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 MacCleay, 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.

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 MacCleay 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 MacCleay 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.

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