Our house is perched on the outermost edge of the southwest corner of southwest Portland. That is to say, as far from the center as you can get. Having lived in too many suburban type towns all my life, I vowed to keep my activities directed into Portland itself, away from the outskirts, immersing myself in the exciting big city culture, a city I was beginning to love.
But as it turns out, the parking is better in the suburbs. I grumble, and enjoy shorter drives, less traffic, and resign myself to the vast (but free!) parking lots, soulless strip malls, and convenient commercial sprawl for some of my needs.
I also drive through the nearest suburb to get out of town in search of new hikes, and today I head west on Scholls Ferry Road through Beaverton. The tree canopy is sparse, as so many have been cut down to make room for people and buildings. I drive past seemingly endless vanilla neighborhoods, cookie cutter houses and condos, strip malls, fast food joints, chain stores, office buildings, and empty lots cleared for construction to come. To some it’s heaven I suppose, but for me, it’s not why I moved to Oregon.
Then suddenly, as if crossing an invisible border, everything urban drops away, and it’s gorgeous wide open country – farms, forests, and the coast range beyond. It turns out this invisible line is real, and all this countryside is protected by something called The Oregon Urban Growth Boundary law, which, in an attempt to limit urban sprawl, controls what can be built and where. Though the boundaries are regularly reviewed and even expanded, it does keep the lid on the creeping cities. I love the idea of a virtual chain link fence creating this exquisite landscape 20 minutes from my house.
The scenery is breathtakingly simple, pristine in contrast. The late afternoon sun lowers, light filters gold through mutating clouds, fields and hills glow with shades of fall colors. I pass whimsically named farms, Bluebird Farm, Duyck’s Peachy Pig Farm, Lone Owl Farm, with handmade signs advertising fresh brown eggs or dried prunes, garlic and dill. Between vast fields, a few vineyards stretch out, now a brilliant amber, with small wineries and tasting rooms, and a couple alpaca farms. Enormous barns dot the landscape and look to be at least a hundred years old, some with signs of continued service, others crumbling and abandoned. A great place for a photo project if there was anywhere to pull over instead of a steep ditch on either side of the road. Hope I never break down here.
A half hour from home, I arrive at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Reserve, just south of downtown Hillsboro. The beautiful visitor center has interesting sounding classes on mushrooms, Oregon nature, animal tracking, baskets, bees, bird ID, and even monthly sunset/full moonrise gatherings. Quintessential Oregon.
Just outside, there’s a whiteboard for hikers to note the species they’ve spotted, encouraging me try to be more observant. Trails traverse 630 acres of swamps and ponds, greenery and shrubbery, tall trees, and bird habitats. Geese fly noisily overhead, no doubt discussing their day, making plans, giving directions, or inviting more geese to join them. It can’t be to ward off predators, as every predator around knows exactly where they are.
A dark bird on a branch, a flash of white as he flies off. The sound of hidden Pacific treefrogs, which I’ve been asked to avoid trampling, along with their friends the lovely-named long toed newts and Northern red-legged salamanders.
This wetlands became a preserve only after the area had been used and abused since the natives left, a common story around Oregon. It was used to dump waste from canneries, construction, sewage, then later farmed. Slowly, since the 70s, a preserve took shape and now is home or a stopping place, for hundreds of species of mammals and birds.
Returning to my corner of Portland as the sun sets, I drive slowly, absorbing as much country air and glow as I can, before crossing back through the Boundary to home.