Royal Living in North Portland

As I was trying to explain who I was and why I was calling, I started getting a good natured razzing. Telling the guy on the other end of the line that I was a blogger had him joking about how bloggers are the ones who don’t make any money from their writing. I could only laugh being too familiar with my impoverished blogging pursuits. At this point I was proud for doing something challenging, namely picking up the phone and making a call. The voice on the phone preferred to remain anonymous. All jokes aside, the man was making my penniless endeavors worth it by telling stories about something I’d long wondered about.

I’ve marveled at the twin apartment buildings, Queen Johanna and Queen Jeannette for a long time. My curiosity outweighed my need to know but here I was talking to someone in the know—the owner of the Queen Johanna building. Looking through an apartment webpage featuring the Queen Johanna, I dialed (does anyone dial anymore?) the number on the site. Soon I was talking to a friendly, chatty guy who told me about the twin Queen apartments in the Portsmouth section of North Portland. The apartments were built by a man named T. A. Nelson, first name Thomas, who named them after his daughters. While one of the Queen apartments was sold, Jeanette still owns the building named for her.

The apartments were built around 1974. Mr. Nelson’s excitement over his accomplishment inspired him to rent a limo to drive his friends over to show off the buildings. When asked what he thought people might think about living in buildings named for Queens, my anonymous source said they might appreciate it but they didn’t know the history. The apartment owner suggested the royalty theme was inspired by how much Nelson cherished his children.

My source then served up a triple bombshell telling me that Nelson also built an apartment building named Carroll’s Castle. The building’s namesake, another daughter, lives in one of the apartments of the place named after her. Not only that, he built more apartments called King Arthur’s Court and you guessed it—his son inspired the name. It never occurred to me that these buildings, with a royal theme, were related but in hindsight it’s easy to see how it couldn’t be coincidental.

My contact explained that these were particulars of the story he had heard. There was a point where I began to fear this anonymous voice might be making up an elaborate tale and pranking me. I found an online bizapedia entry for T. A. Nelson Buildiers Inc. a company that started in 1967 so the story seems legit. The one sure way for more details would involve tracking down Carroll of Carroll’s Castle. Sadly, my source had no contact information for her.

When I joked about how Carroll’s Castle might feel like living in a castle, a question that was tounge-in-cheek and inspired by the peeling paint on the apartment’s sign, I was given a history lesson about how nice the apartments were for their time. These were some of the first apartments in a neighborhood described as being full of cheap houses.

“Back then when they were built, those buildings were like dynamite. That was it,” he exclaimed. When I said it sounded like the apartments were state of the art for the time the Queen Johanna owner elaborated, “the buildings were like condos, but they’re not.” The garages were an added bonus and an unusual feature for apartment living. He told me if I tracked Carroll down I should ask her if she’d sell him the building. “I love that building,” he said. I asked him if I got a deal going whether there’d be money in it for me. He laughed saying I might have a broker in me. He did promise a bookstore gift card if I assisted on a deal. Having made all the calls I have time to make this week, I can only hope to hunt down the rest of the story from Carol, Arthur and Jeanette one of these days. In the meantime I’m off in search of my inner real estate broker.

* * * * *

Royal living isn’t just for North Portland residents. If you’re hoping to live amoungst Kings and Queens there are options out there.

Get Your Royal on at Royal Crest

I’m not sure if these apartments inspire jokes about the Royals in this Game of Thrones era but if you’re interested in moving to Beaverton you can find out.

Live like a King On NE MLK BLVD

You can live like a king or maybe live on a street named after a King, nonetheless the building name checks the highest level of royalty you can muster in Portland.

The Stone Cats of Orchard Hill


The suburbs are scary. I knew that going into our recent move, but as I’ve become reacquainted with a more suburban way of life, I’ve tuned into feelings of orderly desolation and alienation. No one seems to know or want to know their neighbors. It’s sad when human connection becomes bothersome. Walking down empty streets, minus an occasional passing car, I considered this notion of not wanting to bother anyone while trying to solve a mystery.

I had come to the streets of Orchid Hill looking for three cement cats I’d spotted on a “forced march” in the month of March. This walk, being recreational and practical, centered around a stop at the grocery store. Walking up Orchid Hill Way and Place, I spotted a trio of stone cats on brick mail boxes. We had stumbled on a street of cat enthusiasts. It still might not have even been interesting enough for a Portland Orbit post but one of the cat topped mail boxes stood in front of a yard full of cat figurines. Through the randomness of it all a pattern emerged. Neighbors found a way to express cat love and for a brief moment, with three families participating, a contagion almost became an outbreak. Then, it stopped. I was on a mission of curiosity to get answers. At the very least I’d be able to marvel at some neighbor’s shared celebration of cement cats.

For the Portland Orbit three of anything is enough for the makings of a blog post. It surely is as much a nod to cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller’s rule of the threes–always three rocks in the background of the Nancy cartoons, or none at all. Two of anything, that’s a couple, not as dynamic, adding a third always makes things interesting. When we’re talking cement cats perched on large brick mailboxes the interest also lies in what may have inspired this group effort.

My timing proved impeccable. As I wandered by one of the mail boxes the homeowner stepped out to check the mail. The man was willing to consider my question of why there were a trio of cat mailboxes in the neighborhood.

“I don’t know if we copied them or they copied us,” he responded. From the looks of it, the cats had been around for long time, long enough for anyone’s memory to remain foggy about their origins. The man paused to consider the unkempt nature of his cat statue which reflected his own grizzled state. “Maybe that can be for spring cleaning,” I offered. I asked him if he knew the other neighbors with cement cats but was told, “We don’t know the neighbors very well.”

Of course I missed the operative question but the man seemed to be in a rush to get his mail and get back inside. I’m sure a question about cat ownership would have been affirmed. I don’t know what cat lovers look like but it seemed like he must have had a live cat living at the house with a cement cat topped mailbox at some point. Since I was granted permission, I took photos and headed off to find the next cat.

Cat figurines dotting a meticulously mulched yard proved fascinating in the considering of the lore of the home being a mythical, or real!, cat lady residence. Not one to barge up to a front door blaring with No Solicitation signs, my Orbit exclusive had to happen in a more stealthy way. This catscaped yard was tasteful and subdued. Partnered with the cement mail box topper which may work better in a pet cemetery, the “catphilia” was genuinely felt. The only thing missing were actual cats roaming the premises.

The third cat portrayed a kind of proud puma look. Lying in repose, possibly painted blue at some point, the cat demonstrates a certain long-tailed swagger even while lying in wait for the mail person. Dogs on mail boxes would prove too aggressive or threatening to mail people. This cat has the right attitude. Chill for the bill.

Never one to have experienced cat fever, I got a sense of it from my excursion to Orchid Hill. My fevers have taken across many lands. These examples of cement sculpture are as entrancing and mysterious as any I’ve encountered, a far cry from the empty bird baths I encountered a couple of summers ago. In this case cement held these cats captive in a nap, a frolic with a ball, a contented smile and time.

 

 

Are You Ready?/We’re All Going to Die

My name is David and I am a disaster addict. I break into shivers at any mention of the word subduction. I live for the moment when the fault line shifts and throws us into the throes of the inevitable natural disaster. I’m no expert but people need to consider an earthquake’s aftermath and contemplate what it will be like to scrounge for food and water and not be able to take a real shower for six months. (1) My own preparation includes a water supply that isn’t up to the two-week standard yet and a few spare cans of kidney beans. I might be on a three or four bean per diem until things return to normal. I have yet to check the expiration date on those weird nutrition bars with the five-year shelf life that I would only consider eating if starvation were imminent. This earthquake preparation event was an opportunity to reinforce what I know and learn something new. A chance to improve my knot tying skills was an added bonus.

When we arrived I realized we were in the safest place possible if an earthquake were to occur. Everyone would spring into action, catch ceiling beams before they gashed my skull, bark out commands and rescue us all. The reality was a power point presentation given by members of the Red Cross. My ears and eyes didn’t totally glaze over. My stupor was staved off by thoughts of other natural disasters like terrorism, hazardous materials spills, winter storms, volcanos, fires, floods, landslides and the vague sounding public health emergency—do I need to stockpile tissues?

The talk was standing room only with an average age that could only be described as old. Young people might have better things to do or they only go to earthquake talks that serve beer. The lecture reinforced the need to plan. I realized I hadn’t even thought about how we’d get out of our new house if it were on fire. It’s much harder if you have to figure it out when the house is actually on fire. The same goes for an earthquake. Who’s going to check on your living quarters and pets? How will anyone get across the river if all the bridges collapse? I did meet a woman once who kept a portable raft in her car for that very reason.  Answers to questions like these are  a necessary part of disaster planning.

From the Red Cross talk, I learned that up to 7 million people could be affected by a quake with 2 million people dealing with food and water shortages. A percentage of these folks will be coming for my water supply. We’ll all get one teeny sip per day. Up to a million people could be in need of shelter. When one considers FEMA’s record we could all be SOL. A two-week water supply seems like a drop in a bucket given the possibility of a longer recovery period. I also have low expectations of the abilities of an overwhelmed police force. I heard rumblings of SW Portland becoming inaccessible to police assistance if the roads end up a crumbled mess.

Jon Grasle from the American Red Cross offered a casual aside. “It’s going to be a ride,” he said of a possible earthquake. He pointed out that over the last 10,000 years there have been 41 earthquakes over 8.5 on the Richter Scale. These averaged a little over every 240 years. The last occurred in January of 1700. When talking averages, he explained that some quakes have happened as much as 800 years apart. It was a relief hearing that it was possible that an earthquake might not occur in most of our lifetimes even though technically we’re overdue.

Red Cross representative Libet Steiff started her talk saying, “If we’re lucky we’ll die of something else before this is ever an issue.” Ah, to die any other way than from an earthquake that’s somehow reassuring. She covered topics worth pondering including pet plans, out-of-town contacts for communication, building survival kits and figuring out a safe place to store them. There’s also water to collect and store, a back supply of medications to stock pile, copies of important documents to make and the sanitation considerations that will have you scrambling for a poo pamphlet or two.

I’m not one to preach to coworkers, friends or strangers but embracing the idea that a debilitating earthquake could happen is important. People need to get their heads around this possible scenario and work up some preparation basics. It’s not necessary to go overboard and build an earthquake-proof bomb shelter but a bit of planning will pay off if things get rocky.

I never got my question answered about how to fend off the marauding band of thirsty psychotic crazies who might come to my house brandishing drinking straws aimed at my water supply. It’s a question for the next preparation event, I suppose. One lecture on a Sunday afternoon was enough. I picked up some reference material in a cavernous room of the Multnomah Arts Center where there were preparation displays, NET (Neighborhood Emergency Teams) groups gathered, people pushing post earthquake supplies and our knot tying instructors. As we left I looked through the window of the classroom where another lecture was in progress. A slide on the screen was titled liquefaction. My wife, Ronna, accused me of drooling at the thought of sitting in on a lecture about this topic. I broke into a cold sweat but managed to drag myself away from the event and into the daylight.

* * * * *

(1) This is not based on any scientific fact. I was trying to think of the longest amount of time someone could go without a real shower before going legally insane.

Gnome Alone: Going Solo in Gnome City USA

Is Portland worthy of the title Gnome City USA? I think so. Where do we rank? #1 for sure! There are plenty of Gnomes around but does Portland have more Gnomes than any where else?  I’d say absolutely with certainty but given that I imagine few people really care I’m going to go about the business of presenting to Portland, and the world, a few thoughts about these local gnomes.

Lately it’s been more questions than I can really answer. I’m more driven just to spread the gospel of Portland being a city crawling with . Everyone gnomes it.  This kind of lawn and garden art is everywhere. All bad puns aside it feels like there are at least 2 to 3 per capita, but I’m not sure I can muster the jargon for correct statistical analysis so I’m ready to move on to other concerns involved with gnome ownership. Then again presenting facts while making no effort to back them up means The Portland Orbit is more in line with trying to make it onto President Trump’s list of fake news organizations.

What’s really important is making people aware of how crucial picking the right Gnome is when making the effort to demonstrate your yard decoration skills. This could be is the most important decision you’ll ever make in your life. Deliberate, choose wisely, once you decide there is no going back. In cases of buyer’s remorse it’s important to point out that Gnomes hate being replaced or returned to the store. Their special powers will have them stopping at nothing in the event they are scorned. An indecisive yard decorator risks being beset upon by a plauge of crabgrass, an army of moles or worse. Don’t test their strange powers. Behind these docile statuettes lie a vindictive warrior.

Weathered But Not Beaten

Weatherbeaten Gnomes like this one in SW Portland can still get the job done. In fact they’re more interesting to look at than brand spanking new Gnomes. Besides no one has any clue about the proper way to dispose of a Gnome until they crumble and fall apart for good.

Geographical Showdown

North Montana Avenue in the North Portland neighborhood of Arbor Lodge seems to inspire a contagion of Gnome displays. It’s hard to tell if it was coincidental or competitive. The Gnomes have spare time to pursue fancy hobbies like bug collecting and riding while wiling away the hours performing their display duties.

Super Sized

Instead of three or four gnomes why not an extra-large Gnome that’s about the size of three or four Gnomes. This intimidating sized Gnome can do double duty guarding your garden as well as your front door.

Pick a Side Gnome

Gnome don’t generally pay attention to sports and they’re certainly not dedicated followers of fashion but people can’t resist forcing their Gnomes, like this one spotted in the Kenton neighborhood, to pick a side and show team spirit accordingly. All in a day’s work for any Gnome.

Fishing in North Portland

Again in more of an inspired moment of yard decor it’s nice to consider what you can make a Gnome do. Fishing in a garden is something no one but a Gnome would attempt yet a yard decorator with a sense of humor or a love of fishing can force a Gnome to hold a fish bearing fishing pole and tend to squash plants at the same time.

Home Gnome

Possibly foisted upon us by the proprietor at Kenton Antiques (thanks Mo!), I grew to love the strange Gnome who came to live in our backyard. Even at his final resting place (the side yard), the Gnome seems to weather any weather without losing a smile or getting a bad attitude.

Fences Make Interesting Neighbors

Consider fences. Most of the time they’re damn dull. They do their job without making a fuss or a fashion statement. At the Portland Orbit, we’re interested in any stabs at creativity we can feast our eyes on. You might think there isn’t much people can do with fences but I here’s proof to the contrary.  Fences can take on elements of yard decor that make them unique. There might be windows added or fences made from scrap doors and window frames. A structure can take on the look of a mixed media piece of art when elements of whatever might be lying around are mixed in. These days people have realized that fences can straddle the line between practically and art.

Backside Barrier

This homemade barrier had us stopping dead in our tire tracks so I could jump out of the car and take a picture. It encompasses everything I love. Homegrown ingenuity for fencing from an unlikely source which includes mannequin materials that launched some old familiar and feverish feelings. This yard in SW near Multnomah Village is also directly across the street from a Christian school so one could only imagine the backstory. This is form that follows function as fencing goes. It inspired me to think of other examples of interesting, yet less exotic styles of fencing, that I needed to bring to the public’s attention.

Nautical, Not Knot to Call

In the University Park neighborhood off of Willamette Boulevard, I spotted a fence that took  elements of a nautical theme combined with a kitchen sink approach to fence design. The water decor works well given that the fence is in front of a house that backs up to the banks of the Willamette river.  It weaves netting and ropes through trees and logs.  A closer look revealed decorative items that brought color and a touch of whimsy to this kind of yard marker. Who knew how artsy an old rake could look when grouped with old logs, nautical floats and a random cat mask?

The Windows to the Soul Approach

First I would consider why anyone would want a window in their fence. Fences are all about privacy. Right? But at the Portland Orbit any time anyone asks why? The response is a guaranteed why not. These windows offer a dramatic decorative element that may also serve a function if anyone ever needs to see who might be creeping along the fence. This is something that any fence builder should contemplate. A wall of wood doesn’t always do much good. I mean all that grain and stain really could stand to be broken up by a few windows.

Frame by Frame

In the St. Johns neighborhood this house had an approach to fencing that seized my imagination. Windows and doors along with elements like skis and a sled have been utilized to create this fence. A neighbor, out walking his dog, described it as looking “hooterville” when I was getting some photos. He did counter the thought by adding “to each his own,” as he and his dog continued off on their walk. I have to say I might feel different if I had to look at this everyday. My only problem would be that I wouldn’t be able to stop looking at it. I’d always be finding new objects that I may have missed. These kind of things keep the design fresh and interesting especially when it stands out in of a crowd of generic neighborhood fences.

Detail: Fence wash board

 

Welcome sledders and golfers!

 

 

A Feast For February Eyes: Birdbath Mania in Laurelhurst

photo by Will Simmons

Even before the first day of this February a funk settled over me so deep it would have made James Brown envious. January ended with two days of winter sunshine and I couldn’t take it. Cold gray skies have slithered back that may bring a wintry mix allowing me to get back to daydreams of real sunshine emanating from the cloudless blue skied August afternoons like the one that had a friend and me stumbling upon an overly decorated, yet endlessly fascinating explosion of birdbaths in the Laurelhurst neighborhood.

In the previous times I’d spotted this yard, my head always snapped back as I tried to catch a glimpse while speeding by on my way to get some place. It was a startling to see the yard in slow motion. The opportunity arose when Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit was in town for the World International Orbit conference held in August of 2017. On one of our many bike tours we headed through the Laurelhurst neighborhood on what had to have been Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Here was a place I’d been meaning to experience for a long time.

I know next to nothing about the origins of this superb example of birdbath mania. It’s possible that things have changed drastically since I last saw it a year and a half ago. It’s even more likely that it remains the same except for slow decay from time and weather. Neighbors could either see it as a source of pride or annoyance. It would take some organization to rid the neighborhood of what the unenlightened might consider an eyesore.

The yard has a feel of a folk art environment. Of course the art in question seems to be of the store-bought variety but there’s art in the arrangement and yard art quantity. This cluttered approach to exterior decorating overwhelms the eye with visions of disintegrating sculptures and cement. Birdbaths spill over the ceramic retaining wall, out of the yard’s boundaries and past the sidewalk. Grumpy, old-fashioned children haunt me while lawn deer and smiling frogs attempt to lighten the mood.

I can only wonder what birds think of the yard. The baths didn’t exactly teem with life. No birds were spotted. The birdbaths didn’t appear to contain water. Other signs of decay included dried plants and worn out statues. One figurine, absorbed in a book, remained oblivious to her feet having crumbled and fallen off. The volume of ceramics, figurines, statues, knickknacks, birdbaths and cement that combine to form this bastion of over-decoration overshadows what probably was never intended as a bird spa anyway.

 

Post Script: It’s cemented in my brain that February can be a tough month. I may have remained unwary of this phenomenon had it not been for the comments of Rich Reece that appeared in the Portland Monthly a few years back. Life can be a slog at anytime but when you throw in recurring grime, blankets of rain and a constant shade of gray people can get depressed. Advise like not impulsively quitting your job or your significant other is good all year round but it’s also fitting for a month that wears on people. Be glad it’s a short month. Stay healthy, don’t let your misery get exponential and fight that temptation to yell at man-bun sporting jaywalkers. A quick culture fix spent staring at an odd assortment of birdbaths may be the cure for winter doldrums—weather permitting of course. 

photo by Will Simmons

photo by Will Simmons

Outside Art: The Art You Need Is Right Outside


Art displayed in the elements around North Portland is there for people to look at whenever they choose.  I prefer to celebrate the phenomenon of Outside Art rather than offer explanations. Figuring it out takes time away from enjoying it. Art that could be on gallery walls or in the homes of people as decoration is now becoming part of the outdoor environment for all to appreciate. No color swatches to match or art openings to attend. Outside Art weathers critics, fans and pretensions to hang around fences and on houses. There is the risk of thievery and vandalism as well as the destructive forces of wind, rain, the occasional sun showers and even rainbow rays but this random art showcase is inspirational through perseverance and its ability to skip the art world/business gamut to exist on its own merits.

House Painting

It’s a bold move to attach a large painting to one’s house. How do you get an abstract piece of art to work with certain colors of house paint? It’s tricky but it makes the declaration that creativity thrives in the home’s environment.

Por qué no? Por qué yes!

Outside Art is the perfect decoration for a business entrance. It creates authenticity. What’s authentic about it, I’m not sure. Let’s say it looks cool. It’s more of a rustic feeling, a shabby chic thing, perhaps. You won’t lose your appetite unless you look at it too long.

Mecca Art Land

The mecca of all Outside Art displays caught my attention last summer when I was out taking photos for future blog posts. It saw a couple of pieces nailed to telephone poles before I caught a glimpse of a section of fence with multiple works of art on it.

This was in the St. Johns area off of Willamette Boulevard and it has to be the work of a North Portland artist I had read about in the Oregonian right after moving to Portland. His name escapes me and his business card may still be floating around in everything that got packed up when I moved but I met him at one of his art shows a couple of years back. He was enthusiastic and willing to talk to me about Outside Art but soon after I suffered a bike accident which took me a summer to recover from. I never got back in touch with him.

This Outside Art display, which features many portraits, makes a statement that art can be a kind of living and dying organism that doesn’t have to be locked away in a museum to be pickled and preserved forever. I appreciate it’s availability to anyone who happens by.

The Center of the Known Creative Universe: A Beacon of Outside Art

I wasn’t kidding when I felt a deep creative tremor emanating from outside of Mississippi Records that’s rooted to the center of the known creative universe. North Albina Avenue runs through this area and it’s crawling with Outside Art displays from businesses and residents alike. The Albina Press coffee shop boasts huge paintings on their side walls. A building the next block over seems to draw inspiration incorporating a mural that morphs into huge painted panels.

Further up North Albina Avenue from the Mississippi District, a resident combined a couple of pieces of Outside Art with displays of recycled license plates.

Even the dentist office on North Albina Avenue gets into the game displaying rudimentary Outside Art that’s more fun and frivolous while still meeting with current Outside Art standards.

Outside Art: A Case Study

In the Woodlawn neighborhood, I came across art hung on a fence. The work’s merit is marred by a gashed canvas. The question remains whether the art became Outside Art after it was tarnished or if the damage resulted from it being displayed outside.

Tea and Artistry

In a back alley behind a Mississippi District Tea shop you’ll find paintings affixed to fencing. These colorful, bold abstracts demonstrate that Outside Art can always be used to spruce up even the drabbest of surroundings.

 

 

Self-Entertainment: The Only Year-End-Review You’ll Ever Need

How can be was.

While working on a recent blog post, a feeling of satisfaction and pure joy came over me. Was it a phrase I’d created, a well constructed sentence, an idea that hit me in support of my main idea? I don’t remember but it felt good and made me realize if nothing else, I had the ability to entertain myself. It doesn’t matter who or how many would read what I was writing. The numbers are fascinating but more importantly I was enjoying myself exploring this new world of self-entertainment. It’s something like a selfie maybe, a bit self-indulgent but creating something that, at the very least, entertains me. That’s about as much as I can hope for at this point.

By now the 2018 year end review has been done to death. It’s been list after list of people who died, news events, categories for best music and films, even weather events. Yet my list is the only necessary list. It’s been streamlined to subjects that deserve additional perspective.

Personality Non-Crisis

On the Wall of Fame

This year I got to know a bit more about a couple of Portland legends, in my mind anyway, that I had long wondered about. Both people worked with kids in a way. Evelyn Collins took care of kids in day care programs in a bygone era and had a passing resemblance to Mrs. Doubtfire while David “How Can Be” Chow has provided bar space for kids to sing karaoke. Rich Reece tipped me off to what inspired Chow’s advertising strategy and I became enthralled with the exploits of a third personality, Scott Thomason, especially the commercials he ran for his car business.

Stuck on Stickers

Goo Who?

What has keep me inspired about sticker culture specifically Skullz and the Goo Goo design is the never ending variety of the images and their placement. Sure they can be a nuisance but they add color and a bit of whimsy to places that need it like the backs of street “signz.” Besides it’s less polluting and more concentrated than other types of graffiti.

Skull Drudgery

Mysterious Pole Attachment

Rewarding Pole Art

Noticing this phenomenon and these objects replicating again and again in my neighborhood mystified me. Over-analyzing the situation and providing the public with a breaking news report provided no answers. But, what a mystery! This art form offers a subtle, streamlined design whose enigmatic meaning inspires debates. Then I began to notice so many of these objects—all over town. They’re simple, yet made out of common household items with an oddity factor and concept that should have me scratching my head well into 2019.

Still Antsy

I still feel like I’m trying to sort out some deep seeded feelings about graffiti every time I explore this topic.  I don’t know if I should analyze it, ignore it, appreciate it, come to terms with it or hate it? But this year I made an effort to seek out opinions and see through the eyes of others, not that this made my thoughts any less muddled, but this antithesis of art and street culture has me continuing my search for understanding.

Multiplying Rabbit Posts

Factory horizon

Rabbit Hill perplexed me. My initial post was lacking. It wouldn’t be hard to reach out to the Rabbit Hill folks for some background. There’s also an area organization called Rabbit Advocates who could shed light on the rabbit dumping phenomenon. Visiting the place with my head full of legend fueled expectations. The area had a mysterious vibe along with autonomous zone potential. It merits more answers from me, the one person interested enough to ask questions.

In Passing

No sooner was I making plans to move to SW Portland than two fixtures of Barbur Boulevard closed. Humdinger’s seemed like a family owned neighborhood burger joint on a busy road. It was decorated in bright primary colors. I can’t say anything about the food but I always considered the hamburger special and the smoothies but then I kept driving anyway.

My thoughts on these two closed restaurants revolves around my imaginings of what went on there. That’s not hard when you have the basic concept of a restaurant down. I never made the time or was willing to spend the money to experience these places. I was focused on getting home. I was told the Golden Touch had cool old school booths and that it was a haven for Lewis and Clark students. I constantly have to correct myself thinking the place was called The Golden Spoon. It was sad to see these institutions close this year. As 2018 itself has come to a close, let’s hope the new year is good for us all.

What’s Up Rabbit Hill?

 

Reading material provided.

It was a casual mention from the guy at my local pet store. It must have initiated from my buying something rabbit related.  As I recall it was talked about in the hushed tones of an old legend. At the check out counter I became enthralled by his tale. In North Portland, a place existed where people dropped off unwanted rabbits to fend for themselves. He gave me directions that involved taking a left at a street mural. I scrawled it down on a paper bag filled with potato sprouts to be planted later. This place I made plans to visit, in search of an oasis for misfit lapins, was known as Rabbit Hill.

Report dumping of rabbits too.

As a rabbit owner, it’s hard to imagine the desperate straits of pet owners who discard animals to fend for themselves. I want to believe that bunnies can get past their cute, docile image and a life of relative comfort to forage for their own food and find shelter when they’ve never had to do this. Newly released rabbits could band together as bunny survivalists or a Lord of the Flies style gang and live free in nature. I believed the guy at the pet store. He was knowledgeable about everything else including growing potatoes but there was only one way to determine if Rabbit Hill was more than a legend; I had to visit and sort this out.

A drag on anarchy.

Tired art?

When I arrived at Rabbit Hill I discovered a place of mystery. Sure it described itself through signage as a place of garden art. There were raised beds so other types of gardening were possible but it felt like a place that was neglected. The dragon/tire art project had seen better days. A headless dragon is not a fierce dragon and there’s no place for the fire to escape. Rabbit Hill is an L shaped strip of land that borders a chain length fence. There were winding paths and a kiosk/bulletin board splashed with an anarchy symbol down the hill. The information posted  offered an explanation of the need for community space:

Our neighborhood is a traffic “island’ surrounded by high traffic volume and high speed streets: MLK, Lombard, Vancouver, and the train tracks – making it very difficult for the children and elderly to traverse our neighborhood safely.

So tucked away in the Piedmont neighborhood was this patch of greenery along with the remains of some garden art made spooky by long afternoon shadows. The sign continued with a message about enjoying the park and being respectful. It included a reference to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” that I didn’t get right away.

GardenArt explained.

Right away I noticed the lack of any presense of rabbits. Not being a rabbit expert, I’m not sure what that means. I wouldn’t have been able to smell them or hear them as they’re a quiet animal. I definitely didn’t see any scattering away as I walked up.

Sun for the ArtGarden.

I’d been planning to get out to Rabbit Hill all summer and I knew the right time to visit would have been dusk.  As I got more and more embroiled in moving this fall I found myself having to get to Rabbit Hill at anytime I possibly could. This ended up being late one fall afternoon in October. Not a great time, mind you, but better than no time at all. This wasn’t ideal rabbit viewing time. I could hear Pittsburgh Orbit publisher, Will Simmons, who’s a some time art director consultant for this blog, screaming all the way from the east coast,“GET A FLASH! DO THESE RABBITS RIGHT.” In my defense things got too hectic and I was making one last-ditch effort to possibly document a bunny phenomenon before moving from the North Portland area.

Hear my elephant roar.

While I like the title Social Critic, that’s not really my aim in creating this blog, so I don’t want to be too vocal in what felt like a bit of disappointment in seeing Rabbit Hill compared to what it was intended to be. Many a project begins with the best of intentions and those relying on volunteer help can run out of momentum. The Facebook page seem to mirror this by being woefully out of date. It sure seemed like it had been a long time between pancake fundraisers. That’s not to say the place was decrepit. It wasn’t overgrown or overrun by graffiti. The elephant looking sculpture was elegant. It felt like a great place for local neighbors to walk dog  or hang out to create and maintain art installations. It had the feel of a much-needed bit of space between all the industrial, road and train activity. My hope is that the area residents can get back to what they started.

That feeling someone’s watching.

From what I read in a kid’s book, rabbits make burrows and hide underground. They’re crepuscular so they’re active at twilight. Wikipedia would argue that they’re more on the nocturnal side of things. I saw no evidence of rabbits nor did I see any abundant plant life that might sustain a colony. Then again, I wasn’t there as the light was fading out nor was I armed with a spot light that may have helped me catch a fleeting glimpse of rabbit activity. While reflecting so much on Rabbit Hill, I found out there’s a children’s book of the same name that was written in 1944. It’s hard to say if this inspired the park’s name but I’d like to hope the area is full of creatures that resemble the book’s high jumping, evil-looking cover star. I want to believe that rabbits flourish at Rabbit Hill. If they are forced to relocate against their will I want them to find success and stay alive. I’d like to see them make a life for themselves tucked away on a slope of nature and garden art remains.

Read the book not the blog.

 

 

The Turkey Of St. Johns part 4: A Return to Normalcy

Thank me.

Every Thanksgiving my mind drifts back many years when I believe I spotted a burly, living turkey waddling around outside a dog house behind a chain link fence on a front lawn of a house in the vicinity of St Johns. The image gets murkier with time. Putting the word out through Facebook never revealed anyone with a more distinct memory than my own. I believe what I saw. The Turkey of St Johns has become a Thanksgiving totem I memorialize. It was real. I know I saw it regardless of whether anyone else ever did.

Turkey Jerky

Call me David. Some years ago, never mind how many precisely, having little to no obligations in my life, and nothing to interest me in my own neighborhood, I thought I would wander about a little and see parts of St. Johns. In this way I found myself riding my bike, and now venting my spleen after having circulated through the neighborhood. Whenever I find myself growing grim this month, when it’s this damp and drizzly November, whenever I find myself pausing, lost in a memory of that unforgotten turkey and bringing up the image of a funeral for that possibly, long gone bird and especially whenever my hypochondria gets an upper hand of me that it requires a strong impulse control to stop me from thinking I’m sick of not knowing about the Turkey of St. Johns, then going anyway and knocking on doors in the general vicinity where I remember seeing it and screaming, “WHERE’S THE TURKEY AT?” Then I account it’s high time to stay out of St. Johns as much as I can.

Possibly a good book.

I quietly take to thoughts of that turkey. It doesn’t surprise me being a mystery I’ve been unable to solve for many years. This is my substitute for loneliness and no actual live turkey. I don’t have to get all philosophical and name drop Cato and talk about him leaping into his sword. That whole thing sounded horrible, by the way. These feelings are not that dire. I just want to remember a turkey I saw long ago. If no one knows anything, maybe not even some guy with a degree who’s really smart, someone or another might cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the Turkey of St. Johns with me.

Faster than a turkey?