29 May 2006

Exploring the Inland Pacific Northwest

It’s been awhile since I have experienced the anticipation of the unknown. That feeling you have when you close the door of the rental car--with only a basic map in hand--and wonder not only how you’re going to find your hotel, but how you’ll get out of the parking lot. That moment of excitement when you turn the corner and catch your first glimpse of a vista that is new and unexplored expanding before you. That is what travel does for me, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s Sicily – or in this case Spokane – that is the featured destination.

I am frequently queried by friends, “You’re going where? Why?” Suffice it to say they just don’t share the same sense of adventure about some of my more obscure trips.

Spokane has been on my list for a while. I don’t know anyone there. I don’t have relatives or former college roommates to visit. But I have been hearing good things about this area of the inland Pacific Northwest. So with a long weekend ahead of me and with the aid of some online budget hunting, I landed in Spokane for three days of discovery.

My first impression of the landscape is that it’s a perfect hybrid of the foliage and green you’re accustomed to associating with a place like Oregon, crossed with the sometimes rocky and barren landscape of southeastern Idaho. One distinctive feature of the region is the Spokane River around which the downtown area encircles. The city has capitalized on this feature by expanding on the riverside park created for the 1974 World’s Fair. You can walk from one end of downtown to the other, and across the river, via several footpaths that offer stunning views of the Spokane Falls.

Much of downtown is a designated historical district, so many of the buildings are rich with architectural details. The South Hill area is home to the ornate Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist and the expansive Manito Park. The 90-acre park has manicured rose and lilac gardens, greenhouses, a Japanese garden, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a duck pond. In good weather, one could easily spend and afternoon here.

25 May 2006

How to Shear a Pack of Alpacas

Alpaca shearing
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
About a year ago, my co-worker Patrick started talking about alpacas. Sure, I’d seen the furry critters on occasion during drives through the countryside, but I knew relatively little about them. Smaller than a llama, native to the Andean mountain range, perhaps related to the camel? That was about the extent of my random knowledge.

Then last fall, Patrick bought four alpacas. I told him that when shearing time came around, I’d be interesting in seeing the process. The date was set, and off I went with my camera in hand to observe.

Monte Bella Ranch is located along a ridge of hills in Sherwood. As the name suggests, it is a beautiful area for both mountain and valley views. Due to typical Oregon spring rains, the animals had been sharing quarters in a neighbor’s barn for a couple of days in order to dry out their coats before shearing.

The crew was quick and efficient. They had an alternating system that allowed over 30 animals to be sheered in about 3 hours. Eddie, the shearer, hails from New Zealand. He spends six months of the year in Oregon working the circuit, and then returns to the southern hemisphere to continue through the shearing season there.

I spent some time bagging and labeling fleece with Mickie, a friend of the family that owns the farm, who had flown out from Florida for the event. She has a beautiful dark-haired alpaca named Hershey that has produced two equally striking offspring named Hugs and Special Dark.

21 May 2006

One Last Look

Setting up the equipment
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Some called it history in the making, to others it was mere spectacle. But whatever your view, I must admit there is some magnetic pull toward witnessing demolition. I had mixed sentiments about the implosion of the Trojan cooling tower, which I wrote about earlier.

But in the end, I had to witness it for myself. I knew the best viewing position would most likely be from the Washington side of the Columbia River. So I drove north to Woodland the evening before the event, and then woke up at 5:30 am on Sunday morning to jockey for a position at the Kalama Marina.

The press was well established along the riverfront footpath, already queuing up people with stories and perspectives to tell. I wondered what the crowd reaction would be. Would there be any clapping or cheering?

In the end, it took less than 10 seconds for over 40,000 tons of concrete to be pulverized into dust. It looked like a collapsible drinking cup--the sort you might take camping--folding in on itself. My digital photography equipment was woefully inadequate to capture the event. But that’s okay, there’s plenty of good footage on the web for those who want to watch the tower fall from every angle.

My wish was simply to observe the implosion firsthand, be a part of the crowd, and take one last look. In the end, it became just a pile of rubble, and I don’t know what practical purpose the tower could have fulfilled if it had remained.

One hundred years ago, the Trojan Powder Company manufactured dynamite at that site. When PGE purchased the land, they retained the name and bestowed in upon the new nuclear plant. So to see the tower imploded by similar explosives seemed a fitting farewell to a landmark that was always visible just around the bend from home.

20 May 2006

Remembering Sicily

Wildflowers at Morgantina
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
One year ago today I was exploring the streets of Palermo for the first time. Recently, I've found myself thinking about my time there...and secretly wishing I could return soon. Spring was the perfect time to visit. I wish I was there now!

14 May 2006

Bring on the Rhubarb!

rhubarb danish
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.

The advent of summer brings the anticipation of local farmers’ markets. I can’t entirely explain my attraction to them, but I have previously written about two that I am particularly fond of in Salt Lake City and Portland.

I had read about the Hillsdale market last year, but never made a visit. So I decided that today was the day, given that a trip to Portland was already on my agenda. After perusing the spring greens and dodging a few wagons full of produce, I settled on selecting something with rhubarb. Baker & Spice, a local company, had three tempting offerings with the aforementioned ingredient. In the end it was the pairing of sassy rhubarb with mellow cream cheese perfectly melded together in the center of danish pastry dough that won out.

The season is just beginning, and on my farmers-market-must-visit-list this summer are: Beaverton, Corvallis, and Eugene. There’s no better time to be living in the Willamette Valley!