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Haystack Rock stands just off the shore on the Oregon coast near Pacific City, a small fishing village. In the early morning, dory boats launch along the beach and go out for the day's catch. It's the only place in the country where dory boats are used. The beaches all along the Oregon coast are free and open to the public. (Photo by Lee Cable)

City of Roses, city of inspiration

June 04, 2008
I got back recently from a week in Oregon and thought I needed to write about it. Every time I go, I come back with a plan to share my adventures, but usually I get back to work and find myself playing catch-up, and never quite get around to actually doing it.

Karly, our oldest daughter, went to college in Oregon a few years ago, met a guy there, got married and decided to make Oregon her home. We visited her whenever possible and took our youngest daughter, Jill, with us — never realizing that she also fell in love with the mountains, forests, ocean, and lifestyle that is so different than we live here. Jill got married a couple of years ago, and also moved to Oregon. Karly blessed us with a grandson in 2006, so we have more and more reasons to spend time there.

Those of us who have lived most of our lives in Southern Indiana are aware of how pretty it is here, especially in the spring and fall. The hills, foliage, caves, rivers and creeks make this area a variable one. And those of us who appreciate the prettiness here, are usually in awe of the beauty of Oregon. Anyone who has ever been there understands how it's almost like a different country in its uniqueness. There's not another state like it.

My daughters both live in the Portland area, and Karly and her husband, Doug, also own a house on the coast, about a two-hour drive from Portland. So, each time I'm out there, I get to spend time in both places, and through the years, Doug has shown us around and introduced us to areas off the beaten track that are breathtakingly beautiful.

And the State of Oregon seems to put its citizens first, as every government should, and is supposed to. In many ways, it's a government for the people, by the people. I wish the rest of the country could say the same. Instead of privatizing, selling, leasing and exploiting all of its natural resources, they actually do everything possible to preserve, protect and appreciate most of what is beautiful and unique about the state.

The Oregon coast has no private beaches. They are considered the property of the people. Can you imagine what it would be like if Indiana had the coast of the Pacific Ocean as one of its borders? The DNR would charge an entrance fee, a user fee, a surcharge, require a boat permit, a walking permit, or else Mitch would lease it out to the Australians, who would charge a toll for anyone to walk the beaches or take photographs. In Oregon, there are rules for the use of the beaches, but they are free and available to everyone, including a certain journalist from Southern Indiana.

The ocean water there is quite cold and not good for swimming unless a person wears a wetsuit, as many do, including surfers and jet-ski riders. But the entire coast is beautiful and many of the beaches are wide, and sandy — perfect for walking, jogging or just taking in the views. They are also a great place for children and dogs to run and play. Fishing is great and around Pacific City, the dory fleet goes out almost every morning for the daily catch. Sea lions and whales can often be seen from the beaches. And a lot of areas along the coast include huge rocks and bluffs that are awesome to see as the breakers wash over and around them.

Driving back from the coast, just a few miles inland, is the Tillamook area. The terrain is gently rolling and dairy farms are spread over the whole valley. There are miles and miles of pastures with an abundance of Jersey and Holstein milk cows, and this is where the famous Tillamook cheeses are made. Also, in this area, surrounded by farms, is a large aircraft museum. It's where the "Spruce Goose," Howard Hughes' legendary wooden airplane, is on display.

A few miles further east, the road begins a slow climb into the Tillamook National Forest, which is in the mountains and part of the Cascade range. Several months of the year, very little sunlight filters through the dense foliage of the towering spruce trees, creating a type of rain forest. Wilson Creek, a clear and pretty postcard-perfect stream, meanders down the mountain toward the ocean. In the winter, there are signs reminding drivers that the law requires every vehicle to have tire chains or special traction tires to enter the high mountain passes.

Coming out of the coastal mountains, there is an immediate change in topography as the Willamette Valley spreads out over an immense area that includes the Columbia and Willamette rivers and the city of Portland. What was once the lumber capitol of the country, Portland has now been re-invented as a high-tech city where companies like Intel, Nike and AIG have replaced lumberjacks with electrical engineers, graphic design specialists and marketing consultants. But it's truly a city of people who love the outdoors.

Even though Portland gets more than its share of rainfall, the rain is most often in the form of a drizzle or a heavy mist. Most people make do with a light, waterproof jacket with a hood, and few umbrellas are seen on the streets. But the weather doesn't keep people indoors. There are thousands of bicycles in use every day in the city, and for many, it's their main form of transportation. There are bike lanes on many of the streets and drivers tend to respect the biker's right to be there. At one downtown street corner, I saw an old bicycle, painted white and adorned with flowers, attached to a streetlight pole. My daughter informed me that it was a "ghost bike," left there to remind drivers that a biker was killed by an automobile.

Every time I go there, I see things that I wish we could, and would, do here. Portland is a city of people who recycle. Everyone takes it seriously and takes advantage of curbside recycling. They are charged extra for garbage pick-up if items meant to be recycled are mixed with the other garbage. They charge a deposit for cans and bottles, not just in Portland, but all over the state, so those things aren't seen on the roadsides. And somehow, the people of Oregon have made it a bit of a disgrace to litter. You just don't see much of it. I went through the neighborhood where my daughter lives, taking my grandson for a walk, and never saw even one piece of litter. And a friend of my youngest daughter from Louisville went to Portland for a visit last year. One evening while they were downtown, he threw a cigarette butt on the sidewalk. He was approached by people immediately, demanding that he pick it up and dispose of it properly. Wouldn't it be great if the majority of people here were that protective of the environment in which they live?

There are several kinds of public transportation in Portland, including street cars, the Tri Met bus system and the MAX lightrail. If you live and work in the city, you don't really have to own a car, and many only have bicycles. But there are also ZIP cars available, which would be is a great idea for any city or town.

ZIP cars, which have now become popular in several U.S. cities, are parked all over Portland. Most of them are small cars — Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas (some mini vans, also) — and are used by people who don't own a car, or who need one while theirs is in the shop or whatever. All a person needs to do is apply for a membership, and they will be sent a card, much like an ATM card. There is a place on the cars where you can swipe the card. The doors will unlock, and you can get in it and drive off. You can keep it for an hour, a day, or whatever. Gas and insurance come with the car. If you need more gas, use the card for that also, and it doesn't cost you. When you're through with the car, simply return it to the place where you got it. They have their own parking spots all over the city, so parking is never a problem. You will be billed for the use of the car. The cost is usually around $7 to $8 an hour or $56 a day, and can even be reserved ahead of time.

Portland, known as the "City of Roses," is so unique, it would take a book to describe everything that makes it unique. Beautiful Mount Hood and Mount St. Helen can be seen from the city. It's one of the "greenest" cities in this country. There's small parks and green areas all over the city and there's a 5,000-acre park with hundreds of miles of trails within city limits. Just upriver is the Columbia Gorge, with beautiful waterfalls and whitewater streams. The list goes on and on.

Everyone should experience Oregon at least once. Take a plane to Portland and spend two or three days there. Then, rent a car or a ZIP car and drive to the coast. Then, go to Mount Hood, Crater Lake or Bend. You'll never forget it, and you'll come home wondering why we can't live that way also, and preserve and love all that is beautiful here.

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