Up the mountain

On my last day in Portland, I’d walked around Ladd’s Addition all morning. Ready for more adventure, I prepared for another long hike—uphill this time—towards Mount Tabor.

I’d already heard a little bit about the mountain from various conversations. The day before, I’d mused about the cleanliness of the tap water to my host, and she’d nodded in pride. She told me it came from the Mt. Tabor reservoir. Huh, I’d thought without even expecting to visit it, interesting. Portland’s nature is so luscious that I couldn’t help but feel envious. As I began walking towards it, however, I realised one step at a time that Portland deserved all the love it got from nature lovers. Not only was the mountain and the surrounding park adding beauty to existing grandeur, but the path leading to the mountain was also full of feasts for the eyes.

Hawthorne Blvd. was a lengthy street with trees and quirky buildings flanking the sidewalks. For a hike lover like myself, the journey was more thrilling than exerting. I felt as if I’d walk all day without tiring or boring myself. Characteristic to Portland, I came across coloured heads and clothing rebels everywhere I turned. And catering to such a preference-diverse population are stores that made me stop and stare.

From coffee shops with a twist to clothing lines worthy of a movie star, retails in Hawthorne Blvd are nothing short of awe-inducing. Detouring multiple times, I stopped at various stores taking in the feverish atmosphere of people being unapologetic to show off their tastes. Unlike most other places I’ve been to, the people of Portland don’t care what others think of them. Everyone represented themselves as they wanted. And that gave a beautiful hue to the city. That’s what makes Portland so welcoming and cheery—no one judges another because no one is perfect. And they’re happy to flaunt their imperfect bodies and habits. As a solo traveller from a judgemental society, Portland seemed to me the epitome of freedom.

Aside from the enthusiastic folks of the city, nature itself seemed to reflect the people’s mentality. Or perhaps it’s the other way round. Portland’s nature is unparalleled in abundance, with a tendency of giving I saw in its people, too. Just as people opened their arms and spread their smiles, trees, too, cast wide shadows and cooling views. Although the climb towards Mt. Tabor was big, the trees and the people along the way made my way all the more enjoyable.

Walking along I had to stop at the Portland Cider Company. After an internal debate as to whether I should or shouldn’t get drunk while on such an important hike, I entered nevertheless. Not only did I get to taste some amazing apple cider for free, but I also learnt about cider preparation and pairing—all from a great host and conversationalist. I’d done something I’d never dreamt of doing—a daring act from the perspective of my social circle—and it was the do-your-thing attitude of Portland that influenced me to shed my inhibitions. On the way to a high point, I’d paused for a short moment of self-high. Bravo to me.

Mt. Tabor 1

Reaching the end of the street, I was at the Portland reservoir number 6. Before me, behind bars sprawled a mass of water. Standing by one of Portland’s major sources of water, I was transfixed by its size. I walked round the reservoir, and past the tennis courts. There, leading up to reservoir number 5 was a rocky staircase. I took to it, my legs aching from all the walking. Even without realising it, I’d traversed over 20 miles in two days, and the stress was beginning to settle.

But the pull of nature was stronger than the pull of my muscles, and I reached the top just to gloat that I’d made it. As soon as I finished congratulating myself on my feat, I turned around and dropped my jaw. Reservoir 5 was bigger, rounder, and far more beautiful. At that moment, I knew it was all worth it. I no longer felt the pain in my legs, for the ecstasy in my heart was more domineering.

Mt. Tabor 3

The rain started again, plunking on the surface of the water. I remained, breathing deep. When you’re in the presence of the best of nature, you don’t need to force meditation. As I turned away, my heart felt cheery and my steps light. My adventure in Portland had come to its close and I left wishing for more.

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A perfect fit

As measuring bowls

nesting within each other

so did the couple’s hands.

A comforting shoulder

From behind his picket fence, Benjamin saw the kids playing. Along with the five year old twins from across the lawn, was the oldest kid in the block, Ryan. The three of them held a small teddy bear above Mark’s face — the three year old who’d just moved to the neighbourhood with his grandparents.

Ben remained rooted as Mark reached out to his teddy, and failing. Ryan was laughing, the pinkish gums behind his primary teeth, now gleaming in the sun. When his mother called for dinner, he cast the teddy aside and ran, the twins in his wake.

Mark had slopped on the ground, weeping. Retrieving the teddy from the sludge, Benjamin sat beside the child, and put his arm around him.

Bullied kids need a comforting shoulder. Ben knew, because he’d had none.

Strolling through Ladd’s Addition

On my last day in Portland, I asked my friend what’s the one place I should visit to complete my trip complete. And without hesitation, he wrote back: Hawthorne Blvd, and Ladd’s Addition. It’s got an interesting floor plan and there’s a rose garden I could look around, he’d said. Although I’d grown a little tired of roses, I looked up the place on my map and the structure of the neighbourhood fascinated me at once. It had a diagonal street pattern, unlike any other street I’d seen anywhere else.

With that image to look forward to, I walked down the street leading to the quaint district of Ladd. I was on Hawthorne Blvd which occupied an entire corner of the square, and so from where I stood I could walk right into the neighbourhood and keep walking until I reached the other end. The weird thing about walking within the Addition was there’s no way to get lost. Although every turn looked the same to me, my friend had assured me I’d end up at a clearing if I just kept to the trail.

It felt, at first, as if walking into an unknown jungle. All around me trees loomed overhead and leaves swept the ground. Then from somewhere in the distance, came the screams of ecstatic children. Unnerving though it all was, I soon went past a school somewhere within the district where I caught a glimpse of children playing in the school ground. Their voices rang out throughout the area. After a while, it became less creepy and more welcoming. The roads all looked neat and well-maintained, but there were almost no vehicles to appreciate the vacant traffic.

The houses reminded me of mansion life in the 1800s. They were large with porches and picket fences, attracting my eyes and inducing my jealousy. No one was out. People preferred a quiet afternoon indoors with their dogs or books. The sun shone bright overhead, illuminating the path ahead of me where autumn’s first victims expected my feet to crunch them.

Ladd's Addition, Portland

It was a glorious place to take a walk. However within minutes I realised how much of a pain it must be for visitors to find the right house. It’s too easy to get overwhelmed and confused because every house had a similar design. I was addicted the the serenity of the neighbourhood, as I approached the nearest rose garden. Excited by the what I’d already seen, I was looking forward to what would come. Perhaps there’d be some interesting design in the way they were planted, too, I hoped. As I got closer, I felt my heart racing. Never before had I felt such a mad urge to see flowers. I felt so unlike myself, speed walking down the street. When I reached the garden, however, the expectation that’d welled up within me burst in a flash. Rows upon rows were remains of roses. The entire area reeked with gloom and not a single flower in bloom. In a devastating moment, I observed dying leaves and rose buds cowering as a mild rain dropped on them.

The barren garden
The barren garden

Despite my disappointment, I still felt optimistic. Perhaps, I just arrived at the wrong season, I consoled myself. Perhaps the roses would bloom in spring, I decided walking away.

The more I roamed, the more happier I felt at being there. Portland’s customary rain had stopped for the a moment, and the sun peeked from behind the clouds. Autumn was just round the corner and as pigeons flew from one tree to another, dried leaves flew in their wake. It was a sight I’d never forget. Within minutes I’d forgotten the dying roses, cheering up and gearing up for the what came next.

As I turned a corner, I stood stunned. Facing me was a huge garden of roses, all in bloom and in glory. Roses I’d seen before, roses I’d never seen before, roses in red, roses in white, in yellow, and even in blue—they were everywhere welcoming me.

The blooming garden
The blooming garden

All of a sudden I felt a surge of admiration towards nature. The dead roses I’d seen before wasn’t a work of nature but a work of human negligence. And sure enough I came across a sign that confirmed my theory.

Shaking my head in disbelief, and also shaking with laughter at the same time, I moved on. Ladd’s Addition had added immeasurable value to my trip.

And life emerges

Echoes of silence,

tension bubbling atmosphere,

a cocoon is shed.