In February, 2016, I traveled from Hampton, Virginia to Portland, Oregon to see my son, who had broken my heart by moving across country to the Pacific Northwest. All I knew about Oregon as I departed the plane, was that it now contained my son Wil, and that it rained all the time in Portland. I had purchased a diary for the trip with the inscription “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away”. Little did I know that these words would so aptly fit my Oregon adventures.
Our first day we had a vegan meal at a food truck in Portland, and my son said we were going to visit Multnomah Falls, one of the tallest falls in the U.S. It was drizzling as we departed with our rain gear and my diary. As we drove the twisting highway, the Columbia, quiet and grand, flowed to our left. To our right, evergreen trees, my son called Douglas firs, competed with cascading falls and rocky summits for my attention. I did not know then that I was on an all-American road called the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway.
A rising, twisted two-lane road lead the way to The Vista House, built in 1917 as a stone observatory, a memorial to the first pioneers, and a rest stop for travelers. As my son parked the car on the edge of a precipice, tears flowed down my face. I have never seen a place so full of natural beauty that it took my breath away. I called my daughter crying. I am not sure my son knew. I wrote in my diary “come here to forget the hours of the day – living in the breath of the moment”. I have never felt so close to such aged rocks, forests, and rivers. I wrote “with each exhale we release the old and with each inhale we welcome the new”.
As we hiked the forests of the Pacific Northwest, every tree overgrown with moss, dense lush, wet with rain, my spirit felt lifted. Oregon is full of what are called virgin forests, also known as old growth forests. Old growth forests, resilient and life sustaining, emit more oxygen, thus perhaps the natural exhilaration one feels.
After two visits to Oregon here is what I know. Portland is full of green, lush parks with dogs playing, and yard signs that say “pesticide free” and backyard habitat”. Houses are quaint, painted in bright colors. Coffee shops abound. Vegan food offerings, Powell’s, rivers, mountain views, bridges, fire pits in bars and restaurants, lots of bike riders, pedestrians walking rain or shine, and the quaint areas such as Mississippi and the arts district. Portlanders have their own style of dress and what I call the Pacific personality – dark colored clothes, stocking hats, brown boots, and shorts and boots as summer approaches. Oh, and let us not forget the Subaru cars – they are everywhere.
When one thinks of Oregon, envision wind surfers flying across the Columbia River, backpackers hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, skiers careening down Mount Hood, and breathing in life at Forest Park. To me the letters in Oregon stand for Overlooks, Ridges, Evergreens, Gorges, Outstanding vistas, and Nature. As I left Oregon after my second visit, I first missed my son. Then I realized that my trip to Oregon made me a different person – alive, realizing life is all around us, full of the breath that only mountains, forests, and water can imbue. In Oregon I learned to live.