Touching down gently in Portland, Oregon on Southwest Flight 488 I stare out the tiny portal to a steady patter of rain falling on the slick grey tarmac. It’s fall time in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather is either raining – or about to rain. I’m in town with my friend Colin, an Oregon native and host for the weekend to check out the undefeated Oregon State Beavers. His brother Ben greets us at the airport, driving us the hour down Interstate 5 into the capitol city of Salem. It’s a bright full moon along the highway; we motor past the angular silhouettes of Douglas firs dripping in silver moonlight, profiled against a cotton night sky.
The enticing waft of breakfast rouses me the next morning, as Colin’s mother prepares a lavish morning spread. A North Dakota native with a zest for scratch baked goods, Ruth is a magnificent cook. Her sole goal for the weekend appears to be to stuff us with as much home cooking as humanly possible. Ever the polite guest, I reluctantly oblige, heaping my plate with scrambled eggs, jalapeno sausage and thick slices of toast slathered with marionberry jam.
After breakfast we saddle up our rental, a bright orange Dodge Charger and charge eastward toward the Cascade Mountains silhouetted against the misty horizon. We speed through grass seed growing country, a peculiar crop that thrives in the poor micro soil conditions found in the area. Charred fields are covered in ash, still smoldering from propane torches the farmers use to burn the remaining straw after seed harvesting. The lush green of the Willamette Valley eerily scorched into apocalyptic hues of ash and cinnamon.
A few winding turns later, we arrive at Silver Falls State park. An old turn of the century logging village, the park features a pair of dramatic 170 foot waterfalls spilling over ancient volcanic basalt cliffs. We hike through the slick rock amphitheaters beneath, domes carved by eons of water grinding away at the crumbly sandstone behind the falls. White plumes cascade overhead, amplified like jet engines in these natural acoustic shells, beauty amidst the deafening drone. A few maples are framed among the towering evergreens beyond, their leaves exploding with brilliant hues of autumn. Oregon never fails to impress.
We briefly tour the rustic Silver Falls lodge before heading home, a fine example of old world craftsmanship. Soaring timber frame ceilings hewn from the forest beyond sit perched on native stone walls, the entire vaulted hall filled with sturdy Myrtlewood furniture. On the ride home, a road sign for fresh baked pies captures our attention, and we veer the orange beast into a gravel parking lot beside the Willamette Valley Fruit Company. Featuring an impressive selection of locally harvested fruit pies, I settle on a slice of their Marionberry, served warm a la mode. A distant cousin of the blackberry, the tart Marionberry is a hybrid fruit developed by the agriculture research department at Oregon State University. Specifically bred to thrive in the maritime Oregon climate, it’s now a staple of the Willamette valley, and nearly all of the US production is grown here. The tart acidity of the berries make a fine pie, and the vanilla ice cream pairs well.
Regrouping at Colin’s house, we gather his brother and another friend, David, and pile into the Charger for the quick drive south to Corvalis for a 7pm kickoff. Huddling around our pumpkin colored chariot, a befitting color for a Beavers game, we put together an impromptu tailgate of grocery store fried chicken and Kona ales. A few beers later, trekking through a collection of red brick buildings on the Oregon State campus en route to Reser Stadium. Reser is bursting at the entrances, as fans swarm the gates with renewed zest given the Beavers historic 5-0 start. Stadium lights tower beckoningly in the night mist, and the soaring grandstands give the place a much larger feel than the 45,000 capacity would belie. Assuming our seats in the grandstands, we’re exposed to a light drizzle, unsheltered from the soaring steel canopy overhead.
Shortly after kickoff, the audible thump of helmets rings in the misty night air. Unlike the rest of their Pac 12 cohorts, Oregon State plays smothering defense. The Utes are stymied each time they get the ball, the energetic crowd noise amplified by the roar of a chainsaw piped in over the loudspeakers during key defensive third downs. Pounded into submission, the Utes cough the ball up 4 times into the waiting arms of the stout Beaver defense. Oregon State keeps it tame on offense, playing conservative and limiting mistakes by backup quarterback Cody Vaz, entering only his second career start. In the stadium, the black and orange crowd wave their arms frantically with each first down conversion, and the Beavers move the ball efficiently enough to win 21-7. Head coach Mike Riley has engineered a remarkable season for the team, and the late season “Civil War” against the Oregon Ducks could very well determine a rare Rose Bowl bid for his squad.
We arrive home that night soggy and cold, shaking the water from our coats when the aroma of several fresh baked pies greets the nose. Ruth has been hard at work while we were out, delicately preparing scratch made marionberry and homemade pumpkin pies. Paralyzed with choice between the two enticing offerings, I make the only reasonable decision: both. Each served piping hot with a dollop of fresh whip cream. It’s the perfect nightcap to a weekend in Oregon. With hospitality like this, I’m ready to come back for a Ducks game…
Thanks to Ruth for all of the wonderful hospitality for the weekend, and adding a few inches to my waistline.
Special thanks to Colin for being my host and tour guide for my first ever college football weekend in Oregon. Looking forward to hitting a Ducks game with you next year man!
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