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Books
Life with Feathered Tenants
Oregon writer's memoir engages.

Outdoors
Seeking the Source
Surfing the Oregon Coast.

Gardening
Heavenly Shade
Variations on the theme of green.

Morsels
Too Much Coffee, Man
Mini-reviews of area dining spots.

Treadmarks
The Mighty Microcar Eggs on wheels offer big fun in small packages.

 

Life with Feathered Tenants
Oregon writer's memoir engages.
BY JOSEPHINE BRIDGES

Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds by Chris Chester. The University of Utah Press, 2002. Hardcover, $24.95.

CHRIS CHESTER WITH B, HIS HOUSE SPARROW EXTRAORDINAIRE.

Nine years ago, author Chris Chester and his wife Rebecca discovered that a baby house sparrow had fallen from his nest in their eaves. Today, four house sparrows, two finches, three canaries, and two cockatiels occupy the second floor of their Southeast Portland home. This is their story.

After Chester finished the first three chapters of Providence of a Sparrow, a friend encouraged him to send them to the University of Utah Press. "They loved it," Chester reported. "The problem was that I had to write the rest of the book."

It's a stroke of remarkable, even if deserved, fortune when the first publisher to see an author's first book snaps it up, but the good news doesn't stop there. Doubleday purchased the rights to the paperback to be printed in January 2004 even before the hardcover edition — available Sept. 19 — had been released.

Chester reads from Providence of a Sparrow in Eugene at 7 pm on Thursday, Sept. 19, in the UO Bookstore. Or you can journey up to Annie Bloom's Books in Multnomah, where he reads at 7:30 pm on Sept. 26.

"I may be adrift in a limitless universe, but this bird on my shoulder drifts with me," Chester writes of his companion, a house sparrow named B. Fascinated by recordings of his chirping as an infant, B is indifferent to the live or recorded sounds of other hatchlings. Chester writes that B preened "a neck feather with the casual air of a gangster filing his nails while an immigrant shopkeeper coughed up protection money." The unlikely protagonist of this memoir, B pulls hairs out of the author's nose.

B belongs to a species not native to this country and thus subject to persecution even by people who lose sleep over condors and rhapsodize over warblers. Chester can't grasp "the vehemence with which these birds are detested," he writes. "Since my association with B began, I find it increasingly difficult to hate much of anything." The author notes that male house sparrows in search of nesting places "are not above evicting existing tenants, unlike those bashful Europeans who showed such remarkable tact when relieving Native Americans of the drudgery of looking after two large continents." Ouch!

Three other house sparrows, one named Baby, grace the second floor of the southeast Portland home Chester and his wife, Rebecca, share. "Rebecca has often said that B descended from nobility, Baby from hearty peasant stock," he writes. "Baby is big on acquisition. He may have plans for Rebecca's bus passes, earrings, photographs and lists." Baby once offered her a dollar not to go to her Friday night gig as a belly dancer. The other sparrows, PeeWee and Seven, couldn't be more dissimilar, Chester says. Pee Wee, the only female, embodies "supreme contentment." Seven, by contrast, has "the look of someone who's just found out his luggage is missing."

Zebra finches and canaries play supporting roles. Of two finches, he writes: "Without fanfare, Bert retains mastery of the twig while Monday recounts his exploits in song like a Viking in a mead hall boasting to his friends." Canaries Clive and Daphne, "so secretive that they could have been building ICBMs in our bedroom during the day, and we wouldn't have known it," are preparing for the arrival of their son Timmy, a "special needs" child.

The human characters Chester writes about are also vivid. Although the author's mother died long ago, the attentiveness with which she moved in the world is among her gifts to her son. "At her suggestion," he writes, "we made a kind of game out of which one of us could be gentle enough to pet the dog without waking it." Chester also memorializes three family members who struggle with and succumb to illness in the course of a year. On a lighter note, there's a caller who asks "Is this a bad time? You sound like you're in a jungle."

Since the book, two cockatiels, "the rodents of the bird world," have joined the other avian lodgers at the Chester residence. Princess and Harry distinguish themselves by chewing everything from woodwork to electrical wire. Rebecca Chester said she hopes "that people don't read this book and start bringing us all their birds. Of course," she adds, "we would take sparrows with no place to go."

REBECCA CHESTER WITH B.

Regarding the cost/benefit ratio of "a life gone to the birds," the insights clearly outweigh the inconveniences. "Rebecca and I have struggled for a long time against what crawls, scurries, and splats in our midst," Chester cheerfully writes. In return, the power of observation the author has developed — with some thanks due his feathered tenants — makes for powerful prose. His description of B's bites from a spinach leaf that resemble "a kid's drawing of a sawtooth mountain range with plenty of pointy peaks and equally pointy valleys" is moving. I empathize when he admits, "After all this time I understand a tolerable amount of Sparrow‚ but I can't enunciate it." And I wish I had written his knockout line: "The past is always filled with hints."

Chester expresses unabashed tenderness and not a shred of superiority when he writes of the birds who share his life. I believe him when he says, "I'd give B a kidney if he needed one, and surgeons could somehow make it fit." I empathize when he admits, "After all this time I understand a tolerable amount of Sparrow‚ but I can't enunciate it." I giggle when he encounters B's kin in their native England and is tempted to introduce himself by saying, "You don't know me, but I serve your emperor back in the States."

Providence of a Sparrow is ultimately a story not only of the startling and diverse personality traits of little brown birds we seldom take the trouble to notice, but also of people who aren't afraid to shake up their lives when fate presents them opportunities to do good deeds. Best of all, Chris and Rebecca Chester think of themselves as privileged, and see their rewards as extravagant. They make me proud of their species.

 

Seeking the Source
Surfing the Oregon Coast.
BY BEN FOGELSON

"Surfing's the source, man. It'll change your life. Swear to God."
— 12-year-old kid, Point Break

"Don't snake my wave, dude!" I scream as a muscled youth etched with dark tribal tattoos drops in on me, stealing the curve of glassy water I'm trying to ride.

Pulling out the trusty blade I keep tucked in my Speedo for such un-mellow transgressions, I surf up behind the intruder, slash his board-leash and punch him in the jaw to the bottom of the coral surf before I lean back, hang 10 off the nose of my board and give the "hang-loose" sign with my right hand, cutting a wet trail through the blue wave curling above my head. "Kawabunga!" I yell at the top of my lungs.

MARK FRISBEE CHARGES A 10-FOOTER AT OTTER ROCK. WOULD YOU BELIEVE 3-FOOTER?

Actually, during an average surfing session along most of the Oregon Coast it's more like "Dude, if it's a good wave, just drop in. There's plenty of room." Surfing between Florence and Newport is a friendly blast, a far cry from the movies.

The drama described above, akin to scenes from Point Break with "Whoa" Reaves and "I had the time of my life" Swayze, is mostly for our imagination or parts of Southern California and Hawaii, not for the Northwest (though there is one spot called Seaside, where visitors have returned to their car after surfing to find their tires less full of air than how they left them, or their windshield with far more wax than seems appropriate for that shiny sheen). At that locale the locals can be loco, proving that the Hollywood portrayal of territorial surfers isn't all fabricated. "You flew here, we grew here!" A local spouts in the recent surf film, Blue Crush.

But for the most part, the Oregon surf is full of friendly beginners and spots (or breaks) for beginners, with the occasional ripper or soul-surfer sprinkled into the sets like visual instruction manuals.

The South Jetty in Florence is where, back in high school, I didn't catch my first wave. Shivering in my 3- to 5-millimeter-thick wetsuit after being repeatedly flogged trying to harness the whitewater, I could make out black-suited experts on larger waves near the end of the jutting rocks. Advanced surfers praise the jetty's current that floats them along the rocks and out into the deep water again after they catch a wave, saving one's arm muscles from intense fatigue and the occasional thrashing while trying to paddle out and "duck-dive" the whitewater of big breakers. Nevertheless, as a beginner I found the currents at the jetty complicated and the water choppy, making for a hell of a work-out and an intimidating experience, unlike what I found at Newport's Agate Beach and Otter Rock.

Otter's your place if you're a beginner from the valley; it's just a few miles north of Newport and all you do is head west from Corvallis to get there. The beach is long (mostly flat all the way up from Newport, passing Agate Beach along the way), protected by a beautiful half-cove that blocks wind from the north, and the sandy bottom is shaped so that the waves (you hope) peak in one spot and roll down the beach, letting the surfer stay just in front (on the shoulder) of the break.

In Newport you'll find everything you need to get started. At Ocean Pulse Surf Shop, 429 SW coast Hwy, 265-7745, wet suits ($10 for a four-hour session) and beginners' boards ($15 for four hours and soft enough to leave only mild bruises) are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Lessons are $75 for two hours with an instructor who says most people get up their first time after an hour-and-a-half. They're friendly, and might even throw in some surf wax (so your slippery self won't slip off the board) to beginners willing to brave the elements.

Oregon surf's either for true Oregonians or addicts. Folks from the region might brave the low water temperatures (water ranges from the mid-40s in the winter to upper 50s in the summer), occasional high winds or long drives from inland populations. And transplanted California-raised rippers might need an occasional fix so bad that they'll don a thick wetsuit to get it, but for most water enthusiasts it's just too damn cold. And then there's that little thing about the great white sharks.

Greg David Niles, co-owner of Ocean Pulse, took my breath away. Of course I was expecting him to say he'd never seen a shark while out on his thin, tasty, crunchy fiberglass board, but I was wrong.

"I have been chased out by a shark, actually," he laughed. "That was pretty spooky. I was surfing off the river mouth in Waldport in the middle of a salmon run. That's kind of a no-no. I was the farthest one out and everybody's like what the fuck is that? Then I saw all the sea lions jumping up onto the rocks, and there was this fin angling up in the water towards me."

"It was coming towards you?"

"Yeah, it was coming right at me. Of course I totally froze up. It went right under my board. It was not good."

"You think we should put that in the article?" I asked, not wanting to hurt his business.

"Well, Newport's a safe zone. We've never had any incidents here. Besides, it'll free up a few waves."

Niles runs Ocean Pulse with co-owner and board-shaper Tom McNamara who's been shaping under the Ocean Pulse logo for the last 20 years. Interested in getting my own board so a great white shark can swim under me, I asked Niles if McNamara made good boards.

"Yeah, Tom shapes all my boards and I take 'em to Indo and the Islands and everywhere and people are stoked."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, the people who know a good board from a bad board. They say 'Where'd you get that?' and I tell 'em 'Oregon' and they're blown away."

So Oregon's got the waves, it's got the boards and maybe even the sharks, but you're still going surfing. Here's what I think: One of the best ways to enjoy yourself in the chilling churn is to bring people with less experience than you. There's nothing like catching a first-time friend watching you rip up a five-foot wave, and then themselves looking back a second too late and getting hammered by a sneak attack seven-footer. It's enough to give your nose a laughing salt-water enema.

Or you can take the other route and try to hook up with someone more experienced. They've got the car, the rack, the equipment, and they can show you how to catch your first wave. If you're lucky, they'll take you to Otter.   

       

Surf Lingo
Squash-Tail: A board rounded in the rear, providing a quicker turn than a board with 90 degree cuts in back.

Pin-Tail: A board coming back to a point or teardrop shape. Turns muy rapido.

Swallow-Tail: A board coming back to two rails pointing out like a bird's tail feathers. Good for big surf because the rear has more surface area, but functions like a pin-tail when carving hard on one rail.

Dropping In: The initial descent while catching the wave. At the bottom of the drop, you make your first turn. Don't drop in on someone. See "Being Inside."

Being Inside: You're the closest surfer to the peak of the wave, riding the shoulder. If you're heading to the right and someone catches the wave you're riding in front of you, they're dropping in on you. Bad etiquette, and among territorial surfers can lead to curses, vandalism or stitches.

Peak, or A-Frame: A wave building highest in its middle, allowing the surfer to ride it left or right.

Grommet: A kid who's just starting off and super psyched. All great surfers start off as grommets, or groms.

Beach Break: Typical surf for Oregon, sandy bottom, sometimes breaking in unpredictable patterns.

Point Break: Where the swell wraps around a point of land, allowing the wave to repeatedly break in a predictable form and direction.

Soul Surfer: A guy who's so into surfing he doesn't care about the industry or magazines. Black suit, white board, no logos. "They tend to be a little older but you see the young ones popping up now and then."

Mushy Wave: When a wave crumbles at the top instead of cresting over after growing steep. Still good fun for long-boarders.

Ripper: "Anyone who's better than average, making surfing look easy, beautiful."

Kook: Someone who thinks he rips and beats his chest, but he's actually clueless to the whole thing.

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Heavenly Shade
Variations on the theme of green.
BY RACHEL FOSTER

For several days in August, residents of the Willamette Valley were reminded how wonderful it is to have a shady bit of garden. It always seems to be at least 10 degrees cooler when you step out of the sun, and when you are surrounded by green, growing things the effect is amplified. Shady gardens are doubly cooling because they demand less in the way of work in summer than sunny gardens: less staking and dead-heading, less emergency watering. And there are fewer weeds to pull. A shaded bench is one you might actually get a chance to sit on. Shady gardens are perfect for our climate, too. A sunny, Mediterranean-style garden full of lavender, artemisia and succulents is an effective way to deal with summer drought, but it can look dejected and out of place in the Northwest rainy season. A woodland garden can be made almost as drought proof, yet looks perfectly at home in the rain.

SHADE GARDEN WITH FLOURISHING HOSTA.

Most of us would prefer to have a sunny garden too, of course. If you have both sun and shade to garden in, it won't bother you that the shade garden blooms mostly in spring. In summer, you will look to the sunny garden for flower color and be grateful for the cool, green atmosphere of the shade garden. Because shade is so hospitable to leaves, shade gardens also make us appreciate just how many kinds of green there are, and how many variations on a leaf. A patch of gold-striped hakone grass or white-variegated hosta can do wonders for a small garden. Hostas are famously susceptible to slug damage, but this problem is more pronounced in well-watered, closely planted beds than it is in a more open woodland situation where the surface of the soil dries out between waterings. Hostas do need lots of water in spring to develop nice clumps, but by summer they can wait a while for water.

The same is true of quite a lot of plants that grow in the shade. I won't deny that it can take a lot of water to induce plants to grow in the most root-filled soil under trees, and you might as well not bother with certain plants (hydrangeas, astilbe and Japanese primula, for example) unless you can give them ample water through the summer. It is also true that the ultra-fluffy soil that you need to grow the greatest possible variety of shade and woodland plants can dry out all too fast. But staples such as rhododendrons, ferns and hellebores, as well as many Oregon natives, will grow well in more ordinary garden soil. Having slurped up all the water they can get through June, all these plants seem able to enter a state of suspended animation, when an occasional soak is really all they need. Oregon natives that can go weeks without water, once established, include sword fern, Oregon grape, vancouveria and Pacific Coast iris.

Two really tough, easy irises have striking variegated forms worth growing in dry shade. Iris pseudacorus 'Variegata' has gold-striped foliage in spring. The variegated form of Iris fetidissima keeps its beautiful, clean white stripes all year round, even in deep shade. If the shade is not too dense, you could get more color variation by including bronze New Zealand sedges, golden feverfew and lambs ears (Stachys byzantinum) For shade gardens I like the lambs ears named 'Primrose Heron,' with lime green leaves in spring. Silver-splotched pulmonaria will survive almost any amount of drought, but it can look awful in summer unless you give it water. If you can't or won't give it water, just cut off the leaves and wait for the rainy season.

In a place where sunshine is at a premium for much of the year, shade from deciduous trees or vines is the easiest to live with, since you don't have to give up light in winter. Deciduous shade makes a good home for some plants that escape summer drought by going dormant. Most of these emerge and bloom in spring, but there are useful exceptions. Winter is the season for the lovely marbled leaves of hardy cyclamen. Cyclamen hederifolium, the easiest to grow, blooms in early fall, before the leaves appear. Native licorice fern usually adorns the mossy limbs of old big-leaf maples, but it is equally at home on well-drained, humus-laden soil. It melts away as spring turns to summer, emerging again in autumn with fresh, light green leaves.

 

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Too Much Coffee, Man
Mini-reviews of area dining spots.

Perugino
767 Willamette, 687-9102

PERUGINO

This little gem of a new coffee shop is right downtown, in the Gallery district. Its narrow shopfront is subtle and tucked away, so if you don't look closely you might even miss it.

Perhaps that's part of the charm: It feels a little like a secret Italian get-away. For the price of an espresso and a couple delectable pastries, you are transported to a fashionable, more luxurious world.

Much time and energy went into Perugino's decor. The space is dark and expansive, with a brick wall on one side. The rich and curious wood finishings give it a touch of luxury. The owners also run the carpet shop around the corner on 7th, Oveissi and Company. The back half of Perugino is also being used to market some high-end beautifully hand-painted Italian pottery.

I had a panini sandwich, a plum tart and a couple chocolate meringue mushrooms for later. The sandwich was tasty and interesting: peppers, brie cheese and tomatoes. It was, however, a little undercooked for my taste. Another new restaurant still working out the glitches. The coffee menu is extensive and highly recommended, and the pastries were perfect.

6:30 am-midnight daily. $. — Marina Taylor

 

Espresso Roma
825 E. 13th, 484-0878

The most intellectual coffee shop in town. Perhaps at Theo's you could find a soul capable of discussing advanced chess techniques or the social and moral implications of Kierkegaard, but no java-gym in this city takes Roma for sheer volume of brain cells being exercised.

While standing at the large glass case, mere steps from the steps of UO classrooms, drooling at croissants of every variety: plain, almond, apple, strawberry, cream-cheese and ham-and-cheese; the numerous scones; the biscotti: strudels and list of smoothies (all at or near the cheapest prices in town) you overhear talk of theater, music, chemistry, history, mathematics and every other major and minor. The tap of laptop keyboards create a continual low-level chatter. Students plug cords into sockets below monthly revolving art exhibits along walls of three large, needed rooms.

In the back, an outside courtyard finds students consuming caffeine and nicotine beneath building eaves and hanging branches. Greener in the spring, browner in the months that follow.

Fellows at the front counter are happy to let you practice your Spanish as you order. When they speak rapidly to one another after you slaughter a sentence about your triple-espresso and bagel with cream cheese, you get the distinct feeling that they aren't making fun of you.

Coffee strong enough for students.

5:30 am-9:30 pm daily. Starting October 'til midnight daily. $. — Ben Fogelson

 

BARRY'S ESPRESSO & BAKERY.

Barry's Espresso & Bakery
57 W. 29th. 343-6444.

The little coffee and snack shop used to be in the building on the corner of 29th and Willamette, but U-Lane-O razed it to build a new bank. After a quick hiatus, it's open now in the front of the Rite Aid just up the block. There's not a lot of food-preparing room in the new place, the breads and pastries are cooked elsewhere, but the seating is plentiful. There are tables outside, and even overflow seating in the lobby of Rite Aid. You can sit there by the floor-to-ceiling windows and watch Buddy Hazelton, the best cashier in Eugene according to last year's ballots, work his magic. It's a bit of an odd mix, but somehow it works.

Barry's friends and customers haven't forgotten him. The place has been packed since it opened, even to the point of running out of food. Last time I was there, there was a 20-minute wait for chicken noodle soup, and sandwiches were flying out the door. Nice to know a great Eugene tradition remains unchanged.

6:30 am-8 pm M-SA, 7:30 am-5 pm SU. $. — Marina Taylor

 

$ — under seven dollars $$ — seven to 12 dollars $$$ — 12 to 17 dollars $$$$ — over 17 dollars


Morsels is a revolving feature that tries to capture the atmosphere as well as the cuisine of some of our favorite places to eat in and around Eugene, along with food news. Suggestions? Call Ben or Marina at 484-0519 or e-mail marina@eugeneweekly.com

 

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The Mighty Microcar
Eggs on wheels offer big fun in small packages.
BY JIM MOTAVALLI

Nancy Gould, a Newton, Mass., accountant, says she "never met a bad person while driving a microcar." That's important, because you meet a lot of people driving one of these bizarre contraptions that look like escapees from a Robert Crumb comic book.

When confronted with what is basically a putt-putting metal egg on 10-inch wheels, most people shout out questions: "Is it electric?" "Is it a toy?" "Is it legal to drive?" "Can you take it on the highway?"

The microcar is definitely an acquired taste, one that so few Americans acquired back in the day that the cars still look like visitors from another planet, 50 years after they were introduced. The mostly two-passenger and often three-wheeled vehicles enjoyed a brief vogue from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, as pent-up postwar demand for private cars encountered a market in which "real" cars were in short supply. Cheerfully futuristic in design and priced at $500 to $1,000, microcars built in Germany, Italy, England and the U.S. found ready buyers in the years before interstates and equally cheap subcompacts made them obsolete. These days, tiny cars are making a comeback: Mercedes-Benz' two-seat, 66-mile-per-gallon "Smart" car is an obvious descendant.

ON BOB NELSON'S BMW ISETTA, THE NOSE IS ALSO THE FRONT DOOR.

Microcars were streamlined bubbles that could achieve 80 miles per gallon but struggled to reach 50 miles per hour — even downhill. To call them "green" cars is a stretch: Despite up to 80 mpg fuel economy, their two-stroke engines were determined polluters. Some even lacked reverse: Owners enlisted a few friends and simply turned them around. Micros starred as "cars of the future" in movies like Brazil or as nerdmobiles on the TV show Family Matters. Even the names are funny: Goggomobil, Messerschmitt, Fuldamobil, Zundapp Janus, Brutsch Mopetta, King Midget, American Bantam, Scootacar and Peel Trident.

To understand just how different microcars can be, consider the terminally cute BMW Isetta. The entire front of the car forms the only door, so the whole dashboard, including the steering wheel, swings out to admit passengers. Jim Janacek, a Chicago-based TV commercial producer, has his Isetta on the road regularly, and he says that people never fail to break into ribald laughter when encountering the car at stoplights. Nanci Maloney, a Kansas City art teacher, has six Isettas. "I saw an Isetta at a car show and I just started laughing hysterically," she says.

Microcar prices usually start around $1,500 for a "basket case" Isetta and zoom upwards to $40,000 for an ultra-rare four-stroke Messerschmitt Tiger, but hordes of running and driving cars are available in the $10,000 range. In terms of unpretentious affordability and laughs per mile, it's hard to beat a microcar. But watch out. As Maloney warns, "These cars are extremely addictive. When you find one that needs a good home you'll just have to buy it."

I tested two wagons back-to-back in recent weeks, the Audi A4 Avant 3.0 with Tiptronic five-speed automatic and the Volvo Cross Country. Both are all-wheel-drive sport wagons, but the Audi's accent is on sport and the Volvo is a Swedish SUV. They're both very competent, but my vote goes to the Audi. The Cross Country ($36,500), a spin off from the V70, feels very heavy, and suffers from an unusual failing for a Volvo — poor visibility. The mirrors mostly gave me a perfect view of the headrests. By contrast, the Audi ($34,140) was great fun to drive, and spectacularly versatile.


Jim Motavalli is editor of E The Environmental Magazine. Questions or comments? jimm@emagazine.com CONTENT PROVIDED BY THE AUTOMOTIVE MARKETING DEPARTMENT.

 

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