Scratching Beneath the Surface of Your Town

We are moving soon from Portland, Oregon to Austin. The one in Texas.

Sticker graffiti, Austin-style

Sticker graffiti, Austin-style

The reasons we have decided to move don’t really resonate with most people who ask, so we generally tell folks that Austin is closer to Brian’s work. Which is technically true, since he works on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico and Austin is closer to the middle of the gulf than Portland is. And it is true that his commute will be shorter by six or eight hours or so.

But the best reason we have for moving, and to Austin in particular is this: we have never lived there before.

I find the idea of moving to live in a different place a liberating one, but I have discovered that most people just think it’s weird. Flighty. Purposeless. Well, okay then! Another opinion heard. Sticks and stones and all of that stuff about words not hurting me.

Once in a while though, I get a response like I did this morning at the neighborhood grocery store, “Good for you! I’ve never heard of anyone doing that, but I think more people should think about trying it.” This seems more in line with the notion of great American explorers. I prefer those responses since my business card says Explorer. Okay, it doesn’t really say that, but it does say Traveler and Writer, and should also say Nosy Parker, which is the same thing.

Not having been to a place previously, or at least explored it thoroughly, is my number one reason for choosing that spot to travel. And moving is another form of travel to me.

Granted, it’s an expensive form of travel, because you don’t toss a carry-on bag over your shoulder and get on a plane to Austin and call that home. Not if you have two dogs and a spouse and all of the trappings of life in America. We have managed to divest ourselves of a lot of those trappings, but we still have clothes and hiking gear; items we have picked up on our travels; plus kitchen gadgets, lots of books and a flat screen. Since moving is a costly form of travel, we don’t do it every time we get bored with where we live. We have been in Portland for two and a half years, and our home before that was in the mountains of North Carolina, where we spent nearly ten years before moving on.

I am excited about moving to Austin. I have already been on twitter, gathering resources on hiking and bicycling from @VisitAustinTX, @RootsRated and @BackwoodsEquip. Brian and I will explore our new home town like the adventurers we are. Like cultural anthropologists, if anthropologists enjoyed local music and street food and a good hike. Which they probably do. We will drop in at the Continental Club on Sunday afternoons, where the cool, darkened roadhouse interior will deliver on its promise of fantastic music and folks dancing, solo and in pairs, while wearing cowboy boots. Or flip-flops. My kind of place. We will hike up Mount Bonnell to get the best view of the Colorado river that splits Austin in half. Probably we will go experience the bats flying from under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue bridge in downtown Austin. We have received a lot of suggestions for fun stuff to do in Austin, and the one million bats swarming out at dusk in the spring and summer has been the number one idea we’ve heard. It’s probably something that tourists go see, but that is exactly what we will be in Austin, at least for awhile. So yeah, we’ll go see the bats. And we will eat more than our share of tacos and barbecue. Because we can.

Mt.Hood from West Hills.

Portland’s sky-scraper, Mt. Hood

The anticipated joy of exploring our new town got us thinking about the city we still live in for another month or so. Portland is a place of amazing beauty. The Columbia and Willamette rivers link the city to the sea, but also to the small towns that live upriver. Mount Hood is our favorite skyscraper. Forest Park, with more than 5,000 acres, is the largest urban forest in the country, and a quick, easy place to get your hike on without leaving town. Portland is green. Really green. The result of all of that rain that falls from September to June. I won’t lie to you, the incessant rain is a problem for me. A minor problem, in terms of what befalls most people on the planet, but those endless gray days get to me eventually. If Portland’s climate were all year-round the way it is in the summer, everyone would live there. Seriously. Everyone. Portlandians are pretty happy that everyone doesn’t want to live there.

We feel as though we have explored Portland and the surrounding areas pretty well in our two and a half year sojourn here. But recently we panicked a little when we realized we still had things we had not seen and done! So during one of the times Brian was home in September, we hit the road and went tripping. Did you know that we have National Volcanic Monuments in the USA? Neither did I, but Mount St. Helen’s is one of them and is still an active volcano. The US Forest Service deserves a shout-out for putting together an excellent spot to view the mountain’s crater from at the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Spend a couple of hours there to learn about the human side of the eruption, the geology behind it and how nature and biology are repopulating the countryside around it. The observatory is about 100 miles from Portland and very much worth the drive.

A day later we headed south to Crater Lake, the fifth oldest national park in the USA. If you google Crater lake, you will see photos that you’ll suspect have been photoshopped to create that incredible blue. Trust me, that color is real. When Brian and I got out of the car to get our first look at the water of the caldera, we let out a mutual sigh of “Ahhhh…” Simply magnificent. As I often do when I am out exploring, whether it is halfway around the world or an hour from home, I think about the adventurers who came upon these magnificent places a couple of hundred years ago. Probably while seated on the back of a mule. I wish, just for a few moments, that I could be back in that time, peering over the shoulders of those people. I can just about hear them say, “Ahhhh…”

A native New Yorker that I met in Hell’s Kitchen long ago said, “If you visit a city for a weekend, you’ll see everything. If you stay for a few weeks, you’ll see most things. If you live there, you’ll barely scratch the surface.” Time to get back out there and scratch Portland’s surface before I move away.

What is there to see and do in your town that you may have overlooked, ignored or haven’t done since you were in 6th grade? Think like a tourist once in a while and go exploring in your home town. Scratch that explorer’s itch!

Barbara Gabriel

Writer. Day Stealer. Chronic Traveler. Raised along Highway 61 in Minnesota, I ran away to sea & messed about in boats. I curse like a sailor and love travel, food, most people, and a well-fitting pair of boots. I try to combine those any chance I can.


  1. Now you’ve got me itching all over – still so much to see and do! Guess we’ll tuck those away in our future file. Looking forward to the road trip down to Austin, too.

  2. You are always welcome to come back and visit as a tourist.

  3. Portland will miss you but as someone who is adventure minded i can’t wait to see what you have in store for when we visit. Hugs

  4. As a adventure minded person i am so happy for you. I can’t wait until we can be there to see what things you found. Hugs

  5. Ah, what can I say Barb! Another brilliant piece! Your writings move me! You make me want to get up and change — something! Discovering your town and surroundings can take years. Glad you and Brian got to see some of the most spectacular places in Oregon. Crater Lake being one of them. After seeing it on 1992 I have never forgotten the brilliant blue. And yes it is real! No photoshopping necessary! I cannot wait to hear about your journey to Austin and all it’s hidden treasures. I know people who (very) reluctantly moved there from MN when my company opened a facility in Austin. None of them will ever come back to MN. They love it there. I know you will too! Thanks for another great read on this fine Sunday morning.

  6. Couldn’t agree more (about the moving, I mean!) I am a gypsy at heart, but my husband is an old gnarly tree, with roots firmly positioned in his safe, familiar place! One day… I keep telling myself! 😉 Love your writing! x

    • Thanks, Angela. I appreciate you for reading and commenting! As for your ‘old gnarly tree’ of a husband, maybe he would be okay with you taking a solo journey or two, or one with a friend?

  7. I’m sure you’ll love Austin. It’s on my ‘to visit’ list – it sounds like a creative community. I like Portland too – I had chance to see a few of its beautiful gardens several years ago. Good luck with your relocation.

    • Hello Susan, We sure are enjoying Austin so far, especially the music scene. Having absolutely no talent to play an instrument or sing, I truly appreciate those who do and are willing to share with the rest of us. Thanks for reading and hope to see you down here in Austin! I’ve got your site pulled up to have a look myself.

  8. Pingback: A Broad-Ranging Local – Steal Just One Day

  9. Pingback: On Dublin and the Cold Shoulder | Steal Just One Day

Any thoughts? Share them. Let's chat.