Sad Toys (Say So Much)

Very Vegetarian

Not all discarded toys are sad toys as you too will discover with continued reading. The sad toy descriptor was something I picked up from The Pittsburgh Orbit and it has its origins beyond that. My eyes were open to the plight of these orphaned toys for the purposes of documentation. I don’t have room in my heart or my home to offer them a place to live. It had been awhile since I’d seen any sad toys. Then they appeared to me in droves. There’s an intriguing juxtaposition when something is not where you’d expect to see it, a fluffy toy curled up curbside for instance. The toys seem a long way from a cozy toy box. For the record this post mostly features portraits of lost toys found in my West Portland Park neighborhood except where noted.

Sleeping Bear News

You Are Getting Very Sleepy

Dirty, worn out and sleepy, these characteristics epitomize sad toys. The curb snuggles the bear. It’s disheartening to see a sad toy lying in the gutter and yet, it’s so authentic. What a find! What a photo op! With its hands in a prayer position this stuffy appears angelic, lost in a dream of happier times.

Alone Auto

Parking solution.

A lone car looks, well, lonely as if it did it’s best just to get itself parked and abandoned on top of the curb. It shines in the sun as if arriving fresh from the car wash.

Elephants: Never Forget

No mice apply.

Imagine being an elephant discarded in a school yard. This little guy seems able to overlook this, reaching out for a big hug to any passerby willing to return the love.

Cat Splat?

Grounded cat.

This cat usually serves as a mailbox topper/decoration. There are times when the cat slides off the box for some face planting and dirt napping. The very definition of sad toys seems to be how trashed they can become when spotted in random locations most often the ground. Eventually, the cat ends up dusted off and back on the mailbox. 

Ken Pile

Never a dull doll.

Is Ken of Ken and Barbie fame even a thing anymore? Has he been replaced by an Austin or Brandon at this point? I spotted this figurine, whatever his name might be, practically next door. I found Ken sunbathing in an uncomfortable posture using abandoned toys as a pillow. Getting beach ready left Ken in a state of rigor mortis.  

Dipsy Do Little

Little dipper.

The purple Teletubbie, Tinky Winky, made an appearance in this year’s Prince Tribute. So how could a character from Teletubies be considered sad? Try hanging around in a tree with a head strap in the elements like Dipsy here. A diet of ice, rain, hail, snow, wind and sun will do things to your brain. .

Pieces of You

A missing feat.

Our North Portland correspondent Graham Marks spotted a sad toy in pieces in the Kenton neighborhood. It’s hard to imagine the scene but it had me considering a miniature bomb blowing up a figurine. We’re left with pieces mostly limbs and wire. With so little left, the imagination has to piece together what happened.  

Wire transfer. (Photo credit: Graham Marks)

Majestic Sad Toys

A snack for later.

These photos offer a misconception about sad toys. Some rise above sadness. New, unblemished toys, positioned in the right way, appear majestic. I stumbled upon these scenes in various locations along a trail that leads to the Multnomah Village neighborhood. In some of the scenarios you might consider a dinosaur on its side to be a sad sight and there are toys getting eaten by other toys, but these dioramas remain undisturbed. They elevate any possible sad toy status to a level of majesty and they look good doing it.   

Tipsy.
Kimba and unknown scorn.
The famous final scene.

A Flag is Forever And It Makes July Better

The American Flag hangs around all year reminding us of the country we live in and how we need to do our best at all times to be good citizens, recite the pledge when asked and take off our hats and put our hand over our heart when the Stars Spangled Banner or that Lee Greenwood song comes on.

It’s okay to iron.

Late June and early July is really the time when I start keying into displays of patriotism in preparation for my annual Fourth of July spectacular blog post. I realized this year there’s a competition between the people of Pittsburgh and Portland that few, to no people, realize is happening. The only documentation is within the confines of two blogs. I say every year, the Pittsburgh Orbit put the idea into my head to scour Portland for flag arrangements and displays of patriotism.

What else can be said?

Since then I’ve wondered: Who does do it better? Not to turn everything into a competition but it would require me to search far and wide across the whole city looking for fantastic flag conflaggulations instead of poking around in my fair corner of SW Portland to happen upon average Fourth of July decor. No need to keep score. The Pittsburghians are working hard but do they out decorate Portlandians? I’m not sure anyone cares. It occured to me that I write this post every year to direct traffic to the Pittsburgh Orbit for their flag coverage so people can decide for themselves.

Up A Driveway

Don’t run me over.

It’s up the driveway in the Crestwood neighborhood and stealthily planted in an old flower pot but this flag subtly whispers, “It’s the Fourth of July” and “hey, American Flag alert over here” and, oh yeah, “I’m here up the driveway ushering in the most American of all the holidays.” The flag looks fine sandwiched in between a retired banner and a bag of something. Old Glory never looked better even when it’s almost unnoticeable.

Slouching Towards Main Street

I’ve made it a point many times to admit that wind is a necessary component of the Fourth of the July. While wind will potentially carry sparkler sparks into dry forests, it also makes flags look their best. Without wind primping them up, flags limp around, almost to the point of looking depleted and dejected. Flag flyers have a responsibility to keep a fan nearby, when the wind isn’t on duty, to keep flags flying strong and proud.

A boldly folded flag.

In Multnomah Village, this flag is weighed down by its own expectations. Was it planted upside down? Neglected in some other way? It still offers that familiar color scheme while remaining a flag we can still all believe in. In the end, I hope this flag gets the help it needs, which, at the very least, would be a good flipping so it can fly true like so many examples of the red, white and blue.

Not a portrait of a car.

Again it’s all in the wind. This flag, while much appreciated, would look positively majestic in a roaring breeze. There’s not much the coffee shop below can do. It doesn’t matter much because like in other holidays and birthday presents it’s the thought that counts. What I’m saying is a floppy flag is better than no flag.

Patriotic Decorations: As Good As Flags

Red, White, Balloon.

The Multnomah Village toy store gets seasonally appropriate with a window display celebrating Independence Day. There are flag themed pinwheels, balloons of the appropriate trio of colors and those triangle-flag-streamer things suspended from the ceiling. While I’d hope to see a flag blowing in a fake breeze created by a fan set at a medium speed, I’ll take what I can get.

Not The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

Stars in my eyes!

Walking into a Beaverton Fred Meyers, I was struck by the realization that it was Fourth of July fashion season. It hit me then that in my admiration for this get up with its reimagined stars and stripes I was at a loss for what this garment actually was. Whether it’s a sleep shirt, jumpsuit, giant shirt, poncho or July 4th/Elvis impersonator costume; that’s still under consideration. Most would admit it’s festive as hell and as bright and lively as a firework display.

Mono Americo

Proud American.

You might see this anywhere but in the Foster-Powell neighborhood this image appeared in the back window of the cab of a pick up truck. The flag takes on a completely different look in black and white but it still resembles the flag. The image keeps in mind the power of a good wind, if only in illustrative form, keeps a flag looking active.

A Quicker Display

Stars for home bars.

What could be more American than a flag in front of a liquor store? It’s a reminder that one of our freedoms is the ability to get alcohol whenever the liquor store is open. There’s nothing terribly exciting about this flag display other than I appreciate the idea behind it. I mean the store is making the effort to put up an Independence Day display. Streamers, bunting and balloons would surely be overkill when a flag pole makes a dignified statement on its own.

Ruffled Revolution

l was struck by the ruffled texture of these flags which formed a line along with aslie numbers in the Lake Oswego Ace Hardware Store. The shiny materials of these Neo-Old Glories clash with the fluorescent lighting. They create the kind of effect that had me proudly marching through a store as if I were promenading into a military ball.

It’s A Small World

Flags in the garden.

Add a mini flag and I’m sold. Did I really buy all these flower arrangements just for the flags? Nothing says Happy Fourth of July more than an American Flag of any size. A small flag still makes a giant statement and helps flowers get patriotic.

Decorations In Other Places

Who’s been flying my flag?

In Colorado a bear that appears to have taken an ax to the face endures having a flag taped to his body. Forest animals of all kinds are made to serve double duty as yard decor and flag holders and yet this bear smiles through the indignities.

Wild horses carry me away!

The Wild Horse Casino broke out the festive feather banners by mid June to get the Independence Day celebration started. Whether this photo is obscured by heat steam or sprinkler haze I can’t recall but the important thing is the banners contain all the necessary ingredients of excellent July Fourth decor in an elongated form. Stars, stripes, and shades of red, white and blue are all you need for a triumphant display.

Flags At Home

No canon made the hole.

If you hate Cornhole because you always lose then why do you find yourself every Fourth of July with a beer in one hand and a bean bag in the other. Do yourself a favor cut back on the drinking and start your serious training in early spring so you can improve your game. While your at it, invest in an especially patriotic game board to help you love America more. This one was a gift from a family member so it resides year round in West Portland Park.

Stripes to the left of me.

I include this photo because the stripes are the last thing I see pulling out of the garage. The flagpole was destroyed during the ice storm of the winter of 2020. The flag was moved and thumb tacked to the wall until our flagpole can be restored. In the meantime I’ll keep my eyes on the rear view camera and my view of the Stars and Stripes, minus the stars that I catch from the corner of my eye every time I go anywhere.

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For more Portland Orbit flag coverage see: https://portlandorbit.com/2020/07/04/a-journey-fourth-into-a-slight-history-of-portland-flag-waving/

More Purple Than You Can Handle: It’s What Prince Would Have Wanted

Purple Parrot, South Portland

We know Prince had no connection to Portland but I was inspired by the Prince themed group bike ride that used to happen during Pedalpalooza before everything was cancelled. Prince now belongs to the world community and well, I can’t help but once again want to offer another Prince/Purple post in tribute. There are plenty enough Portland fans who would love to see him honored on his birthday and purple things seems to be the way to do it best.

Purple Star Pole Art, South Burlingame
Purple House, South Portland
Purple Garage, South Portland
Tinky Winky, West Portland Park
Purple Chairs, Oregon City
Purple Pick Up, Markham
Purple Sky, South Portland
Purple Police Box/Little Library, West Portland Park
Purple Trash, West Portland Park
Purple Flower, West Portland Park
More Purple Flowers, Hillsdale
Purple Brush, Washington Square

More purple and Prince tributes: https://portlandorbit.com/2019/06/07/its-a-purple-world-you-just-havent-noticed/

Fences Make Interesting Neighbors Part 2

Robert Frost had that poem about fences making good neighbors and it was a good poem and everyone liked it. What happens when people don’t like your fence, well that’s a whole other story. If you design it well or decorate it in fine fashion, well they shouldn’t have much to complain about it. Heck, everyone has the capacity to be a critic anyway. Loving everyone and everything–that’s hard. We do have to hand it to Bob for inspiring the title to this series and inspiring us to realize that fences can be more neighborly than the people who live behind them.

Garden Wall

It helps to have the occasional walk about in our home turf of West Portland Park. There are sights and rare finds yet to behold. On such occasion I could not help but be struck by a garden mural painted on a fence. Great colors and recreations of flowers on a grand scale that spruced up the fence and added pizzazz to the rest of the street.

Not Grant’s Tomb

We were in the Grant Park neighborhood for a Witch Walk last October. That’s a whole other story but our mission was to impersonate witches and remind people to vote before the 2020 election. Scary stuff! The walk ended at a house where the fence has been taken over by messages of hope during the height of the pandemic. This outpouring of expression was moving. Fences don’t have to be static barriers. They can be billboards to enlighten and encourage. The homeowner allowed anyone to write a slogan or post a flyer on the fence resulting in a pastiche of positivity.

I Saw the Signs

In the Markham neighborhood, this fence took on the look of a Friday’s, Applebees or Red Robin interior or even a combination of all three. It’s appealing in its visual stylishness. Signs on an iron fence have the makings of a delightful collage that recalling the back wall of an antique store. The fence breaks up the suburban monotony by wearing advertising and traffic signs like pieces of flair.

Cool Your Heals

This fence decor was always a blur. It’s located at the end of a twisty road just before a stop sign. All the times I’ve driven by it’s appeared out of the corner of my eye. Standing in front of it, I realized a girl on a bike is approaching a person who’s feet are in a creek. My play-by-play is a bit redundant because you can see the photo yourself, but this scenario is now frozen in time with its pleasant colors and story. I appreciated finally being able to experience the painting. A creek soak foot bath seems to be the exact thing any bike rider would need after a bike ride.

Get Me To The Forest

The scene would almost be serene if it wasn’t on such a busy road in the Multnomah Village neighborhood. The two panels and a koi flag felt peaceful for a moment before a car rumbled past. The art has a spray paint graffiti feel that reveals hallucinogenic forest floor landscapes. It’s a dynamic fence mural in a drive-by art gallery that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

One to Tide You Over

It’s almost at the end of Alberta Street, the Arts District anyway and the bones of this fence, colors and details, that have borne the brunt of pandemic discord, still manage to shine. The fence encloses the patio at Cha Ba Thai restaurant offering diners privacy. I remember this fence from its heyday. The doors, windows and bright colors typify the eclectic feel of the neighborhood. The graffitti doesn’t quite blend in but I can sense the walls are making attempts to absorb the additional paint and continue on despite the times.

Blocking Out: A New Pandemic Low

Tools of the trade.

It all started with a source who was supposed to back to me. Between calls from telemarketers about my expired warranty for a car I wrecked, my credit cards or that one about my errant social security card requiring a visit from the police, I figured I’d never answer the phone to take that call. The Berkeley, California street performer Rick Star said it best. “They never call you back from Hollywood.” That’s a testament to how persistent you need to be in this life. You have to keep calling. 

I need a foot bag!

Figuring out what I would write for my next blog post meant the return of certain feelings. Anxieties, from deadlines no one’s really counting on and a lack of confidence about the idea–strongly felt at this point, crept in. Weirdly, this idea inspired me. It’s an attempt to allow readers to crawl around in my brain to get a glimpse at the inner workings of this blog. Every two weeks or so, I peck out another missive to another form of hidden creativity. I’m trying to offer a respite to a mad world and insulate you from whatever political, social or COVID-19 variant upheaval it out there. I’m working hard and sometimes it is hardly working. 

What’s in a name?

Lately it’s been a few other things in the way. Maybe my time management skills are flawed. I did start recording a poetry album, seriously, with this guy, and there’s still always the monthly TV show. What I’m not doing is organizing my time to do the research. Case in point I have tons of photos of different sidewalk stamps. It’s an idea I may have borrowed from the Pittsburgh Orbit. Nonetheless, it occurred to me that I don’t have much to say other than to offer a glimpse at these various stamps and to increase people’s awareness that they exist. A memo to the research department will get them digging into finding out who the guys are that built all the Portland sidewalks. They deserve a bit of acknowledgement.

How to for everything!

My organizational lag may have something to do with the pandemic and the upheaval it caused to plans, schedules and the jumbled mess it’s made of my mind. It’s an easy thing to blame.  Life was strange early on when everything was cancelled. But as things kinda, sorta, have comeback to normal my biggest challenge is dealing with all the preparations necessary to leave the house. Has anybody seen my mask? Those times were a  bit unnerving in the Trump era. News of the pandemic before the vaccination felt like we were living in a sci-fi zombie movie. Then there was that feeling. Will the pandemic ever be stopped? It’s been gradual but I’ve been able to find a bit of breathing room. 

Love is all you need, right?

So here it is in the fourth paragraph: The Truth. I’ve become one of those blocked up writers, procrastinating, avoiding, the guy who has every other thing to do rather than meet the needs of his readers. I’m letting car crashes, broken teeth–not mine, possibly rat poisoned dogs and work get in the way. The whole poetry thing is proof that I really can’t string a sentence together, only fragments. It’s never not been about not having ideas, there are plenty. It’s more to do with getting along with this scattered brain and making the time and finding the peace and quiet to sit down and think. All of this reminds me of the very old Saturday Night Live skit about Don Corleone from the Godfather movies going to therapy. The shrink kept telling him. “Vito, you’re blocking out.” Well, I have to tell you right now, at this moment, this typing feels great.

Here we go around the sun.

Don’t worry, my photo archive reveals plenty of ideas for blog posts. Dear God, I will return. I’m reminded of the principles of which this blog was founded, the search for unexpected creativity in the ordinary—fences, mailboxes, sidewalks. It’s a matter of hoofing it out to get the story and the glory. The obvious is to go back to the basics and reevolve from there. I really meant to write reevolve and not revolve. I learned something this week, something I’m sure I already knew but had forgotten. The world is tilted. No wonder everything is wonky.

Whatever Happened to… Beer Can Helicopters?

We were wandering down a Portsmouth neighborhood street heading for some kind of pot shop celebration of some sort or another at Best Buds across from New Seasons back in the summer of 2018. The other part of this “we” prefers to be anonymous. Hey, we were just educating ourselves besides they were offering information booths, samples, music and live pro wrestling—well, maybe semi-pro wrestling. It didn’t seem like a half bad plan to visit for part of an afternoon. As we headed down an alley after parking the car, I looked up and noticed a beer can helicopter hovering up tall poles.


Beer can helicopters are the best. Besides being a resourceful use of recyclables for art, they’re more interesting to me than the real thing. I didn’t expect a ride from a can helicopter but a random discovery is always appreciated. So what’s happened to these? It’s a safe bet they’re still there catching wind gusts and spinning their wheels when they can to continue their quest to keep that Portsmouth neighborhood’s unique yard art going.


Then it occurred to me. I look back at memories and they become distorted. It’s good to have photographic evidence but I had assumed the cans used in these kinetic sculptures were beer cans. I’d also forgotten about the bike tire whirligig. What can be more Portland than finding creative ways to use bike parts? Looking over the cans in my photos, I wasn’t seeing beer cans. The cans were bigger, not the usual soda size. I spotted ice tea, energy drinks and malt liquor cans. I’ve been stuck on my description because beer can helicopter sounds better in the title. Perhaps can helicopter is more accurate.


Beer can aviation replicas have a long history. It doesn’t predate the invention of the aluminum can of course. It couldn’t have taken long before the cans inspired art. Eventually someone saw the possibilities in this mixed media use of gears, bike parts and aluminum resulting in these sculptures. The only thing missing the day I saw them was wind. It’s the only way to get the full effect. Head out to Portsmouth some windy day. This helicopter will surely be spinning its propeller bladed, can powered wheels looking for a place to land beside its whirligig pal who has stood by him all these years.

Whatever Happened to…Bike Mower?

Possibly the world’s greatest invention was hanging around outside the Concordia New Seasons. Many a passerby may have missed it. I was dumbfounded, yet amused by the object’s existence. Even better, it was for sale.

The “it” in question was a riding push mower, one part bike and another part push powered mower. With no salesperson nearby, there was no way to get an on the spot test drive. I wasn’t going to wait around for someone to come out of the store so I could try the bike out for fun. I was assuming that someone was using this for transportation anyway. Then again, I would have balked at any price, I wasn’t in the market for lawn care equipment, but I had to have pictures.

Almost five years later, discovering those pictures jogged a memory and unleashed more curiosity. Whatever happened to that bike mower? I had the sign in the picture with a phone number to go on. On cardboard, bulleted selling points made a strong case for a buyer. This bike mower could change someone’s life. They could start a business, use it on the naked bike ride or combine a workout with a fresh cut lawn. Beyond those ideas the bike had a cool chopper appeal making it a rolling conversation piece. 

Wondering if the sign’s phone number was still connected to the seller after five years, I sent a text:

This is sure to be the strangest text you get all day but in 2016 this phone number was on a sign selling a riding lawnmower–a bike hooked up to a push mower. I’m a local blogger for the Portland Orbit and I was going to write a blurb about it. Do you remember the riding lawnmower? I saw it outside the Concordia New Seasons. Whatever happened to it? Did you sell it? Thanks and please disregard this if this phone number has changed hands.

The respondent agreed that this was a strange text but provided answers. It was gratifying to hear back and exciting to find out the story was taking me down another rabbit hole. The mower was sold to someone planning to use it as garden art in a flower bed. The contraption had been found “busted up.” The folks at Community Cycling Center where the restoration work must have taken place mentioned that the bike had been built at the Alberta Clown House.

Former Clown House resident Dingo Dizmal confirmed that he had built the bike and was sad when it disappeared but that he was glad it’s still around.

I sent off another text because I wondered if the seller got the full asking price and if it was known where the bike mower ended up. At press time, we actually do try to work off deadlines around here or nothing would ever get posted, I don’t have all the answers but I am grateful for the information I’ve gained. Be on the look out for a bike mower that is the centerpiece of someone’s flower bed. My contact had limited time due to having a newborn baby so it made sense to be respectful.

Point Me in the Direction of…Direction Signs to Anywhere But Here

How can you not fall in love with directional signs? I like them so much but I don’t know why. Directional signs drop hints telling us we might consider being somewhere else. Head to Thermopolis, Wyoming one says pointing the way. I shouldn’t demystify the signs suggestion that you wander off these signs inspire the idea going elsewhere by pointing you in the general path of other places. The rest is up to you. Sure these signs are meant for fun. Then there are the functional versions because most people are just trying to get to the bathroom. 

Hit the Beach

For directional signs that favor practicality over whimsy, I offer the prime example. This sign’s job is to point to stores. Another out of work sign twirler! Some functional directional signs are crafty, bright and fun. The sign at Jantzen Beach is bare bones, a means to help people locate the big box store corral. It’s a directory of most of the stores with its triangular arrows pointed in one direction. You can’t miss the shopping if you head that way. The sign orients people, letting them know they’ve landed at Jantzen Beach. There is no arrow pointed to the actual beach because sadly that is gone and so is the amusement park and the carousel. 

In the Grove

Directional signs add an air of quaintness to any business district. They’re visually interesting and effective, even in small outcrops of civilization like the one in Oak Grove, a neighborhood somewhere out near Gladstone that we rolled through on a bike camping trip some number of summers ago. I guess what seemed silly was the need to direct people given the small sized business district. The signs practically point directly to their stores. The sign flaps form arrows, many include illustrations. They make nice bird rests too. The top of the sign welcomes visitors to the Oak Grove historic district noting that it’s a half mile from the Willamette River. All cynicism aside, I enjoyed my visit to Oak Grove despite not getting off my bike. 

Nothing Amusing Here

At Oaks Amusement Park you’re competing with a brightly colored roller coaster so it’s necessary to make the directional signs basic and easy to read. No one should be confused post loop to loop when they then need to find the train station, buy more ride tickets or find a restroom. Direct directions let people get back to their fun. 

Dairy, Oh Dairy

This sign reveals a sad state of affairs that was the end of the recreational activity the Alpenrose Dairy used to offer. I enjoyed visits to the Alpenrose a couple of summers ago watching little league world championship softball games and milling around the faux western town complete with an opera house. I was fascinated by the Velodrome bike track watching bicyclists train. The end times were reflected in the peeling lettering of this directional sign but the various fonts are appealing. The sign still manages to guide wanderers unless one was really hoping to go to the orfice. 

See the World

In the Central Eastside neighborhood, I’m guessing around SE 11th Street, I spotted this directional sign with lots of options for where one could go. It’s hard to tell which yard of the house it’s in, back, front, side but it matters not. It feels industrial with its bolts and regular street sign post material. It has great symmetry. It looks good. You’ll find many options of places and the miles you’d have to travel to get there. Your mileage could vary. Decide on Europe, Canada, the U.S. or Australia. There aren’t arrows pointing the way so it might help to carry a compass. 

Valhalla Is Real?

This sign duo spotted in Montavilla, near Mt. Tabor, offers many options and directions to head to so it makes sense that two posts were needed. They’re a nice addition to this empty field. The top of the signs make sure to remind us that we’re in the U.S.A. The signs clear black script on a white background with black arrow tops point out random places. Although I’m left wondering if Valhalla is a real place. It’s hard to tell why these places were selected. Maybe people need to head off and find out. It’s only 2,980 miles to Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Tell ‘em a directional sign in Portland sent you. 

Things Are Great When You’re Downtown

This directional sign is the most ornate of the bunch. It’s topped with a weather vane and a bronze ball. It has a function beyond its ornateness being a local landmark at Pioneer Square downtown– possibly the meeting place for many a blind date? It can help you get as far away as you might need to get while also offering local points of interest too.

Tigard or Bust!

I caught this directional sign wrapped in a smoky glow from our late summer forest fires while heading up SW Walnut Street. It was great to greet this landmark parked in the middle of a concrete roundabout. It includes local landmarks like John Tigard’s house and City Hall. I’m curious why my phone lists this as Area 10 in Portland when it’s clearly in Tigard. Expect a full three part investigation into the mysteries of Area 10 soon. This post has devolved into way more of a review of directional signs than I expected but I do feel like this one has some great attributes. There are the colors, the usefulness in actual must-see locations along with some of the wonders of the world like the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids. The sign also is a reminder that anytime you get a couple miles down the road you’re that much closer to Balikpapan. 

Pot To Shop In

I spotted a sign for various weed businesses at a pot festival a few summers ago. The sign was colorful but didn’t use arrows other than the one directing people to their products. I half expect Dr. Phil to jump out of the bamboo to declare that this sign has no motivation. The sign advertises wares but it doesn’t exactly tell you where they are. Stumble around the weed convention for a few more hours and the sign might start to make sense.

In Search of The Ancient Forest

Count the rings.

Sometimes you get lost in the best of intentions, those attempts at getting out into the natural world to soak in some rejuvenating nature. I thought a visit to the Ancient Forest was what my wife, Ronna, and I needed on a Saturday in early February. We’d been postponing our efforts to get there for a couple of weekends.

Let’s get lost.

I read about the Ancient Forest in a guidebook, a Christmas present for Ronna, called Oregon Nature Weekends by Jim Yuskavitch. I liked the book because it’s filled with 52 seasonal nature getaways. The book offers year round information, suggestions like where to see Blue Herons in March or geese gathering in January but it’s more than a guide for us geezer bird watchers. There are 50 other experiences detailed. While the book always seems to direct you to park in the middle of nowhere on a gravel road, the misty, black and white Ancient Forest photo filled me with a yearning to stand beside thousand year old trees. 

No moss appeal.

It proved elusive. As we set out, double checking the directions from the book using the car’s GPS, our route looked fuzzy. Ronna asked how old this book was. The publication date was 2000. Things have changed in twenty years. The book’s directions felt like going back to the prehistoric, preGPS days of scrawling out handwritten directions with a quill pen. At least we had specific cues like, “drive 0.7 mile down a winding, steep grade.” It was making Ronna apprehensive. The old and new technologies didn’t jell.

The Devil’s going down.

The directions weren’t better in actual execution. Finding ourselves in farm country outside of Gresham, a bluegrass version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” blaring in the car was an appropriate soundtrack to our surroundings. It should have helped us enjoy the journey, but feeling lost, we ended up on those gravel roads that kept turning into someone’s driveway. We slow rolled past houses and a horse riding school. The described hilly road never led to a gate and a trail. We ended up at Dodge Park where nothing was going on that rainy morning. The R.V.s weren’t even rocking. A couple of anglers ambled by and I read a sign about the various fish people were allowed to catch during various fishing seasons. We left for Ox Bow Regional Park.

An Ancient Forest is born.

The Ancient Forest is part of the Sandy River Gorge Preserve and owned by the Nature Conservancy. The book describes it as 436 acres in a 700 foot deep gorge with some of the trees being 500 years old. I’m not sure where I got the idea about meeting thousand year old trees. It didn’t seem to matter because the Ancient Forest was hidden among all the other trees.

Ancient Forest, map version.

We discovered from the map we picked up at the entrance that there was an ancient forest within Ox Bow Regional Park. It didn’t seem like it was The Ancient Forest I had been pining for, but it would have to do. It was labeled on the map. The forest trail was muddy and had devolved into puddles. Sometimes there were logs to jump from to avoid getting too deep in the muck. The hike paralleled the road so we never quite got to the middle of the forest. I never felt the presence of old trees.

Swiss trees!

This tale morphs into a sad tale, a story of never quite finding satisfaction from the contents of a book. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to decipher written directions. Our GPS system may end up knowing some of the guides other locations without us having to pull our hair out to get back to nature.

This author talks to trees. (Photo: Ronna Craig)

The moral of this story seems quite obvious, as if every blog post should have a moral. Buy the most up to date guide book you can or you’ll end up in the backwoods as a wandering and forlorn nature tourist asking tree’s their birthday. Is there a better Ancient Forest that we’re missing out on? Who knows? Perhaps one tree is just as good as another. It’s all about making the effort to look around and see living things like old trees and new ones too.

Way down upon the Sandy River.

An Orbit Obit: The Loss an Accidental Orbit Cofounder

Mom sitting in with Frank’s Organ Jam.

My mother, Joan Craig, passed away last month from Alzheimer’s disease. Nothing seems so important now. Thinking I’m okay feels part of a kind of denial. Past Orbit Obits may have seemed tongue-in-cheek yet they were reverential in their documentation of the loss of a place or thing. Obits bring up nostalgic feelings for businesses I’ve known were on their way out. This was, in a sense, similar to what I went through with my Mom because of her illness. I am sad about that. I’m also okay with it. Life goes on but it’s never the same. 

When trying to think about how I got here, a middle aged blogger revising this piece on an iPhone with frozen fingers waiting to pick up a burrito order, it occurred to me that it started earlier than I realized. It began with my Mom asking us, her three sons, if we wanted to see “the smiling rock.” We’d be on our way to our Aunt and Uncle’s house in Westwood, Massachusetts. The rock was one of those New England boulders that stuck out of the earth in random places. Boulder might be an overestimation. It wasn’t a huge rock but it was visible from the car. The rock was painted white and defaced with a red spray painted smile and black, beady eyes. The smile gave me the sense that that inanimate objects were capable of emotions. It sparked an interest in random, and sometimes hidden creative expression. I have no idea how my mother discovered it. She made a special event out of every showing. I was always excited and never too jaded to see that mysterious rock.

Other mysterious rocks.

My Mom was like that. She took different routes to the places she went so she never got bored. Our furniture got rearranged every six months. She loved history and exploring new places like learning about the Gullahs when she lived in Hilton Head, South Carolina. She was always up for a trip to that funky store in Bluffton. All this has unleashed memories of other stores: a creepy antique store in Massachusetts full of old, dark furniture where I mostly remember getting a stuffed animal named Bucky Beaver. My big brother, Jack, later twisted his head off unleashing a spray of sawdust. There was an antique place in the Atlanta area we weren’t allowed to enter. A woman with an exotic accent stopped us at the door saying, “We are mopping the floor.” The strangest details are unforgettable. 

My Mom was also a heavy reader. Her interest in pulp fiction had her entertaining the idea of opening a used book store. My parents passed on a love of reading in the days when that was what we did. The house was stuffed with newspapers, magazines, comic books and regular books. My reading habit was fueled by Weekly Reader monthly hardback book deliveries and a subscription to Mad Magazine. I was compulsive about anything with words. Even the backs of cereal boxes were a source of fascination. My parents supported my pursuit of my potentially uncommercial English degree. 

This time a painted wall.

When my mom had time, I’d say in her retirement, she got the collecting bug. That bug is a genetic thing. I remember seeing more and more blue plates on the walls with each visit of her Toano, Virginia house and there were ceramic lighthouses too, but I know she had to stop that. Me, well, my collections are embarrassing. These days I’m more about collecting and obsessing over images but I’m a reluctant coin collector having to look at every quarter I come across. There always seems to be a different National Park commemorated on the back. It’s a given that without her I wouldn’t be here. Literally. There was also a gentle influence of her curiosity about the world that inspired me. It led me to this blog where I catalog ideas and inspirations within the landscapes I pass through. It offers me another chance to say goodbye knowing it will always be okay to look around and seek out the things that spark my inextinguishable imagination.

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The spike in the rock.

Another mystery from my childhood was the spike in the rock on the way to “the pond” at my Grandmother’s house. We never stopped wondering who pounded the spike in the giant rock. We always stopped to have a look to make sure it was still there as we considered whether anyone would ever remove it. I took this not so great photo on a visit in the early 90’s. The wonder of it all has kept me wondering my whole life.