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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.


The day before I left Turin for Christmas in Canada, I had two scares.  In a misguided attempt to keep from bumping my head, I caught my foot under our platform bed and did a swan dive on the floor of our flat.  I cut one eyebrow open and bruised my ribs.  The second event was far more serious.  It was late in the afternoon in the center of the city, and I was getting ready to cross a major street after descending from a tram.  Like most people in the shopping mode, I was preoccupied.  And I was plugged in, listening to a book on my MP3 player.

The  young woman beside me stepped off the sidewalk.  From the corner of my eye I could see a car coming.  My brain screamed but no words came out.  By the time I reacted she had walked into the side of the moving car.  I caught her on the rebound.  For what seemed like a long time, I held her while she shook. She was bruised and in shock, but nothing appeared to be broken.

The driver stopped and came back.  An ambulance was called.  Her partner showed up.  If she had stepped out ten seconds earlier I believe she would have been killed.  It was that close.  I will never, ever tune out the city again.  Life is too precious to be preoccupied at a crucial moment.

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The teaching position in Turin offered us a choice that we would never have considered if we had been in Melbourne in December.  We could spend the holiday in the Alps, which certainly had its attractions, or we could return to the Stewart House in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.

The stars seemed aligned for a small family reunion in Canada this year.  My sister could come from Montana, a son from China.  Our daughter was already in the province attending school and her new husband planned to fly in from Hawaii. They had been married there and we had not had a chance to meet him.  He is in the Marines Corps and we are very pleased to have him in the family.

There is plenty of room in the old house.  The main trick is staying warm this time of year.  It has been at least sixty years since anyone has lived in the building in winter.  There is no furnace, no central heating and no wood stove.  There are electric baseboard heaters and five fireplaces.

During the cold snap leading up to Christmas Eve, we struggled to keep two of the fireplaces stuffed with wood (and the family with food) from morning until night.  In many parts of the province thousands of people lost power.  I was glad it didn’t happen here.  I was very grateful for electricity, grocery stores, merino wool, the CBC, and indoor plumbing.

The cold snap was followed by a warm wind on Christmas day that quickly melted almost all the snow.  The cold has returned, and I am now staring at a field of frozen, green grass with patches of snow.  A blizzard is predicted for tonight, New Year’s Eve.  No one who lives in the Maritimes expects predictable weather any time of year, so this is not surprising.

I’ll be back in Turin in a week, so the Italian lessons are not over yet.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get up the nerve to drive.  The Alps are calling.  Happy New Year!  Stay safe and stay tuned.

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