Despite living my whole life in where is undoubtedly one of the best places to enjoy outdoor activities, I have never been an outdoorsy kind of girl. There is plenty to choose from around here. Within a two hour drive of Portland/Vancouver there are mountains with snow (not like the mountains in the UAE), beaches (also very different kind of beaches than in the UAE), canyons and desert (that is more UAE-ish). But even within the city limits, there are rivers (Bridgecity!), lakes, forests, rose gardens, waterfalls, and orchards.
Friends, family, coworkers all seemed to spend their weekends and vacations camping, hiking, biking, skiing, and gardening. On the other hand, other than the occasional beach trip, white water rafting adventure, or stroll downtown, I preferred spending my free time in the comforts of the indoors.
In the UAE, the amount of time people spend doing outdoor recreational activities is limited because of the heat. Most activities like camping, swimming, and biking are enjoyed during the cooler months of November-February. This isn’t to say that you won’t find people going camping in May, but they are going to be your more hard-core people (compare this to the ‘crazy loons’ that go camping in Oregon in December).
This indoor lifestyle suited me just fine.
Then I came back to the U.S. for the summer.
All of a sudden, I now have a newly discovered appreciation for the beauty of the nature all around me. Instead of wanting to workout in the gym, I find myself taking walks for miles every day and just taking in what has been around me my whole life and I took for granted. Instead of seeing the flowers as allergy-inducing hazards, I admire the variety of colors even along the highways. Instead of avoiding the rain (basically impossible if you live in the Pacific Northwest – it would be like you are going to avoid the sun in the UAE), I am in awe over the daily (sometimes hourly) weather changes.
Four moments specifically stick out in my mind of times this summer that I caught myself looking around with deep gratitude.
The first one occurred after having lunch one day with a friend, I walked through Portland State University campus. PSU is a commuter university as it is housed smack dab in the middle of downtown Portland. I graduated from PSU and ended up teaching there for seven years. Therefore, a good part of my adult life was spent walking those park blocks between buildings. However, this time when I walked around the campus, I realized just how green the university really is.
PSU park blocks Miller Library
Classroom building (Shattuck Hall) Walkway to Hoffman Hall
It is amazing that it took working at UAE University for the past year to make this realization happen. UAEU with its tan nondescript buildings, palm trees for shade, and cement courtyards is nothing compared to PSU’s unique buildings, grassy parks, and tree lined streets.
I also noticed on a whole new level the amount of PDA and skin showing the students were displaying, but that is probably going a bit off topic.
The second moment happened on one of my many walks around Vancouver (Washington, not BC), I realized just how many different kinds of vegetation one can find just taking a walk. There are various kinds of trees, bushes, shrubs, grass, and weeds, but there is also fruit (some edible and some not) growing wildly.
The awe inspiring part is that I didn’t have to walk out in the country or away from paved sidewalks to see things like apples, grapes, blackberries, blueberries, poison berries (I don’t know their real name – but my mom always told me they were poisonous), and plums. I encountered all of this just walking up to the Starbucks about 2 miles away.
Forest Park (Oregon)
The third moment of nature awareness occurred when I went on hikes with some of my friends. It really made me remember the natural beauty of Oregon and Washington.
Although the next morning I woke up with incredibly sore muscles, hiking on the Wildwood trail in Forest Park and seeing the nature made it totally worth it (Thank you Armando!).
Beacon Rock (Washington)
I have walked around downtown more times than I can count, but usually I spend my time people watching. The people in Portland can be entertaining (Keep Portland Weird!), but this time I focused on the bridges, the water, the boats, the mountain in the backdrop, and the colorfulness of the buildings.
I started writing this post while I was still in the U.S. on my summer break. Now that I am back in the UAE, it makes me appreciate the nature of Portland even more. The UAE has its own special type of nature – different colored sand in each state, date palm trees lining the streets, rocky mountains, and the beautiful Gulf Sea ,but I guess at heart I am a Pacific Northwest kind of girl – I just never knew it.