The basics of life

I don’t think there’s much to love about where I live. But I also think that we have a tendency to overlook the simple beauty around us while we’re busy gawking at sights elsewhere. Thinking about that, I browsed through my archives and found a photo that captures one of the most likeable traits of my hometown. It’s en route to the Yearcaud hills located in the southern part of India. I live about an hour away from the hills and the road leading up to it are a wonderful adventure for any road trip junkie. Not only is the way made up of eight steep hairpin bends, but the bends also guarantee stunning sunrises and sets. It’s not the most beautiful sunset I could’ve seen in my life, but I wouldn’t miss it either.

Yearcaud

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A moment to cherish

You don’t need a fancy living to feel good about yourself. A quiet afternoon with a beloved companion is more than enough. This bundle of compassion lives with a friend who was my host when I visited Seattle last year. Ever-bounding with enthusiasm, this was her rare peaceful moment. Looking back, she’s still one of my beloved memories of the trip.

Acres.jpg

Silencio

There are only a few things in life that silence you by their sheer magnitude. Without a doubt, nature is one of them. When my friend offered to take me to the Beacon Rock in Stevenson, I was thrilled, excited, and nervous all at the same time. And as it is with these emotions, I chatted away all the way up, eager to reach the peak. My patient friend with his experience in hiking with enthusiastic first timers, offered me advice and great conversation throughout the hike. When at last we reached the top, this sight descended upon me knocking my voice out of my throat. For much longer than a few minutes, we stood atop the rock looking down at the marvellousness that’s the Gorge of Columbia River. Despite the devastating loss it’d undergone mere weeks ago, the river flowed along serene as ever.

Beacon Rock State Park, Stevenson

Under unnatural circumstances

A self-professed nature lover, I adore wild trees with their branches untamed, flowers scattered about, and squirrel-bitten fruits ripening in various stages. Something about unpruned nature gets me excited every time I see it. Whenever I see manicured plants in the various housing apartments in my locality, I cringe and pass silent judgement at those who resort to a vain attempt at getting close to nature.

Regardless of my disdain, however, I realised that I appreciated the same practice when I saw it in the US. Not because it’s a foreign country and that I wouldn’t say anything against such a global leader—no. A dissenter, I can vent about the country at length. But that’s not for now. But the real reason I enjoyed organised nature in the US is because for the first time, I saw it done in style and in clear consideration. It was in Dublin, a small locality in the Pleasanton area of California.

Hacienda Drive, Dublin

The first thing that struck me about Dublin and the rest of Pleasanton is how clean the place is. I’d seen far shabbier localities in San Francisco city, so I knew Pleasanton did something different. It was when my colleague mentioned that Pleasanton is a planned city, that it dawned on me what an artificial place I was at.

Nothing about Pleasanton seemed natural. I began to notice the little things that came from elsewhere, planted and pieced together to form the city. From the trees that lined the footpaths to the pebbles that added beauty and glint, not a twig was out of its place. Shrubberies grew well within their borders, leaves stuck to their branches, and all fruits at the same stage of ripeness.

Pathways, Dublin

Regardless of all that, I still enjoyed walking around the neighbourhood. I didn’t know why at first, but the more I explored, the more I understood. Dublin is a rich neighbourhood. Most of its population has passed middle age and is considering settling down and retirement plans. Since a lot others are either business owners or high-level corporate employees, they don’t need to haggle to get through each day. They, unlike people in unplanned cities, can afford to demand perfection. They’re so accustomed to having things their way that improperness gets on their nerves. The whole town, for instance, shuts off at about 9:30 pm. Nightlife is almost non-existent in the streets and silence rings louder than a foghorn.

Houses in Dublin

All of this was new for me. I’d never before shared privileges that the Dublin folk takes for granted. And that’s why the perfection and drastic change of scenery impressed me. Walking by house after house, each competing with the other in terms of class and bigness, I gawked in surprise. Walkways were seamless, street signals on time, traffic rare, and drivers polite. While I admired in wonder at everything I saw, it was as if nothing could surprise the locals. They’re used to everything being the way it is—designed without a single flaw.

Did I cherish my time in Pleasanton? Of course, I did. I felt elite and rich. Although I don’t see myself living in such an environment (until perhaps I’m 60 and cranky about petty things) it was wonderful nevertheless.

Dublin trees

Oh, and though authorities count and account for each tree, the sunlight glittering through them is a sight worth beyond words.

These are a few of my favourite things

Portland is a city every traveller must visit. It’s the kind of city that makes even the most compulsive nomad to linger and perhaps stay awhile. Within five days of being there, I couldn’t help but entertain the idea of moving there myself. Not that I would, but I fantasise. Aside from rich cultural heritage and jealousy-inducing nature, there’s so much about Portland to cherish.

Variety

The Red Light, a clothing store in Portland
The Red Light, a clothing store in Portland.

Portland is famous for its chill attitude. It’s like the new cool kid on the block that everyone wants to be friends with. When in Portland, you wear what you want, you look what you like, and you believe what you want to believe in. No matter how strange or how quirky your preferences and lifestyle are, Portlanders won’t judge. The cheeky folk they are, they smile and embrace the fusion that different people bring to their city.

Walkers first

I love walking. The biggest problem with a lot of places is the lack of respect and consideration for those who travel on foot. Where I live, for instance, cars and motorcycles are so frequent and so many that it’s often scary to step onto the street for fear of a speeding motorist knocking you down. In Portland, however, I saw designated sidewalks. Of course, the same is true of many other places in America, but Portland goes a step further. I had so many vehicles stop to let through me walk by. For the first time in my life I felt respected on the street. I flet like royalty.

Rights for bicyclists

Cup & Bar, a coffee shop in Portland
Cup & Bar, a coffee shop with a place to hang bicycles.

Portland loves bicycles as much as America loves its coffee. Everywhere I went, there were special concessions for bicyclists. Buses and trains had separate stands for riders travelling with their bikes, while brochures and route maps encouraged people to bring along their bikes. I even saw bike stands in a local coffee shop. On the street, right next to the pedestrian walkway were large bicycle lanes. From the little of America I’d seen, I realised the bike lanes in Portland are wider than the ones in Pleasanton, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Inclusion

Tempeh sandwich and vegan pasta, Portland
Tempeh sandwich and vegan pasta, Portland

During my five days in Portland, I didn’t feel alien for one moment. Everything about the people made me feel welcome and comfortable. For someone so new to the first world, I adjusted and felt at home right away. And it wasn’t just me either. So many people from so many varying parts of the world lived in Portland united by the love for the city. It showed, too, in every street corner and in every shop I stepped into. From scrumptious meat to decadent vegan desserts, the city has something for every taste. People go out of their way to make each other feel comfortable and less self-conscious.

Water
An unfamiliar experience about the US was drinkable tap water. Although some of my American colleagues prefer bottled water, after some initial inertia, I knew the tap was fine. The taste, however, differed ever so little. Throughout my stay in California, it didn’t bother me at all. Then I went to Portland. When I took the first sip of tap water there, I was too surprised for words. Tap water in Portland was so tasty that it felt plain, refreshing, and clean. Unlike the tap water in California which tasted like purified water, Portland’s water tasted like natural water. I later learnt that Mt. Tabor reservoirs are the major water resources for the city. That’s also why Portland boats the best of beer and coffee breweries.

Local love

It’s impossible not to notice how proud Portlanders are of their local culture. Everywhere I went there was a local-made product. From arts and crafts, to clothing, produce, beer, and coffee, “Made in Portland” is a phrase you can’t miss.

All that said,

When there’s so much goodness in one place, there’s bound to be some problems too. Portland’s biggest crisis is housing. From what I heard from a local tour guide, a lot of Californians have moved to Portland in the past few years bringing with them inflating house prices and increasing homelessness. Although it wasn’t visible, the city folk do harbour a certain distaste toward Californian migrants. Regardless, Portland remains as welcoming and as attractive as ever. It’s a place I would return just for the sake of it.