As a mirror image to the previous day’s travels around Mount Rainier and continuing our trip down the Cascade mountain range, we spent much of the day not seeing Mount Hood. However, we did soak up quite a bit of history looking at the Columbia Gorge, wandering around Timberline Lodge, perusing what might be the largest bookstore in the world, and listening to a grumpy old rock star.
Columbia, the Gem of the West Coast
The Columbia gorge that runs like a sine wave along the border between southern Washington and northern Oregon is not to be missed if you come to the west coast. On a good day, you can look down the gorge to see bridge after bridge and even on a misery day like this one, the waterfalls gushing by the roadways were that much more impressive.
The gorge has been ruler to people for 13,000 years, with artifacts found from the early pioneers who crossed over the Bering Straits. Lewis and Clark traveled down the Columbia to get to the Pacific, so there are a number of historical markers. My friend Barb, who used to guide people down the Lewis and Clark Trail, would probably wish that we had stopped at all of them, but we voted to let her take us someday instead.
I share the above picture of my traveling companion for two reasons. First, to comment that it is evidence of steady rain because she chooses to put on a coat over a fleece only if the rain is steady and constant and she will be outside for more than two minutes. In order to bother with an umbrella, it has to be raining, not just drizzling. An umbrella AND a coat requires a deluge. There would be coat and umbrella before the day was over.
Second, the photo shows the whimsy of the light, which was dim for 90% of the day, even though we could see for miles once we got down to the river. Up in the town of Hood River, there was a Panoramic Point park with great views, but with the whitened clouds rising from the western sun, in the direction of the valley vista, the pictures didn’t do it justice. It didn’t help that the park itself was closed due to budget cuts, so we were scrambling around in the scrub to take the shots, meaning our punishment for rule-breaking was lousy photos. Even so, in that picture, if you look above to the right of the picnic table, you can see a slice of Portland, thirty miles away.
Seeing FDR’s Chair, Not Much Else
Wise Barb did suggest that we visit the Timberline Lodge at the foot of Mount Hood, and that was an excellent suggestion. The lodge is nearly a century old, and the walls are dotted with displays of old-style skis, original watercolors of the flora and fauna, and pictures of famous guests. The giant fire was roaring away when we came in and the gift shop was full of doohickeys and tchotchkes, not too pricey to indulge. FDR even came for a visit, and they had his chair on display as proof, circa 1937.
I will add that, as we drove the scenic byway around the mountain, passing the chalets and snowboard shops just revving up for the coming season, we stopped into the Info Center to acquire the necessary car sticker. The ladies gave us an excellent three minute rundown of exactly what to do and see, explaining what we would find open (see Mt. Rainer yesterday) and not open. I commented that, while it was steadily raining at the moment, the clouds were expected to clear shortly so that we should have a short period of fair weather. They looked at each other and the one on the left looked back at me, lifted her eyebrow as if to say, “whatever,” and asked if we were comfortable driving in the snow. The Fun Car (our Subaru) has All Wheel Drive, I replied proudly.
Again with the eyebrow.
As it happens, KK is an excellent driver and knows her way around black ice, flurries, and variations of slush. On the other hand…
Since it was raining at the base of the mountain, it was snow slapping the car as we went up. We had to spend a few extra minutes finding our thicker gloves and zipping our phones into pockets before getting out of the car. Tromping through the slush of the parking lot, it was hard to see where either of us was going or hear footsteps over the sound of snow hitting the back of my jacket.
On the plus side, KK finally was able to break out her lambswool scarf from Edinburgh. I scored my own triumph by figuring out, after three years of trying, how to secure the velcro straps of the hood of my Amazing Coat from Denmark. I have been ever so pleased since I bought that coat, in a place that knows a lot about foul weather, at how well it repels rain and snow, and my only tiny regret is that I can’t wear it more often in northern California. Which is why we have to travel so often in April and October.
City of Books
Back down the hill, enduring the drizzle, we nevertheless enjoed a very hipster lunch of Thai fried chicken and fries with organic ketchup at the Kickstand Coffee and Bar in Hood River. After wending our way back along the twists of the river, enjoying the vistas but failing to capture them in photos, we made a beeline into Portland proper. We had plans for dinner which allowed us an extra hour, so we went where everyone must go in Portland if they have an extra hour. We went to Powell’s.
Powell’s was built only in 1971. I thought it must be much older given its fame as being one of the great bookstores in America. It boasts that its 68,000 square feet of books is the largest Something of Books, and I heartily agree.
Therecwas nearly an entire floor devoted to the history of unions, progressive causes, and “Leftist” reading. I found it interesting in reading Powell’s Wikipedia page that the employees tried to unionize twice– meaning they had some beef with the left-friendly management–succeeding the second time, becoming part of the ILWU as recent as the year 2000. Even in fifty years, a lot of history can happen.
Most of us who write started as booklovers. You can keep your cannabis; I will happily wonder off into a bookstore to get my fix. This was my fourth trip to Powell’s. I was hoping to remedy the debacle of the last trip, wherein I bought an all-in-one set of Len Deighton’s Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match, only to discover a month later that someone had cut out about 50 pages with a razor blade. I’ve read it before, so I know what happens; that’s not the point. Alas, Powell’s didn’t carry any Deighton at the moment, but I wandered blissfully as a cloud fingering the Le Carres and discovering some new Olen Steinhauer’s recommended by my friend in Newport only last week.
The great thing about a road trip that includes a trip to a bookstore is that books take up space and weight in a suitcase, but not in a car. I commandeered a relatively small plastic bag from behind a seat and promised myself not to buy more than I could carry. I kept my promise, though I did have to drop them off at the car on the way to dinner. They’re safe and sound at the bottom of the laundry bin in the back seat, which is slowly filling up with souvenirs.
At last, we were off to see our final historical sight of the day: the incomparable Rick Wakeman.
Pioneer of Progressive Rock
The thing is we had just been discussing “Siberian Khatru,” three days ago with my brother. There was classical music playing on the car radio, which prompted a discussion of great bands who played progressive rock. I was trying to remember what music was sampled in that particular Yes song, and no one else in the car knew the music. (The answer is Stravinsky’s Firebird).
My brother said he had gone to a Rick Wakeman concert in the seventies and was amused that Wakeman seemed to enjoy playing with the other musicians as much or more than to the audience. Flash forward to us in Portland, and here was Mr. Wakeman in the flesh, in town the same night as us, on his Grumpy Old Rock Star tour.
Wakeman was taught by his pianist father to play Mozart and Dixieland jazz, so it’s no surprise that he left a potential career as a concert pianist, exiting the Royal College of Music, to become a renowned session musician. One of his first gigs was the piano work on Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken,” a fortuitous choice since the song itself is nothing but four repeated verses of chorus.
In between dishing on Stevens, David Bowie, and fellow Yes band member Jon Anderson, Wakeman told corny grandpa jokes, most a little off color but without profanity. Perfect for the crowd, which itself was mostly over fifty. One fellow with long wavy gray hair kept jumping up with each song to wave his arms about, looking as KK said like one of those strange balloons in front of gas stations. The really weird part was when he did it to the Pachelbel Canon.
Wakeman’s virtuouso piano style was evident throughout his renditions of Beatles’ tunes like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the classical/rock smashups, like this version of “Eleanor Rigby” a la Sergei Prokofiev.
This was the second time in a week that the topic of “Siberian Khatru” came up, as Wakeman used it as a prime example of his band’s weird song titles that he said he never cared for. After that, he launched into a blazing version of “Catherine of Aragon.” I recalled that it was KK, sitting next to me, who brought Wakeman’s album Six Wives of Henry VIII into our collection. That makes it a part of our history as well as the world’s history, like everything we did and saw on the paths through Portland.