Sunday, September 14, 2008


Last night we went with our neighbors and their friends from Eugene to Chapman School to watch the swifts fly down into the immense brick chimney to roost for the night."Swiftwatching" is an utterly wierd, utterly Portland thing, where upwards of 2,000 people gather on the hill above the school, in the playing fields and along the streets to watch 40,000, six-ounce birds whirl around and around before descending into their nightroost like a living tornado. Livening this vortex is the occasional raptor. Last night it was one of the peregrines (probably from the nearby Fremont Bridge nest) who barged into the party, hacking and missing her prey in the iddle of the living storm.

Portlanders, being Portlanders, gasp and roar when the falcon arrives and cheer when she departs swiftless, the little insectivores being the crowd favorite. Everyone claps and cheers when the last little traveler drops into the chimney.

It's a lovely, and very odd, scene. Here's a little clip from the Oregon Public TV show "Oregon Field Guide" talking about the swifts and Chapman School:We've done this before and it's always been fun, but last night we did something we'd never done and that was join the crowd of kids (and some adults) slopesurfing on cardboard sheets down the dry grass slope behind the school.

Initially I was terrified that tiny Missy would 1) be frightened by the mob of people sliding, running, laughing and shrieking, cannoning about in a crazy rush, 2) get run over and hurt, or 3) not enjoy the fun. But instead she took to it like a Scotsman to whisky, shrieking "mine! mine!" (which is Missy for "more") as we hustled back up the hill with our cardboard sheet. She slid like an X-Games pro on her tummy, her obsidian bowl of hair and little dress every which way until the cardboard stopped. And then she kept on going, rolling as far as she could go to the bottom, shouting with laughter. The Peeper, an oldtimer at such games, kept trying to find the place to go further and faster, eventually leading me to the far edge of the slope where the grass was "slipperier", or so he said.

Finally with full night we collected towels and binoculars and Peeper's sheet of cardboard (which was the cause of a teary tantrum on the way back to the car, as he claimed was part of his uncarryable burden on that three-block Death March; but upon being asked to leave the Obscure Object of Desire wailed "I will NEVER leave it! I love it forever!!". Sigh...) and drove home to North Portland, leaving a hillfull of Portlanders, young and old, still sliding and laughing and playing in the dark.

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