The neighborhood is peaceful after I cross Capitol Highway, just houses with luminous pumpkins glowing in the thick fog alongside outrageous spider webs, comedic skeletons and other Halloween bric-a-brac. I amble north descending into the dark greens, glowing yellows and oranges of Autumn in an old woodsy neighborhood where a staircase leads me through a little gully to Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy. At Hillsdale Park a footpath takes me over Trillium Creek on a narrow, chain-link covered bridge. The fencing has collected an impressive crown of maple leaves under the dark forest making it into an eerie tunnel.
I continue upward to Council Crest and walk through the stately trees layered by distance and fog to the Hilltop intersection before plunging into another swath of urban forest on the Marquam trail, traffic noise steadily picking up as I get closer to Sunset Hwy.
I cross the highway and step into the Arboretum 2 hours and 10 minutes after leaving home. It’s a long walk but ditching my car is a luxury for my quaint spirit.
In the meadow behind the Forestry Center I stop to a rest under a maple. Juncos flit about overheard, yellow leaves dart from their branches into the unknown spaces below, filtering through the limbs then landing on the ground.
Further down the trail dark seed pods create dense rhythms against the embers of glowing leaves on an intricate lace of limbs, everything soft in the damp air. The black Walnut stops me in my tracks; just the leaves on the tips of the branches remain, a delicate, earthy yellow, gracefully arced and sparse like a Phillip Glass composition. Each main branch makes it’s own angled pane in the sky in differing shades of gray.
The gerding maple, with yellow leaves so pale they look partially erased, feels to be halfway between here and eternity while juncos, camouflaged on the trail, dart into the grass.
A week later I will come back, on foot again, and lay down in the grass under the London Plane trees, sinking deep into a day with no agenda. Each junco and robin sailing above, each leaf twirling wildly in the breeze are lost truths stitching themselves back into my being where I lay, half-erased like an ambitious manuscript fading into one line of a richly questionable poem.
I leave home in the mist and walk through Spring Garden Park along the soft trail of cedar chips though the gray-green landscape feeling quaint as though I’m walking through the pastoral countryside before cars were invented. I head to the Village, stop by the restaurant to pick up my paycheck, then wander towards Gabriel Park.
The wooded area along the creek is majestic. It’s layers of colors and textures are especially thrilling in Autumn when the canopy rusts down and bares the rough branches, the dark air of the wood, the diligent generation of soil from leaves and twigs.
It’s so lovely I want to walk along every path in the park. I plot out the best course from the end of Nevada Street and begin to mentally arrange my life so I can do this all the time instead of just enjoying that I am doing it now.
I notice the transgression and focus on the grace of the hills sweeping the skyline, a crow’s silhouette slipping overhead in its usual poetry. Then the sun breaks loose at the edge of the cedar grove where chickadees and Cedar Waxwings talk among themselves above the tiny trace of a creek flowing through the lowest point of the park.
Back in the streets there’s the cacophony of starlings on the electric lines, juncos hopping along a stone wall, chirping in the company of a single crow while robins chuckle loudly across the street.
I didn’t mean to walk to Woods Memorial. Today seemed a good day to be unambitious and just walk around the block but here I am. I descend into the park towards the creek and walk up the Staircase Trail to the empty, forest-lined street on the other side. I’ve never walked this trail to its end and am enchanted with this vacant street; the dense forest on the other side, the grassy area at the trail-head.
The Little Trail takes me back to the creek to head home while the sun comes out over the houses on the street and lights up the yellow leaves in the tops of the Big-leaf Maples.
It is not a small thing to me to be out in the soft gray day, the autumn sun breaking loose in a splendor of green and gold with silvery edges where the rain lays. I live for these moments as though collecting tokens in a game. Each one leveling up my existence from a struggle with a jerry-rigged psychology to a human element entwined with the weather, geologic history, paths of deer and every being’s song.
I don’t notice the day turn to dusk out of the giant windows in the restaurant as I stretch my multi-tasking ability past their fullest capacity; orchestrating people’s food and beverage consumption in a giant obstacle course of dishes, sharp objects, scalding liquids, and elaborate requests that need to be typed into a computer designed to be a cash register—all timed by at least 13 different people’s individual sense of need.
Mostly it goes well but there are moments that try me. It flows best when I make an effort not to judge people according to my own, very personal, set of pet peeves and deflect the same directed at me, but I am no Buddha.
Tonight I tried to stifle a sneeze while taking an order and it came out sounding like a very purposeful and exaggerated clown fart. The lovely, put-together woman at the table gave me a long and icy look of disbelief which seemed to say, “You are much too gauche to even be in my existence and I’m filing a complaint with God as a consequence.” Even absurd moments like this take energy to let slide so I am wound-tight by the end of each meal.
At the end of this shift, in which I failed to notice the day slip into night, it is soothing to walk out into the black air of the rainy neighborhood, the gentle cadence of water meeting the street and roofs, big wet drops plopping out of trees in a melodic timbre. There is no challenge to be here as I walk the narrow streets under trees in the damp night before I make it home.
It’s raining at Woods Memorial. The forest trail is quiet, robins chuckling here and there but mostly just the sound of rain.
It has been a tough week for all of us who support minimum standards for employment. I believe Dr. Blasey Ford, but even if I didn’t I would still be appalled that an unstable, vengeful and paranoid man who can’t answer simple questions coherently now has one of the most important jobs in the country. I would not hire him to look after an unwanted pet.
The trees don’t appear to care. It’s not that they aren’t impacted by the decisions government makes. They have more important things to do that don’t require evolving the kind of thinking centers humans have. They stand in one place breathing, making shade, providing shelter from the rain. This comes in handy for me today. After making one really drippy sketch on the trail I find a dry spot under a lush tree, sit down and make some more sketches on dry paper.
It is strange that someone as educated as a judge wouldn’t take the high-road, wouldn’t admit to drinking too much to remember all of his actions, wouldn’t own the obvious disrespects he expressed in his year-book. I could forgive someone who engaged in ill-repute during high-school and college if they apologized, demonstrated how their understanding of women’s humanity has since evolved and denounced the social structures that allowed such barbarism while expressing gratitude to feminists for diligently moving us all forward.
Politics are not my strong suit in life, nor even my mediocre suit. I still vote, write letters to representatives, occasionally join a march. I’m not convinced this is enough but instead of doing more I draw trees.
I hope you are registered and planning to vote. In the meantime we could consider our other suits in life. How we can be honest about our wrongs to evolve a more sophisticated thinking center. How we can breathe and provide shade for each other.
Above the shadowy deciduous trees the evergreens stand glowing green-gold in the light as the crows fly over in black-gold wings, the robins chuckle, and a morning dove flies quietly into the maple.
I feel unusually content as I walk down the slope toward the flames of trees in yellow leaves. The ground feels soft, as if this is the one place in the world I am invited to be in right now, that there is one specific place I belong in each moment but I am rarely there except this morning.
I walk to the Tupelo trees. They are sporting a few red leaves already and I would love to come everyday to watch them turn.
Along the Maple Trail I listen to a northern flicker and a stellar jay then sit down on a bench to bask in this contentment. I really wear myself out trying to live a genuine life which seems ironic but I once met a woman who had lived for years at an ashram in India; she thought humans would do well to give up the idea that living a life of joy and peace should be easy.
All the trees and plants grow and blossom and fruit—is it ever uncomfortable? Does it strain their peace in spring to produce so much new fiber in such a short period of time? Or so they enjoy the tumult.
I sit down in the Beech Grove to do draw again and decide to cast off the unfortunate ideas I acquired while trying to be enlightened—that making an effort to grow my own life is contrary to living a peaceful life.
The trees know. In Spring they surrender to the hard work of making leaves and when Summer yields to the Autumn chill they surrender to the delicate task of letting them all go, each landing in the exact place it has been invited to rest. Perhaps there is more humility in admitting one wants to live this tumult of life instead of merely transcending it.
Tuesday morning in the arboretum the juncos are busy collecting food off the ground occasionally chasing each other into the bushes. The firs and larches are filled with their calls alongside chestnut-backed chickadees, a brown creeper, stellar jay, song sparrow and a nuthatch. I can’t tell you if it was a red-breasted or a white-breasted nuthatch because I’m just learning the songs and I haven’t spotted the bird to see.
There is another song in the trees that I am not sure of, it could easily be juncos but I want to catch someone in my binoculars singing it to know for sure. I sit on the grass far enough from the trees to be able to look into them without craning my neck and soon thereafter settle into a nap without having solved the mystery.
I came to sketch the beech trees. Instead I want to soak up the sun in the meadow and maybe cry a little for it being the time of year my father died, for all the tiny things going awry in life, the large things going awry in society, and the grand conflict of wanting to be a human who has a retirement plan and follows their passion and helps humanity and lives a simple, earthy life.
The wind picks up and it’s cold like it came in off a snowy mountain slope and just thinking about being in the mountains makes me so happy I feel like it’s ok if this moody nap in the grass is the only thing I accomplish. Ever.
Eventually I haul myself off the grass toward the Beech grove where I sit down to draw. There are not as many bird songs here so I sit and listen to the sound of Beech nuts falling into the cover of dried leaves on the ground—some of them opened like woody stars—and the sound of the green leaves above fluttering against each other in the late summer wind. It is a song that holds all the love of the cold mountains, the preciousness of life and other undecipherable mysteries.
I draw one tree, it’s a slender thing with just a few major branches all growing upwards. A young girl walks through the grove with her grandma, “What does the tree say?” the girl asks. Grandma doesn’t have an answer to this lofty question until the girl points out the tree has a tag on it. “American Beech” Grandma says and they walk on. My pencil feels strangely heavy and I realize my quandary has just as simple an answer. I have a nature to follow, a song that happens on its own when the wind comes through. Someone else can make a tag labeling the kind of life I end up living.
I head down the Maple Ridge Trail at Tryon Creek State Park to the spot where I did some studies yesterday because I realize I need a few more.
I just got back from a one night backpacking trip along the Salmon River. I took my paints but instead of painting I spent a lot of time sitting by the river listening to the world. The deep sounds of the river flowing around the large mossy rocks cleared out my head and gave me space to answer all sorts of questions.
The bugs hovering above the water, zig zaging across the open space, the Lorquin’s Admiral butterflies fluttering from one rock to another then off to a tree branch, the kingfisher passing through in search of a good spot to fish, the ravens and their throaty calls, one landing in an evergreen and hopping up the boughs one by one like a ladder. These were more important than answers anyway.
At night back in my little camp a bat flew past, lurching after bugs with amazing speed and grace. It made dozens of laps through the area, passing above or alongside me each time. Where did this bat spend the day, I wondered enjoying its erratic shadowy presence, trusting its own blind technology to not collide with me even as I moved about to brush my teeth and change into soft fleece for a cozy night in the hammock.
I’m not sure how to get that relaxed and involved in a place with so many humans milling about as at Tryon Creek but I do my best then pack up my studies and wander down the hill to the creek admiring all the orange blossoms in the undergrowth, the bare packed dirt that develops around any interesting feature like a particularly large fallen log or a uniquely shaped tree that begs to be climbed into, the yellow and orange leaves that collect around the edges of rocks in the creek.
The ravens who live here squawk at each other as I cross the park and I wonder if I could ever love the loud and brash antics of people the way I love the antics of birds. A group of women in spandex has been out of sight behind me on the trail for sometime and one of them is bellowing her part of the conversation which is sizable. I stop by the creek to let them pass while an even louder group approaches from the opposite direction, young boys with blood curdling yells.
Society has such a task balancing everyone’s needs, the need to play, the need to be quiet. I wish I could be like the bat who went about its business unconcerned with the human in its way, seemingly content to wake at dusk and hunt for bugs the same as every other day.
I’m walking the trail along Oak Creek toward Fitton Green where the dry grass meadows and the barn swallows perched on the fence in their deep blue wings and forked tails remind me of how I love summer.
I walk to the woods and enter the drama of oaks cloaked in moss baring their long twisted history of vying for light. A deep brown moth flies out of the brush, pirouettes above my head and lands in the leaves along the bank on the side of the trail.
Moths have my heart.
Once I was pulling English ivy off the shed at my brother’s. The ivy held a lot of dead leaves and sometimes one would flutter upward past my face as I yanked the vines loose. It was eerie; these flittering things were the same ochre and shape as dead leaves and yet they seemed alive, soft and defiant of gravity.
I slowed down and paid more attention thinking maybe a sly bird had been living in the ivy but what I discovered were moths. What a magical thing to be so ethereal as to be almost imperceptible. And how mystical to be a part of this, if only in the midst of them as they are loosed from the side of an old shed with the discarded ivy.
Then there was the evening a moth dropped out of nowhere and landed on my coffee cup as I tended to a broken heart. Six months prior I was drawn to his photo from his web-site. It was on a list of recommendations for counseling. I’m going here, I said despite my intellect protesting that one should not go to counseling with a man one is attracted to before even arriving.
I likened that draw to a moth and marveled at its intensity to blind me. To ignore the one-sided nature of our conversations and believe with such convenience that outside the office he was a lonely insightful writer with few possessions and who played upright bass, loved nature, wore fedoras and would be a very sensitive and affectionate partner despite being a hermit.
I considered this might not be accurate, he might not own a single fedora. And while it’s normal to crush on one’s counselor I tried desperately to keep in mind that the fantasy actualized would be a thing going very wrong in life. The moth, however, had its own inexorable agenda.
But eventually he mentioned a wife, a boundary even the moth could respect. I went to the coffee shop after my session to mourn the end of an epic fantasy when the moth perched on my cup, white, furry and poignant.
It must be an intense sensation for the caterpillar to liquefy itself in order to acquire wings. So I let go of my preference to be self-contained over coffee with a moth, embracing beings that willfully scorch themselves on artificial lights as being soft and designed for flight.
Now I climb through the oaks to the top of the ridge and lay on a split log bench in the sun. The cool air and dry leaves along the trail evoke a feeling of eternity infused into each moment and molecule. Its beauty is almost imperceptible but it defies life’s gravity and makes me soft the same way my flighty fantasies do.