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. The unruly branches of white oaks and open meadows there have the most dramatic relationship with the changing weather. Fog writes intrigue with the silhouettes of twisted trees. Clouds lay heavy in their grey mist passing over the ocher grass. The blue sky shapes itself into jagged panes between each trailing branch. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Corvallis in the spring especially at the top of Ivy Hill.

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 such peace being snugly back in its familiar hills, creeks, and the forested slough slipping into the Willamette.

Today I am here on a visit from Portland where I have spent most of my adult live. 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 my grief 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 declining species 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 imagine this project has been successful.

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 I don’t recognize flits about in the branches alongside the trail with a patch of yellow on its sides. My best guess is that it’s an immature or female yellow-rumped warbler which the internet agrees with later at home.

At the top of the hill I spot a couple white-breasted nuthatches high in an oak, the first time I’ve identified them solo. A western bluebird flies by and I look out across the valley wondering if it will spark the same sense of home, the same sense of paradise and good fortune it did when I moved here. It doesn’t. Which is a relief because I am really enjoying my life in Portland even with its challenges.

I walk back down the hill considering the intelligence of the heart to make itself at home in whatever place it needs to be. It was so peaceful to be in Corvallis the first two years, staying with my folks on 11 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 instantly evaporated. Then they cut down the firs in Chip Ross Park, gathered the debris in piles all across Ivy Hill and burned it. I regretted the smoldering piles but knew it was right for them to do. I also knew it was right for me to be here with my dad at the end of his life. That the snugness of my heart had more to do with him than the hills. That I might end up back in Portland as if one of a species crowding out the devoted Corvallians.

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

I shade my eyes and look up into the oak by the trail 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.


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