Portland Walks and Urban Hikes

"The Settling of the West," 1936, by Edward Quigley, one of several WPA murals inside Portland's Irvington School

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Getting Started

Blog Entry 1 Nov 29 2009

This blog will give you ideas and inspiration, I hope, to get out and explore. I'll write about my weekly urban wanderings and include some history, architecture, geology, and a lot more opinion than seemed prudent in my published books.

For now, some random thoughts on this past year of walks...

This year, in between writing 2 books (one on Lake Oswego and another on Portland's public stairways) I led about 25 walks for Metro, the City of Portland and the Multnomah County Library system. They ranged from about 6 people on a 95 degree Sunday afternoon in old Orenco to 200 on a golden fall Saturday exploring Beverly Cleary's Hollywood/Grant Park neighborhoods. We explored college campuses, neighborhoods on the National Register of Historic Places, old streetcar lines, still thriving with small local businesses, a sewage treatment facility, urban streams, parks and rivers. And more.

Walking with groups has its own dynamic--it's a social thing and the area walked through is a backdrop for socializing. Walking is great for that. Try walking with your teenager or partner. Conversation flows with your footsteps in a way that face to face, across the restaurant table talk just often can't replicate. And there's a never-ending parade of architecture and gardening styles to critique, admire and inspire.

But if you really want to see and hear a neighborhood,walk alone. You'll chat more with the leaf blowing crews (who despite their noisy equipment, have almost always the good manners to turn it off when a pedestrian approaches), the garden putterers, the fellow walkers, the people waiting at a bus stop or using a public staircase, and the old people who always have more time to visit than the rest of us.

Some parts of town are friendlier than others. Portland is a hip town, in an "I'm not trying; just can't help it" kind of way. In some neighborhoods (and I won't name names; but they're in SE) you won't get a lot of friendly eye contact and passing pleasantries. Or maybe you will if you're under 30 and wearing items from Goodwill. I am over 30, way over it, and perhaps look a bit too eager for these folks.

Some of the friendliest vibes I've gotten in my years of walking around the region are in Forest Grove, Oregon City, Piedmont and Concordia.

I just finished a book on exploring Portland's many urban staircases. There are 200 or so and I climbed them all in the space of a few weeks. Saw lots of cats, one rat, many dogs, countless IPods, stunning views, sweaty grimaces from people running up and down staircases repeatedly, mushroooms growing on risers, not much trash, lots of leaf litter which made some stairs feel like they'd been waxed, evidence of significant use (moss only on the sides of stairs) and no-use (a lush moss carpet on the treads).

More next week.


Nancy said...

Hey, Laura! I'm so glad to discover your blog and be an early and often reader. But posting your entry before the cocks crow? Ah, the writer's life--all caffeine, no sleep. This is a great complement to your wonderful books. Keep it up! Your friend, Nancy

Laura O. Foster said...

I guess insomnia is a blessing of middle age but I'm wearing the dog out as he feels compelled to follow me around in the middle of the night. He's crashed right now.

naomi dagen bloom said...

New to Portland and living in a retirement community in the West Hills, a walking partner has introduced me to your "52 Walks." We explored the streets downhill from us and made the great discovery of Lair Hill Park.

And an old Carnegie library. Thinking it was just that, we opened the front door, were greeted by an extraordinarily gracious woman working for the Parks department now housed there.

Curiously, the house once a synagogue had an historic register marker that did not refer to that but did tell the neighborhood was home to Jewish and Italian immigrants in 19th century.


Bobbie said...

Hi Laura-
I found your blog today and I love it! I am currently a student at PCC taking a geography class and one of our assignments was to watch a few hours of Oregon Field Guide. I found your Portland Stairways episode. What a treat! Is your stairway book out now? And I noticed all your other books too! If you had to pick one favorite hidden stairway what would it be. Again, I love your blog...I will be back often!
Bobbie Bryan

Therese said...

Laura, I found your blog today and am excited to hear you are writing a book about the Portland Stairways. I moved here a few years ago and found out about one stairway tour and my husband and I had such fun following a very vague set of directions to some very beautiful stairways in the middle of no where! I can't wait for your book to come out and get started on many more adventures! I plan to drag my husband out in the next couple of weeks to take the walk you just wrote about in your blog. Therese

Eric said...

Hi Laura - I'm trying to find out what the deepest publicly accessible stairway is downtown. Been doing a lowest point to highest point walk, and I'm thinking that there might be something lower than the surface of the river - which is where I've been starting. I really like the stairs book!

Laura O. Foster said...

The only thing lower than the river would be a staircase leading up from a basement downtown, and then heading up to the top of Skyline--see the book for that incredible staircase.