The Charms of Cherryville, Oregon

My hometown is technically where the zip code of Sandy, Oregon is. And it’s nothing special. How could a dinky former lumber town with tragic architecture and the added sparkle of glowing fast food signs in strip malls, be special? It’s also an “I-can’t-find-a-good-restaurant” kind of bad.

But I live on twenty acres above the Sandy River. It’s fifteen minutes and a world away from Sandy town on a bluff that once had a one-room schoolhouse, a general store, and the Cherryville post office. These all disappeared prior to the 1950’s when the highway was built. No longer did day-trippers motor past Cherryville’s Whiskey Creek to play on Mount Hood. ”Whiskey Creek?”  Yes, local lore says that when horse-drawn carriages hauling folks from Portland to Mt. Hood reached Cherryville, the driver had finished his bottle of whiskey and he’d throw it into the creek.

To enjoy the cuisine fun-land that is Portland, my husband and I drive 45 minutes. But here we do distance in our own way. If we want to listen to the incredible Portland Blues Festival at Waterfront Park in Portland every July, I call my friend Dee at the horse barn. At her ranch, I give my Palomino “Drifter” a treat, load up Dee’s pontoon boat and we pull the trailer to the dock. The slow, hot cruise down the Willamette River to Portland is perfect for popping open a cold Oregon craft beer.

Large, secluded woodland properties and ranch land are typical here. Our version of local media is the busy-body and de facto “mayor of the street” who shares the gossip and comings and goings. Our local ranchers stop by every so often to “do a nose job” on the way to check cows, with impatient, barking Blue Heelers in tow.

We share pies and pots of dinner. We celebrate victories and mourn losses together. When my neighbor catches salmon in the river nearby, he cleans it and knocks on our door with a filet for dinner. Mayberry town. Once when renewing my permit to carry in a town thirty minutes away, the sheriff said, “I know where you live. Out there all you got is farmers and deliverance.” I had to agree, it is a DIY place. A few years back someone was burning barns and cutting trees in an attempt to kill motorists on the highway and create mayhem. We had a neighborhood meeting and nightly patrols were formed. Men hid in trees. The T.V. media dubbed the arsonist “The Cherryville Chicken” because one night when his terrorizing was interrupted, all that was found was a running chainsaw in the middle of road. He was caught a couple of weeks later. No word on his condition. Heh heh.

I am surrounded by cows. I’ve had a black bear at the back door. Deer come every evening to “prune” my struggling rose bushes. Bats fly by going for mosquitoes at dusk. And I love it.

We have an expansive view of Mt. Hood, named “ Wy‘East” by the First People, where Timberline Lodge sits on a southern flank. Craftsmen and artists built this 1934 WPA project using humble local materials from “the mountain” to create a silent paean to hard work and hope. If you are a film buff you might remember the terrifying line “Here’s Johnny! ” uttered by Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” The snowy exteriors were shot at historic Timberline.

All around us are waterfalls, lakes, rivers, hiking and ski trails to explore. Sour cherry, alder, maple and fir to shade us; Christmas Tree and berry farms to sustain us. The open spaces, blue sky, fresh water, clean air all contribute to the feeling of freedom here, essential to the soul. Eagles, blue heron, osprey and turkey vultures share our world. We plant flowers to support a variety of bees, butterflies and humming birds. We feed migrant birds. Our garden pond provides water for wildlife. We cut wood from our land to light our winter fire; essential when the east winds shut down the power and dinner is a can of chili heated on our wood stove, but accompanied with an Oregon Pinot Noir. Truly there is a sense of self-reliance and contentedness to be found here in Cherryville;and my paradise is my home.

Michelle Winner

Michelle embraces the traveler's life. Luxury to her is fishing off Moloka'i, pulling up the Boston Whaler and cooking the fish on a fire on the beach as the stars come out. Credits include Conde Nast, The New York Times, Saveur, Afar and Islands magazine. She is past president of IFWTWA, member of SATW and SP, and a Rotary Foundation Paul Harris Fellow.