A Feathered Omen

At the beginning my fourth year of teaching fourth grade at Highlands Elementary, I was heading heading south on Highway 280 on my first day of school.

Highway 280 is usually blanketed in fog this time of year (summer) and today was no exception. I drive this route over 200 times a year and you develop a certain flow to your commute and I look forward to certain landmarks on my southward journey into San Mateo County. The first is a mile or two after the 280 and 238 split, when the tree line falls away to reveal the wooded rolling hills of the coast range that rise up from that crack in the earth known as San Andreas Fault. As I near Crystal Springs Reservoir, I scan the skies for raptors in general and bald eagles in particular. I have seen bald eagles on only three occasions in the past three years. Seeing an adult bald is always a good way to start my day, especially on the first day of school, but today my morning was baldless.

My next landmarks, in quick succession, were the Father Serra statue on the right, perpetually pointing to the west, the “Flintstone House” (price tag: $3,195,000), and the power tower level with the roadway on Crystal Springs Bridge, where a lone peregrine frequently perches. But this morning the tower was sans peregrine. I will check the tower on my afternoon homeward commute, when the helmeted wanderer is more reliable.

I exited 280 at the Bunker Hill turn off and then headed east, over the flow of Silicon Valley sludge, climbing the hill to the school. Just ahead, a white ghost passed over Bunker Hill Road, heading south. An excellent omen, our local white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus). I parked and as I walk to my classroom I saw the kite alight on top of the tall pine (it’s lookout perch), like a Yuletide angel toping a Christmas tree. This certainly was the omen I had been looking for  This was going to be a great school year.

Scan 103

A white-tailed kite kiting. This species has been making a recovery in California, helped by green belts along roads and highways. The Highlands kites use the greenbelt that parallels Highway 280 as a hunting territory. 




Overlook Hotel, Mt. Hood

I left the course of the mighty Columbia River at the town of Hood River, headed south and wound up the hill towards the tallest peak in Oregon, Mt. Hood.

At  11,249 ft in elevation, Mt. Hood is not the tallest peak in the Lower Forty-eight but it stands out like a white beacon from miles around. The peak is adorned, year round, with snow and it’s upper slopes can be skied all year long.


My destination was as lodge built on the slopes of this not-so-dormant volcano at 5,960 ft. It’s name is the Timberline Lodge. But to many movie fans, it will forever be the Overlook Hotel.

The Timberline Lodge was was dedicated September 28, 1937, by President Franklin Roosevelt as part of the Works Progress Administration that provided labour during the Great Depression.

Overlook 2

A carved panel about a doorway representing a mountain lion.

Skilled and unskilled artisans where used to carve the ornate interior details, reflection the local flora and fauna of the Cascade Mountains.

The Timberline also provided the exterior location for Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining. The lodge portrayed the Overview Hotel which was set in Colorado. The  interiors where all filmed on a constructed set in England. The interior was not based on the real Timberline but on the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. The film was based on the Stephan King book of the same name and the Timberline asked that the “haunted” room, which in the book is 217, be changed to room another number. In the film room 237 is used (a nonexistent room at the Timberline). Since that time, room 217 has become the most requested room at the Timberline Hotel.


The most requested room.


The Apollo sweater that Danny wore in The Shining. From the Kubrick show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.


Columbia River Gorge

I headed out of Stumptown early on Friday morning heading east along the southern side of the mighty Columbia River. I was hoping to avoid the many summer visitors that congregate in this  river valley. In other words, I was hoping to sketch in peace.

At this point the river is a mile across, making most rivers in California appear to be creeks by contrast. North across the river was the state of Washington. This is a major waterway in the same way the the San Francisco Bay and the Great Lakes are.

the falls

Sketch of the very popular Multnomah Falls. For this sketch I filled in the negative spaces with by dark sepia brush pen.

The gorge contains many waterfalls but the most iconic and by proxy, the most visited is Multnomah Falls. The falls fall 620 feet and is broken up into two sections with an arched concrete footbridge that bisects the two. I arrive early enough to get a parking space and avoid the remote shuttle but there were plenty of other tourists was who had the same idea. I did two sketches (resisting the urge to sketch some of the interesting humans that where getting sore necks looking  up at the falls) and then headed eastward up the gorge.


Horsetail Falls, Columbia River Gorge.

After a short stop at Horsetail Falls, I headed to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. A teacher friend who hails from the Pacific Northwest, told me that I had to stop at this hatchery to see a massive fish. His name is Herman the Sturgeon and he is a ten foot white sturgeon who is 70 years old.

White sturgeons are the largest freshwater fish in North America and Herman was just plain huge. I sketched him, attracting the interest of tourists, and I later added lettering with a stencil.

I returned to my car, my next destination was an old lodge on the side of Mt. Hood! It was time to sketch at altitude!



Before returning to the classroom I took a final summer road trip that took me up north to the state of Oregon, with a slight dabble into Washington.

Ashland, Portland, and the Oregon Coast were all destinations on the  1,824 miles I logged on this journey . In two sketchbooks I completed 22 sketches in the week I spent in the Beaver State (in truth two sketches were done in Northern California).

The three sketches included in this post are all field sketches from Stumptown, or Portlandia, or P-town, aka The City of Roses: Portland, Oregon.


Line sketch of Portland’s iconic Union Station Tower, on the west bank of the Willamette River.


The lumberjack (circa 1959) that is the sentinel of North Portland (NOPO).