Settling for an Old Adage

watercolor forest painting from Upper MacCleay Trail by Alexandra Schaefers

It’s 80 degrees as if summer already. I’m on the Lower MacLeay, one of the most popular trails in Forest Park. When I lived in the neighborhood I walked its length almost daily and was familiar with every section of the trail. 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.

Today I feel the same deep familiarity and utter strangeness with this trail 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.

As I walk up the hill I feel suddenly and viscerally at home. It’s rush hour. I can hear the constant roar of traffic on the road below but I am filled with peaceful belonging.

I wonder about home. Do we have 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 progress? Or do we create home wherever we care enough to get involved, 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 feeling great love for its forested beauty I still feel like a traveler. Do I simply need another 4 years? Given all the “Stop Rezoning” signs my neighbors have staked in their yards it’s possible I need to to buy a house here to be welcome. I do understand the urge to avoid development, but we must be creative enough to preserve the uniqueness of our neighborhoods while allowing housing for people of varying incomes to be built.

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 this trail and would take the Cumberland from his old street into the park for our walks.

I hike to the Upper MacLeay then sit on a bench admiring the gentle way the Oregon grape plants on 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 is where others expect me to be. But this feeling of belonging makes me 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. It seems disrespectful to dwell on these lofty questions, to want stolen land to be my fated place. So being the descendant of settlers I’ll have to settle for the old adage home is where the heart is.

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.

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