Finding a Lost Trail

When I arrive at Marshall Park, three Varied Thrushes scatter from the trail-head into the trees. I walk down to the bridge, over the creek, past the playground and up the trail—hopefully on my way to Tryon Creek State Park. Last time I got lost and wandered along a thin, overgrown deer trail with the absurd notion that this trail on a map of walking routes put out by the city, is simply not well used.

As I descend toward the creek I see a trail on the other side I hadn’t noticed before. I realize this is where the path became unreliable before so I cross the wide log over the creek and follow the new trail along the water and up the bank to the road.

A couple blocks away is the trail-head into Tryon. The woods feel open where the creek winds through a wide marshy area, especially without the leaves of the deciduous trees filling in the space.

I walk through the park admiring the maple blossoms and budding leaves springing up right next to the remnants of fall: old seedpods still hanging on the branches, leaves stuck in the cruxes.

Above me, Chestnut-backed Chickadees sing to each other in a cloud of high-pitched chatter. One peeks over a mossy branch before darting off into the high branches. Down the trail I find a sunny bench to have lunch on while listening to a barred owl sing and watching people walk their dogs past. I eat two bread heels out of a bread bag identical to the one my sandwich is in at home in the fridge.

On the way back I startle several more groups of Varied Thrushes, the bold black and white stripes on the underside of their wings striking against the deep greens of the forest. A female perches next to a broken branch right above the trail, her lovely orange breast the exact same color as the inside of the tree where it has broken.

I cross the log again and head up the hill, noticing this part of the trail is in a process of erosion, which makes it unlikely to be a city-sanctioned trail. I pass an unmarked fork farther up and get out my map to check my route. This was my wrong turn. I was supposed to take the narrower trail to the street.

I’m sad that the use of this enchanting path is not good for the creek and all the life it supports, I was looking forward to coming back but I don’t want to wreck one a the few natural areas in the city.

I walk the rest of the way home and eat my sandwich finally. It tastes all the better for having been missed.

here’s a really great article about one effort to add more nature back to cities!

The Exact Shape of the Sky

Ivy Hill was the first place I fell in love with when I moved back to Corvallis. A wide trail loops around the hill on one side ascending to it’s peak where one can stand in the bare meadows and look down on the charming city of Corvallis shrouded in its many trees. In Autumn fog writes intrigue with the silhouettes of twisted trees. In winter clouds lay heavy in their grey mist passing over the ocher grass. In summer the blue sky shapes itself into jagged panes between each unruly branch.

I arrived in Spring and felt as though my heart was the exact shape of the sky above the contours of North Corvallis. I felt so snug back in its familiar hills, creeks, and the forested slough slipping into the Willamette.

Today I am here on a visit after moving away. I head up the trail and miss the deep fir-filled woods that used to flank the sides of the hill before the oak release. The startling beauty of oaks against the skyline should salve the loss but I do not feel quite at home in the restored oak savanna.

Without ambition or binoculars I spot and hear several acorn woodpeckers,

Ivy Hill was the first place I fell in love with when I moved back to Corvallis. A wide trail loops around the hill on one side, ascending its peak, where one can stand in the bare meadows and look down on the charming city of Corvallis shrouded in its many trees. In autumn the fog writes intrigue with the silhouettes of twisted trees. In winter, clouds lay heavy in the grey mist as it passes over the ocher grass. In summer the blue sky shapes itself into jagged panes between each unruly branch.

I arrived in spring and felt as though my heart was the exact shape of the sky above the contours of North Corvallis. I felt so snug in its familiar hills, creeks, and the forested slough slipping into the Willamette.

Today I am here after moving to Portland. I head up the trail and miss the deep fir-filled woods that used to flank the sides of the hill before the oak release. The startling beauty of oaks against the skyline should salve the loss, but I do not feel quite at home in the restored oak savanna.

Without ambition or binoculars I spot and hear several Acorn Woodpeckers, one of the species in decline the oak release aimed to make habitat for. Even the oaks themselves were not doing well with so many evergreens crowding them. I didn’t used to see Acorn Woodpeckers this far east so I assume this project is a success.

I walk up the hill looking for the distinct white spots on the wings of the Acorn Woodpecker as they fly from tree to tree. I stop to admire a group of juncos crossing the trail together. A little grey bird flits about in the branches alongside the trail with a patch of yellow on its sides which I reason is an immature or female Yellow-rumped Warbler.

At the top of the hill I spot a couple White-breasted Nuthatches high in an oak. A Western Bluebird flies by and I look out across the valley wondering if it will spark the same sense of paradise and good fortune it did when I moved here.

It was so peaceful to be in Corvallis the first two years, staying with my folks on eleven acres along the slough, working two days a week at a cafe, riding my bike here and there in no particular hurry, painting in the woods. When I got a full-time job the small town charm vanished instantly. Then they cut down the firs in Chip Ross Park, gathered the debris in piles all across Ivy Hill to burn. I grieved the smoldering coals but knew it was right for them to do it. I also knew it was right for me to be here with my dad at the end of his life and suspected that the snugness of my heart had more to do with him than the hills.

I hear some hollow drumming as I walk down the other side of the hill blinded by the afternoon sun.

I look up into the oak by the trail, shading my eyes to see a Pileated Woodpecker working away, striking in its size and brilliant red crest. I stay and watch it until it slides around the back of the tree, still pecking at the bark.

Illuminated by Gravity

 

This morning I woke up to find a fresh undisturbed blanket of snow on the ground. A rarity in the Willamette Valley, I decided to go to Gabriel Park to admire the trees and riparian brush under the wintry elegance.

I pass through Spring Garden Park, deeply sloped it has attracted many sledders making impressive use of a scant inch of snow.

I stop at the cafe to say hi to my waitress friends who are mostly unoccupied. There are two customers in the restaurant. No matter how little snow is on the ground it’s almost always wet here and the temperature is generally just above or just below freezing so people are terrified to leave their homes. It’s an easy target for humor; Portland acting like an inch of snow is a life threatening blizzard. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no one is really great at driving on ice which is what we most often end up with on the roads.

The traffic creeps slowly along the boulevard as I head up the hill to the park admiring the amazing lace of the trees, a Stellar’s jay quietly perched on the top of a branch and two Anna’s buzzing past me with alarming closeness en route to a feeder.

Gabriel Park is dazzling. The star-like patterns of white on fir boughs, polka dots of white in bare brambles, the structure of each brushy swath of woods illuminated by gravity and snow’s brilliance. Everyone I pass looks buoyant and privileged to be out in the spectacle.

Crows call across the woods to each other and I get distracted from the loveliness. I think about what a headache it will be to paint snow in watercolor. This is the territory of artists who like to paint boat docks and architecture.

I try my best to come back and enjoy the day, to trust the struggle to paint will yield something more interesting than expertise would. Something one could at least cut up and use in a collage.

I manage a couple minutes of contentment then start plotting the most efficient route through my favorite parts of the park to take on days I am too tired or cold for a leisurely stroll. I discover I am already on the most efficient route and consider there is some metaphor in there.

 

 

The next day I walk through Spring Garden Park again on a loop through the neighborhood. The ground is frozen and crunchy under my feet. The cold gray sky feels larger than normal, or maybe nearer, certainly more exposing. There are only little bits of snow left here and there. The robins collect in holly bushes feasting on the red berries.

I’m absorbed today, as I so often am, considering my direction. A serial haver-of-epiphanies, a connoisseur of fresh starts, I will do everything to make my life lovely except actually believe in myself. I imagine living a personally meaningful life instead of a productive one as a long drive on a solid sheet of ice instead of a stroll through one’s favorite parts of the woods. I don’t really need another reason to judge myself so I decide that when it comes to one’s path in life the shorter route won’t do. Perfection won’t do. Adventures like learning to believe in the compass of one’s own heart should not be abbreviated.

A crow swoops out of a bare tree leaving his partner to pick at the moss for bugs in the bare branches.

A scrub jay flies across the street holding something bright orange in his beak, a bright orange ort that perfectly compliments his blue body.

Smaller Adventure

Stephens Creek Natural Area

It’s sunny and I head north on a walk with a tiny grocery list is in my pocket because I love the quaintness of doing errands by foot. I cross Barbur and meander through South Burlingame to the park, past the playgrounds and abandoned tennis court, then up the hill to a quiet street where a shrine of various toys and figurines collect dirt on an ivy covered burm.

I take the stairs down the other side of the hill and watch a Cooper’s Hawk hunt in a neighbor’s yard. He dives into the ivy but comes up with nothing before disappearing around the backside of the house, each movement so quick it is only the distinct stripes on his tail that confide his identity.

When I get to the store I select my groceries by weight so my book bag won’t be too heavy going home. I decide to bring my backpacking pack next time so I can distribute the weight onto my hips and buy more food. To be honest, I feel squeamish about the impracticalities of my idealism. No one is going to be happy to bag my groceries into a deep outdoor backpack, and placing the eggs just right will be an act of unwieldy devotion. In my twenties I refused to buy a car, new clothes or even packaged food. One day I felt I needed some clear tape and it was a moral dilemma. I bought the tape but I’m not sure if I have forgiven myself yet.

I felt like an inspiration for good stewardship but, in retrospect, I was just a grim and neglected shrine to impossible ideals.

I leave the store and take Bertha to a little natural area with a trail along a creek. The first time I came here it was dusk. I locked my bike up along the road and descended toward the creek, raising the ire of a large group of crows. The dark sprawling branches of willows with their odd, obtuse angles in the dim light were enhanced by the birds Hitchcock-like menace.

Now it is midday and there is not a single crow here. There is an Anna’s Hummingbird singing it’s lungs out, robins hopping about the ground listening for worms, a couple Song Sparrows calling. The crows are probably on my roof eating the bread crumbs the neighbor leaves out

I stop and sketch the brambly woods a bit then head home on a foot path that sashays up the hill through the unmanicured neighborhood. Sometimes dirt, sometimes gravel, sometimes the bend of a narrow paved lane or the cracked pavement at the end of a cul-de-sac, sometimes lined by ivy or cut deeply by run-off the path carries me over the hill past blackberries and disheveled gardens, a wooden cart with wheels sunk in the mud, a tarped boat. At the crest there’s some fragrant cedars and at least one Doug fir so tall the wind sings through its needles like the ocean.

At home I put my groceries away, enamored with my tiny adventure. I have a car, so it’s a privilege for me to indulge in these quaint notions of life. It’s a shrine I’m building to a slower and possibly fictional time when people weren’t cogs in a fast moving economy. I don’t want it to become grim with the notion that it’s the right thing to do.

Crows at Stephens Creek Natural Area

Rust and Starlight

 

I trudge up the steep side street on my way to the woods, hoping to walk my way out of a mood I got into after my counselor wondered aloud if I shouldn’t make art into more of, say, a hobby.

I hate the word hobby but I also hate channeling my passion into business ideas so I decided to try this suggestion out. Then, after rearranging my studio, I found myself grieving as if having lost a love. Sobbing often and uncontrollably was a new and alarming thing for me, but I’d always wanted to be one of those heart-feeling types.

After I cross the highway I walk down gravel streets wondering what my former and admired therapist would say about this. He had such a quiet spirit that it radiated a tangible and pithy compassion. As though his life was a large ship with a cracked hull that he beached on the shore and loved as-is instead of repairing. There it filled with seawater, rust and starlight, sinking into the sand and each night’s black sky.

I walk into the woods where the trees are unusually luminous, as though they are also considering starlight as their lost branches break into the soil at their feet.

I approach the park’s mandala and notice a Varied Thrush on the ground. I delight in his dapper orange brows and the deep gray crescent across his breast before he startles and flies into the branches above the circle of flower petals, pine-cones, seedpods and winter berries.

I once met the woman who keeps this mandala. She had a mischievous, uplifting presence; it wasn’t a surprise when she mentioned the local paper gave her the job title, Fairy.

On the way back home I think more about boats and how I see my love of art as a mystical skiff that keeps me afloat in the great unknown more reliably than beliefs or relationships, even if I have some other calling I’ve missed. Sometimes we need job titles for our deeper livelihoods and not everyone understands.

Suddenly I feel my feet in the dirt by the road. The sunshine that is all around empties my thoughts for a few moments. Each step feels to be a gift; I’m here on this one tree-lined street, on this giant planet, in my own pithy aliveness filled with starlight and lost branches.

Half-erased

The neighborhood is peaceful, just houses with luminous pumpkins glowing in the thick fog alongside outrageous spider webs, skeletons and other Halloween bric-a-brac. I amble north through the dark greens, luminous yellows and pungent oranges in the woodsy neighborhood until a staircase leads me through a little gully to the shoulder of Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy. The neighborhood on the other side is new to me and I am delighted to find a footpath that crosses a forested creek on a narrow, chain-link covered bridge. The fencing has collected an impressive crown of maple leaves under the dark forest, turning it into an eerie tunnel that fits the mood of the season.

When I reach Council Crest at the top of the hill the stately trees are layered by distance and fog leading me down the other side where the route plunges into another swath of urban forest, traffic noise 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 to get to a place where I want to go for a walk but ditching my car feels like a luxury of inefficiency.

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, filtering through the limbs then landing on the ground.

Further down the trail dark seed pods create dense rhythms against the embers of leaves on an intricate lace of limbs, everything soft in the damp air. The starkness of the black walnut stops me in my tracks; Each main branch makes its own angled pane in the sky in differing shades of gray and just one leaf on the tips of each branch remains. They are a delicate, earthy yellow, gracefully arced and sparse like a Phillip Glass composition.

The girding maple has yellow leaves so pale they look partially erased while juncos, camouflaged on the trail, dart into the grass as I approach.

I lay down in the grass under the London Plane trees, sinking deep into a day with nothing to hurry to. 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 poem.

Three Walks

Gabriel Park

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.

Woods Memorial

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.

Multnomah Village

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.

Diligently

In the senate justice turns to parody. In the woods rain turns to damp earth without any untruth.

It’s raining at Woods Memorial. The forest trail is quiet, robins chuckling here and there but mostly it’s 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 mow my yard and I have no concerns about how my yard looks.

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 same kind of thinking centers that 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 his actions, and wouldn’t own the disrespectful mewlings he expressed in his year-book. I could forgive someone who engaged in ill-repute during high-school and college if they apologized and demonstrated how their understanding of women’s humanity has evolved while expressing gratitude to feminists for diligently moving us all forward.

Politics are not my strong suit in life, or even my mediocre suit. I still vote, write letters to representatives occasionally. I’m not convinced this is enough but instead of doing more I draw trees.

Between votes we could consider all our suits in life. How we can be honest about our wrongs in order to evolve a more sophisticated thinking center. How we can breathe and provide shade for each other.

One Specific Place

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 am more content than normal 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 wish I could come every day to watch them turn.

Along the Maple Trail I listen to a Northern Flicker and a Stellar’s Jay before I sit down on a bench to bask in the calm mood. I really wear myself out trying to live a genuine life. This always seemed ironic until I met a woman from 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.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since. All those years I wanted to be enlightened and tried to make myself content to wait tables because I believed that conquering my ego was the only way to true contentment. My guru of the time believed that once I was enlightened life would guide me to a new and fulfilling career. Instead of finding such divine guidance I grew arrogant believing I was more enlightened than the average person and that enlightenment was the only worthy goal.

Today I consider the trees and plants—is it ever uncomfortable to blossom and fruit? Does it strain their peace in spring to produce so much new fiber? Do they enjoy the tumult?

I sit down in the beech grove to draw and decide I might find more peace and humility by making my own effort to grow a life from the things I love. To be like the trees who make so many leaves. Only when summer yields to the autumn chill do they begin the delicate task of surrender, letting each go in its own time to land in the exact place it has been invited to rest.

In the Beech Grove

Tuesday morning in the arboretum and the juncos are busy collecting food off the ground and chasing eachother 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 came to sketch the beech trees. Instead I am soaking up the sun in a meadow on the verge of a good cry. It’s the time of year my father died, society is traipsing vastly off-kilter, and I’m caught in my usual conflict of deciding to be a human who has a retirement plan versus a human who follows their passion versus a human who helps humanity versus a human who lives a simple life.

The wind picks up and it’s cold like it’s come off a snowy mountain slope. Just thinking about being in the mountains brings me so much happiness I feel like it’s ok if this moody nap in the grass is the only thing I accomplish, ever.

Eventually I get up and walk to the beech grove to draw. There I am surrounded by the sound of beech nuts falling into the cover of dried leaves on the ground—some of them opened like woody stars. The green leaves above flutter against each other in the late summer wind like a soundtrack to the joy of cold, distant mountains pulled along by subtle harmonies of the dark realities that makes this life so precious.

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 answers my quandary. 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 human I am.