Friday, August 24, 2007

Portland's Pearl

For those with Portland pride, the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) in New York put the Pearl District in NW Portland in it’s top 60 great public spaces in the world!

Portland is probably going to hang this from their highest banner for some time to come, but they can’t let it get to their head, as all planning project aren’t nearly as successful as this one was.

Of course just the presence of Powell’s Bookstore makes this the best urban Neighborhood in North America hands down.  Not to mention a brewery.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Silver Star Mountain

If you are looking to the northeast from most locations in Portland, Oregon, your view of one of the spectacular volcanoes of the Northwest, 12,276 foot Mt Adams, is blocked by some tall hills, or low mountains, just outside of Vancouver, Washington. The tallest peak in that hump is called Silver Star Mountain, so named because it has 5 ridges that radiate from the summit.
The neat thing about Silver Star is that it and it's ridges are mostly bald of trees, and the views are worth every pain and ache it takes to reach it. Which is not much pain and ache actually, if you aren't afraid of a few gravel roads, 2 or 3 miles of hiking and a couple thousand feet in elevation.
Let me tell you, though, that all that is more than worth it. Silver Star is the tallest peak for miles around, which means that your range of views is 360, and on a good day you can see every volcano from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Jefferson, as well as Portland and Vancouver laid out before you to the southwest and the Columbia River entering the magnificent gorge through the Cascades.
Before you think I'm overstating this with flowery words, you need to get up there and see for yourself. There are a couple of ways of getting there. State forest road 1200 runs from just north of Washougal, Washington, towards the valley's around Yacolt. You can approach it from either direction. There is also a US Forest road entry from the north on road 41. You can get decent directions either here or here. It takes about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes to get there from Portland.

Silver Star Mountain is too low to be as bald as it is, at only 4300 feet. Almost all other peaks in this region are forested well beyond that elevation. During 1902, the largest recorded forest fire in Washington's history, the Yacolt burn, which was a series of burns that repeatedly scorched over 250,000 acres of forestland. There have been many landslides in the intervening years due to the geology of the unprotected slopes, and the forest has had a difficult time reclaiming the mountain.

We came in from Washougal on the 1200 for our hike. The roads are windy, so you need to follow the directions pretty closely. It's a fairly beat up mainline, but have no fear of missing the trailhead. There's a good wide area to park, and a big sign with a map of the area. You can't miss it. The trail from here is just over 3 miles, and boy is it straight up. There are two sections where you're nose is pretty close to the ground, you might say, so be prepared for the uphill trudge. Amazingly, all the great views are when you're not going up, there are several flat spots to rest your legs with wide open ridges with great views. But the best views are at the top, of course.
You're walking on very old roads, which I imagine haven't been used in decades. We were trying to imagine what vehicles attempted to use those steep roads, but grateful that they've been reclaimed by feet.
The last time we were up there I was horrified to realize I had forgotten the camera, so the picture preceding this post, alas, was pilfered from another site. (Much appreciation to Gresham High School). There are some other good pictures on the other sites I linked to above, and this one too.
Happy hiking!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Degar of Vietnam

Just as the U.S. is trying to open relations with Vietnam, it’s good to remember that this isn’t an open and free, capitalistic and democratic society.  Far from it, and ever since we abandoned them after the Vietnam war, things haven’t been well for the average citizen of Southeast Asia. 

      In North Carolina I interviewed some of the Degar Montagnards who had participated in the 2001 demonstration and also others who witnessed the second mass demonstration by Degar Montagnards that occurred on Easter 2004. The 2004 demonstration however, was planned as a week long prayer vigil but this too was brutally crushed by Vietnam’s security forces. The 2004 Easter prayer vigil actually never commenced as security forces ambushed the Degar Montagnards on the first day, using knives, machetes, clubs and other weapons. Human Rights Watch reported 10 killed including a 80 year old blind woman who was dragged off a tractor and beaten to death. The US State Department reported killings in at least "double digit figures" and I personally spoke to survivors who escaped to the United States who saw hundreds, I repeat hundreds of Degar Montagnards lying unconscious or dead, bleeding on the ground. One witness old me explicitly he saw 35 to 40 dead bodies on one street alone in Buonmathuot.

Not that Christians in SE Asia are the average, but Christians are far from the only oppressed group.

The Degar are indigenous peoples of the central highlands of Vietnam.  The term Montagnard means “mountain people” in French, so saying “Degar Montagnards” is kind of redundant.  Starting in the early 20th century, missionaries worked hard to convert the Degar, and roughly three quarters of the present population are some denomination, protestant or Catholic.  The Degar are to the Vietnamese what the Aborigines are to Australians, although that’s not entirely true, as the Degar share ancestral lineage with the rest of the population, whereas most Australians are ethnically white-European).  But culturally it’s not a bad comparison.

The Vietnamese Communists never trusted the Degars, as their Christian beliefs made them much more likely to support the American troops in the war, and they were driven out after the Americans left.  Mostly they get driven out now in favor of government use of the fertile land for coffee plantations.  Sounds a bit like Darfur, if you ask me. 

(background on Degars mostly from Wikipedia).