National Geographic : 2003 Sep
PORTLAND, OREGON House. In a dark alcove something stirred-three homeless teens, Yoshi, Chickie, and Gremlin. "Got a cigarette?" asked Gremlin. The homeless haunt 97210; compassionate Portland provides food and showers at community centers. Nilsen is too nice to throw the kids out. "Besides," he said, "I got weeds to pull." He meant the park's main threat: invasive exotic ornamentals, especially English ivy, a glossy creeper that strangles native plants and trees. The No Ivy League, a citywide group, is dedi cated to the proposition that ivy is, as Sandy Diedrich, the director, puts it, "the cockroach of the plant world, a primeval, cunning foe straight from the | heart of darkness." Every Saturday teams claw back mats of it. They've liberated more than 25,000 trees-just a start. Some ivy comes from Willamette Heights, a res idential isle of 250 houses cradled on three sides by park, reached on the fourth via the Thurman Street Bridge across Balch Creek. Along winding lanes and ravine edges, early gentry affixed houses to fit the topography: little Victorians and bunga lows enclosed by profuse gardens. Willamette is now a place of long memory, where homes are known by the names of previous owners, and where if anyone moves, it's often to a house nearby. Writer Ursula K. Le Guin has lived for 43 years in the same modest house where she raised three children. In her trib ute to the neighborhood, Blue Moon Over Thurman Street, she wrote: "A street that ends in a forest there is a magic there." In the heights, generations of children have grown up exploring the woods, and a rototiller is thought a fine Mother's Day present. Chet Orloff's backyard Pinot Noir vineyard is tucked away so nicely, he could work it in the nude. When his father died, the family used his ashes to help plant cedars in the park. A while back Phyllis Stevenson opened her back door to see Mac, her cat, being carried off by a coyote-common here and accepted as part of the big picture. The most telling landmark: a small granite foun tain at Thurman and 31st, built in 1917, paid for in part by kids who pitied the workhorses that hauled groceries up. It has a bubbling spigot for people, a trough for the horses, and near the bottom, a drinking spot for dogs and raccoons.