Month: March 2016

In an instant, everything can change

You truly never know how tested you are until everything changes, and your world flips, and what you thought to be true one moment is no longer true the next. It is at those times when you make your hardest choices and decide what matters most. I took these pictures in the Methow Valley in August 2014, when the world changed for some. (Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

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Portland: ‘Rip City’ for winners, the jungle for the losers

(Photos taken three blocks apart. Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Last week I attended an event where participants discussed the regional crisis around homelessness. The City of Portland has already declared a housing crisis, to confront rents that are climbing fastest here than any city in the country. The average rent has climbed more than 40 percent since 2010 (data from 2015, and only worse since). The Guardian newspaper in February reported “shelter for the homeless has become anything but discrete.” The Guardian reported: “Portland saw rents appreciate nearly 15% in 2015 – the highest increase in the nation – with an average rent of $1,689 per month, according to real estate company Zillow. Five years ago, it was around $980.” A person I heard at the forum I attended described the tent communities positively, even one downtown at the entrance to Chinatown, for being self-run. Others I know have described such shantytowns as frightening, particularly for single women walking by. The person who shared their concerns with me about the Chinatown situation travels by that shantytown everyday (and, yes, I will call them shantytowns).

Tents encampments are widely visible under most overpasses, under bridges, in rights of way like the Springwater corridor, and in public parks. There is nothing sanitary about them. Trash is strewn all around them, and it is doubtful the residents of these tent encampments are using sanitary systems to dispose of human waste. Many of these residents also have drug and mental health issues. And the situation has grown dramatically more visible since I first arrived in September 2014.

Some places once that had green spaces on state right of ways now have a tent encampment of at least 15 units, all over the city. In February, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales legalized camping by homeless residents. Portland and Multnomah County claim they will spend up to $30 million to fight homelessness and offer more affordable housing. But that will not happen til July this summer. We will see what happens.

Seattle’s Mayor, Ed Murray, has taken on tent cities as failures, and his hired expert claims tent cities prolong the homeless problem without solving it. This came after a shooting at Seattle’s notorious “jungle,” which attracted national attention. In that attack in January this year, two were shot dead, and three badly wounded. One known encampment for homeless residents on the Springwater Corridor trail, in nearby Gresham, was the scene of a reported sexual assault by a recently released ex-convict, who was apprehended the same day, on March 25, about a half mile from my house. As someone who once passed homeless encampments every day for two years in Seattle and who sees homeless encampments every week in Portland, I do not have a magic solution. The housing bubble is certainly a root cause to the crisis, along with national economic issues and income inequality, plus regional market forces. So long as rents continue climbing in cities like Portland and more Americans cannot find stable housing with low paying jobs, they will flock to the Northwest, and its many mini-jungles, along with the more brutal Skid Row in Los Angeles, home to an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 homeless.

Hopewell Mound, Ohio

The Hopewell Cultural National Historic Park in central Ohio showcases one of the country’s greatest collections of mound building. Native Americans from Mississippi, to Illinois, to Ohio, to Alabama, left a lasting legacy still visible today in the form of burial mounds. The Hopewell mound builders of central Ohio built their mounds almost 2,000 years ago. According to archaeologists, Hopewellian people gathered at mounds for feasts, funerals, and rites of passage.  The greatest collection of Hopewellian mounds can found be near Chillacothe, Ohio. (Click on the photos to see larger pictures on a separate page.)

The look that is love

Every now and then some research pops into the news cycle that tells us something we know: puppies make us feel good. One of the latest studies, whose rigor I cannot verity, found that gazing into a a dog’s or puppy’s eyes releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes us humans feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I think I already knew that. Hi there, cute girl. Thanks for making me feel that magic only puppies can create.

 

Cherry blossom special, Portland style

It is March, and spring, and that means the cherry trees are blossoming like mad in Portland. They are so ephemeral, easily tossed in the wind, and incredibly seductive when they explode on the branch. They are everywhere near my home. I happened to stop at a place where I know they look pretty good, on the campus of Reed College. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Good morning, and hello spring!

All around me in Portland, magnolias and cherry trees are blossoming, and daffodils are in full color. It is pouring rain, but it does not matter amid the color and sounds of songbirds. I wanted to share a picture that captures the feeling of this time of year. It is the same feeling I get from the clip from Singing in the Rain, where Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds look out the window and see pouring rain, smile, and break into heavenly tap and sing, “Good Morning.”

So, good morning every one, and hello spring! (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Blood is always thicker than water

To those who have never lived without knowledge of their past and their genetic kin, they will never know the visceral desire that dwells deep under the skin to find one’s biological and ethnic ancestry. It is utterly primal, completely natural, and as important as breathing. For adoptees, particularly those born after World War II and through the 1970s, this knowledge was systematically hidden from them by nearly all U.S. states to promote a radically new idea of kinship. This new model of family, composed of strangers, largely denied the essence of what it means to be a human and to ask, “Who am I?”

I spent 24 years without this knowledge, until I found my blood kin. It took years of looking. This story is unnecessarily sad because my biological grandparents never knew of each other’s existence, and in the case of one set of grandparents, my existence. They lived the last part of their full lives mostly ignorant of this missing story in their family narrative. One set of grandparents passed away without any knowledge they had a grandson–knowledge hidden intentionally from them by their son. Yet, I was alive and for some of the years in a neighboring state not far away. I would have liked to have met them. The others were lucky, and we did meet while they were still alive and well, and we enjoyed the time we had together before they both passed away.

As I look at this old photos, both taken near the same time in the 1940s, I squint and a see some of myself in their faces, in their hair, and in their lean, hard-working bodies. They are Midwestern. They lived complicated, rich lives. They are my kin. And we are forever connected through the ties that binds us, and I carry a quarter of each of their genetic material. I am theirs the they are mine. No state-created system will ever change that, even when it tried for decades, and continues that system today. In the end, blood is truly thicker than water. I know this to be true in my bones.

Brewing a Winter Porter, Portland Style

I have made a few batches of porters the past couple years. I just finished my latest. I used a Black Butte style porter recipe from the Deschutes Brewery in Bend (their porter is among my favorite beers). I prepared the wort and bottled the fermented final keg, all at Portland U-Brew in January and February 2016. I enjoyed getting to work with the team there and meeting fellow brewers. The U-Brew crew did a nice job educating new brewers like me on the chemistry and techniques to ensure a tasty, properly fermented beer. Overall, it is pretty durn good, though I think they could have upped the carbonation. Skol!