The reason for our journey to Portland was simple.  My son and his family migrated up there last year from their previous base in San Francisco.  The decision was triggered, in large part, by the birth of my grandson just two years ago. Portland offered a lifestyle conducive to young families, the prospect of an affordable house, and, for my son and his wife, friends who had already moved there.  The city’s cycle-friendly reputation probably didn’t hurt.

Portland is known as the premier bicycling city in North America.  There are entire streets where cycling commuters take priority over cars.   I actually laid hands on Calfee Design’s beautiful bamboo bike and paid a visit to a local recumbent shop.  Ironically, while yours truly was chatting away with the owner, I came very close to getting an expensive parking ticket on our rental Subaru.

From almost anywhere in the city, you can see the lovely volcano, Mount Hood, and usually Mt. St. Helen as well.  It is the city of roses.  Powell’s is here, the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi.  There are 28 microbreweries.  It has great coffee, delicious fresh food (especially berries) from nearby farms, and eleven bridges.  The Willamette River effectively divides the city in half.

For more than fifty years, Oregon was the destination for thousands of immigrants seeking a better life.  They joined caravans of covered wagons and made their way out West.  They came for the free land; the gold rush; a better life.  That was the picture my teacher drew when she spoke about the great migration.

I hold vague memories of long road trips from Montana to visit my mother’s favorite sister in Portland.  She and her husband were warm, generous people.  They had a small, very neat house.  George took great pride in his car and did all the mechanical work himself in his exceptionally tidy garage.  They took us up to see the Rose Test Garden, of course, and probably the zoo as well.  It was summer and everything smelled good.

My wife and I arrived on July 11, barely missing my grandson’s second birthday.  Sometime during the last year he had metamorphosed from a beautiful baby into a non-stop talker, a bundle of energy and emotions.  We had gone from being part of his magical physical world him into being strangers.  It was a disconcerting transformation.  Our second visit in as many years did not exactly turn us into a known and trusted item.  In Nova Scotia they have a term for people like us, “come-from-away.”

Despite parenting demands and my son’s work schedule, we found time for a fabulous farm market, great meals, good conversation, a visit to the most popular tourist attraction in the area (Multnomah Falls), an outing on Sandy river, a family get-together, a celebration of my son’s birthday. and a getaway of our own to the Pacific coast where we walked for hours on the beaches.

On our very last day we squeezed in a hike up one of the streams flowing down from the mountains to the Columbia River gorge.  It was stunning.   If only, if only it weren’t so far away.