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.

After Bugs

I took my paints on a one night backpacking trip along the Salmon River. 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 while the bugs were hovering above the water and zig zagging across the open space.

The Lorquin’s Admiral Butterflies were also fluttering from one rock to another and then off to a tree branch while the kingfisher passed through in search of a good spot to fish. The ravens with their throaty calls were hard to miss, one landed in an evergreen and hopped up the boughs, rung by rung like a ladder.

At night 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. I trusted its blind technology as it’s shadowy presence moved erratically about the camp while I moved about to brush my teeth and change into soft fleece for a cozy night in the hammock.

The next week in the city I find it hard to focus on sketching with so many humans milling about as at Tryon Creek. I do my best, then wander down the hill to the creek, admiring all the orange blossoms in the undergrowth, 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 some time 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.

Is it possible to meet everyone’s needs in our natural areas? 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, content to wake at dusk and hunt for bugs the same as every other day.

Designed for Flight

On my way to Fitton Green the barn swallows perch on the fence along the trail in their deep blue wings complimenting the yellow grass and reminding me how I love summer.

When trail leads into the woods I 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 transient things were the same ochre and shape as dead leaves and yet they seemed alive, soft and defiant of gravity.

I slowed down thinking maybe a sly bird lived in the ivy but instead I discovered moths. What a magical thing to be so ethereal as to be almost imperceptible. And how mystical to be in their midst as they are loosed from the side of an old shed with the unwanted ivy.

Then there was the time a moth dropped out of nowhere and landed on my coffee cup as I tended a broken heart. I was drawn to to man before I even met him. His web-site was on a list of recommendations for counseling and his head-shot inspired a quick decision. Oh, I’m going to work with this guy, my inner voice said while wondering if he was single. My other, more rational inner voice was alarmed by this and offered up that therapy was designed to be a very separate process from dating.

I can’t explain to you this draw or how I ended up in this fellow’s office, but it felt like a moth. In the coming months I marveled at its intensity. She was so good at ignoring the one-sided nature of my sessions and believed that outside work this man was a lonely insightful writer with few possessions who played upright bass, loved nature, wore fedoras and would be a very sensitive and affectionate partner despite being a hermit.

My rational voice understood this might not be accurate. He might not own a single fedora. And while it’s normal to crush on one’s counselor I felt obligated to rein in the fantasy, to assert how it’s actualization would be a very wrong turn in life. The moth did not relent and I became increasingly uncomfortable with the content of my day dreams until he mentioned a wife. Moths, apparently understand marriage even if they can’t comprehend the boundaries of mental health.

I went to the coffee shop after my session to mourn the end of my perfect but imaginary romance when a real 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 my preference to be self-contained go while having coffee with a moth, trusting that new and magical things could be born out of accepting this backwards part of my being.


Back on the trail in the present 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 evoke a feeling of eternity infused into each moment and molecule. Its beauty is almost imperceptible. It reminds me of moths and how their powerful attraction to light could be a deep underpinning of truth. I know when I follow my own I become soft and designed for flight.

Under the Smoke Tree

The arboretum is my favorite place. I can walk through a grove of Spanish Chestnut trees, a section of Elm and a mini Spruce forest within a matter of minutes and that’s just a small part of the collection.

Yesterday I snoozed under the Common Persimmons. It’s the worst meadow to nap in. The grass is poky with lots of blackberries coming through. But it’s a secluded area of the park and I’m always captivated my the graceful drape of the Japanese Wing nut tree boughs.

It was a hot cloudless day but something sounded like rain as I approached the trees. I walked closer and watched as little bits fell through the branches. Small and quick, it was only from seeing all the blossoms on the ground that I learned flowers were falling through the tree, each one bouncing off the leaves like a pin ball. I held out my hands to see if I could catch one and got pelted on the cheek instead.

Then I realized the tree was completely inhabited by bumble bees, buzzing from one bell shaped flower to another. My intrigue led me unawares into this dense bee zone but the Yellow-faced Bumble Bees didn’t seem bothered and it was magical to be surrounded by their buzzing, dedicated presence. I stayed and watched the petals fall before I threw a blanket down next to the tree to rest. I love the sound of rain and persimmon flowers have a similar cadence with a dry and woody timbre.

Today I’m wandering around trying to decide which trees to paint. A Red-tailed Hawk flies up the trail I’m on as if the space were carved by their own wings for their own passage. It lands on a branch that arcs over the path and considers whatever hawks consider when they decide to perch.

I set up shop under the smoke tree to paint knowing the hawk in view is not going to stay and model for me. I can add it into the scene, though, capturing something real, something that could happen on anyone’s walk here.