Sunday, August 23, 2009

Road Trip: Oregon - Serenity and Thunder

The church sat on a street corner, an old white wooden building – gothic they called it, though I didn’t see it. It was called the Old Church, called that because it was indeed the oldest church in all of Portland, established in the 1800s. We had found it the same way we’d found the park, by way of the AAA travel guide, and we came as tourists. After negotiating the great difficulty to navigation and parking offered by downtown Portland, my friends and I found ourselves standing before the church, wondering whether we could enter, and which of the many doors to take.

As we sat and looked on, one of the doors creaked opened and a couple walked silently out. Through the opening, I caught a glimpse of parishioners in worship. Of course we should have thought, this being Sunday, that there might be a church service there, but I at least had assumed for some reason that because it was a tourist destination it would not still house a congregation. Besides, it was close to 11:00 by this point, and I had figured that even if there was a church that met there, it would have been out by now. Turning around, we noticed the sign set on the side of the street, advertising the Presbyterian service meeting at 10:00. Of course, we could have gone in at this point, but we felt a little self-conscious, especially since the parishioners we’d seen exit had definitely been dressed better than we were.

While navigating the maze of the downtown streets, we had seen another church of interesting architecture, a heavy stone building that looked like the chapel from some old medieval college town. This building also advertised itself as being from the 1800s and we decided to check it out while we waited for the service to end. We walked up the block to the church, which itself advertised having a Bible Church meeting within its walls at 10:00. Portlanders, apparently, do not believe in early church. We wandered back around the block and came once more to the entrance of the Old Church. Still uncertain of whether we should enter, it was decided that we should wait until 11:30, which was only ten minutes away, and then enter whether they exited or not. 11:30 rolled around, and while a few parishioners had left the building, it was obvious that the service was still on. We marched up to the door of the church, Tyler going first, and quietly entered. Inside, a beautiful chorus was raised, praising God for His amazing love for which He died for us. While not large, the building was nevertheless impressively full. We stood there in the back of the church watching, and eventually Nate and I joined in with the chorus of the verse. It was Nate who pointed out that we had walked in on the end of communion. Around this time, another man entered from off the street and stood in the back with us.
After this, the pastor gave a benediction, blessing all there that they would be filled with the hope of Christ, and then began singing the doxology (interesting to me that it would be after communion) and he then quickly walked to the back of the church to greet the members of his church as they left. He greeted us, and the other man, warmly and invited us to come again if we so wished. We, of course, responded that we were out of state, but his invitation was genuine enough that were I from Portland, I think I would have come back. The words he said were familiar to me, but it seemed his heart was genuinely into his hospitality. This is especially notable considering how underdressed and uncomfortable we were. On first impression, I liked this pastor very much. Had we thought of it, it would have been nice to have attended the whole service. Oh well.
We left the church a short time later and got into Tyler’s car.

Our next destination, which had been recommended to us by our hosts, was Multnomah Falls, the second tallest waterfall in the nation, and Oregon’s tallest. Being in Oregon, the parking for the Falls was beastly, with a long line of cars circling around a tiny parking lot. Lucky for us, a car left its spot right as we were coming up to it and we got prime parking.

An old looking gray stone building sits at the bottom of the trail up to the falls, housing the bathroom, gift shop and information center, as well as a number of coffee and snack stands. After breaking to use the restroom, we ducked into the information center to grab a map and then past up the food stands to head up the trail. We once again had packed sandwiches with us, as well as bottles of water and we carried these with us. I had expected something of a hike before we reached a spot where we could view the falls, so I was struck all the more by its stunning beauty when we rounded a corner of the building and the falls came suddenly into view. Multnomah Falls is a gorgeous double cascade, the water roars down from between green trees on the cliffs far overhead, splashing into a pool and then passing under a bridge to fall again. The scale alone is incredible (and sadly is not captured at all by photographs) and the brown moss covered rocks are entirely beautiful. At the bottom of the first fall, a great gouge has been cut in the cliff side by erosion and all the rocks there gleam in the sunlight. Perhaps my favorite part of all were the little rivulets of white water that split off from the main waterfall to trickle down their own paths.

After gazing at the Fall for some time from this vantage point, we walked up the path further to the bridge that crossed the falls and Nate and Tyler took more footage with their cameras. Even here, some distance from the fall itself, we could feel the mist of water on our faces. Going on from there, we wound our way up the switchback trail that moved up the side one of the cliffs near the waterfall. Even on the steep ground between the switchbacks of the trail, trees and ferns grew thick on the ground. Shortcuts between the switchbacks were explicitly forbidden on this trail, and so we wound the way up. Crowds were thick closer to the bottom, but thinned quickly as we made our way up the trail.

Along the way, we paused to eat our sandwiches at a spot that gave us a view not of the waterfall, but of the Columbia River snaking away below. I don’t know how high we got on the trail, though I know I pushed myself further than my body really wanted to go. Really, I wanted to find the top of the trail, but Tyler decided it was time to turn back and so we headed down. Someday I’d like to return and find the top of the trail. On our way down, I decided to run the trail as much as I could, mainly because this was actually easier than trying to walk down hill, but I had to slow down as I returned to more crowded areas. Running down was fun, but I can definitely say that if I did that on a regular basis my hips would be shot, for I could feel every single impact in them.

Ultimately, we spent about an hour at Multnomah Falls and then returned back to Portland. Before going to Tyler’s grandfather’s house, we stopped at a giant Goodwill that Nate and Tyler wanted to check out. I didn’t have any particular interest in going in, but I enjoyed seeing what books they had. I almost picked up a copy of Rendezvous with Rama which is a Hugo and Nebula Award winner, but thought better of it. For now, I need to conserve my money.