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It is mesmerizing to be on the viewing side of a fish ladder, watching a huge salmon resting briefly before resuming a long journey upriver to the stream of her birth.  I had flown out to Portland, Oregon, then taken the train up to Seattle to see my older sister and meet a nephew I had never seen before.  It is a long story.  We humans undertake many trips for family reasons, and this was simply the latest in a long line.  The fish ladder was at Hiram Chittenden Locks, built in 1911.   The locals know them as the Ballard locks, for the town adjacent to the area.  They connect Puget Sound with Lake Washington.

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The locks offer a fascinating glimpse back to the time when the infrastructure of the United States was being built, when choices were made that would play out for centuries.

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The journey out West was tiring but rewarding, despite the gate changes in Philly and the traffic in Seattle.  I had a chance to get acquainted with Roger and his gracious wife, Margaret, to renew contact with my sister, Cindy and spend time with my son, Dolan, Renee and their two active children— Lucas and Zooey.

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An unexpected highlight was the adult Soapbox derby race on the slopes of Mount Tabor in Portland.  The weather was perfect and the crowd was enthusiastic.  Some of the drivers were going for speed, but quite a few had obviously built their contraptions with other intentions.

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I did a fair amount of cycling around Portland, watched over a taekwondo class, enjoyed a walk in the woods and helped land a few trout when the family decided to try their casts at a fish farm.  There were some that didn’t get away.

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Like a large, featherless bird on a very long migration route, I often make stopovers in between Melbourne, Australia and Grand Pre, Canada. Inevitably, the longest and most rewarding one is a layover in Portland, Oregon, to catch up with my oldest son, his wife and family. The summer visit is the longest, and it often coincides with his birthday, July 16th. This year I happened to hit a milestone– the big Four Oh.

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His mother has her own migration pattern. Until recently it was a triangular path, from a home base in Southern California back to her original home in the Netherlands, then up to Portland. She now has a house in the same neighborhood of Portland as our son, and was good enough to offer me the guest room. My last visit through was a quick stopover in early December, 2011. My son borrowed her four-wheel drive Subaru and we went up to Mt. Hood for a day of snow shoeing and sledding.

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This time he took some time off work and we drove to a small, but thriving town on the Columbia River Gorge called Hood River. It is a mecca for windsurfing and kiteboarding, not to mention the home of “Full Sail,” a wonderful brew pub. From there, we headed due South, along the Hood River, making detours to see three farms, one with fields of lavender, one with recently shorn alpacas, the last with the real money maker in this area– berries and other fruit. Our afternoon was devoted to a walk around Trillium Lake, with its spectacular views of Mt. Hood.

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Last summer we signed on for a weekend trip as part of Bike Oregon. He had acquired a second-hand Bike Friday tandem, so Lucas could come along. The route was through the Willamette Valley, in the country around Salem, the state capital. I had booked a tent, so we had instant accommodation. What we hadn’t counted on was a weekend of solid rain. Salem’s rain usually comes in late Fall. June through September is the dry season.

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Nevertheless, the campus at Willamette University was attractive and the organization of Bike Oregon was impressive. I enjoyed the music and the friendliness of the volunteers and the other riders. The Capitol building itself is one of three art deco capitols in the United States. It is certainly striking, with the gold statue of an Oregon pioneer visible for miles around.

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Yesterday, Dolan’s mother and I headed up the Gorge again into the dry country of Eastern Oregon, a mere twenty miles from Hood River. As different as night and day. The destination was a concrete box of a building on the Washington side. It was constructed as the home of Sam Hill, a Pacific Northwest entrepreneur. He bought five thousand acres along the river, hoping to establish a Quaker community. It was called Maryhill, after his daughter.

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The community never took off, however, and he ended up creating a museum instead of a home with the help of some odd, artistic connections he made during his trips around the world. It holds a substantial collection of furniture from Queen Marie of Romania, some souvenirs from the life of a vivacious dancer by the name of Loie Fuller, and works donated by a San Francisco socialite by the name of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels.

There is a wonderful collection of chess pieces from around the world, an excellent display of Native American crafts, and a room full of Rodin sculptures and drawings.

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Hill’s most astonishing legacy is a full size reproduction of Stonehenge, dedicated to the local sons in the area who died fighting in WW I. His museum may be in Washington but it has an Oregon sensibility about it. The town motto here is “Keep Portland Weird.”

I don’t think that has ever been a problem.


When the grandchildren come to visit, you can hardly make a better investment than the purchase of a hammock.  For those of us raised in countries settled by Europeans, the hammock is exotic.  It seems insubstantial and a little scary. How can you trust such a thing to hold you up?  But there is the allure of comfort and the gentle swaying motion that take us back to the womb, or back to the days when we lived in trees.  In a hammock, you can relax with green leaves overhead, the gentle brush of a breeze on the skin.  Mosquitoes.

Our long summer in Nova Scotia this year allowed my son’s family the opportunity to squeeze in a visit.  Their two children are four and one now, so the trip from Portland, Oregon would have been trying, even without the missed connection in Toronto.  After a very long day, they rolled into the Halifax airport at 10 PM, sans luggage or car seats.  Fortunately, the airport is quite prepared for such eventualities.  They brought out a couple of car seats and we were on our way.  The luggage arrived at our house the following morning, before the family was awake.

For someone who takes more interest in documentaries and non-fiction books to cartoons and story books, Lucas has a lively imagination.  Long before we hit the hammock, we had introduced me to some of the stick hippos to be found in our field.  They were numerous, and some of them seemed to be thirsty.  So, we wandered down to the stream that borders our property to let them drink.

His little sister is less interested in hippos than the prospect of missing out on some activity her brother has taken on. Zooey’s language is limited, but she has an infectious smile and a refreshing, big “yes” in her vocabulary.  Like the clever little face recognition function built into my camera, Zooey’s neurons light up when her favorite people come into focus.

As the week progressed, the pattern of our visit sorted itself out.  Eating and running around, bath time and sleeping.  I joined their family for a visit to a private zoo on what used to be a farm.  After that adventure, I retired from the daily outings to concentrate on cooking.  Even with our full size Volvo, three adults and two car seats make for a tight squeeze.

A highlight of their visit was a trip to Ross farm, a “living history” farm where one can learn about blacksmithing, oak barrel construction and milking a cow.  The cow captivated young Lucas like nothing else on the trip.  If he had to do it every day as a chore, I suspect the magic would wear off fast, but squeezing hot milk from a large bovine animal made his day.

At one time, there were twelve boys and one girl growing up in the Stewart House.  The twelve boys slept in the very room were I am typing these words.  It was called the “dormitory.”  The wooden pegs where the boys would hang their clothes are still there.

One year, the contagion of diptheria spread through the village like wildfire.  Four of the boys succumbed to the disease within a few days, but my wife’s great grandfather asked for a pickle.  Thinking he was out of his mind with fever, his mother consented.  The acid in the pickle broke through the phlegm that was choking his swollen throat.  Charles Stewart lived to sire his own children, and the old farmhouse stayed in the family.

With the exception of one very wet day, the weather gods cooperated with my son’s visit.  And when the time came to pack up, most of the scattered toys reappeared from places they had been scattered.  Some had been camouflaged by the floral pattern in the rug.

We made our way back to the airport, tucked into lunch at Tim Horton’s, a Canadian institution, and said our goodbyes.  A good time was had by all.  The sticks and the hammock will be here waiting, next time they come.  In the meantime, you never can tell when a hippo will come in handy.

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