Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A city in the clouds

The nights grow longer now. The solstice has carried us over the apex of daylight hours, is guiding us down to the valley floor. What's down there? It seems strange to be at the beginning of summer and realize that we are in decline. Is that what gives these months such frantic energy? We are reminded with each sunset that the days are fading, their exuberance shortening, our somnolence growing.

Portland is renowned for its rainy months, but driving tonight I was struck anew by a persistently overlooked feature of this city––the clouds. Being only a little more than an hour from the coast and mere minutes from the entrance to the Columbia River Gorge, we find ourselves spectators of the mass migration of clouds of all shapes and sizes, colors and consistencies. Quite simply, they are spectacular.

The clouds fit the temperament of Portland's denizens. We are a hapless lot, locked in step with dreams bigger than our ambitions and besotted with the startling enchantment of this place that will never fully be ours. Portland is a city of dreamers indeed, with all the attendant depression and alcoholism tucked into the folds of bewilderingly genuine creativity and optimism.

I was watching Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back a few weeks ago and was reminded of Lando Calrissian's Cloud City. Here is a man who was a gambler, scoundrel, and thief trying to make it legit as a city administrator of a mining outpost. He was trying to leave a lifestyle behind, but the cutthroat in him had to be resurrected when offered the opportunity to ensure his security by turning in a friend from the old days. Even before Darth Vader kept changing the deal, had Lando's betrayal already lost him the real Cloud City––his dream of being legit?

All you non-Star Wars fans can pay attention again. Portland is a Cloud City of sorts. Local author Chuck Palahniuk called his offbeat tour guide of Portland Fugitives and Refugees because of the double lives that so many of us lead. We often come from all over with demons on our trail, chips on our shoulders, and the elusive dream of a new start clutched against our breasts. This makes for some great art.

It also makes for some spectacular failures. What happens when the dream falls to the cold, hard ground of reality below? What happens when it shatters into a thousand tiny fragments of rejection and regret?

Oh, how painful it is to watch a dream descend from the heights of possibility! See the horde of disgruntled pilgrims in its wake! Do you see those migrant dreamers over the horizon, swaying with the ebb and flow of the tide? In waves, we come and go, realizing the demons on our trail were all along in our heads. The dream could not escape the seeds of nightmare buried beneath the surface of our reinvented selves. So we leave again, in search of a cloud bank sturdy enough to hold our legacies.

The clouds are gathered on all sides tonight, towering behind the West Hills and lurking behind Rocky Butte. They resemble mountains, dark and impassive, peaks reaching for the sky. It could be a brochure for another country, Portland being swallowed up by some granite utopia beyond the Columbia.

But I look at the crescent moon hanging in the sky, and I can't help but laugh at how much it looks like nothing so much as a glowing toenail clipping. The things I want to cut off keep growing, inexorably. They remind me that this pilgrim has a long way to go in finding the balance between hope and disenchantment. I'm just glad I am not alone in the journey, for the days grow shorter.

1 comment:

John Pattison said...

Beautiful, as always, Ramón.

I love the clouds here in Portland. Kate used to say when we first moved to Portland that it was impossible to take a bad picture in this town because the clouds were always providing such a spectacular backdrop.