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History, Beer And Throwing Heavy Things At Portland Highland Games

The Portland Highland Games have become somewhat of a Northwest institution — part Scottish celebration and part beer league softball.

Photo: Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Heavy athletics is but one of many attractions at the Portland Highland Games.

Heavy athletics is but one of many attractions at the Portland Highland Games.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

A large, bearded man sat in a folding chair under the shade of a broken camouflage umbrella. A kilt covered his legs. The nameplate on the back of his Portland Highland Games muscle shirt read: BIGG.

Bigg closed the umbrella and removed the wide-brimmed hat he wore to protect from the sun. Two men had just raised a wooden plank up to a height of about 15 feet and Bigg was prepared to hurl a 56-lb weight over it.

“He’s not Bigg, he’s huge!” yelled a fellow bearded and kilted competitor.

“Do you have to be so mean?” Bigg said, jokingly, before grasping the kettle-shaped weight and slinging it up and over the plank.

Men and women lofting heavy objects in the air is but one of many attractions at the annual Highland Games at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham.

Bigg hurls a kettle over the bar in the men's weight throw.

Bigg hurls a kettle over the bar in the men’s weight throw.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Caber-tossers watch a fellow competitor try to launch a 15-foot pole end-over-end.

Caber-tossers watch a fellow competitor try to launch a 15-foot pole end-over-end.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Throwers watch a fellow competitor.

Throwers watch a fellow competitor.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

The Highland Games here seem part Scottish celebration, part beer league softball. Camaraderie is palpable. Beer is the drink of choice for many attendees.

And the outfits are usually a little too warm for the wearers.

A woman who gave her name as Nora ‘Foxy’ Johansen walked under the shade of a fancy umbrella with a fox-fur bag on her hip. The fox’s name, she said, is Mio.

“I had a coat on too, earlier — a wool coat,” Johansen said. “But it was a little too hot.”

Highland Games couture is something to behold. Here's a look at Mio, the fox on Nora 'Foxy' Johansen's hip.

Highland Games couture is something to behold. Here’s a look at Mio, the fox on Nora ‘Foxy’ Johansen’s hip.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Visitors wait in line for food and drink.

Visitors wait in line for food and drink.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Larry Lopez poses for a portrait.

Larry Lopez poses for a portrait.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

A tall, feathered hat blew in the face of Larry Lopez, a drum major for the Clan Gordon Pipe Band in Tacoma, Washington. He was walking between tents, stopping to pose for pictures in his all-wool, military-inspired outfit.

“The hottest part of my body right now is underneath my feather bonnet because it doesn’t breathe,” Lopez said, pointing to the hat. “Everything else breathes.”

But Lopez, like many others, was there for more than the pageantry or competition. He’s attended countless Highland Games festivals in his life and has been a drum major for more than 20 years.

The games in Portland have gone on for more than 60 years and have become something of a Northwest institution.

Heavy athletics thrill the crowd — something like a medieval track meet.

Heavy athletics thrill the crowd — something like a medieval track meet.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Who doesn't love a well-executed caber-toss?

Who doesn’t love a well-executed caber-toss?

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Perhaps the hardest competition at the Highland Games is the waiting game.

Perhaps the hardest competition at the Highland Games is the waiting game.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

For people like Donald Jacobs, in town from Bremerton, Washington, it’s an opportunity to explore his family’s history.

Clan tents line the entrance to the upper field. Many here are connected to clans via parents or grandparents. Jacobs is part Scottish, part Choctaw, part Dutch. He’s a distant member of Clan Campbell.

Jacobs says visiting festivals like the Highland Games — and dressing the part, as he did Saturday — has enriched his life.

“If you learn about your culture, about your heritage, you’re a better person for it,” he said.

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