Saturday, August 7, 2010


Matt and I spent today on the road. As with most of our trips this summer, the theme was touring small town Oregon. We have been hemming and hawing about a dream that we both have in the back of our minds, the same one people have dreamed for 170 years: of a farm in the Willamette Valley. If we do decide to do this, it certainly won't happen until quite a few years down the road, but we can still dream, right? So we've been making it a point recently to drive through small towns in the valley and find potential areas we might like to live near in the future. In early July we took a trip that involved a loop down the Santiam River, and visited Lebanon, Sweet Home, Scio, and Stayton. Today we decided to explore the area south of Portland and east of I-5, which was all new territory to me.

After a late breakfast, we packed some food and made cups of coffee for the road, and set off at about 11:30. We drove south through the suburban sprawl past Oregon City (the true end of the Oregon Trail- there is so much history there that you can almost feel it in the air), and south to Canby, Oregon. It's all great farm country, and along Highway 99E it is full of berry farms and nurseries. The highway parallels I-5, and that country is much more developed than we like, but still beautiful. We always get off the highway and drive through the towns to see what the back neighborhoods are like. My favorite today was Aurora, Oregon, south of Canby. It was founded in the 1850s as a Christian cooperative community, and original auction house and church hall remain, and beautiful old houses everywhere.

We drove to the outskirts of Woodburn, and then turned southeast and drove to Mount Angel. Mount Angel is home to a Benedictine monastery and convent, founded by monks from Switzerland, and the town keeps up a "Bavarian Village" persona, which is slightly kitschy, but also means the small downtown is very attractive. Here is the town Glockenspiel, which chimes on the hour, with music piped out and moving wooden figures representing the history of the town: a Bavarian tuba player, a nun and a monk, a Kalapuya Indian figure, etc.

(Click on the photos to enlarge)

And the police department:

And the beautiful church of St. Mary's Parish, built in 1910:

There was a wedding about to start when we got there, so we didn't get a look inside, except a glimpse of the gorgeous stained glass. I love that the spires are so tall that we could see them well before we entered the town.

We were ready for a bit of a break, so we ate our picnic lunch in the little gazebo at the center of town.

We packed our food so we wouldn't be tempted to stop somewhere and spend money buying lunch. We brought along ice water in our water bottles, hard boiled eggs, some homemade cucumber pickles (I'll post the recipe later), a few tortilla chips, ginger thins from Matt's aunt and some cut up cantaloupe for something sweet, and some great beef jerky that we found last weekend at the Washington County Fair. It's made by Bakke Bros. company, who are in Salem, Oregon and use all local meats in their jerky and are mostly transitioned to using only pastured meats. They make a million different flavors (all of which we sampled at the fair!) and are really nice guys to boot. Their website/online store is here.

After our lunch break we drove to Silverton, which is a really nice little town but touristy, and then turned northeast and drove through some gorgeous land to Molalla. Molalla is definitely a farm town- feed stores, western wear shops, and tack sold everywhere on the main street. I was getting a little zoned out (2 PM, just ate lunch, and I was doing the driving as Matt has been having some pain in his right foot), so we stopped at the city park and spread out our picnic blanket in the shade, and I dozed for a little bit while Matt read The Encyclopedia of Country Living (idyllic, huh? :).

After my power nap, we ate a little more and continued our loop northeast to Estacada, into the foothills of Mt. Hood and out of the open valley. We didn't much care for Estacada itself, but the drive from there back to Oregon City on Highway 224 was beautiful, if very curvy. Matt knew of a fruit stand at a highway junction just south of Damascus, Oregon, so we stopped there and explored the little country store. They had a little nursery and gorgeous flowers in addition to tons of local produce.

We bought two local sweet onions, six Maryhill peaches, a big bag of local green beans, some local spinach, two ears of local sweet corn, and were pleased to find that they also carried some good local meat products at a very good price. We got a good sized package of bacon for $5.99 and a pound of water buffalo burger (!!!) for $4.99-- that and all the produce for less than $25! The bacon is from Mt. Shadow Natural Meats in Dufur, Oregon, about 25 miles from where we bought it. It is advertised as "No Feedlot" but does not specify that it is pastured...The buffalo burger is from Springwater Farms just down the road in Clackamas, Oregon. Obviously growing water buffalo in Oregon is an experimental thing, and they are not grass fed (they prefer other forage, apparently), but when else will we have a chance to see what they taste like?

We made it home around 5:30, worn out but glad to have seen all the territory that we covered. We do have mixed feelings about all the driving, as it is not so kind to the environment, but there is no other way to get around that area in the time we have available to us. I am very pleased that we saw so much beautiful country in so little time, and that we took along what we needed and didn't spend anything extra besides a third of a tank of gas (the groceries are a standard expense for us). It was a little surreal to come around a bend and see downtown Portland right across the river, and the big metropolis in front of us after spending all day in rural Oregon.

Now we've been home for a few hours, put the groceries away and rested a little with a cup of tea. I washed the dishes, and now Matt is sauteing some of the spinach with my homegrown garlic and steaming some green beans for dinner.  I'm feeling very at peace, pleased with our explorations and the simplicity of many of the communities we visited today, and enjoying the feeling of accomplishing so much on a Saturday, and having Sunday ahead of me for home chores, packing, and finishing up some sewing that has been sitting in the basket for too long.

I hope you are also having a good weekend and enjoying the simple things and good food with the ones you love.

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