Category: All Blog Posts

The Gift of Birds in Print

top on top of original illustrations used in the book

The Gift of Birds is now available in my shop!

The above photo shows one copy on a pile of the original illustrations. I took this to get some Instagram glam in my on-line presence. Probably not most people’s idea of glamorous but I really enjoy turning my writings into illustrated books!

I took a copy to the nearest Little Free Library at 35th and Spring Garden as has become my tradition when I finish a new book. I’ll keep that up until I no longer live in walking distance of a Little Free Library.

Settling for an Old Adage

watercolor forest painting from Upper MacCleay Trail by Alexandra Schaefers

Monday afternoon, it’s 80 degrees as if summer already. I’m walking into Forest Park via Lower MacLeay, one of the most popular trails in the park. It follows Balch Creek and connects with the Wildwood where one can go north away from the city or south to Pittock Mansion and Hoyt Arboretum.

When I lived in NW I walked this trail almost daily. It was such a comfort. Now I hike it a few times a year when I’m in the neighborhood for other things.

I used to be familiar with every section of the trail as a distinct entity mostly based on landmarks of the creek. The place where the creek runs along a wide gravely shore just a tad lower than the trail. The place where one looks down on the creek as it flows between narrow banks and forms a small green pool between sections of rock. The place where the creek is flanked by a high rock wall covered in ferns. The stretch of creek with a wide, flat rock in the middle.

This trail has seen me through some break-ups. I almost feel destined to love it more than any partner but today I feel the same deep familiarity and utter strangeness as when seeing an ex. There are plenty of landmarks I recognize but they are interrupted with unfamiliar foliage, reconstructed bridges and obscured views. I feel like a tourist by the time I cross Cornell.

This section of the Wildwood brings back other memories. I never walked this far when seeking solace, exercise or a daily reconnect with nature. I came here in more adventurous moods. As I walk I feel suddenly and viscerally at home. It’s rush hour. I can hear the constant rush of traffic on the road below but I am filled with peaceful belonging.

Do we have a specific, unchangeable home? A preordained place we belong despite any roots we have set down elsewhere? Is our birthplace our only true home that we shirk off in the name of opportunity and progress? Or do we create home wherever we care enough to get involved, to invest, to explore and appreciate our surrounds, to fall in love with the place and not just our doings?

The latter seems logical. Yet having spent four years in Multnomah Village and another ten working there, having walked all over the neighborhood and it’s parks, having felt great love for its foresty beauty and quaintness I still feel like a traveler. Do I simply need another 4 years? A few more broken hearts to salve on the trails. Given all the “Stop Rezoning” signs my neighbors have staked in their yards it’s possible I need to become wealthy enough to buy an actual house here to be truly welcome by the community. Not that I don’t understand the desire to preserve the sanctity of one’s neighborhood. But surely we are creative enough to do so while also allowing multi-family housing options that allow people of varying incomes to enjoy the beautiful places we want to protect.

I pass the Cumberland Trail which reminds me of my first love. I know a lot of people don’t think Sasquatch exists but I’m pretty sure I dated him. I never asked, I just assumed that as cameras became more prevalent he shaved, moved into a basement studio in the West Hills of Portland and got a job in a medical office. He’s a sensitive soul, maladapted to city life but he loved to wander in the woods as much as I so we got a long for a bit.

We met on the lower MacLeay Trail. Of course we broke up there too. He’s long gone but the Cumberland Trail still leads to his old street.

I hike to the Upper MacLeay and take a right, I’m too hungry to hike all the way to Pittock Mansion but I stop and sit on a bench admiring the gentle way the Oregon grape plants that cover the slope move in the breeze. I listen to an orange crowned warbler, juncos, jays, and pacific wrens all making their distinct songs the way each plant along the tail has its own distinct shapes of leaves.

When I think back to my most innocent self, home is where there are bluebells, daffodils, rhodies and hydrangea bushes, Doug fir, white oak and big leaf maple, the songs of robins, red-winged blackbirds, Bob White quail, jays, flickers, nuthatches and chickadees. Home was where I was expected to be even when I was the only one who remembered.

Expecting myself at a particular address seems to be the extent of my sense of home now. But this feeling of belonging while walking through Doug fir and Oregon grape today is a deeper thing than simply being happy to arrive at my doorstep knowing everything will be as I left it. I want to fit somewhere on a molecular level.

I consider the Chinook, the Cowlitz, the Atfalati who were violently forced from this land even though their molecules and the molecules of the place are one in the same. I feel disrespectful for dwelling on these lofty questions of home, for wanting stolen land to be my rightful, fated place. Being the descendant of settlers I’ll have to settle for the old adage home is where the heart is.

There is no question my molecules belong on earth. Choosing love over ambition and getting to know the bus schedule so I can leave my gas-powered vehicle parked may provide more belonging than navel gazing.

Sasquatch was not good with money and often predicted future homelessness for himself. Every so often I check the internet to make sure he’s still alive. He doesn’t exactly share his data there the way the rest of us do. The first time all I found was a marathon finish time buried in the local paper. Since he loves to run, that seemed like enough.

Book Making!

Here’s a video of me illustrating a book 5 years ago. I use the same illustration technique I’m going to teach in my upcoming artist book class at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Illustrating a book is surprisingly easy if you start all the pages at once on a large sheet of paper.

When I make books for print I illustrate the pages individually but I love this technique because it teaches one how to make creative compositions, have a consistent aesthetic throughout the pages and quickly cuts through the intimidation factor.

My illustration style has developed tremendously since I started making books and I believe that this technique was critical in my development. Also, it’s really fun! I love art techniques that have an unpredictable element in them!

My next greeting card book is actually going to be a revised edition of The Gift of Birds, you’ll get to see that soon.

There’s still some spots in Artist’s Book Illuminated. Hope to see you there!


This is my first time at Riverview Natural Area. It is like a neglected patch of woods behind someone’s house—growing over with ivy, criss-crossed with ill-planned trails. I expect to see a few tree-houses and forts but they’re absent. At least the city took the time to number the trails and mark them with laminated paper stapled to stakes.

I walk into the park feeling out-of-touch, quite a bit like a neglected patch of woods overgrown with the desire to not feel my own reality after heartlessly severing a six-year friendship because it housed an on-and-off romance that functioned like a cumbersome, worn out, bug-infested sofa-bed during a move. It doesn’t fit through the doorway of my future. No one can blame me for not wanting to bring the bugs along.  If I’m honest it doesn’t belong anyway. But the memories. The cozy moments. Then again how many time can one try and fail to be heard?

It’s nice to be out under the trees even if everything seems unremarkable in the light of my mood. I cross a log so wide I just sit on it and swing my legs over. I stand up to find a big, wet spot of fresh bird poop on my camel-colored corduroy skirt. This would normally be funny. A bird-lover is eventually going to meet with bird excrement, it’s required. But it’s squishy and I feel oddly embarrassed about walking the trails and riding my bike home with a poop spot on my skirt, as if people will know and assume it’s my own.

I pour most of my water bottle out while trying to rub the debris out of the soft ribbing in my skirt then keep walking, unconcerned that I might now look like I peed on myself.

The trail starts to head steeply downward toward Macadam and I consider that I just rode my bike up this same slope through the cemetery, that I had to rest a few times along the way and that I may not be happy arriving at the bottom to have to climb all the way back up again.

I turn around, resigned to an unremarkable walk getting acquainted with a new place. Getting up to date on my requisite encounters with bird poop. Doing the best I can to to reckon with the edges of emptiness around a pain in my heart, that will slowly fade in the recognition that the hardest way isn’t always the most noble.

Greeting Card Books Explained

In The Slough, Greeting Card Book by Alexandra Schaefers

I picked up In the Slough from PaperJam Press yesterday, it is now available in my new WooCommerce shop under the “Books” tab. I’m really excited about making more Greeting Card Books. It seemed like a good way for me to be able to do what I love most—illustrate my own nature poems into little books—while also providing something genuinely useful to others.

These days we are rightfully tired of clutter, wary of collecting and gifting unnecessary junk and we want to reduce our negative impact on the environment. Since Greeting Card Books house heartfelt, intimate poems they can be seen and felt as a special gift while using very little extra resources than a traditional greeting card. They are presents for people we love who really don’t want more stuff. They are for people who love to give gifts but want responsible options.

These are printed on 100% recycled paper. I rode my bike to the shop to look over the proof and took the bus to pick up the finished copies. I even rode my bike to the post-office this morning to send out my first orders. I am going to try my best to keep up the alternative transportation theme so these books can have a hint of environmental stewardship added to their value.

I have a 50% off sale to celebrate the opening of my shop and the completion of my second Greeting Card Book, it runs through May 14th. I’d love to know what you think of this idea!


watercolor illustration of crows flying through spring trees by Alexandra Schaefers

The scent of Magnolia blossoms draws me along the trail into their grove. Some trees have already leafed, some have yet to bloom and there’s every stage between.

The blossoms form colored clouds around their home trees and layer against each other, against the green adding a murky aliveness to the quivering air. As if the oxygen molecules are moving to make room for the bursting buds and pin-prick sized rain droplets.

One crow forages alone at the edge of a large grassy slope punctuating the intense green. When I look down the trail I see flashes of other crow slipping between the trees. The cloud cover deepens their black feathers so they look like oil dripping through the woods.

watercolor illustration of a crow at the edge of a green slope by alexandra Schaefers

I sit on a bench here, a picnic table there, reaching into the lace of bird song for the familiars: scrub jays, yellow warblers, dark-eyed juncos, spotted towhees, crows. A woman walks past so engrossed in her phone her steps seem suspended, in slow motion, a Tai Chi practice perhaps. I do not think I exist in her attention or peripheral vision and for that moment I feel how a forest creature might while hiding in its own stillness watching the brash world of humans pass.

The rain drops become larger as I write in my sketchbook so I get on the trail again and head for the picnic shelter wishing I had brought a pen with waterproof ink.

A spotted towhee darts across the trail from one brushy cover to another. It is so funny to watch birds run even in situations where flight would be unwieldy. I feel as though my whole life is the same sort of comic but necessary dash. Somehow this inspires me to photograph the rusty hues of dead salal leaves and draw a few buds from the spray of spring twigs along the trail.

sketchbook drawing of spring maple buds by Alexandra Schaefers

A loud truck rumbles down Burnside. On the drive over I was preoccupied thinking about the importance of generosity in relationships, in art, in work. There are too many small things I am mad about that keep me just as small and ungenerous.

Now I feel almost aquatic in this dense plasma of life, snuggled on all sides in all moments by the world’s exhale and the viscosity of ions exchanging—green things sending ripples of freshness across the air as they turn light and water into fiber.

I came here to admire magnolia blossoms and end up with fish-sense, critter-sense. This seems like a bargain to me. What do I remember about the blossoms anyway? How delicate and soft the petals were even on blossoms larger than my hands.

watercolor painting of a magnolia blossom by Alexandra Schaefers

I get to the shelter but it’s almost time to go.

Can a person decide in one day to stop minding their worries, their frustrations—to let them fuss like small children while one goes about the business of enjoying life anyway?  I will find out. There is no reason today can’t be the day everything changes.

A junco flies in and hops around the rivets of the shelter support. Another lands on the trash and peers into its dark opening. He sees nothing of interest and flies off.