Neighborhood Trees

watercolor painting of neighborhood trees in Sabin, Portland, Oregon by Alexandra Schaefers

Today is a warm, sunny, blossoming day. The first day of spring, in fact. I am lounging outdoors on my friend’s porch in Sabin. My ankle is a bit sprained which I could be depressed about, but this porch—surrounded by neighborhood trees and blue skies—is so decadent I don’t miss the hike I would normally be on.

Don is currently in his room programming LED lights. I’ve been reading a book and feeling guilty about using this injury as an excuse to be really unproductive. But isn’t this the life I always wanted my productivity to lead me to? Enjoying the day exactly as it is, untailored by my expectations. Occupying—fully—my place in the elements, in the biosphere, in my own skin.

The wind rushes through the tall fir with the spray of ocean sounds then rattles the branches of the blossoming deciduous trees on the other side of the block, then rushes through the fir again.

watercolor illustration of crows flying by Alexandra Schaefers

Dead leaves scitter across the driveway. Crows pass over now and again calling to each other. The traffic, the chirp of sparrows and goldfinches, clatter of a cyclist, a man shushing a baby, pushing the stroller down the sidewalk.

A soda can cracks open in the house. Don comes out to check on me. I show him my sketches with unhinged enthusiasm. He talks about mini computers, knobs, switches and 3D printed brackets for LED lights. I absorb every twelfth word and feel bad for my poor friendship skills.

Meanwhile finches sing in the treetops while people rearrange things loudly in their backyards. Kids holler at a nearby park occasionally invoking the sound of a violent death.

watercolor illustration of a bird shadow by Alexandra Schaefers

Car doors slam. Shadows flit back and forth across the porch, the old green couch, my lap. A bird shaped shadow sails across the light. I look up to see two sparrows hopping about in last year’s wisteria plucking bits of twigs then flying off.

A breeze cools my face. A leaf skitters down the sidewalk. An insect passes. I look up and see their light bodies hovering here and there in the open air of the porch. Crows again. The screen door creaks on its own. Wind chimes tinker. A car whooshes by.

A little hair blows in front of my own face and I remember myself separate from the warmth, from the peaceful goings-on of eternity as it tends to its everyday chores here on the block. Each time I slip into the richness of the world like this I see clearly that I have been doing everything wrong; thinking myself into a person, into a purpose, a quest to find beauty even though it is exactly where I left it.

The chimes pick up again as the ocean sings through the fir while car stereos add beats from two different directions. I sneeze and wonder what’s next.

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