Peak Season: The Cross Spider

Stretched between limbs, across porches, all around gardens and everywhere in between are the Cross Spiders’ fall webs. The spiders are in Portland yards all year, but by fall they are their largest size and are most obvious, spinning big circular webs. Before winter, adults lay their eggs and then die Charlotte’s Web-style, leaving their orphans to grow into the next year’s web slingers. 

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Backyard Rainwater Basics: From Rain Barrels to Cisterns

THE IRONY OF THE PORTLAND water barrel: in the summer, when you could use it to water your garden, it’s empty; in the winter, when you don’t need it, it’s full. In fact, as a storm-water mitigation tool, the single blue barrel under a downspout has fallen out of favor with the water-conservation minded.
     Brad Crowley, owner of Harvest the Sky (harvestthesky.com), a Portland-based company that installs rainwater catchment systems, takes a glass-half-full attitude toward them.
     “Rain barrels are the gateway drugs,” he says. “They are a way to educate you on how much water is coming off your roof. But are you really mitigating storm water? No.”
     Crowley got curious about rainwater harvesting in the late ’90s (“I was one of the crazy people who believed in Y2K.”) He turned it into a business in 2005. The goal of rainwater harvesting, he says, is to return the cycle of rainfall and stream runoff to as natural a process as possible. It used to be rainwater was returned to rivers and streams gradually, “now the rain hits these impervious surfaces and quickly runs into the river,” says Crowley. “That leads to a lot of erosion and more sediment on river beds.” Then things like salmon have a tough time breeding and finding suitable habitat.
     So to expand on that analogy: if the single rain barrel is the gateway drug—the marijuana of storm-water mitigation—what is the cocaine? Continue reading

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Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

WE ARE REALLY GOOD AT SITTING, just not good at sitting still. The idea of logging off, shutting everything down and focusing on nothing but our breathing can be more than a little foreign.
     But research shows that doing just that is one of the best ways to relax, recover and recharge. One recent study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that meditation could reduce anxiety, stress and depression by 22 to 30 percent.
     “What happens in the Pacific Northwest in particular is that the rain comes, people hunker down, tighten up and feel heavy,” says Sadhvi Parananda, a senior meditation teacher and yoga instructor at The Movement Center in NE Portland. “Meditating makes it possible for you to feel some light even in a dark period.”
     If you decide to go to a meditation studio, look for one “that resonates with you, makes you feel comfortable and is not too foreign,” says Parananda. Here are some local spots to consider: Continue reading

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Fat Bike the Oregon Dunes

YOU KNOW THAT SLOW-MOTION DRAGGY FEEL you get when you’re hiking in sand? You don’t have that problem riding a fat bike. A fat bike has ridiculously wide, knobby tires that float smoothly over squishy, temperamental surfaces. Unlike regular mountain bike tires, the large surface area of fat bike tires, combined with low tire pressure, prevent a rider from getting mired down. Plus, the bike’s frame is designed to keep the rider farther back over the rear wheel to increase traction.
     As Portlanders, we’re a morning’s drive from one of the best places to ride a fat bike, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, the largest coastal sand dune expanse in North America. Besides climbing and descending on miles of wind-carved dunes, you’ll also pedal past “tree islands,” marshy plains and transition forests where the ocean-based ecosystem changes to a land-based one. Continue reading

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Make Vodka Infusions


AN EASY WAY to spruce up your summer cocktails by infusing the neutral-tasting spirit with fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs. Conrad Vollmer, bar manager at Smallwares in Portland, says one of his most popular vodka infusions was kaffir lime (in gin and vodka, separately), but there’s no limit to what works, from hot peppers to basil, berries or beets.
     No matter what ingredient you choose to infuse, the process is relatively simple. Begin with a good mid-priced vodka. Vollmer recommends D.L. Franklin Vodka made by Oregon’s Dogwood Distilling. Wash and cut fruit, vegetables or herbs, then stuff ingredients in a mason jar, fill with vodka, cover and store in the fridge. Most infusions are ready in 24 hours, but some require a few more days, Vollmer says. Taste along the way. When the flavor seems concentrated enough, strain the vodka into a clean container and drink. Hover over the numbers above for some ideas to get you started.

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How to Roast Coffee Beans

WALK INTO ANY of the über-serious coffee shops in town, and one of the first things you’ll see (or at least smell) is the professional-grade roaster. All industrial metal and sheer mass, it makes coffee-roasting seem like something best left to the experts.
     Don’t buy it. Not only is it cheap to roast your own beans, it makes for very tasty coffee. Continue reading

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Outdoor Workout: Your City is a Gym

A customizable outdoor workout plan with interactive maps for three routines around town.

FOR YOUR NEXT SWEAT SESSION, it’s time to hit the streets! “There are stairs, benches, parks, picnic tables, cement walls and all kinds of other fitness tools scattered throughout the city, so with a little imagination and creativity, you can easily turn any run, walk or bike ride into a total body cardio/strength workout,” says trainers Kimberly Alexander, co-owner with Melissa Sher of Portland Outdoor Indoor Nutrition and Training (POINT) in SE PDX, who regularly orchestrate outdoor workout for their clients.
In addition to the sheer joy that being outside in the sunshine and breathing fresh air brings you, outdoor workouts come with some research-proven mental and physical benefits as well. One study found that exercising in nature boosted energy and positive engagement, decreased tension and depression, and increased workout satisfaction.
With all that in mind, we turned to the folks at POINT as well as trainer Jennifer Lockwood at Peak Fitness NW to help us put together a series of interactive, urban, outdoor workouts that should prove good medicine this summer. Continue reading

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Peak Season: Crane Fly

That terrifyingly large mosquito showing up this time of year isn’t a mosquito at all. It’s the crane fly (although it is nicknamed the “mosquito hawk” because of its resemblance). Their adult, flying stage lasts only about two weeks. They may not eat this entire time, focused instead on mating. In their pupal stage, they might cause some damage to your lawn as they grow and eat organic matter. On the plus side, they make a big, delicious meal for birds.

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Keeping an Urban Nature Journal

JUDE SIEGEL has been looking closely—very, very closely—at Portland for over 17 years. An artist, writer, and teacher, Siegel is a prolific chronicler of the environment through what she calls urban nature journals.
“When I moved to the city from the country years ago,” says the gentle annalist and author of A Pacific Northwest Nature Sketchbook (Timber Press, 2006), “it was a challenge. I wanted to find beauty wherever I was. So I turned to the wildness of the city—little green spaces, architecture, trails, even alleyways.”
Siegel’s dedication is hard to replicate (by her estimation she has an entire shelf full of finished sketchbooks), but it’s simple to begin your own urban nature journal.
“Most people don’t know anything about drawing or painting when they first come to my classes,” says Siegel, who teaches out of her studio as well as at Portland Audubon and Tryon Creek. “But when you begin to really look at a thing, you learn to see its proportions, the way it catches light and dark, the way it really appears. It’s pretty magical.” Continue reading

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CSA Survival: Tactics and Recipes For Using All Your Produce

TOO MUCH FOOD is the quintessential first-world problem. But for CSA members it can be a problem nonetheless. Community supported agriculture—CSAs—shouldn’t be a source of guilt. You buy a share of a local farm’s harvest; you get great food delivered, usually once a week; and you help support small-scale farming. But guilt is exactly the feeling you get when you have to toss last week’s rotting chard and tomatoes to make room for this week’s delivery. And lord, not more cabbage.
To give all those well-intentioned CSA members a hand, we turned to the CSAs themselves, as well as a couple of chefs who develop recipes for CSAs. They helped us figure out how to stay on top of that weekly bounty. Here’s to a guilt-free, veggie-filled summer. Continue reading

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