Gluten-Free Portland Style

Seen on SE Powell Boulevard. This may be taking the gluten-free craze a bit far. Portlandia is real.

Gluten Free IMG_5067

A Visit to the International Rose Test Gardens in Portland, OR

As spring starts moving into summer, I find myself anticipating a visit to the Portland International Rose Test Gardens. This year I started feeling this way in early May, probably because Portland has seen unseasonable warm, summer like temps and it’s got me thinking about summer days.

The International Rose Test Gardens are one of many beautiful places to visit in the city of Portland. If you are visiting  (especially April through October) or live here and haven’t made a visit yet, I highly recommend making some time to visit these amazing gardens. Located in Portland’s Washington Park the gardens are about 4.5 acres and filled with over 7000 rose plants. There is a lovely open air amphitheater and when the weather warms up it is regularly filled with families picnicking and enjoying the beautiful roses, and views of Mt Hood on clear days.

Rose Garden Amphitheater

Rose Garden Amphitheater

On my first visit to the Rose Gardens I read that in 1917 a group of Portland nurserymen came up with the idea for an American rose test garden. Portland had a group of volunteers and 20 miles (32 km) of rose bordered streets, largely from the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition. Portland was already calling itself “The City of Roses” so this was leveraged to enhance the reputation. Between Portland Parks & Recreation and the American Rose Society, the garden soon became a reality.

Rose Garden

Rose Garden

As the name states, this garden’s primary purpose is to be a testing space for all varieties of roses. They have been holding a competition and giving a “Gold Metal” rose award since 1919 which makes them the oldest rose testing program in the United States. Because this is a test garden, you can’t just go to the florist and just pick up any type you like as a gift. The roses currently under test in the garden are not  named but are designated only by a number. The new varieties are submitted by the hybridizers to the All-America Rose Selections (AARS), who then distributes them to the test gardens identified only by their code number. Four plants of each entry are evaluated for two years on 14 different characteristics consumers desire in a garden plant including plant habit, vigor, disease resistance, color, flower production, form, foliage, and fragrance. About 200 rose cultivars are under test each year.

I love to walk through the garden and look at all of the different colors. The garden looks like a watercolor paint palette. At every turn you’ll see people taking selfies with the roses behind them and putting their noses into the blooms to take in the aroma the exude.  I’m on a personal mission during each visit to find the rose(s) that have the most fragrance. So far my favorite is called the Neptune Rose—a lovely lavender color with the most beautiful fruity, rose aroma. It immediately sends me back to childhood and reminds me of my great grandmother and the roses she had on her kitchen table.

Love the fragrance of this rose.

Love the fragrance of this rose.


Another favorite garden I like to spend time in is called the Shakespeare Garden. This garden claims to house all of the plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Many of the plants are labeled and identify which sonnet the plant reference is found. There are benches throughout the garden and on a sunny day they will be claimed by those wanting to enjoy the weather and the colorful views.

Shakespeare Garden

Fair Bianca-The Taming of the Shrew

The focal point of this garden is a brick wall with a plaque that quotes William Shakespeare, “Of all flowres methinks a rose is best.”  It seems a fitting quote and when you are walking through the gardens, it’s hard not to feel that roses are the best! So take a stroll through the gardens and “stop and smell the roses” literally and figuratively.


Shakespeare Garden

Shakespeare Garden





Spring is the New Fall- My Favorite Season in Oregon

Growing up in Minnesota I always professed my love of fall—my favorite season. It was the season filled with the beautiful and colorful tree leaves changing color, wonderful organic smell of dry leaves, low humidity and minimal rain/snow (if we were lucky). Imagine my surprise, as I live through my second spring in Portland, and am struck by how much I LOVE this season. Spring is my new favorite season!

I think I always wanted to love Spring in MN, but it was too fleeting, too unpredictable and in spite of the trees blooming and some smattering of color from emerging plants it was still so brown and dirty looking. And don’t even get me going on how there was always the fear that the weather could turn back to winter at any moment—I have childhood memories of snow on my birthday, which is May 12th.

Not surprisingly, spring in Portland is rainy. Rainy, but with temperate temperatures (average between 55-65 degrees) and more color and new plant growth than you can even imagine. I saw my first hyacinth blooming right around March 3rd and it just kept going from there.

First blooms of the season.

First blooms of the season.

Every week something new is coming to life and blooming.  Portland is pretty much green throughout the year, so as spring moves in it’s like blankets of color moving through the city. I’m still learning all of the plants and by no means consider myself a gardening expert, but what I can tell you is Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN is a planting zone 4 and Portland, OR is a zone 8. Those 4 levels of planting zone appear to make a big difference in the types of plants that survive and thrive.

Daffodil, tulips, hyacinth, daphne, rhododendrons, azalea, lilacs, wisteria and magnolia are just some of the blooms that start to color the city. Because the neighborhoods are at different elevation levels, everything blooms at a bit different timing. So when the magnolia trees start blooming in downtown Portland, you can expect the blooms in the SW Hills neighborhoods (about 500-1000 feet higher) to be blooming a couple weeks later. What this provides is constant colors throughout the city.

Sculpted wall of hot pink flowers.

Sculpted wall of hot pink flowers.

The colors of yellow, red, light pink, blue, purple, and hot pink are everywhere. Walls of color line some streets where the plants are mature and growing like a privacy walls, green the rest of the year but bright, vibrant colors during spring.

Daphne with it's heavenly scent.

Daphne with it’s heavenly scent.

In addition to the colors, the scents are amazing. I’ll be walking down the street and have to stop and smell. I’m sure that people think I’m crazy as I start turning around in a circle, trying to identify the plant that is producing the aroma I smell. One of the new plants I learned about this year is Daphne ordora, an unassuming evergreen shrub with pretty little blooms and the most heavenly scent you have ever smelled—a mix of jasmine and orange blossoms.

If you live in Portland I hope you are enjoying the beauty of spring (my new favorite season) and if you are thinking about visiting our fair city, don’t be afraid of the rains of spring, instead pack your raincoat and get ready to see color unlike you have ever seen before—I’ve included just a few of my pictures from this spring for you to view below. Happy spring!


Leach Botanical Garden

The Stone Cabin

The Stone Cabin

I recently discovered another fun destination while in Exploregon mode.

During a Portland visit from my dad (who lives in MN), I decided exploring Leach Botanical Garden would be a fun activity. The outer SE Portland garden was originally the summer home of Lilla and John Leach, who bought the property in 1930 and built a small stone cabin on the property in 1932. They visited the cabin on summer visits until 1936 when they build a year round home on the 15-acre property and lived there until the early 1970’s when they donated the property to the city of Portland. The garden was officially open to the public in 1983.

The first thing that surprised me when we arrived at the Garden was the large, free parking lot across the street. This is not a common occurrence in the city and allowed us to quickly park and within a couple of minutes we were at the entrance. The second thing that surprised me is that admission is free. Finally, there are volunteers greeting visitors and providing historical information on the Garden and the previous owners along with a map providing a self-guided tour around the winding trails.

Labeled plant

Labeled plant

Lilla Leach was a pioneer botanist (trained at University of Oregon in 1908) and from 1928-1938 she went on botanical expedition, in the Siskiyou Mountains (in southwestern Oregon) with her husband, in order to acquire native plantings to add to the property. During my visit I learned that there are over 2000 species of plants represented in the Garden—many varieties of trees, ferns, and flowers are labeled throughout the space.. It is a beautiful and serene place, especially considering it is right in the middle of city landscape. There is a small creek (Johnson Creek) that runs through the property and brings some birds, fish and animals to the Garden for observation too.

The Garden offers classes throughout the year for all ages. Here are some classes examples:  guided hikes to observe honeybees, watercolor painting and basket weaving to just name a few. I also learned that you can rent the Garden for weddings or other special events.

As we toured the Garden it was especially exciting to see the labeled plants and trees so I continue to learn some of the native plants to Oregon (and things in my own backyard).

My dad was most impressed by the size of all of the trees (they get a lot bigger here in Oregon than in Minnesota).

Dad hanging with the big trees.

Dad in awe of the big trees.

Our visit was about two hours at the Garden, but you could spend a lot more or less, depending on your interest.

Overall, the Garden is gorgeous and I recommend you plan a visit to see it! Winding trails, birds singing, deep green foliage everywhere and the stone summerhouse look like something out of a fairy tale (I read later that Lilla and John called their home Sleepy Hollow). While walking through the Garden I found myself thinking about a young Lilla and John exploring the Pacific Northwest and establishing their home in what used to be wilderness. I don’t think I’ll be setting out on any expeditions into any wilderness but I hope I can bring a spirit of adventure and exploration to my life as I continue to Exploregon.

Note: Some of the information about the garden was learned through two books I bought while visiting the gift shop at the garden.

The Botanist and Her Muleskinner by Lilla Irvin Leach and John Roy Leach

Ox Bows and Bare Feet by John R. Leach



Where should we live? Buying a House in Portland, OR

Portland, OR has a lot of neighborhoods—ninety-five within city limits. It was clear even during our first visit to the city that each neighborhood has its own unique personality. After we decided that we wanted to move to Portland, we spent some time driving around the city and getting the vibe from some of the neighborhoods, dreaming of where we would want to live. One of the very special things about the city is Forest Park which is a massive forest that is only a couple of miles from the center of downtown. You drive out of downtown and boom. . . you are in the woods. On our first visit, we couldn’t help comparing it to parts of Wisconsin and Northern Minnesota where our friends and family would “go to the cabin” for the weekend. The difference being a ten minute drive from downtown Portland versus a 3-5 hour drive to a Wisconsin cabin. You can actually live in the woods here and still be close to downtown, with public transit and all the other fun that comes with living in a thriving city.

After we discovered the forested areas where people live, we started dreaming, discussing and evaluating whether we might be able to move to that part of the city. It was 2011 and we still needed to sell our house that had been on the market for almost a year. Fast forward to August of 2012 and we were now living in Portland and renting in the Sunnyside neighborhood in SE Portland. This was a great neighborhood for us to start out, as it afforded us the opportunity to walk to dozens and dozens of restaurants and shops with only a 20 minute bus ride to my new job downtown. Sunnyside was nice, but we still dreamt of the forest. We discussed the pros and cons deciding we were willing to give up the walkability that most Portland neighborhoods provide in hopes of buying a house in the hills with a forest in the backyard, but we had no idea how feasible this would be.

After two months of renting, we started looking at Portland real estate. We had connected with a realtor that specialized in Modern Homes of Portland about a year before we moved. It gave us the opportunity to watch houses in interesting neighborhoods to help us start to understand what type of options we would have when we relocated. When we finally arrived in the city, we met with our potential realtor Marisa of M Realty. We told her what we were looking for and asked if she could find a couple of houses for us to see later in the week. We wanted to make sure she understood what we wanted before we committed to working exclusively with her. The first house she showed us was a mid-century split level that had potential, but would need TONS of money invested to make it livable (by our standards) and it would take months of work to be ready—we only had four more months on our lease at the rental house and we really didn’t want to sign another rental agreement if we didn’t need to. We hoped the second house she showed us would be move-in ready.

The second house interested us immediately (we’d even seen it online when we were still living in MN) because the backyard was a forest. There was no yard to speak of because the house was on stilts and the property was a huge hill, but this was not a deal breaker. We were OK with the idea of no yard work. When we first looked at the inside of the house it appeared that the owners had left in a hurry. The furniture was gone, there were still unwashed towels in the bathrooms and cleaning supplies in the cupboards. It was dirty and dusty, with fingerprints on the walls, dog and cat hair in the corners of the stairs and pine needles tracked all around the house. We were able to look beyond all of that when we stepped out onto the wraparound deck in back and smelled the forest aromas and a view fill with trees. It was serene, green and beautiful.

A Forest Backyard

A Forest Backyard

I was immediately convinced we needed to buy this house—the Fairmount Blvd. house near Council Crest Park A.K.A. the “Top of the Town”.

PDX 2011 House Wish List

It was the last house we looked at that night. As we drove home I told my husband, “We need to put an offer on that house.”  He wasn’t as convinced and felt nervous because it was only the second house we had looked at, and we might be missing other houses that were better. We talked through it and agreed that he should talk to the realtor the next day to get an idea of how often modern houses near the city, in our price range and with forests in the backyard came up for sale. His call to our realtor (yes, now she was becoming our full time realtor) confirmed what we had thought. This type of house in this neighborhood was extremely uncommon. She was actually shocked it was still on the market and suspected part of that was because it was empty and dirty and because of that, not showing well. To further convince my husband this was the house for us, I pulled out a notebook I kept filled with my “wish lists” and turned back to a list he and I had made almost a year prior called PDX House Wish List (November 2011).  As I read the items back to him from that list we both found ourselves smiling. The house met almost every single item we had listed.

The next day we called our realtor and planned the steps to make an offer. We anxiously awaited a response and within a couple of days heard back. The owners accepted our offer. Now all we had to do was have an inspection done to finalize our decision to purchase the house. The inspection passed and showed the house was a solid structure but we needed to do a few maintenance and updates. We were comfortable with the idea and now started to call this our house.

Shortly after we closed we spent the following month hiring contractors to paint the entire interior, clean the carpets and do an overall cleaning. We coordinated with our St. Paul, MN moving company and on December 3rd, 2012 our belongings were delivered to our new home. It was an amazing feeling to finally see all of our stuff after a year in storage. As we unpacked it was like a birthday and Christmas with each box—getting everything you exactly wanted with each item we unwrapped.

We are getting close to our one year anniversary in our Portland “tree house” and we are mostly unpacked at this point. With each project and each dinner party it feels more like home. My favorite part of every day is enjoying the serene forest views.


Oops! I Did it Again!

I can confidently say that I’ve never quoted Britney Spears before, but it feels fitting here. “Oops! I did it again!” As many of you will recall, in July of 2011 I left my position with a company where I had worked for over eleven years to start a personal sabbatical which led to a move to the Pacific Northwest. Shortly after I resigned, a friend who works as a recruiter told me that there is a definite trend that she sees in her work with people who have worked at a company for five to ten years and then leave that company—they tend to have a “rebound” job as their next stop in their career. Her definition of a rebound job is one that would only last for 9-15 months.  I remember thinking at the time how interesting that was, but that I couldn’t imagine myself ever falling into that category. How wrong I was. I recently resigned from what may have been my own rebound job.

I made the very bittersweet decision to resign from my position as Regional Vice President with InsideTrack. Many of you will remember how I was thrilled with the opportunity to work here as we transitioned from MN to Portland, OR last August. Well, it’s been an interesting journey and now a different adventure begins—with another small personal sabbatical over the summer that will lead into a fall job search. Ultimately there were many reasons that led me to leave this company and job, but the easiest explanation is: it was not the right position for using my talents and fueling my passion at work.

InsideTrack is a pretty amazing place. Great people and a focused mission made leaving a difficult decision, but ultimately I needed to follow my heart, pursue my dreams and find passion in my work again. I have started building my Portland network and looking for a new position. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. I fully intend to enjoy the beautiful Portland summer and fall while I search.

Portlandia is Real

Are you familiar with the t.v. show Portlandia? Long before we made Portland our home, we were fans of the show and wondered if there was any truth to the quirky situations and characters represented on the show. As a new Portlander, I’m here to share YES there is much more reality in the show than I could have ever imagined.

Within a month or two of moving into our rental house in SE Portland (Sunnyside Neighborhood), I saw a group of bicyclists moving someone’s belongings (dresser, couch, patio chairs, etc) on bikes through the neighborhood. For those that watch the show, you’ll remember an episode pretty similar. I stood on the porch of my house and just watched. Curious if it was in an effort to be green or save money. I’ll never know the reason why, but I can confirm that it takes a lot of skill to move someone to a new house or apartment on bikes. My favorite memory was a man on what looked like a racing bike with a plastic patio chair strapped to his back as he pedaled past me.

After seeing the bike movers, I was on alert to see other life moments that might end up on Portlandia. I continue to witness events like this on a regular basis but never did I imagine I would would be a participant in my own, real life Portlandia “skit”. Let me tell you about what happened.

So, when we moved into our new house I activated all of the utilities. Within Portland city limits you are assigned trash and recycling companies and your only choice is the size of your trash container. There are also a total of four containers you have to manage: a trash bin (which is picked up every other week and all others weekly), a compost bin for leaves and other organic material and inside food scraps, a glass bin for recycling, and finally, a bin for all other plastic, tin, and paper recycling. While on the phone with the trash company I explained that I wanted the 30 gallon trash service (based on the monthly pricing on their website), but I didn’t know what size the previous owners left us (all of the bins had been left behind in the garage). The phone rep indicated that the previous owners had used a 90 gallon trash bin, and that we should use that bin for our first pickup, which in turn would be replaced with the smaller bin that I was requesting. I also asked about recycling cardboard boxes during this call, because I knew with all of the unpacking we were doing, they would never fit in the recycling bin provided. The phone rep indicated that we could stack those up next to the recycling bin and the driver would take them at no extra charge, but if we did have extra trash that didn’t fit in the trash bin, for $5.00 a bag extra they would haul that away too. About a week later the trash company picked up the trash and exchanged the bin for a smaller version. Everything seemed to have worked flawlessly. . . or so I thought.

Trash and recycling in Portland.

Trash and recycling in Portland.

OK, so two months later we received our first bill. As I looked at the bill I couldn’t understand why there were four line items labeled “extra bag of trash- $5.00” for a total of $20.00 added to the bill. We hadn’t included any extra bags of trash. I called the company to get them to explain the extra fees. The phone rep asked, “Did you leave out extra bags of trash?” “Did you over-fill your trash bin so the top wasn’t closed?” “Did you pack the trash bin so tight that the trash didn’t fall out freely?” I responded no to all of her questions and indicated the only thing we did was leave out a ton of extra cardboard boxes for recycling. She confirmed that she couldn’t understand the extra charges, apologized and credited back the $20.00. At this point I was tired of talking to the trash people and certain I had spent more time on the phone with them in my first two months of home ownership in Portland than I have in all of my years living in Minnesota.

So imagine my surprise and a bit of disdain when about a week later I received a voice mail from the trash company. “Mrs. Hanson our driver has indicated that your trash bin is too big and not the size that you are currently paying for on a monthly basis. Could you please call us to let us know if you would like to keep this larger bin and increase your monthly payment or have the driver bring the correct sized bin?” I called them a couple of days later and explained that after discussing with my husband we had decided to keep the current bin and pay the increased monthly fee. The female phone rep (different than my previous two calls) thanked me for calling and confirmed the increased monthly fee. Just as I thought we would hang up the phone she said, “Oh this is interesting, it looks like you had four extra $5.00 charges on your previous bill.” I confirmed and shared that the last time I had called we were unable to confirm why we were charged and they had been credited due to the error. This phone rep said, “Well, I know why they were there! It’s because the driver knew that your trash bin was too big and was adding these to get the monthly fee increased appropriately.” I said, “Oh, well, mystery solved. The billing should be accurate moving forward.” There was a moment of silence and then she came back and said, “Are you suggesting that you won’t pay the $20.00 from the previous month’s bill?” I explained to her that she was correct, because it had been their error. I would not be paying that additional charge. She very incredulously said, “But YOU generated that trash and you should be responsible for it!” I agreed with her that I had generated the trash, but felt that because of their error, I would NOT pay for those two months of additional charges. She then said, “But if you don’t pay for that, then we have to pay for it and we DIDN’T generate that trash—you did.” This exact exchange went back and forth a couple more times. The phone rep was not yelling, but firm and completely confused by my unwillingness to take responsibility for my trash. I explained to her that had I known they had given me the wrong size trash bin, I would have contacted them and sorted this out immediately so as to not be charged additionally. She said, “But what would you have done with all of your trash!” I told her that I would have stored it in my garage, and slowly disposed of it as I had space in my trash bin, for as long as it took—even if it took a year. She stopped me and said, “I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!” Finally, I said, “It is very clear that we are not going to agree on this, so if you would like me to talk with your supervisor I would be happy to do so.” She sighed and said that wasn’t necessary. I thanked her for the lively 8:00 am conversation and wished her a good day.

I better read the rules.

I better read the rules.

I hung up the phone and immediately called my husband to tell him about my real life Portlandia experience. I vented a bit, then we laughed and described what it would be like on the show before we finally said goodbye and went back to our work days. I walked away from the conversation excited to tell some of my work colleagues and perfectly happy to never talk with the trash company again for the rest of my life.

Surprise, surprise. . . about thirty minutes later my phone started ringing with an unknown Portland phone number. I picked it up and was shocked to hear the female phone rep from the trash company calling me again. “I still don’t understand why you are unwilling to take responsibly for trash you generated,” she said. I almost dropped the phone in shock! This time around I was much more terse and told her that until her company puts big numbers on the side of their bins showing what size they are, it’s unlikely someone like me, who isn’t in the trash/recycling industry, will know what size their bin is or if they have the wrong size. She sighed again. I said, “I will NOT pay that additional fee because of your error, and again, if you want me to talk to your supervisor I would be happy to.” She sighed again and quietly said, “I just don’t understand why you won’t take responsibility for your trash. . . it’s your trash.” I wished her a good day and said I needed to go back to work.

I hung up the phone and called my husband again. This time I told him that we were probably on a trash “black list” now and that we needed to be careful not to violate any of their strict trash policies. The next bill will arrive in March. I’m curious to see if I’ll have to call the trash company again at that time.

Happy New Year from Portland, OR

It is 2013 and I live in Portland, OR.

It’s almost unbelievable to me at times that I can make the above statement. 2012 has been a whirlwind year filled with amazing and abundant change. Here is a quick recap of 2012 for the Hanson family. We sold a house in MN, moved to a duplex in St. Paul (for six months), drove cross country to live in Portland, OR, got new jobs, moved into a rental house in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Portland (for 4 months) and bought a house in SW Portland. All I can say is uff-dah (as some of my Midwest relatives would say), it’s been a long, busy, exciting and exhausting year.

Our new house.

Our SW Portland House.

As I type up all of the major changes in the last year I am a bit amazed that it all went as smoothly as it did. At the end of it all the worst we had to deal with was a nail in our car’s tire the day before we were scheduled to drive cross-country and cats barfing on the cross-country drive. Not too bad for the kind of changes we made in our lives.

I feel a new zest for life in the midst of the life changes we have made. I move through my days and find my mind filled with memories of moving to Minneapolis to get my degree at the University of MN. I have so many similar feelings and experiences right now, around things like: meeting new people, understanding the culture of my new city, learning about history of the city, navigating a new downtown and new freeway/transit systems and building a life from the ground up. What makes this experience so different than that period of my life is two-fold, I’m working and I have a partner in my husband to share the experience. Speaking of my husband, I feel awfully grateful to have a partner in my life who had a willingness to leave behind our wonderful life in Minnesota and explore someplace new.

As I think about 2013 and what is important to me, it will be: exploration and connection. Exploration into our neighborhood, city and state (and even region). I want to continue to try new restaurants and bars, visit new vineyards, hike new trails, visit state parks outside of the city and experience all I can in the area related to nature, culture and art. Making connections is also important to me this year—building professional and personal connections with people in the Portland region. I want to add people to my live who can serve as mentors, friends and “family”.

I look forward to continuing to share the journey as Portland, Oregon becomes home. Cheers.

Here's to 2013!

Here’s to 2013!




Chapman Elementary Swift Watch

Exploregon continues as we learn more about our new city. One organization that I am very interested in getting involved with is the Audubon Society of Portland. As I was reviewing their website and trying to decide how I could get involved, I saw something that I wanted to experience: The Annual Swift Watch.

Every year around late August one of the most interesting natural events starts in Porltand, OR. Thousands of Vaux’s Swifts gather in the city nightly as they begin their migration to Central America and Venezuela.

Migrating swifts will use chimneys as places to roost (where they sleep) and will return to the same roost year after year. There is a swift population that has been returning a chimney at Chapman Elementary school since the 1980s and it is reported to be the largest known roosting site of migrating Vaux’s Swifts.

Waiting at Chapman Elementary for Swifts to arrive.

The swifts are known to roost every evening for the entire month of September and the natural event begins shortly after sundown each night. Not knowing what to expect but excited to witness this event, we packed up the Mini Cooper with our camp chairs and binoculars and headed off to the school. Parking was a chore and we searched for quite a while before we finally found a place a few blocks away from the elementary school. When we arrived at the school, we were shocked to see hundreds of people. At first we thought it was because there was an event at the school, but as time rolled on we realized these families were here for the same reason we were—to see the Vaux’s Swifts. The crowd was scattered throughout the school yard and many were picnicking with their families.

Families playing and watching the swifts

The swifts slowly started to arrived in groups of 20-50 birds at a time. Early in the evening we needed binoculars to actually see them, but as the evening progressed there were so many birds that it began to look like a huge black swarm.  At that point there were probably between 7,000-10,000 birds.  There was something very dance-like about the whole experience. It was almost as though the birds had choreographed a flight routine for the crowd and would gracefully fly from east to west in formation and then north to south again in formation. After about an hour, I noticed that each time the swifts would fly by the chimney a group would fly down into it. This number increased with each pass and we slowly started watching the swarm start to get smaller.

Vaux Swifts beginning to enter the chimney.

When about half of the birds were in the chimney, suddenly a bird of prey appeared and started hunting. It looked like a Peregrine Falcon who needed to find dinner. The falcon would fly into the swarm and the crowd of people on the ground would erupt with oohs and aahs—sounding a lot like crowds watching fireworks or a horror movie in a theatre.  The falcon was unsuccessful the first couple of tries and then we watched the swifts turn on him as a swarm and chase him away. It was a pretty amazing sight of nature to witness. Just when we all thought the falcon was gone, he reappeared and persisted with one final chase, and was able to catch a lone swift. There was an audible gasp from the crowd—we were all rooting for the swifts.

Daylight disappeared as well as the swifts, all hidden away in the chimney of the school. We walked back to our car and excitedly talked about how great it will be to visit again next year. I found myself pleased at the thought that we just created our first annual tradition in our new city and home.


Tide Pooling at Cannon Beach, Oregon

In the midst of a busy new job and new city/state, we are working hard to balance settling in with some fun exploration every weekend. I was describing this to a new colleague and she shared that when she and her husband first moved to Oregon they coined the term “Exploregon” to describe this type of exploration. I love this and so I am adopting this term for fun times that we experience. One of our first exploregon adventures was tide pooling.

Haystack Rock

For those that aren’t familiar with tide pooling, let me share a bit more. Tide pools are the rocky pools by oceans that are filled with seawater. Many of these pools exist as separate entities only at low tide. What happens is at low tide you are able to walk into these areas and get right up close to sea life that normally would be only observable underwater. We had read that some of the best tide pooling in Oregon was at Cannon Beach, Oregon at Haystack Rock. After a bit of research we found an opportune time when we were able to drive to the coast and the tide would be as low as it ever is, about one foot below sea level.

Sea Stars and Sea Anemones

When we arrived, we could see a couple dozen people clamoring around Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach. As we got closer what we saw was pretty spectacular and something neither my husband or I had ever experienced. Not only were the pools crawling with life, there were naturalists available to answer questions. There were only a couple basic rules: walking on the sand or the rocks you may touch the species you see, but do not move any creature from it’s current location.

Growing up in Minnesota didn’t give me an opportunity to experience any salt water tide pooling and while I’ve been to the ocean before, I’ve never visited when the tide was as low as it was on this day allowing us to explore so much. It was a bit overwhelming to see all of the life that is never evident to the casual eye, but exists just below the surface of the water. We saw Sea Stars and Sea Anemones by the hundreds and their colors were vibrant and beautiful. It felt surreal walking amongst all of the species that are so unknown to me and realizing it was the first time in my life that I was having this type of experience.

Tide pooling at Haystack Rock

It made me remember a quote by Thoreau:

We need the tonic of wildness. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.

This tide pooling experience and realization of new exploration was invigorating. It was a great reminder to me that there are so many wonderful things to still experience in Oregon and in life. Carpe Diem!