Friday, February 29, 2008

Auspicious Day

Today is leap year day, the 29th of February, a day that only comes once every four years. It is a special day - appreciate it.

This is also my birth year - the one year of my life that my age and the date of my birth are one and the same. In other words, since I was born in 1954, this year I will be 54, so my age will match the last two digits of my birth year, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Of course, I won't actually turn 54 until July, so maybe it's not quite my birth year yet, but this (2008) is the year in which my birth year will begin.
Everybody has a birth year, and those of you born toward the end of the last century better take good care of yourselves if you want to experience your year. Also, birth years can only happen in even-numbered years, since they're always the double of your birth year, e.g. '54 + 54. So no one's birth year will occur in 2009. Therefore it seems right to celebrate my birth year in calendar year 2008, rather than from July 2008 through June 2009.
Finally, Water Dissolves Water had it's 100,000th visitor - a momentous milestone (for this little not-quite-four-year-old blog - some blogs get 100,000 visitors a day). The truly auspicious thing is, that 100,000 visitor was . . . me.
In my birth year. On leap year day.
Reason to celebrate.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


I took advantage of being back in Atlanta by going over to my friendly neighborhood Soto Zen Center and attending a public talk by iconoclastic Zen teacher Brad Warner.

Brad teaches in Santa Monica but accepted an invitation to come back and re-visit our Center in Atlanta (he spoke here a year or two ago). Brad is the author of Hardcore Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up, and has a reputation for being an irreverent and controversial teacher.

I don't see what all the fuss is about, and I mean that in a good way. Being a former punk rock musician and monster movie devotee, he might have a somewhat more colorful background than many other Zen teachers, but they're all pretty colorful when you get to know them. In any event, he didn't piss on the alter or drop cigarette ashes on the Buddha, but instead spoke patiently and sincerely to the assembly about, among other things, his practice, the role Zen can play in our lives, and the various meanings of the word "god."

I liked him.

There was a good turnout, and Brad encouraged the audience to ask questions and make the talk more of a dialog than a monologue. The only question I could think to ask him (and I waited until after the official talk was over and asked him in private) was who Caspar the Friendly Ghost was before he died. He wasn't sure, but seemed to appreciate the question.

I've carried a link to his blog over there to the right for quite some time now, and on finally meeting him am glad that I do.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Damn, It's Cold . . .

. . . and I'm not even in Oregon. For reasons that are completely counterintuitive, I'm back in Georgia and it is freezing here.

It didn't help any that I left the heat off in the Atlanta house thinking it was almost spring, but even after the heat's been running for over three hours, it's still only 60 degrees in here.

Outside, the temps are in the upper 20s, with wind chill factors down in the forgetaboutit.

Meanwhile, this morning in Portland, it was sunny and in the mid 50s when I left. Yesterday, the Portland morning weather person said that winter was effectively over.

I'm only back for a few days to take of some business that popped up unexpectedly here, and I have a flight back to Portland on Monday morning.

If I can stand the cold that long.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Second Case

I refuse to buy a travel guide for Portland. The problem with guidebooks is that they create expectations of what you will find, how you will see things. It might take me a while longer to find all of what this city has to offer, and I might make some bonehead statements in this blog, but at least I'll have the genuine experience and pleasure of surprise and discovery when I learn, say, that the basketball courts I cut through every morning were in the film, What the Bleep Do We Know?

Guidebooks may be useful at times, but they also filter the reality of your own experiences through someone else's perceptions. Did you ever come back from a vacation, and realize that all of your snapshots were the same as those in the guidebook? I rest my case.

On first arriving here, I did buy a copy of Palahniuk's "Fugitives & Refugees - A Walk Through Portland, Oregon," but I didn't buy it for the purpose of a guidebook and it wouldn't function very well as one if you tried to use it that way.

I also bought a copy of the Blue Cliff Record to keep my mind open and free. I've spent most of the past month working on The First Case of the Blue Cliff Record (there are 100 in the book). Tonight, I started on the Second.

By way of background before presenting the Second Case, Sengcan, the Third Patriarch, states in the Seal of Faith in Mind,

The Great Way is without difficulty,
Just avoid picking and choosing,
When both love and hate are absent,
You will be lucid and clear.

Years later, Joshu, teaching his followers said (and this is the Second Case), "The Great Way is without difficulty, just avoid picking and choosing. If people cut away all of their aversions and preferences, then the way reveals itself clearly. But I myself do not abide in that clarity."

A monk got snagged on these words and said, "If you do not abide in that place where it is revealed clearly, then without that, what do you rely on and protect?" As Shodo Harada Roshi points out, the monk was caught in dualistic thinking.

"If you ask me that, I don't know either!," replied Joshu.

Joshu didn't give a great shout or hit the monk with a stick. He was not disturbed at all by this question.

The monk persisted, "If you don't know, then why do you say those words?"

Joshu said, "I understand well what you are saying. Your reasoning is correct. But the shallow understanding that comes from correct reasoning is of no use whatsoever. Go bow someplace over there and then go home." Joshu, having attained great freedom, had quickly and easily cut the monk off.

And that's essentially the Second Case, and will be the subject of my deepest thoughts for the next month or so. Any help and pointers would be most appreciated.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Reggie's Court

Every morning (nearly every morning) I walk to work, usually taking Hoyt or Gleason Street over to Park Avenue, and then south on Park and the North Blocks Park over to Burnside. I enjoy cutting through the basketball courts in the North Blocks, but I didn't realize until just the other day that I was cutting through Duke Reginald's magical quantum basketball court of unending possibilities.

Anyone who's seen the film What the Bleep Do We Know? probably recalls the scene where the Marlee Matlin character is challenged by a street-wise kid to shoot some hoops with him. "C'mon," he asks, "How long has it been since you've played?" Their "game" soon turns into a lesson on quantum possibilities, including objects being in multiple locations at once, reverse time symmetry, and the creation of reality by the mere observation of it.

Well, that scene was shot at the basketball courts in the North Blocks Park, the very courts I walk through every morning. In fact, most of the movie's story line was shot at various locations in Portland, such as the Goose Hollow MAX station:

The Washington Park station:

The Bagdad Theater on Hawthorne Blvd:

And the North Blocks Park basketball courts:

There's even a scene where Marlee Matlin gets out of bed and opens up her curtains, and after an initial moment of cognitive confusion, the "reality" of the view out her window snaps into clarity (possibly with the assistance of an Arawak shaman). But forget the shaman for a moment - the view from her window includes the Fremont Bridge, the tower of Union Station, and is, in fact, almost the exact same view as from the roof of my condo here in Portland. As far as I can figure, the scene must have been shot either from the other side of my building, or at the very least, a building right next door to mine. Yet I didn't realize this until after I moved in here, and randomly decided to watch What the Bleep just to pass some time.

And suddenly, the North Blocks Park basketball courts, the MAX stations, the Bagdad theater, and the view from my rooftop snapped into clarity.

So far, my reality has not included Duke Reginald or Marlee Matlin out on the magical quantum courts of unending possibilities, but several young men were playing there yesterday:

I've watched the film What the Bleep several times, and have come to own a copy of the expanded three-DVD version. I've often wondered where the film had been shot, and incorrectly thought that the MAX scenes had been shot on D.C.'s Metro system.

Now here's the intriguing part. Much of the film is about how our minds, how our intentions, create our reality. How much of my viewing of the film, then, came to result in my now living in the very city in which the film was shot, renting in the very building in which the protaganist lives? If I never saw the film, would I be living here now?

Or, considering reverse time symmetry, if I never moved here, would the film have ever been shot?

Or is that going too far down the rabbit's hole?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Walk

After blogging about Willamette Valley wines yesterday, I broke down and bought a bottle today at Whole Foods - Jezebel Pinot Noir (2006), produced and bottled by Daedalus Cellars, Dundee, Oregon. Screw-off top; no cork. I'm sipping it now. It's not bad at all, and if I get incomprehensible by the end of this post, you'll know that I really enjoyed the bottle.

Some more interesting (at least to me) facts from the 2005-2006 Oregon Agriculture & Fisheries Statistics: did you know that Oregon is the nation's top producer of blackberries, black raspberries, loganberries, hazelnuts, bentgrass, ryegrass, fescue, orchard grass, Christmas trees, and potted azaleas? In fact, Oregon is the nation's only producer of blackberries, black raspberries, loganberries, and hazelnuts, producing 100% of the total U.S. crop production. And we're Number 2 in red raspberries, boysenberries, peppermint, spearmint, hops, snap beans, onions, and dungeness crabs.

I may start a whole new blog consisting of nothing but pictures of splashing water and random Oregon farm statistics.

But anyhow, that's not what today's post was supposed to be about. When I first arrived in Portland, I bought a copy of Chuck Palahniuk's Fugitives and Refugees, A Walk in Portland, Oregon, hoping to get a dark and grotesquely lonely view of the city's underbelly. Not sure if I accomplished that, but today I took my own walk in Portland, and rather than write a book, today's post was instead supposed to offer some pictures of that walk. So here we go.

First, we have a view of Madison Street at NE 24th Ave. looking west toward downtown, taken around 8:00 am this morning in front of the Dharma Rain Zen Center.

Across town later that afternoon, I came across buskers on NW 23rd Ave.

Here's PGE Park at SW 20th and Morrison. I have no idea whose face that is in front of the ballpark.

A couple examples of Flatiron-style triangular buildings on W Burnside Street:

And, sadly, a Burnside Ave. shopowner's memoriam to Portland punk/rockabilly musician Steve Casmano (The Jackals, Sado-Nation, Oily Bloodmen, The Flapjacks). Never heard him, but RIP, Steve, nonetheless. From what I've seen on line, you were loved and admired by many.

Oh, by the way, the picture at the top of this post is NW 12th Ave. looking north at the Fremont Bridge over the Willamette.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Wine Country

The Willamette Valley of western Oregon separates the Coast Range from the darkly forested ridges of the Western Cascades. Both the Coast Range and Willamette Valley formed about 35 million years ago on a slab of old seafloor on which most of northwestern and western Oregon is built.

This week, I got the opportunity to tour the valley, at least portions of the valley from Salem to its mouth at Portland. My work required inspections of two sawmills west of the river, and on Thursday I drove from Portland down Interstate 5 to nearby Tigard, got off onto the SW Pacific Highway (99W), and drove south to Yamhill County and McMinnville for the first sawmill.

McMinnville's claim to fame, at least the one of which I know, is that it's now the home of Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose. As well documented in Scorsese's The Aviator, the plane flew just one time - November 2, 1947. After that, for some reason, it wound up in McMinnville, Oregon, about an hour south of Portland, at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. I didn't have time to go see it, but the museum apparently has a variety of vintage aircraft, some space stuff and even an Imax theater.

It appears that the Willamette climate is well suited for growing grapes, as there are wineries all over the valley. The Spruce Goose Museum even has a wine-tasting room; next month, it hosts something called the McMinnville Wine and Food Classic. According to a copy of the 2005-2006 Oregon Agriculture & Fisheries Statistics that I picked up at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture office in McMinnville, the number of vinyards in Oregon has nearly doubled in the last 10 years, and the number of wineries has more than doubled. Yamhill County alone has 205 of Oregon's 734 vineyards. Pinot noir is the grape of choice, with 12,193 tons produced in 2005, a nearly 25% increase from 2004. Okay, the Willamette may not be the Napa Valley, but don't be surprised if you get a bottle of a local pinot noir from me as a gift next holiday.

But I was there for business, not for drinking local wines or looking at vintage aircraft, so after I was through at the first sawmill I headed further south on Route 99W to Independence, a smaller town (no aviation museum) in adjacent Polk County (fewer vinyards). The Willamette Valley is mostly broad and flat, except for some hills of volcanic basalt produced by flows of lava from the Cascade volcanoes. The hills are used mostly as pastureland and the valley floor for the aforementioned vinyards and for extensive farmlands. From the hilltops, one can see the Coast Range off to the west and the Cascades off to the east.

Finishing my tasks for the day at the second sawmill, I drove the same route (99W to I-5) back home to Portland, but the next day, Friday, I had some more work to complete at both sites and wound up taking the same tour again. This time I returned from Independence on I-5 via Salem, the state capital.

So here's how much of Oregon I've been to so far: much of Portland, every mile of I-5 from the Siskiyou Pass at California to it's crossing over the Columbia River into Washington, and the wine country of the lower Willamette Valley west of the river between Salem to Portland.

It's a start.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

30 Days

So, apparently nutmeg dealers from Connecticut (the Nutmeg State) were notorious for spiking their wares with wooden nutmeg nuts. Thanks for the info, Willy!

Last Friday, I flew back from Portland to Atlanta. The cloud cover was almost the exact opposite of my trip to Portland - the western states from Oregon to Missouri were all clear, but once the snow cover melted off the ground somewhere north of St. Louis, everything clouded up again until we landed in Georgia.

Today, I flew back to Portland, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky from Atlanta all the way to landing in Oregon. A sunny day all over America. The ground was also free of snow until we crossed the Colorado-Wyoming state line, where suddenly the entire earth appeared covered with a white blanket until the Cascades of western Oregon. The Craters of The Moon National Monument of Idaho were visible only by the different shades of white from the crater's shadows. On landing, I got good views out my right-side window of Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Ranier (Hood was somewhere off on the other side of the plane).

"And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills, well the landslide will knock it down," Fleetwood Mac sang in my mind.

I got back in Portland in time for lunch. I'm here for 30 days, until March 15. The house in Atlanta is locked up nice and tight, with several of those new long-lasting, energy-efficient, screw-in flourescent light bulbs installed stratgically around my home in bug-away yellow to deter burglers, and my car parked in front to make it look like someone's home ( I took a cab to the airport).

30 days. Time to start living a life here in Portland, not just play-acting and fantasizing about what it would be like.

Monday, February 18, 2008


In the spirit of same-day holiday bashing as posted here on Valentine's Day, not to mention Thanksgivings past, I present some historical presidential campaign remarks from Joseph Cummins' book, Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns, lifted from Daily Kos:

"Jefferson is a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia Mulatto father." (Federalist pamphlet)

"A base wretch...who is for WAR!" (DeWitt Clinton supporters on James Madison)

"Martin Van Buren is laced up in corsets, such as women in town wear, and if possible tighter than the best of them. It would be difficult to say from his personal appearance, whether he was a man or a woman, but for his large red and gray whiskers." (Davy Crockett)

"Miss Nancy" (Andrew Jackson on James Buchanan)

"He is a horrid-looking wretch. Sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper, and the nightman." (The Charleston Mercury on Abraham Lincoln)

"Tweedledum and Tweedledee" (Woodrow Wilson on Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft)

"If you vote for Nixon, you might go to hell." (Harry Truman)

Of course, all this brings up the question, what's so bad about nutmeg?

Thursday, February 14, 2008


"In the autumn and winter, water freezes into ice. When the warm breezes of spring come, the rigidity is dissolved, and the elements that have been dispersed into ice floes are reunited.

"It is the same with the hearts of people. Through hardness and selfishness the heart grows rigid, and this rigidity leads to separation from others. Egotism and cupidity isolate us.

"Therefore, our hearts must be seized by devout emotion. We must be shaken by a spiritual awe in the face of eternity - stirred with an intuition of the oneness of all living beings and united through this feeling of fellowship."
- "Huan," the 59rd hexagram of the I Ching

Happy Valentines Day, everyone.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

From Weed

Since Peter R. did all the driving from Portland, Oregon down to Weed, California (350 miles), it was up to me to drive all the way back.

It was a long day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

To Weed

The Willamette Valley of western Oregon separates the Coast Range from the darkly forested ridges of the Western Cascades. Both the Coast Range and Willamette Valley formed about 35 million years ago on a slab of old seafloor on which most of northwestern and western Oregon is built.

Today, I traveled the length of the Willamette Valley with Peter R., a colleague from Atlanta visiting Portland. We left the city around 8 am and after getting through the rush-hour traffic headed south on I-5 toward Eugene, Oregon.

In the geologic past, before faulting opened the valley, the Coast Range to the west extended eastward to the Cascades. Today, the valley narrows to the south until Eugene, where the two mountain ranges once again meet.

We continued south on I-5 past Eugene through the merged ranges. Near Roseburg, Oregon, we first encountered the Klamath Range, where the mountains become higher and more rugged. Further south, as we approached Medford, Mount McLoughlin, a large, steep-sided volcano, came into view, promising even more exciting vistas ahead.

In Medford, we stopped for lunch and I had a bowl of what is quite likely the best chicken soup I've ever tasted at the Kaleidoscope Pizzeria and Pub. Continuing on, we gained considerable elevation as we traveled further south still, until we reached the Siskiyou Mountain Summit which, at 4,310 feet, is the highest point on I-5.

Soon afterwards, we entered California. The Klamaths are basically the northern extension of the Sierra Nevadas, offset to the west from the rest of the moutain range. Traveling through the Klamaths in California, Mount Shasta (14,162 feet) soon presented itself, first in teasing glimpses over other mountains, and then finally in plain view.

We stopped for the day in the intriguingly named town of Weed, California. However, it turns out that Weed got its name from one Abner Weed, the founder of the local lumber mill, who bought the Siskiyou Lumber and Mercantile Mill and 280 acres of land in 1897 for the sum of $400.

From various points in and around Weed, we were provided magnificent views of Mount Shasta until the sun finally set.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Ever since I've resumed blogging, I've been meaning to write a "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" post about my activities during the little hiatus. While this isn't that post, I do want to share a brief account of one of those activities, and describe how today's news relates to yesterday's post.

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that I had long been doing volunteer work on behalf of several Atlanta neighborhoods to preserve a local park. The City wanted to pave a bicycle trail through the park, and while I and most of my neighbors were all for bicycle mobility and the recreational opportunities the trail would provide, we didn't want to have to give up our park and the little greenspace remaining in the area, especially when viable alternative routes were available.

Tanyard Creek Park is a beloved neighborhood amenity for recreation and socialization. It's also a green buffer for seriously impaired Tanyard Creek, which suffers greatly from all of the upstream urbanization. The park is also the last remaining undeveloped field from the Battle of Peachtree Creek. Almost 6,500 casualties resulted from one day of fighting there (compared to 4,200 coalition losses over almost five years of fighting in Iraq), leading Union Major General J.D. Cox to state, "Few battlefields of the war have been strewn so thickly with dead and wounded as they lay that evening around Collier's Mill."

So I was quite pleased that after several contentious meetings, after all of the differences between the City's plans and the neighborhood's vision was noisily articulated and amplified, we finally found a common ground for a trail route that met both the City's requirements and the community's acceptance.

The problem was getting all of the various agencies that had regulatory authority over some aspect or another of the trail to permit the alternative route, but to our relief, we got "green lighted" all the way. It appeared that we had managed to save the park, while still supporting the bike trail and the City.

Or so we thought. To our disappointment, we were called to a meeting last January and told that the City had performed its own analysis of the alternative routes, and decided that despite the clear community consensus, to proceed with the route that goes right through our park - the route that they had wanted all along, from the very beginning - and to abandon the alternative route identified.

Needless to say, we were not happy to hear this. When we tried to appeal the decision, we were told that the City's decision was final, and that a binding vote had been taken among City bureaucrats, without any neighborhood representation.

Well, funny thing. Karma can be a real bitch. Today, it was announced that the Georgia Supreme Court ruled this morning that the funding mechanism for the whole Beltline project, including the trail through Tanyard Creek Park, is unconstitutional, basically stripping the project of its funding.

Just yesterday, after seeing Mount Hood loom magestically over the City of Portland, I posted the text of the Po hexagram, including its statement that "those who rule rest on the broad foundation of the people. They too should be generous and benevolent, like the earth that carries all. Then they will make their position as secure as a mountain is in its tranquillity."

A mountain rests on the earth. When it is steep and narrow, lacking a broad base, it must topple over. Its position is strong only when it rises out of the earth broad and great, not proud and steep. The city government of Atlanta, in its prideful arrogance, thought that its will could rise above that of its citizens, only to find karma knocking its steep and narrow peak back down on its ass.

Of course, no one really wins here. There is no "us" and "them," and no "win" and "lose." The park won't suffer the trail, but we won't get a bicycle path at all now. We won't get the Beltline mass transit, and we won't get the new parks included in the Beltline plan. We share in the City's misfortune - their karma is ours, too.

As I said, karma can be a real bitch.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


"The mountain rests on the earth. When it is steep and narrow, lacking a broad base, it must topple over. Its position is strong only when it rises out of the earth broad and great, not proud and steep. So likewise those who rule rest on the broad foundation of the people. They too should be generous and benevolent, like the earth that carries all. Then they will make their position as secure as a mountain is in its tranquillity."
- "Po," the 23rd hexagram of the I Ching

The good weather of yesterday morning continued throughout the day, and I used the opportunity to drive up to Washington Park overlooking the city. The park is located up in the hills visible behind the buildings in yesterday's post, and contains a zoo, a Japanese garden, an experimental rose garden, and the Hoyt Arboretum, and probably other attractions I have not discovered yet. From the vantage point of the park, one can observe the City of Portland in the Willamette Valley below.

The big pink building, sometimes called "The Big Pink Building," is actually the US Bankcorp Building near Portland's Old Town. My office is almost next door, but at seven stories, the building is not visible from Washington Park.

But the real treat of the day was seeing Mt. Hood in the Cascade Range across the valley. As I walked through the rose garden, the mountain first presented itself to me above the nearby condominium and office buildings which compete with one another for views of the mountains.

Walking around, I was soon able to view the mountain from different vantage points (perception depending upon perspective). From the Overlook Trail in the arboretum, the mountain seemed to float above the earth - the mountain above, the earth below - reminding me of Po, the 23rd hexagram in the I Ching, the Book of Changes.

Depending on where I was standing, the mountain appeared either near or far, high or low, hiding behind buildings or towering over them.
Zen Master Dogen once said that mountains walk, and at times it felt that Mt. Hood was walking along its own trail parallel to mine, but separated by the valley between us. Washington Park is connected to 5,000-acre Forest Park, which in turn connects to other parks and wildlife sanctuaries, and contains more than 60 miles of trails. If my short walk through Washington Park's rose garden and arboretum provided such different perspectives of the mountain, how much different would it appear if I were to continue walking along the miles of Forest Park trails?

Our perception depends upon our perspective, and our perspective is constantly changing. Why, then, should we cling to our one-sided views?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Up On The Roof

After some heavy downpours earlier this week, the rain has let up somewhat, reminding me that the blue sky had always been up there somwhere behind all of the clouds, waiting for my patience to allow it to emerge.

I got my camera and went up on the roof of my building and snapped a few pictures.

There's a hot tub on the roof of the building and some guy was up there trying to figure out how to turn on the jacuzzi jets. I found the "on" button, just a non-descript little bump on the wall, and hit it for him as he jumped in.

While he was enjoying his early-morning soak, I continued to survey the surrounding Pearl District from my rooftop.

This might be a great neighborhood if they ever finish building it.

This might be a great day if I ever stop clinging to my desire for the clouds to stay away, and accept the sky for being what it is: up there.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Let's get the obvious out of the way: it rains here in Portland. A lot.

According to NOAA, 5.83 inches of rain has fallen here since January 1, which actually is 0.20 inches less than normal. But a more telling statistic, based not on government data but my own observations, it that it's rained every day. Or at least every day since I've arrived.

Which is not a problem - I'm not complaining. I've bought a waterproof shell and have gotten reasonably accomplished at walking around warm and dry in cold, wet weather, a skill at which I believe I will only continue to improve.

But my point is that it's no secret that it rains here a lot. Everyone knows it. "The rainy northwest" is practically a cliche. So, since it rains so much, I wonder why stores and businesses along Portland's streets don't have awnings.

Wouldn't it make sense for a business to put up awnings, not as a public service, but to attract customers? Pedestrians would tend to loiter under the awning for protection from the rain, and would be more likely to then notice the "Sale" signs, or the window display, or the quality of the merchandise. Sales would skyrocket, the awnings would pay for themselves, and everyone would win.

But instead, every storefront is open to the elements, and pedestrians are totally exposed to the rain as they walk past the businesses. I don't understand.

Maybe they're worried about the city's rampant homeless using the awnings for overnight protection, but that shouldn't be a problem - the awnings could be rolled up at night for the dubious purpose of depriving the needy of shelter.

Maybe they're worried about the wind, but that shouldn't be a problem either, what with modern design and engineering.

Maybe they're afraid that awnings would be an insult to the prowess of the local population at keeping warm and dry in the cold and wet.

Maybe they've never seen awnings, but that doesn't seem likely.

I've got so much to learn . . .

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Don't Blink

Superbowl. Super Tuesday. Fat Tuesday. There's nothing more I can add to what's already been said elsewhere.

My friend Bill sent me a link to this video for the "Color Changing Card Trick." Watch carefully and see if you can figure the trick out.

There's much that we see and much that we think we see, but there's even more that we miss. We see smoke on the other side of the mountain, but don't realize there's fire. We see high beams coming around a curve, but miss the car in the road. We hear the thunder, but ignore the rainstorm.

On the color changing card trick, did you see the gorilla? Tell me, where is Bodhidharma right now? You've stumbled past him without even realizing it.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Prius

I'm exfoliating layers of the Atlanta experience like some sort of self-destructing onion, slowly revealing the Portlandian core inside. But before I get to that core, I first have to go through the brand-name layers, the corporate shells that have to be passed through, or better transcended, before the real identity emerges.

So for now, I'm buying my coffee at Starbucks, my clothes at REI, and my groceries at Whole Foods, and thinking that somehow makes me "Portlandish." I'm staying in Alimony Flats and walking in the Oregon morning rain to work. And this weekend, to top it all off, I rented a Prius. I might as well have been wearing a Dennis Kucinich button for all my former colleagues back in Atlanta are concerned.

The Prius is actually a pretty good car for this town. It's small and agile enough to get around the narrow streets, and the designated parking space at my "corporate condo" is really more a sobriety test than a place to park your car - it's got two concrete columns entirely on my side of the white stripes, and the space is just wide enough for both side-view mirrors to clear, but absolutely no more. The Prius just barely fit, but if I had rented a Jeep Cherokee instead, I would have been swapping paint with the columns. An Escalade wouldn't have even cleared the low ceiling, much less dreamt of slipping into the space.

The fun of driving a Prius is watching the mileage meter. It tops out at 99.9 mpg - can't indicate anything higher - and I frequently pegged the 99.9 mark. But approaching a stop light, the mileage drops down to say, 35.5, then 19, and finally 12, which actually isn't bad for most cars but feels pretty consumptive after 99.9. I took it out onto I-5 and drove from Columbia Blvd. down to Tualatin and back, and successfully got the car up to 70 mph several times, for those who care about such things. But for Portland, where the highway limit is 55 and you'd be lucky to hit 35 on the city streets, it's got all the power you need, and who wants to give the oil companies $100 a week, anyway?

I picked the car up after work Friday and turned it back in this morning on my way to the office. $52, and an eighth of a tank. At those rates, I'll probably do it next weekend, too.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The First Case

When you see smoke on the other side of the mountain, you know there is fire, even though you haven't seen it. When you see headlight beams in advance of a curve in the road, you know there's an oncoming car, even though you haven't seen it yet.
We can't "see" the future, but we can see the signs of arising conditions. However, our minds are often confused and stuck to perceptions that are different from reality. If we can clear our minds of these pre-conceptions, we would be able to better perceive these arising conditions for what they are, not what our minds project them to be.
Zazen is the practice to clear our minds. Zazen is the practice to directly see arising dharmas. Zazen is the practice that allows us to get the closest to "seeing" the "future."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Alimony Flats

This has been my first non-working Saturday in Portland. During my stays here last year, I spent my Saturdays and Sundays in the office, feverishly working against a deadline to get a report out on time. But today, I was able to sleep in guilt free, brew a pot of coffee and watch CNN in my boxer shorts.
I'm staying for the next 30 days in a furnished apartment (my company calls in a "corporate condo," but it's not a condominium and there's nothing corporate about it). It's located in the heart of Portland's Pearl District, a mixed area of expensive condos and apartments for low-income people just north of W Burnside and west of NW Broadway, or as Chuck Palahniuk calls it, "Alimony Flats." The picture above was taken from my living-room window this morning.
The Pearl District has the largest concentration of art galleries in the city as well as restaurants, nightclubs and small shops. However, the only food store in the District is Whole Foods, located six blocks to the south and two blocks to the west of my apartment. I walked there in the rain Wednesday night after wandering all over the Pearl looking for a food store, but all I saw were brew-pubs, galleries, boutiques, salons and sushi. I finally went back to the apartment, found the Whole Foods address on the net, and headed back out in the rain to get my groceries.
That rain continued all day Thursday and Friday, but this morning it turned into a wet snow that didn't stick to the ground. Walking around in the Oregonian weather in my Georgian jacket and sweater, I realized that I didn't look like the other people here in Portland, specifically, they weren't wearing Georgian clothing but instead were walking around wearing ski jackets and mountain gear. They also didn't look as cold and wet as I felt.
So I hiked four blocks to the west and and two to the north to the REI store, and bought myself a better coat for this weather - a Mountain Hardwear Conduit Softshell, as well as a Blur-brand hooded pullover sweatshirt and a pair of "Mount Denali" gloves. Patagonia has a store right behind my apartment building and North Face has a store a couple blocks from here, and I'm told that Columbia Sprotswear has an outlet store in nearby Sellwood, but I selected REI for its greater variety of brands. After I changed into my new, regionally appropriate wardrobe, I walked back to Whole Foods for lunch and then headed over to Powell's Bookstore and bought two books on Northwestern geology, a copy of the Blue Cliff Record, and Chuck Palahniuk's "Fugitivies & Refugees," subtitled "A Walk Through Portland," in which he calls the Pearl District "Alimony Flats."
Alimony must be a thriving business here in Portland, because there's new construction going on everywhere you look in the Pearl. Cranes are everywhere, like this one visible over the roof of my apartment:

Or a Palahniuk puts it, everyone looking to make a new life migrates west, across America to the Pacific Ocean. Once there, the cheapest city where they can live is Portland, so the city is filling up fast with the most cracked of the crackpots, the misfits among misfits.

Apparently now including a 50-something Zen Buddhist from Atlanta, Georgia.