outdoors, but people do tend to visit Bend, Oregon for that reason.

Lots of people were in the water on this warm day.

Through the arches I could see a woman fishing on the other side of the river.

The trail is in good condition and hugs the river when possible.

View of the Deschutes River from the bridge at the far end of the loop trail. Clearly, at this point, I had left city boundaries.

Once I found my Jeep again, I drove out to Smith Rock State Park. I arrived before the kids and had time to relax in the shade while I waited. Soon the OSU vans showed up and I joined the group. I listened while the professor took them all to the ledge and pointed out stuff they should notice about the formations surrounding us.

If you’ve ever seen a photo of Smith Rock, you’ll recognize it. It’s a cliff formation surrounded by comparatively level ground, with the Crooked River winding its way through the base of of the cliffs. It’s the biggest, most eye-catching thing around. The tuff and basalt cliffs are famous for being the place where the sport of rock climbing began in the States. Trails for all levels of athletes wrap around the huge rocks on all sides. I’ve been on a lot of them in visits over the years.

The iconic shot of beautiful Smith Rock State Park, looking East.

This is a less commonly photographed angle, looking due North.

Tara spotted this shallow cave and had to climb inside to explore.

I was especially sad not have my good camera when we hiked down to the bottom of the valley, because we spotted this astonishing sight. Can you see it?

Yes, the black speck between the two peaks is exactly what you think it is.

Our visit to the State Park was very brief! The professor had been so excited to show the students so many things all day long that they were way behind schedule. They absolutely had to get back to Mitchell by a certain time, because they had reserved dinners at Tiger Town Brewing Company. When we were released we hurried down to the trails at river level.

Tara and I talked a blue streak because we hadn’t seen each other in weeks, and we barely had time to look around us when it was time to jog up the steep steep hill to get back up to the parked cars. Tara got permission to ride back to Mitchell with me, to our delight. We were able to continue our chatting and catching up during the hour and a half drive out to the desert again.

The students were clearly pleased to be at Tiger Town. I gather that most of the time they eat camp meals prepared on site (Tara said the food is good!), but once in a while there is a splurge and the class gets to eat dinner out. They had to buy their own beers from the seasonal selection of craft brews. I paid for my own meal (and my own beer. I opted for the Danger Melon.) and the great staff at Tiger Town agreed to put my order in with the kids.’ For the next hour I sat outside in the warm evening air and listened to the kids talk about what was on their minds, joke with each other and with their professor. After a while they decided I was ok, and they included me in their conversations. It was a treat to have this peek into Tara’s world that I usually don’t get to see. All too soon it was time to go and I hugged my goodbyes and made my way back to my Airbnb room.

Looking at volcanic peaks in the background, rising over the Crooked River.

The next morning I left early in order to get home early, but I simply was not able to drive past Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint without stopping. From the highway I could see the snowy peaks of volcanoes and wanted to pull the car over so I could get a photo. Early in the morning, I could access the parking lot, but the road to the cliff was still gated. I parked and walked through the dewy grass, fretting a little about the time I was wasting by stopping to look. But oh, it was worth it.

Sadly, the elevation of the Viewpoint was lower than the highway and it was not a good view of the volcanoes. However, there was an incredible view of the canyon.

Mt. Washington, Black Butte, and Three Fingered Jack are barely visible above the trees.

Train bridge over the canyon.

Looking into the rising sun over aptly named Crooked River High Bridge.

It was really time to get back on the road though, and I hustled back to the Jeep and headed north again on Highway 97. I snapped a few shots while driving (bad Crystal habit, do not try this at home), then I settled in and spent the rest of the day driving back to Rainier.

Mt. Jefferson peeks around a scenic bluff beside Highway 97.

I was about to enter the forest and leave the fabulous views behind, so I took one parting shot of Mt. Jefferson and then put the lens cap back on the camera.

Me, standing in front of a mural near where Tara works in Corvallis.

I took Will on some big adventures while he visited the Pacific Northwest, but we also went on a bunch of tiny adventures.

Revolving case of donuts at VooDoo Donuts.

We explored a lot around Portland. There is so much fun stuff to see and do in the city, as I am sure is true for any city. Portland has a great vibe and prides itself on being tolerant. The amount of kindness shown by strangers on the street in Portland far outshines any city I’ve ever lived in, and though we (like everyone) definitely need to improve our appreciation for people who are different, the effort that is made is noticeable. It’s a great small city.

We parked by a giant bronze elephant statue, visited the giant Powell’s bookstore, then walked to VooDoo Donuts, a famous portland donut shop that everyone wants to visit. Their pink and eclectic shop is entertaining while you wait (there is always a line) for a donut. We sat outside to eat our donuts and Will liked his so much that when he finished he let out a whoop and did a fist pump. A passing homeless man laughed and said it must have been a pretty good donut. 🙂

The woman is wondering if the guy at the counter is contemplating the deformed chandelier, or the giant donut on the ceiling (not shown in the photograph).

I pointed out wall art when we saw it. Portland has some great street art and murals.

Next we walked to Mill Ends Park, in the Guinness Book of World Records for world’s smallest city park, at 452.16 square inches. I thought for sure I had told the back story of Mill Ends Park in a previous blog about it, but I did not. Dick Fagan was a journalist whose office window looked onto the spot where a utility hole was prepared, but no pole ever erected. He imagined a park there, named it after the pieces cut off timber in a mill, and began writing about it in the paper. His dream came to life. This post will be long, so I’ll skip the full story to save space. The park has a sign now, but I liked it better without the sign because that made it feel more like a scavenger hunt to find it.

At Waterfront Park, beside the tiny park, we walked over and gazed at the Willamette River in the setting sun and I pointed out my favourite Portland bridge: the Hawthorne Bridge. Opened in 1910, it is the oldest vertical lift bridge in operation in the country, and on the US National Register of Historic Places.

Cyclist rides past Mill Ends Park. Vegetation is replaced periodically in the little park, to keep it looking fresh.

“Pose for a picture, eh?”

Crows were amassed in the tops of every tree near the Hawthorne Bridge, and the cries from a thousand crows were cacawphanous.

Waterfront buildings in Portland, beneath colourful skies filled with crows.

On another trip to the city, I took Will up to the Pittock Mansion grounds. We did not buy tickets to go into the mansion, but instead walked across the grounds to an overlook point across the city of Portland toward Mt. Hood in the distance. It felt like our own version of Seattle’s Kerry Park, as I mentioned in a recent post.

The view of Portland and Mt. Hood from Pittock Mansion.

The view reminded Will of the tram, so we returned to downtown to ride the tram. The tram takes people up to Pill Hill, so called because on the top of the hills of west Portland is a collection of medical facilities, including the very large Veterans Hospital and even larger Oregon Health & Science University, a teaching hospital (OHSU). The hilltop is so crowded with facilities that there isn’t much room left for parking. To encourage people to park at the bottom instead, a tram was installed. I have never used it to attend a doctor’s appointment, but I’ve taken it several times just for fun.

“Go by tram.” Sponsored by OHSU, teaching hospital.

Bicycle parking and tram heading into the station.

View of Mt. Hood and South Portland apartment towers from the tram station on top of the hill.

I want to see this sign on every single trail.

Bonfire erasing the signs of winter floods.

On another day, we went to see the much-visited Beaver Creek Falls, that I often take friends to because it’s close to home and because it’s the same creek that runs through my property. Will also helped me do some cleanup work on the property. My blogger people will know that I had some flooding over the winter. This dragged a bunch of sticks and logs and branches onto the grass. That stuff has to be cleaned up so I can mow without damaging the blades when the grass starts growing. We hauled brush and then had a bonfire.

Will at Beaver Creek Falls.

OSU Beaver

We took a short road-trip along the coast (separate blog post coming soon!) and returned through Corvallis so we could visit Tara and their partner. Tara’s a Junior at Oregon State University and working toward a degree in geology. While walking through campus, Will asked if the trees ahead of us were redwoods. “Oh yeah, probably,” Tara and I answered, and began discussing identifying features such as the way the needles fan out and the grooves in the bark.  Will then asked if I would take a picture of him beside the trees. “Huh?” I thought. Then I realized newcomers are excited about redwood trees not for the needles or the bark, but for their size!! ha ha ha ha. To Tara and I, having lived in the redwood forests of Northern California, these particular trees are not remarkable, and we hadn’t noticed their size at all.  After Tara’s tour of the OSU campus and then a look at the waterfront and downtown area of Corvallis, we went home. Will made dinner for everyone, and since it was St. Patrick’s Day, Tara made their famous St. Patrick’s Day chocolate cupcakes, that call for Guiness, Irish whiskey, AND Irish creme in the recipe.

Women’s Building on OSU campus is a beautiful building.

Inside one of the campus buildings, I noticed the light at the elevator was the Beaver logo. OSU is home of the Beavers.

Will gazes up at the redwood trees.

On another quick excursion, we went for an up-close look at Mt. Hood, featured in so many vistas of his trip so far. The mountain remains beautiful, even when you are standing on its slopes.

The least interesting city in Oregon

On the way there, we detoured into Boring, Oregon (sister cities are Dull, Scotland and Bland, Australia). Will really wanted to buy a T-shirt that said Boring. “It’s the only thing they’ve got going,” he reasoned. “Someone will be selling a Boring T-shirt.” But no!! We stopped and walked, and explored a convenience store, and looked for a gift shop that apparently no longer exists. No one was selling a Boring T-shirt. Entreprenuers, take note.

Deep snow at Timberline Lodge completely covers this window. That’s a hand-carved newel post cap in the foreground.

One of the best things about Mt. Hood is Timberline Lodge. The building is big, beautiful, and welcoming. There are historical displays all around, so it’s partly like a small museum, and almost all the windows open onto a spectacular view (unless they’re blocked by snow). It’s three stories high with a giant fireplace that rises up through those stories. There are two restaurants and a bar inside! The food and drinks are top notch. You can see shots of Timberline Lodge and the mountain in my blog post from last June. We did get neat photos of snow piled up against a window – something I did not see in June!

The first thing we did at Timberline Lodge was get a bite to eat. We sat at a table with this view of Mt. Jefferson to the south.

The view on the other side of the lodge, up toward the peak of Mt. Hood. The ski lift wasn’t running on this slope for some reason, but all the other lifts were busy.

I’ve been posting a lot this week because I have so many stories to tell, and also because I have several more stories coming up and I want to keep my posts somewhat in order and not get too far behind. There’s more on Will’s visit to the Pacific Northwest ahead. Then I’ll probably post about the Broadway show Aladdin that I’m seeing this week with Tara and their partner Brynnen. After that I’m going to a play with a girlfriend and former co-worker. And then I’m going to Ireland with T for a week. We are so excited!!! (also, super-psyched to travel in a country where I know the language…ha ha) Anyone who remembers Bone (the horse bone) will see him (or her) again because Bone is coming with us. 🙂

A, T, and Tara on the right, on the gorgeous Oregon State University campus

A, T, and Tara on the right, together making the Oregon State University campus even more attractive. 😉

Colleges have been on our minds for awhile, but the pitch and volume are increasing. We’re mostly past the application period, as deadlines for most colleges and universities have come and gone. Still in the nail-biting period of not having heard from any of them whether Tara has been accepted.

I said “we’re,” and it’s a little inappropriate to say it was a joint effort, as Tara has done most of the work. However, Mom has done a bucketload of essay support and editing, which involves not only the writing part, and having to recall the exact date of ACT testing and volunteer work at the Buddhist temple, but the morale and emotional support of keeping a freaked out teen full of hormones from totally wigging out and having a nervous breakdown after the 27th time of clicking word count and finding that the essay is still 12 words over the limit. It has been a super great exercise for me in being an editor, in that when I manage to keep my suggestions out of it, Tara has written some unbelievably good stuff. Really good. As in, I’m wondering if the people in Admissions who read Tara’s essays are going to believe that all I did was point out run-on sentences and changes in tense. How good are teen writers these days? Well, if Admissions will only condescend to an interview, they’ll find out in 2 minutes that Tara is as eloquent and wise beyond their years as the essays seem to imply.

In Boston, over Halloween, we checked out my Alma mater, Brandeis University, as well as UMass Boston and Harvard when our friends showed us around the other campuses. “Why do you guys want me to go to school in Boston?” Tara asked of R. He replied with a smile, “Because if you go to school here, we get your mother.” It’s nice to be loved.

My brother in Seattle has been pestering me for a year to get Tara up there to visit the University of Washington campus, particularly since it’s a school that offers an environmental program that Tara is interested in. It’ll be our next stop for sure, along with Western Washington University, right next door to UW.

Lovely lawns and buildings of the OSU campus.

Lovely lawns and buildings of the OSU campus.

While Tara initially insisted that no Oregon or California school would even be considered, due to the proximity to parents coinciding with a deep and abiding desire to get away from parents….we discovered that one of the best Forestry programs in the whole world is 1 1/2 hours south, in Corvallis, Oregon at Oregon State University. Tara has wanted to study Forestry since about 5th grade. After some agonizing over the implications of being in the same state as Mom, Tara gave in and applied. Once that hurdle was crossed, the applications to Portland State University, University of Oregon, UC Davis, Humboldt State University (in the same town Tara’s dad lives in California) and Stanford followed. I’m relieved that the potential for in-state tuition now exists. I consider it absolutely unfair that I have to contemplate helping Tara with student loans while I’m still paying my own. And trust me, FAFSA does not give a flying pig about whether parents are paying student loans, when calculating the expected family contribution.

Six stories of books! What prospective student wouldn't get a little excited about this?

Six stories of books! What prospective student wouldn’t get a little excited about this?

Sixth floor of the library. Shhhh! Students are studying here.

Sixth floor of the library. Shhhh! Students are studying here.

After telling other parents which schools Tara applied to, a comment I’ve heard frequently is something along the lines of, “Wow, Tara must be brilliant to be able to apply to those schools!” I know what they’re thinking, and no, my kid does not have straight A’s. Tara gets pretty good grades – that’s the best I can say about it. The thing is, colleges and universities – particularly the very best ones – do NOT want carbon copies of straight-A automatons filling their Freshman classes.

I was the first person in my family to get a college degree, and I figured out why that is a big deal. Because I know things that I can teach Tara that my parents were not able to teach me. For one thing, there is absolutely no reason to limit yourself when thinking about college. Someone pushed me until I learned that lesson, so I was able to do it for my own child. What schools actually want is to know how a potential student will contribute to their college. So the ability to get good grades is definitely important, but so are creativity, involvement, motivation, diversity of perspective. This is what I was able to tell my kid: you are more than your grades, and yes, these colleges know that and they are dying to see it in your applications.

It took nudging and some psychological gymnastics, but I got Tara to apply to tons of schools covering a wide range of school cultures and reputations and donor levels and numbers of (and lack of) famous alumni. Public and Private. Easily affordable and ridiculously expensive. And now my kid is out there in the world. I got Tara to visualize being the kind of student who could apply to Stanford, and have a decent chance of being considered. Now THAT was my goal. Academic program and Financial package are the two main things that should determine where Tara goes to school. “Am I good enough?” cannot be one of the factors.

In my opinion, any college with a view of a volcano is worth considering. Mt. Jefferson rises in the distance.

Any college with a view of a volcano is worth considering. Mt. Jefferson rises in the distance.

Home of the Beavers! OSU and UO are sports rivals, as nearby Universities always are.

Home of the Beavers! OSU and UO are sports rivals, as neighboring Universities always are.

President’s Day I took my kid and besties A and T down to visit the OSU campus. We showed up with 535 other registered visitors that day and we filled the auditorium for the 8:30 am welcome. We were then shuttled off to a briefing just for students interested in the College of Forestry, and heard that OSU is ranked 7th in the world for Agriculture and Forestry studies. We learned that there is an 11,500 acre demonstration forest a few miles away that is considered part of the campus, and that students attend many classes there learning silviculture and preservation and identification and a hundred other things.

Oregon State University has a gorgeous campus. Tara got pretty excited about the six-story library, so we went inside and took an elevator to the sixth -and silent!- floor to look around. Apparently there are some Nobel prizes displayed in the library, but we were already getting ready to head to the next campus when we heard about them, so we did not go back and look.

These UO campus buildings remind me of the Harvard campus.

These UO campus buildings remind me of the Harvard campus.

Pink blossoms didn't show up well in the shade and on my phone camera.

Pink blossoms didn’t show up well in the shade and on my phone camera.

UO does a better job with branding. The signature "O" is everywhere.

UO does a better job with branding. The signature “O” is everywhere.

Thirty minutes down I-5 is the University of Oregon – home of the Ducks. We were not registered to visit here, so there was no planned itinerary. We just walked around and soaked up the atmosphere, and there’s something to be said for that. Kids were sprawled everywhere in the warm sunshine. Groups sat all over the grass, laughing and studying. There were pick-up basketball games, frisbee, and hackey sack. Music was playing. It was definitely a place a kid would want to spend 4 years. It made the focused and subdued OSU students seem rather uninteresting, I have to say.

I was glad for the big Jeep being large enough to haul the kids in comfort. They wanted to sit together in the back seat, so we filled the front passenger seat with jackets and backpacks and gluten-free snacks and maps and college brochures. Sometimes….yes, sometimes I’m ok with fitting the image of a suburban Mom.

Basketball game in the courtyard.

Basketball game in the courtyard.

Very cool glass building at UO.

Very cool glass building at UO.

University of Oregon has much more apparent involvement of the American Indian community, including a longhouse on campus.

University of Oregon has much more apparent involvement of the American Indian community, including a longhouse on campus.

Thinking about the future can be exhausting.

Thinking about the future can be exhausting.

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