PDX cycletown

my bikeLast week I dusted off my twenty-year old mountain bike and took it in to Citybikes, a nearby worker-owned bike cooperative, to see what could be done. I want to sit straight up on my bike and survey the universe as I pedal around town, instead of crouching over the handlebars as though I’m streaking down Dog Mountain. Twenty years ago, when my sister Sherry and I bought our TREK bikes through a sure-to-get-a-discount contact at Nike, where she’d recently started working, we thought they were cool, or rather we thought WE were cool. AND ahead of our time, it seemed, when I learned from a billboard on our way to a movie the other day that Portland has become “America’s Bicycle Capital.”

bike pdx

While my bike was in retrofit mode for a few days, I kept an eye out for “bicycle lore” in my daily walks about town. A friend had recently told me about a new “peddling bar,” which I imagined as a sort of mobile cocktail affair that folks peddled as they drank. Then I came across it by chance the other day, sitting on a side street. The driver was taking a break so I didn’t disturb him with questions, but checked out the website, BrewCycleportland.com .

brew cycle

Turned out I wasn’t far off. The website opens with an invitation to “pre-sign your liability waver” before booking your BrewPub Crawl ($25 each). Up to 15 peddlers tool around town for two hours and stop at three brew pubs, and although it’s not explicit on the website, I think it’s clear by the arrangement of seats and bar in photo above that you definitely drink while crawling. And it’s a big success, judging by the graphic booking schedule – sold out this Saturday from 11:00 am to 9:30 PM, and most of Sunday. They’ve expanded their fleet too, they say, though there is no information on the site about who “they” are. But it’s a wonderful marriage of two of Portland’s signature obsessions: brew pubs and biking.

married couple on bikes

Speaking of marriage  (the above image grabbed off BikePortland website), so-called “low-car housing” is popping up everywhere in central Portland, mostly along bus and streetcar lines. Not three blocks from our southeast Buckman neighborhood, a new four-story, 71-unit apartment building has just been completed with not ONE parking space. And we just heard about another 40-unit, no-parking building to be built three blocks in the other direction from us. Bike advocates promote this as a partial solution to one of the biggest problems facing Portland, which has grown by over 10% in the last ten years: a chronic shortage of rental housing. On the other hand, developers tout their new buildings as environment and bike-friendly, but in fact they save a lot of money when they don’t have to provide parking spaces. The idea being that rents will be cheaper. We shall see.

But here’s a Portland bike project you can unequivocally love. Twice a week, Laura Moulton peddles her mobile library of donated books to a downtown square and sets up for a four-hour shift, serving people who live outside (previously called “homeless”). Men and women, some with kids and dogs, gather around to check out or bring back books using an old-fashioned, card-in-pocket system that we all remember from our early library days. No one has to show an ID or have an address, but patrons are asked to return the books when they are able. “Don’t worry about the due date; I’ll find you or you can find me,” she tells borrowers. A couple of years ago I spent a morning with some photography students, photographing and interviewing Laura and her patrons, (who can choose to be photographed with their books, or not). Laura has even produced a ‘zine how-to booklet for those who want to duplicate this wonderful project: http://www.streetbooks.org/

streetbooks croppedman with book The Eyes of the Dragon

laura cropped

OK, I wanted to finish with to my own personal bike story, but I’m going to wait for something interesting to happy this Sunday, August 25, when the City of Portland will block off a 9-mile loop of traffic-free streets in our part of town. From 11:00 until 4:00 we can walk or bike or roll or run, stopping for activities in parks and neighborhoods along the way that include free belly dance or zumba classes, tai chi, climbing wall, bike repair, fresh fruit sampling, swingin’ country music or even a little Shakespeare.

Stay tuned and I’ll get back to you next week…


Things I love about Portland, continued

Farewell Mary Margaret

I’ve loved graveyards since I was six years old, playing house on the flat stones of the cemetery near our country house in Craig, Colorado, the small town on the western slope of the Rockies where I grew up. I felt right at home in my playground in the high desert sagebrush, and was surprised when a girl my own age asked if it was true dead people walked around at night – a thought that had never occurred to me. Now my aunt and uncle and a young cousin who died in a car accident are guests there, and if they do walk around at night I hope they enjoy the place as much as I did.


As a young married woman living in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, I would take my toddler son Scott for walks in a colonial-era graveyard across the street. As a new mother I mooned over the beautiful old stones that told stories of the short and sad lives of the many young women who died in childbirth in the 18th and 19th century. “Here lies buried Eliza with her twin infants.”

32594420Later, living in rural Vermont, I discovered gravestone rubbing, and when my sisters and I went off to Europe in 1968 I traveled with rice paper, round black crayon and masking tape. I was recently divorced and immersed in the poetry of W.B. Yeats, for reasons I no longer remember. But I knew I wanted to go to Ireland and make a rubbing of the lovely words on Yeats’ gravestone in the country churchyard of County Sligo: “Cast a cold Eye/On Life, on Death/ Horseman pass by,” lines from one of Yeats’ final poems. I dutifully rubbed the stone and carried the rolled-up rice paper through Europe to hang on the wall in my apartment in Boulder, where I was in school. It is long-lost and not lamented.

Fast forward several decades (during which I visited and photographed many graveyards) to Portland, where to my delight we ended up living four blocks from historic Lone Fir Cemetery, the first of the city’s pioneer cemeteries. A beautiful place full of trees on the city’s east side, Lone Fir goes back over 150 years, when a local farmer named James Stephens buried his father on the farm, as was the custom then.

in fall

Mr & Mrs. StephensStephens sold the land with the proviso that his father not be disturbed, and when the new owner’s steamboat blew up on the Willamette River, he buried his partner and a passenger there. Thus Lone Fir cemetery was born, and the fir tree planted in 1866 still stands. I can see its top from our upstairs bathroom window. When James Stephens and his wife Elizabeth passed on, they took up residence there too. Here, they are today, still holding hands.

I’ve been visiting and photographing Lone Fir for twenty years now, my lens always drawn to the ephemeral “messages” left by the living for the dead – notes, liquor, cards, photos letters, messages in bottles – and to quirky stones such as this one of Paul Lind, a loving testament to a Scrabble fan:

scrabble Paul LindOr this lovely homemade stone, with a photo I’ve watch fade to almost nothing over the years:

black frame photo close upSadly, Lone Fir has become the resting place of young gang members:

RIP Chico w beer cansLil Luch

Objects left by bereaved families who lose children can break your heart, like this series for Dustin, including a message written in twigs:Dustin with photo

Dustin note from dad 2

Dustin twig note for blog

But I leave the last word to our good friend, the late, lamented “famous publisher” and art critic Joel Weinstein, too soon a resident of Lone Fir. It’s a comfort to have him close by, and I always visit his gravesite to say hello and see what’s been left by his many fans.

joel 1

Joel loved bikes, coffee, books and Mexico, and last winter someone left this memento mori with a Mexican theme, which says, “For the dead there is no future.”

Joel 3

Joel would have enjoyed the image and the humor, but I think I prefer the Russian proverb: “We live as long as we are remembered.”