Embracing weirdness and wildness in Portland

Oh, that lo-fi Portland buzz. It’s all under-the-radar, no try-hards please, yoga-or-die, meme-worthy hipster cliches here, but I dare you not to love it.

As something of a pilgrimage spot for things I love the most in life (cheese, beer, bookshops), Portland was already on my radar as somewhere I wanted to go one day. When a family wedding in the city compelled me to book a ticket, I put up zero resistance. My only regret is that I couldn’t spend longer there — in Portland itself, but also in Oregon and the wider Pacific Northwest region.

If you ever think about jacking in your city rental and running off in a van or starting a new life in the woods, maybe give Portland a try first. The powerhouse cities of the US charge forth in pursuit of their own definitions of the capitalist dream. Meanwhile, Portland purrs and pootles along doing its own thing and seems all the happier for it.

“Keep Portland Weird,” is the famous bumper sticker of choice in these parts, and even if it is more of a tourist board slogan these days, it still delivers the goods quite pleasingly. There’s the sense of a conscious opting-out of mainstream big-city life choices, like, for example, sacrificing everything at the altar of unrelenting ambition. But you still get to keep hold of all the soft perks of modern urban dwelling, like, for example, artfully poured lattes and fashionable brunches you have to queue for.

It’s a win-win and a tempting prospect no matter where you fall on the weirdness scale, from hipster to hippie to out-and-out oddball.

The particular oddball in me is a bookshop obsessive who buys books wherever she goes and much faster than she could ever reasonably read them. It’s why Powell’s City of Books, which claims to be the world’s largest independent bookstore was number one on my hitlist when I arrived.

Inside are nine colour-coded rooms spread over multiple floors. My favourite thing to do in bookshops is to read the recommendations written lovingly by sales advisors and choose my books that way. I must have spent hours in there, eventually emerging with gifts for my whole family and myself, including a coffee table book that tells the story of the city through modern cartography called “Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas” by David Banis and Hunter Shobe.

One of the sections in it, entitled “Wildness” talks about the ways in which the city brushes up against nature. Portland is inherently connected to the natural environment, even if that connection sometimes occurs through conflict, the authors argue. Nature surrounds the city, but also finds a way to creep in and spring up inside it.

Portland is weird, yes. But, the authors say, “Portland is also wild.”


Obsession with Powell’s aside, possibly my favourite thing about the city is its proximity to nature. We’re talking waterfalls and forests and mountain views within a half-hour drive of downtown. I’ve got a series of posts in the pipeline to tell you all about them, and about how to get to them, and why you should give the coast some of your time to.

I will tell you about how the Ace Hotel downtown is absolutely the place to be. I will tell you about the poncey coffees I drank. I will tell you about the insane brisket I ate off a paper plate in a random parking lot. I will tell you about the surprising beauty and peace of Portland’s gardens.

But for now, I’m going to tell you by showing you that Portland is categorically weird, and hopefully will remain so for the rest of time.

Also, if you’re passing through PDX airport, don’t forget to admire the carpets — they’re famous!



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