Knute and I drove over to Zig Zag (yes, that's a town) on Thursday to get our national park passes. Did you know that if you're permanently disabled, you get a free lifetime pass? We felt a little guilty that we were able to walk in unassisted to get them, but when the ranger said the walk up to that waterfall we were thinking of seeing was 3 1/2 miles, our disabilities kicked right in.
Instead of the waterfall hike, we continued on up Mt. Hood to Timberline Lodge (you know, the one where they filmed some of the outside scenes for The Shining). It's a beautiful place, 6,000 feet up, built in the late 1930s as part of Roosevelt's New Deal public works projects. They don't build like that anymore -- so much stone work, wood carving, almost everything built from local materials. After 10 years of living in Oregon, I'm glad I finally went there.
Of course, mountains make great metaphors, so I was contemplating all my virtual mountains as we drove up through the drizzle, above the clouds, into the cold, crisp high altitude air. Health, marriage, parenting, finances, education, career -- there have been plenty of mountains in my life and in yours, I'm sure. But I've enjoyed the journey, learned the trails, built up strength, marveled at the scenery along the way.
So many have mountains that are insurmountable. As Portland, among other cities, struggles with the homelessness problem, people's lives are in turmoil. Like a giant game of Chutes and Ladders, they struggle and scrape and survive, only to have everything they've acquired cleared away, confiscated by the city, along with demands that they "move along."
Citizens all over the country are working to decriminalize poverty and homelessness, but it's a tough road. I feel for Portland's mayor, Charlie Hales, who seems like a compassionate guy. He's under fire from business advocates to keep the streets clear and safe, to make sure "bums" don't interfere with businesses' ability to attract customers. And advocates for the homeless are pressuring him to treat these desperate people with dignity and humanity. He wants to provide alternate spaces for them, but something needs to be done now.
Which side of the mountain are you on? Are you fighting to keep our cities clean and prosperous, to attract business, to appeal to tourists, to spark the economy so business taxes can provide better public services? Or are you fighting for the rights of people in need, without shelter, struggling to find food, seeking a dry place to rest that doesn't have spikes or glass shards or other deterrents?
I don't think those are the only sides to this mountain. I think there's a less-traveled path that some cities are clearing and that more of us need to find. The path that provides tiny homes for everyone who doesn't have any other options. The path that puts mental health funding and drug rehab programs higher on the budget than prisons. The path that encourages park benches that convert to covered sleeping space, that makes use of vacant lots for small communities complete with portable toilets and showers, the path that encourages non-profits to provide community meals.
This path is tougher. It's rockier. It has more seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But people have taken it. Once someone brave and strong, trained and prepared, reaches such a high summit, it's easier for others to follow. Mt. Everest. The 4-minute mile. Flight. The northwest passage. They all seemed impossible. They all required too much. They weren't reasonable. They didn't apply to normal people.
Mankind is always searching for a new challenge, a new mountain to scale, a new dream to achieve, a new wilderness to conquer. Homelessness and hunger are right in front of us. Isn't it time to start climbing?
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.