Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Tale of Two Baker Cities

Mention Baker City, Oregon to those who live on the west side of the state and their knowledge (if they don't say "Remind me just where Baker City is") will center on the historic aspects of the town.

The wide main street is lined with stone buildings dating from the city's prosperous past.  (By 1900, it was the largest city between Portland and Salt Lake City, built with mining, ranching, and timber dollars.) 
Baker City has a well deserved reputation for preserving and renovating their historic buildings.  On a recent visit, I saw scaffolding in front of one building, as a worker was carefully painting.  

And a good portion of the buildings have occupants--small shops, second-hand stores, restaurants, and banks. 

One of the most famous structures is the Geiser Grand Hotel, restored in the early 1990s.  (The hotel allows sightseers only on guided tours, so don't expect to be able to see much more than the front desk if you walk in off the street.)

On my recent visit, though, I was determined to see more than the historic side of the city.

Through my artist mother, I knew that there were several art galleries in town, as well as the community arts organization, Crossroads Carnegie Art Center.

My first stop was at Peterson's Gallery.  The interior was lovely, with a spare, urban feel.  In talking with Alyssa Peterson, I found that the gallery has been open only since November, 2011, but it has the feeling of a more established space.  It's definitely on my "come back to" list.

Just down the street was the Short Term Gallery, a gallery with a unique beginning.  (The gallery was the subject of a visit by Oregon Art Beat, Oregon Public Broadcasting's arts program.)  The gallery walls are covered with art work from many different artists.  It's a visual treat, with something for every taste.  In particular, local artists Tom Novak and Brian Vegter are worth seeking out.

The Crossroads center occupies the old Carnegie Library, a large building that has space for art and dance classes, in addition to a light filled gallery.  The area's artists are well represented. 

My time in Baker City ended before I had a chance to visit more of the downtown.  But lucky me.  That just means I'll have to visit again.

A few history and arts related links for Baker City:
Baker County Visitor Information
Historic Baker City
Eastern Oregon Regional Theater
Writers Guild of Eastern Oregon

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Another Coastal Hidden Gem

We recently stopped by one of the newer additions to the Oregon State Park System---the Beaver Creek State Natural Area. 

It's an easy one to miss.  On the east side of Highway 101, right between Waldport and Newport, you can zoom past the road to the park without noticing.

And you may be at the coast to play on the sand or dip your toes into the chilly surf and the idea of heading inland might feel like, oh, a waste of precious coastal time.

But for birders, hikers, and kayakers this is a destination in itself. 
The park is relatively new; it opened in 2010.  And it still feels undiscovered, particularly on a midweek, springtime visit.

The Visitor Center was staffed by a volunteer who steered us to paths that were hikeable.  Many of the hiking trails were still too wet for us to get out to.  The trails are all well marked and the map is easy to read.

The Center had spotting scopes on the deck and we could watch the osprey pair in their nest atop a pole in the marsh.

On our short hike, we saw Red-winged Blackbirds and this wren (winter or marsh?), as well as (well-aged) bear scat.  Trillium and Bleeding Hearts were in bloom, as well as pungent Skunk Cabbage.

We plan on returning this summer to take one of the guided kayak tours.  How can we not?  Only $15 and the park provides everything. 

To be in the middle of the marsh in the middle of the summer?  Paradise.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Daffodil Festival!

The clocks have sprung forward and the days are almost as long as the nights.
The weather changes by the hour and the sky can take on the most glorious blue after a rain shower.
It's early spring in the Willamette Valley and time to think about getting outside.

The Daffodil Drive Festival in the Junction City area is a perfect destination and it's happening this coming weekend, March 17th and 18th.

Organized by the Long Tom Grange, the Daffodil Festival is an old-fashioned gathering.  There's a fabulous quilt show inside the grange, wagon rides outside on the grounds, and lots of craft vendors and music.  The fresh cinnamon rolls alone are worth the drive out to the grange.  The feeling is that you'll certainly run into someone you know.  It's a gathering of neighbors, a place for country and city folk to come together.

The Long Tom Grange is an active organization, long a supporter of local agriculture and schools.  Their "Men of the Long Tom" 2004 calendar raised over a quarter million dollars for the local schools and put the grange in the national spotlight.  

The grange is a member of the Oregon Country Trails, a marketing group designed to promote rural farms, ranches, artists, and agriculture. 

The surrounding country roads (many lined with daffodils), past wineries, farms and miles of green fields, are a perfect Sunday drive. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Gardener's Wish Book

As a child, I read the Wish Book page by page, lusting after the fabulous items in the catalog.

Now that I'm an adult, the real wish book becomes available just after Christmas.  I'm talking about Territorial Seed Company's latest catalog.  It's magazine sized; the Spring 2012 catalog runs 165 pages.  It's packed full of seeds, starts, and gadgets, but also doubles as a gardening how-to book.  I save my catalogs and refer to them all year long.  From the best temperature for seed germination to the treatment of most common garden problems, the catalog should live on your shelf along with your other garden reference books.

For me, Territorial Seed Company has a real Oregon feel.  They grow much of their own seed on land outside of Cottage Grove.  They cultivate a relationship with their customers.  And they're enthusiastic in their promotion of home gardening.

In the Willamette Valley, there is no time that is not garden-able.  With good row covers, it's possible to harvest at least ten months a year.  The other two months?  Well, that's for planning and buying seeds.  And one of my favorite field trips for late winter is the drive to Cottage Grove and a visit to Territorial's store front.

The store is warm and homey, with lots and lots of seeds.  I take my dog-eared catalog with me and try to restrain myself.  It's a place where you can stand and ponder the difference between Solar Chocolate Gold Sunflowers and Sunrich Lemon Sunflowers, and then say, what the heck, and throw them both in the basket.

For our visit last week, the outdoor area was full of rhubarb starts, the glorious red stalks just beginning to show through the soil.  The onion bunches were ready to be planted.  And there was a good selection of bare root shrubs and trees.   

A sure way to beat the winter blues is to take a quick trip to Cottage Grove and Territorial Seeds.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Fondness For the Dead

It's heartening to run across writers and fellow wanderers who share some of the same interests.  Particularly when it's not always easy to convince others that your hobby isn't strange or ghoulish.

Eugene's Masonic Cemetery

Johan Mathiesen wrote in a recent Oregonian article that, in the process of visiting almost every cemetery in Oregon, he has learned that [t]hose people in the graveyard, they're not dead. They're just half-dead. You still go there. I still go there. . . . We still think about them, if only in the slightest of whispers. Their bodies and their souls have long since slipped into starlight, but their memories linger like fog around their names. Cemeteries are not where people go when they die, it's where they go to stay alive.

Salem Pioneer Cemetery
 I've written before about the stories that cemeteries hold---the flood victims in Heppner and the pioneers whose burial spots were trailside and are now lost to all living memory--but I've never confessed to just how often the cemetery is our destination of choice.

Salem Pioneer Cemetery

Many times, the cemetery-as-destination is to try to solve a personal genealogical mystery--so this is where my great-great grandparents are buried!  Only to bump up against other puzzles I didn't even know existed--she had two children who died before they could walk?

I first visited the Salem Pioneer Cemetery in search of family, but fell in love with the place--the familiar names from Oregon history and the unfamiliar names with love stories on their headstones.

But many times, I have no personal connection to the cemetery we're wandering through.  We've pulled over out of curiosity, to take a break, or just to enjoy the view.

We wander through and give life to the names and dates on the headstones, filling in the blank spaces with our imagination. 

Some of the most remote cemeteries are still loved and tended to. 

Tucked away in the backwoods of the Coast Range, Gunter Cemetery had a flag flying and the headstones upright--even one for a beloved animal. 

(We debated this one--dog? chicken?)

The Brownsville Pioneer Cemetery has a stone marking the gravesite of the "last of the Calapooyas" who died in 1921.  Whether this is fact is irrelevant.  We're just glad that the community recognized her and, through her, the Kalapuya people.

Mathiesen has described "Five Secret Cemeteries," those that are perhaps not as well known as the more famous cemeteries, that he recommends.  (I found that we share a fondness for St. Louis cemetery.)  

He writes that he's well on his way to having visited all Oregon cemeteries.  He's way ahead of me in number, but not in love for these plots of land where the dead live still.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Midwinter Greens

Another great thing about living in the Willamette Valley?  The chance to garden year round.

The photo of this lovely savoy cabbage at the University of Oregon Urban Farm was taken on a crisp February day.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

French Prairie, Oregon

We love to get outside, but mid-winter is a hard time for us. I'm not interested in driving in snow or hiking in snow, so the mountains are out until later this spring. (Mine is not the blog to find information on the great ski areas in Oregon.) The coast is great for storm watching, but we could be stuck on the wrong side of a landslide across the highway. It's too early for gardening much (note to self: start seeds soon!), not to mention too soggy in the beds.

What winter is good for is a day trip to one of the many historic sites or towns in the Willamette Valley. Much of my interest in these places is personal. Parts of my family's history here in Oregon are centered in pre-statehood Willamette Valley settlements. 

I'm particularly fascinated by the French Prairie area of Oregon.  Most likely because that's the part of my family history that's been hardest to pin down and it's the mystery that keeps me looking.

    The early French Candian settlers* were the reason for the area's name and were also the major impetus for the Roman Catholic church to establish a parish in the Willamette Valley. 

In St. Paul, the first church was built of logs, in 1836, and replaced ten years later with the current brick church--the oldest brick building in the Pacific Northwest. 

Just down the road, in St. Louis (little more than a crossroads now), is another old church. The church standing now was built in 1880; the parish dates from 1847.
Both churches are photogenic, surrounded as they are by farm land. 

And wandering through the near by cemeteries tells an interesting story of the early settlers.  French names, Native Americans identified by first name, then ancestry, and the subsequent arrival of Irish and Germans. Soon, the cemeteries will hold the newest arrivals to the area.  The area is currently more than 25% Hispanic.
An easy day trip from anywhere in the valley, the French Prairie area is a wonderful piece of Oregon history. 
*We're talking late 1830s, early 1840s.  The Oregon Trail pioneers began coming in earnest in 1845.  Statehood came in 1859.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Down By The Bay

I've lived in Oregon all my life and still get a jolt of that-can't-be-right when TV newscasters will refer to weather in the "bay area" and they aren't talking about San Francisco. I suppose it's one more sign of my Willamette Valley centered-ness.

Oregon's Bay Area--the cities of Coos Bay, North Bend, and Charleston--is located on the central Oregon coast, an area that has long been populated by loggers, mill workers, and fisherman. But the area has been hard hit since the 80s and it shows. What was once the world's largest lumber shipping port seems to have dwindled to a sad shadow of its former self. There may be a thriving industry somewhere, but to this casual visitor, it's hard to see. There are piles of logs and wood chips, but also acres and acres of empty former mill sites.

The area seems to be trying to redefine itself. Both Coos Bay and North Bend have created nice waterfront areas, but during the holiday season, even with spectacularly mild weather, they were empty. North Bend's lovely entrance to a rehabbed boardwalk would be a great place for a small festival, but has an unused look. Perhaps in the future?

However, right now, there are wonderful bright spots in the area. Coos Bay's small downtown core has a nice selection of locally owned shops. There are plenty of restaurants along the main highway. A great yarn shop kept me browsing (and buying) for way too long. We found some gems in the used bookstore. And the Coos Art Museum is fabulous--top rate exhibits* in the old post office (a model for Eugene, perhaps?). We just happened to be in town for the opening reception for the current exhibits.

Highway 101 runs through both towns. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for Coos Bay and North Bend is simply getting travelers to stop. Try it next time you're passing through. The parking's free and there's enough there to keep you entertained for an afternoon.

*Among their permanent exhibits is a gallery devoted to hometown boy Steve Prefontaine. The fabulously talented distance runner, who died in 1975, often seems to be a Eugene creation. But he was born and raised in Coos Bay and is buried in the local cemetery. The visitor center is home to the Prefontaine monument shown at left.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Midwinter Mildness

Apart from a few rainy days just after Christmas, Oregon's had a run of very dry, very mild, weather all over the state.  The local ski resorts are putting on a cheery web face, but there's not much snow up there in the mountains.  Until the rain, the Willamette River, running through Eugene, looked like a mid-summer river--exposed rocks, clear, shallow water.

But the days, if sunny, are still short.  And we know the rain and cold will return soon.  So, we seized the moment and took a drive out into the middle of the Willamette Valley.  
The day, crisp and bright, felt like a palate cleanser after the excesses of the holiday season and before the muddy rains of late winter.  The grass fields are impossibly green. Sheep, fat with winter wool, graze.  And hawks sit on poles, treetops, and fenceposts, watching and waiting.

A side road took us back to one of Oregon State Park's more recent acquistions, Thompson's Mills.  On the Calapooia River, a mill has been on the site since before Oregon statehood.  It's a history buff's dream, with plenty of gears and wheels and hand-hewn timbers.

The visit to the mill, though, was just an appetizer.  The main destination of our drive was the Finley National Wildlife Refuge

Almost 6,000 acres of wetlands, oak savannah, and prairie grass, the refuge is the winter home of thousands of Canada geese, ducks, and other birds and wildlife.

Most of the refuge is closed for hiking during the winter months, to keep the geese undisturbed, but there are still parts of the refuge that offer great bird watching right from the road.

The highlight of this trip was watching a immature Bald Eagle swoop down toward the water, scaring geese and ducks into great honking clouds of birds.  The eagle finally settled into a tree and we watched until the light began to fade and we had to head home.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lazy "Journalism"

Today's Register Guard printed a brief AP piece as filler in its City Region section.  See if you can spot what's wrong with this sentence:

FIVE RIVERS, Ore. — To help restore coho salmon in Benton County, fish biologists are turning to the fish’s bushy-tailed ally: beavers.

Here's a hint:  Even free clip art providers realize the beaver--Oregon's state animal--has a flat, scaly tale.

The problem with a poorly-written story is that the papers, apparently staffed with fewer editors than ever before, just reprint what's given to them. 

Perhaps they need a sharp-eyed elementary school student as proofreader.  Students can tell you that Oregon's flag is the only state flag that has different images on both sides, one of them the beaver.

To be fair, the original reporter on the story, Bennett Hall at the Corvallis Gazette-Times, didn't make the mistake that the AP writer did.  His report is interesting and informative, with a nice photo of a real beaver included!

Hat tip to my dad, who brought this to my attention!