Just as Daylight Redistribution Time (taking from the daylight-rich part of the day and giving to the poorly-lit hours) ended here in Blue Heron Land, the rains hit. A double-dose of extra darkness for non-morning people. Autumn had been phenomenal this year, and the leaves were almost New England worthy. But that all ended with the rain.
Soggy leaves began clogging the civic plumbing, which brought to mind this piece I wrote more than a decade ago, as a newbie to this town. It was in response to a contest in the local alt-weekly. The subject was “my favorite liquid”. I tied for first place with a tribute to urine (true).
The badly scanned thumbnail is the artwork that accompanied the piece in the alt-weekly. It might have been the only piece of visual art I’ve ever inspired. Thoughtful Girlfriend of the Time hunted down the artist (Dennis Hauth) and procured and framed the original for my birthday.
Historical Note: Henry’s – in the piece below — refers to Henry Weinhard’s, a mid-sized brewery that dispersed a Grape Nuts essence of malted barley over downtown until its long-standing urban brewery closed in 1999. Full Sail Brewery now brews beer under the Weinhard brand.
My Favorite Liquid : Portland Tap Water in Autumn.
Shortly after the autumn rains began in full force, I heard an announcement on the radio from the Portland Water Bureau reassuring customers that their drinking water was safe, even if it was slightly off-color. The color from the autumn leaves choking the storm drains of the city had bled into the water supply. Upon hearing this news I went straight to my kitchen sink and poured myself a glass of city tap water. I held the glass up to the light, swirled it a little as if I was judging a fine wine. Sure enough: a pale yellow, the color of old scotch tape.
Perhaps, I thought, this could be color from the corroded city pipes, but the tinge seemed more golden than rust — more the color one would imagine if you leached the pigment out of the entire bio-mass of the cities’ leaves and diluted it with all the rain of a Portland autumn. I left my doubt behind, I knew I was staring at a magical liquid, a spiritual tea of Portland.
The tea is born of the life-giving rains of the Northwest, vapor blown off the sea and condensed by the Cascades. In this solution, the rain is the solvent and fundamental to the solute. From it springs the lushness of the forests and the spires of tree lined avenues. As these trees withdraw in the chill of the diminishing daylight, the chlorophyll-life of the leaf retreats with all its greenness, exposing the true colors of dying: the pumpkin-orange of oaks, the speckled gold of maples, the blush red of cottonwoods. The winds of change rip the leaves from their branches and blow them about without peace.
In time they settle. In the streets, turned to paste from the tread of Goodyears and Michelins. In the parks, raked and stuffed into man-size plastic bags. In the forests, falling so lightly that even if someone is around to hear, they do not make a sound. And also in ravines where running water can extract their essence and in rain gutters where backed up water can stew their juices.
Brewed in the clogged storm drains of the streets of Portland, drained to the water table, pumped into the waterworks of reservoirs and water towers: it is a grand industrial brewing process, on a scale that dwarfs Bridgeport, even Henry’s, and perhaps approaches Anheuser Busch.
I walked outside with my glass of water, to the misty rain, pelting me like gamma rays. I plucked a couple of tumbler-size leaves from an oak tree and garnished my water with them. While the leaves cold-steeped, I stood in the drizzle, in the damp mood the makes necessary two other formidable Northwest liquids, beer and coffee. When the drink was ready I raised my glass to the trees and beyond to the clouds, and toasted this quintessential liquid of Portland. Skip the Evian and the water purifiers, I said to myself as I gulped down the water, just give me this fluid essence of pure autumn.