Oregon

Swimming Is Silenced

 

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I live about a half mile from the Sellwood Outdoor Pool. It’s a public swimming pool located in Portland, Oregon’s Sellwood Park that is loved almost to death by its patrons.

During a normal summer, it would be filled to capacity with screaming kids and their parents, many who are lower income, as public pools remain one of the most affordable ways to entertain kids and keep them healthy in Portland and most U.S. cities.

On a typical summer night, I used to pass by the pool and hear the kids’ yells, screams, shouts, and general pool noises kids make when they were being themselves in water. But not this summer.

The City of Portland, like nearly all major cities in the country, shuttered its public pools in the spring to prevent congregant spreading of COVID-19. This decision makes public health and human health sense. From the perspective of physical, social, and mental health, it represents a cruel outcome of the mismanaged national response that leads all the way to the situation room with President Donald Trump as the one who helped make our country’s pandemic the most lethal and worst managed in the world.

We are heading into Labor Day Weekend now. In normal times, the pool would still be open in the evenings and all weekend, particularly with temperatures predicted to be hotter than 90 Fahrenheit through Labor Day. The kids will have to find something else to do this year, and they will lose the chance to be kids and learn how to swim.

Closed pools and closed schools are taking on an air of dystopian reality, which we have seen created in unnerving films like Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 thriller Children of Men, where a strange disease had rendered humanity sterile, leading to all schools being shuttered because they no longer served any purpose. Oddly that film’s tension, pitting radical leftists fighting a right wing autocracy, seem to have predicted the spectacle in Portland. The people in the film even resemble the protesters here and the police forces that have engaged them in Portland for more than three months.

I am not fully confident we will be out of this pandemic by next summer. Even with the optimistic timelines given by the United States’ more credible infectious disease experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, returning to normal is no guarantee by next summer. Right now I do not believe the pool will open next summer.

For me, the posted sign by Portland Parks and Recreation is another naïve promise that we will get back to normal, when everything going on now is entirely abnormal. The professed optimism almost seems insulting with the silence.

Summer Daisies

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Sometimes timing is everything. As a beautiful July 4 evening was winding down, i wandered around the campus of Reed College (on of my alma maters), and found this beautiful floral scene. Even with my mediocre camera phone, the blooming daisies captured the joy and beauty of nature at its eye-popping best.

Mid-April snapshot of COVID-19 shopper behavior in Portland, Oregon

We are now nearly two months into my photodocumentary project on the impacts of COVID-19 on ordinary people. I am doing this by taking snapshots on a weekly basis at one location, my Fred Meyer outlet located on SW Barbur Boulevard in southwest Portland.

Each week I visit aisles where high-value commodities that have taken on almost supernatural powers or larger-than-life powers are kept. The prevalence of those supplies give me what I’m calling my COVID-19 Portland shopper sentiment index.

The goods I have focussed on include: dry beans and rice, canned goods (specifically beans), pasta, cleaning goods (such as sanitary wipes and bleach), and toilet paper and paper towels.

I took these shots at the Fred Meyer, where I also saw that customer adoption of voluntary cloth mask wearing still held at about 35 percent of shoppers, the same as the week earlier.

Here’ is my breakdown for April 17, 2020:

  • Toilet Paper: high anxiety (worsen)
  • Dry Beans/Rice: medium anxiety (same, bulk containers were mostly empty, shelves 1/3rd full)
  • Cleaning Goods: high anxiety for sanitizers, medium for other supplies (same)
  • Canned Beans: low anxiety (same)

Portland’s COVID-19 uncertainty appears to have calmed, sightly

I did my normal check of public sentiment this week by checking out what products were available at stores in my area in Portland, Oregon. I also wanted to check if the stores had implemented systems changes to encourage social distancing of six feet to protect essential workers (the employees who help ensure we are fed with food on the shelves) and the public.

To my surprise, I found that three businesses had indeed put measures into place: Grand Central Bakery (in Multnomah Village in Portland), New Seasons grocery store (in Sellwood in Portland), and Fred Meyer (in Southwest Portland). I visited Grand Central and Fred Meyer a day after the CDC issued new guidelines on April 3, after much delay, recommending people wear a cloth mask in public settings like stores, to prevent aerosol dispersion of the novel coronavirus and reduce the spread of COVID-19, particularly from asymptomatic persons. (See this study how infectious patient bioaeresols are dispersed and their risks.)

Cloth mask use was not widespread at stores I saw today (April 4). At Fred Meyer, I found toilet paper, rice, and beans on the shelves. Hand sanitizer is still no where to be found. Hoarding behavior appears to have subsided a bit, given the trends I’ve been documenting with my cell phone while shopping the last five weeks.

My weekly pulse of public mood focuses on shopping behavior of goods like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, rice, and dry beans. I was able to buy split peas and rice at Fred Meyer and lentils and split peas at New Seasons midweek.

Telling the COVID-19 story through visits to my local Fred Meyer

Like millions of Americans who have confronted the nation’s crisis in the face of the global pandemic and threat of COVID-19, I have responded to the new normal by trying to prepare for uncertainty.

Collectively, the behaviors of all of us reveal a lot about how we perceive the threat of the novel coronavirus to our health, our communities, and the economy. One fact I have gleaned is that many people believe the crisis is real and that it will be with us for a long time. I know this because the humble bean and legume have become one of the scarcest items in Portland, Oregon, my home. That tells me that average people want a hedge that will have value for many weeks to come. This is the perfect insurance policy to address this perceived fear.

In Portland, I have been documenting this hive mentality by taking pictures every week (since February 29) at my local Fred Meyer grocery story, on SW Barbur Boulevard, in southwest Portland. I observed several changes described this way through Facebook posts I shared.

March 14 Message:
Week three photo update on Portland shopper behavior in response to COVID-19. Panic level has bumped up again. Staples were cleaned out today: rice, beans, canned foods, pasta, flour, cleaning supplies, sanitizers, TP, paper towels. To me that says my community expects prolonged uncertainty. Seriously dry beans are never cleared out, ever!

March 20 Message:
The new underground economy is already evolving. [Beans] will be one of the new forms of barter, IF, and that’s a big IF, you can find them anywhere in Portland. I give you the humble pinto bean (an old friend who I can no longer find).

March 21 Message:
Like many fellow Portlanders, I have embraced the new reality. For me, the humble legume, the beautiful bean and lentil, is the new power symbol of our uncertain times. I find that reassuring that this often-maligned peasant food eaten by hundreds of millions the world over, because they can’t afford other food, is now the holy grail of worried Americans. I’ve always eaten beans–sometimes 7 days in a row. They are soul food. Today, I still couldn’t find any dry beans. So I bought some canned beans. Comfort food indeed. They do provide this small assurance that somehow we need little and we will get through hard times.

O tannenbaum, o tannenbaum

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A Christmas tree lot near my home in Portland is always a busy place after Thanksgiving and up to the final days before Christmas. I love the smell of Christmas trees. I can remember the ritual from decades ago getting them with my mom and sister on a cold night at a small lot not far from my home in the St. Louis area. Decorating the tree was a tradition we did as a family of three. For me, the sight of a tree brings a feeling of both nostalgia and peace. Happy holidays, everyone.

Final fall fling and fading colors

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Fall in Portland this year was drier than normal. The colors, which are primarily red and yellow, stuck around until the end of November. I took these shots on a route I normally run, through Riverview Cemetery, through the River View Natural Area, and along the Willamette River. A running injury forced me to walk it two weekends back. When you go slower, you see the same scenery differently. The leaves are now mostly fallen and the stark openness of winter is upon us.

Pre-game scene with Timbers fans

 

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The Portland Timbers, the city’s Major League Soccer franchise, have an enthusiastic fan base, including the noisy Timbers Army. I came down to Providence Park in early August for a work project and caught some of the pre-game action. One thing was clear. You don’t have to be a soccer player or athlete to be a hardcore sports fan.

July Surf at Seaside

 

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It has been more than six months since I surfed on the Oregon Coast. That is far too long.

I headed out Saturday, given the forecast and smaller waves that still suit my skill level at my favorite Oregon surfing beach, Seaside.

I caught 19 waves that I count as rides, and yes I count. I had some nice long ones, choppy short ones, and many in between. The skies were overcast, giving the water a beautiful, translucent green hue. I had forgotten how beautiful waves can be, to seem them barrel as you try to beat the them before they break on your board as you paddle out.

Hours after coming home I realized just how much I had overdone it. I knew the last five waves probably should have been avoided. Too many things hurt—shoulders, chest, neck. However, my Black Butte Porter never tasted better and my sleep was the most restful in months.

I took this shot of the few surfers who were still out in the water when I pulled out early Saturday evening.

Icons of eastern Oregon

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During the past two months, I have traveled widely in Oregon. I always enjoy an Oregon road trip. The high and wide-open plateaus of north central and eastern Oregon, just before the Blue Mountains, rekindled my love of the open road and empty places.

I made two separate trips: one to Condon, in Gilliam County, and another to Pendleton, in Umatilla County. Gilliam County is bisected by the John Day River, a popular fishing and rafting destination. The landscape is dominated by a high plateau and constant wind, making it an ideal location for massive wind farms that sprout majestically above wheat fields. The county seat, Condon (pop. 682), is a charming community that felt alive and loved by its residents.

Pendleton (pop. 16,682) sits on the Interstate 84 corridor, further to the east, straddling a valley near the start of the Blue Mountains. The community is a true Western town. It is famous for its rodeo, woolen goods, and also whiskey. Nearby Umatilla is also famous for the now decommissioned 20,000-acre Umatilla Chemical Depot, run by the U.S. Army that was home to a massive stockpile of chemical weapons.

Agriculture, along with wind energy, are two major economic drivers in this sparsely populated area of Oregon. Native Americans have lived here for millennia. Pendleton lies within the ancestral lands of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, whose designs adorn Pendleton’s famous woolen blankets and more. The tribe also runs the Wildhorse Resort & Casino, a major economic resource for the area.

Visually, I was mostly struck by the iconic imagery presented by the grain elevators in both areas, along with the towering wind turbines. The site of large, manmade structures in mostly open spaces has always appealed to my visual sensibilities, wherever I may be.