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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.

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My wife woke up worried about the basil. It was chilly last night, and she was afraid the potted plant might be shivering out on the patio. We have come back to a different country. The heat wave that greeted our discombobulated senses in January is long gone. It is winter and the temps are in their teens (centigrade), thirties and forties (Fahrenheit). There is rain and wind. Clouds skittering across the sky almost every day.

One of my fellow recumbent riders in Melbourne is a weatherman. Such an easy job, I tell him, whatever you predict is bound to come up during this city’s climate lottery on any given day. Cloudy with a chance of meatballs? You got it. To demonstrate his perversity in the face of the elements this time of year, Alan heads for the snow in upper elevations. This weekend he is winter camping.

The political climate has changed as well. Premier Bracks stepped down on the very day I landed. Citing personal matters. It seems that he is having trouble with his children. Having endured more teenage turmoil than he is ever likely to witness, I commiserate. John Brumby, the treasury secretary has taken on the task, launching a scathing attack on Prime Minister John Howard. There’s an election coming up.

Aside from the time zones and the complete change of seasons, the change has included a geographic shift from an old colonial home in the rural farm country of Nova Scotia to an eccentric, modern house in a muliticultural, vibrant city in Australia. Slow to fast. Right now, the Royal Shakespeare Company is in town; a film festival is in full swing, a lively poetry festival has just started and the luminaries attending the Melbourne Writer’s Festival will hit the City in two weeks.

My transition between these two worlds was San Francisco. I parachuted in for a brief visit with my son, daughter-in-law and grandson. They tucked me into their busy, young parent lives on their last weekend of normalcy. While I was there, Dolan got an offer from an up-and-coming software company in Portland. It will be a big change after six years at Cisco. Like the weather, it will all take some getting used to.

By the way, Eric and his companions sailed into safe harbor in County Clare, Ireland on July 26. I’m sure the weather there was sunny and fine. Trust the Irish to plug it into their deal with the EU. No more bad food, no more rain. Stay tuned.

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