I rarely cross over the river to the east side of town these days. Without concerts or dining out, there are few reasons (besides my son) to cross town, and in winter, well, let’s just say my house is cozy. But it’s getting to be real spring, and I’m grabbing onto these semi-dry semi-sunny days and venturing out again into the wider world.
We recently had the annual “first warm day let’s get started on the garden too early frenzy,” and off we went to Portland Nursery. As long as we were heading so far east, we kept going to check out what there was to see these days at Powell Butte, 162 blocks east of the Willamette River along SE Powell Blvd, in the southeastern corner of the city. The Powell family (not the same as the bookstore) were some of the original homesteaders, though the area had forever been part of the territory of what we now call the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde. At about 600 acres, it is the second largest park in Portland, after Forest Park. A good place for a seasonal check in.
Check out Alan’s blog for his fabulous pix of our day!
Still in the 40s, I grabbed my jacket, hoping to not need it for long. But I am so over being cold and not ashamed to bundle up while others are in their shirt sleeves.
The first time we visited Powell Butte was a hot summer day 11 years ago, when my daughter was newly pregnant, and we had no idea that we would eventually move here. No clue as to the molecular changes that occur when grandkids make the scene. Driving past strip malls, construction sites, homeless encampments, fast food joints, urban decay and renewal, I was struck then, and still, by the juxtaposition of this chunk of nature amidst a dense industrial part of the city outskirts. We turned and climbed up the butte’s sloped entry to a mostly empty parking lot. The joys of a midweek, midday visit.
There’s plenty of signs of still being in the city as we climbed the gentle slopes of this 10 million year old extinct cinder cone, one of many in the area. It had once been grazing land, and there’s an abandoned walnut orchard from the 1800s. Now two huge reservoirs and their pipelines and graded roads sit among several miles of trails.
At about 600 feet elevation, the 360 degree views take in the neighborhoods below. In the distance, views of bluffs, buttes, and Cascade mountains far and farther. The viewing compass at the summit identifies each large or small bump on the horizon, and over the years, on clear cold winter days, I’ve been lucky to visit on enthralling “four mountain days.”
That wasn’t the case this time, but the sky kept up a spectacular lightshow of various cloud types with stray patches of blue, reflected in muddy puddles below. The clouds shapeshifted their way across the skies and over the grassland, ranging from white to pearl, pewter, gunmetal, and coal.
The park is not pristine nor is there any old growth, or even second growth. But wide open spaces alongside forest gives you big sky and a fat dose of trees and meadows. An oasis amidst that gritty city commerce for birds, animals, and humans.
We followed a couple American Kestrels as they hunted, one flushing out prey and the other nabbing it. In the trees were the familiar red heads of the Hairy Woodpeckers, the punk Steller’s Jays, and the ubiquitous Dark-eyed Juncos, American Robins, and Spotted Towhees. They all agreed it was spring. A fellow birder pointed out a Mountain Bluebird in the distance, which we could barely make out, just a blur of blue. Does that count as a Lifer? Not sure we can claim it.
The Crows held court in a stand of large trees, performing mating dances of swoops and dives, flying straight up, and rocketing back down as they maintained control of their territory. The highlight though, was watching a big healthy coyote, red ears skyward, hunting around the vernal pools, then pouncing on his prey. I felt my heart connect with his, majestic and wild and free.
An hour later, temps in the 50s, my jacket came off. Perfect. Spring at last.