It was inevitable that sooner or later I’d end up nosing about the old neighborhood of Irvington in Portland. We moved into woodsy ex-burbs on 1st of March; it’s not as if we’ve been gone ages. But when an appointment took me back and weather cleared plus I had time, of course I was going to check out a proliferation of new blossoms among old sights. I expect more within a month or two and will return. In our new digs we have greater vistas and different plant life as we are higher, nearer mountain foothills– but with fewer flowers, so far.
Hope you enjoy absorbing the sights, as I certainly did (though I am still pleased with our move).
If you made it to the bottom, a PS: our youngest daughter is delivering twins next Tuesday, so I may be absent a couple of days–unless I post Monday. But I will be busier than ever after this so writing may be less of quantity but, hopefully, still retain some decent quality. And to say I am excited about the additions to our family may be a true understatement…! I will share some of those new experiences.
Ernest was a man who got things right. He knew this for certain when at work because he was told so often. He managed a grocery store that had finally found its sweet spot within the hierarchy of holistic grocers. That was his word–“holistic”–as opposed to “natural” or “locally sourced and served” or any number of other words and phrases that somehow didn’t quite meet the innermost desires of customers. In his humble opinion. But “Hale’s Holistic Marketplace” was now its name (no longer Hale’s Good Foods) and since the revamp of appearance, pricing and image, optimistic stats were booming.
How was Marv, the CEO, to have foreseen that this unassuming man, barely hitting the five foot eight mark and weighing in at maybe 150 pounds (if Marv was a casual betting man) could turn things around way under a year? There was a compact quality suggesting deeper strength and energy, but it was metered out just so. A fastidious man, he guessed. The guy had steadily climbed the rungs of the food business, then suddenly pushed his ideas on a store manager. That was four years ago and HHM had taken over a niche that caters to those with highbrow leanings, perhaps even instincts, but won’t admit to it. The added corner bookstore/ lending library was a hit, for example, because their consumers were a literary–academic, even– type. This meant that soon to follow were paper products and writing utensils, then intricate, bold maps (why did they love maps so much, he didn’t know) and so on, Marv had lost track but they sold.
The guy now at a helm was a genius at marketing as
well as overseeing the latest store. No one disagreed. But not everyone liked
him; some sneered when they saw him coming but smiled over their judgments.
Ernest was a stickler for details, unerring and demanding. He had some patience
and tolerance for others–he was not unkind –but it didn’t show well, as he
tended toward a poker face. This was a feature developed after childhood when
his mother constantly told her smart, string bean of a boy to not be such a
crybaby, life was rough so toughen up. He found hiding feelings was half the
battle at repelling taunts–especially after he became a fine swimmer. One
could not see emotions when submerged in the water. He became a smooth muscled,
aquatic creature, fast and adept and best of all, free. Cheering crowds made no
difference; he had found his physical element and it complemented his
The swimming pool still did the trick. If work grievously rattled him or his wife, Lynette, got on his nerves too much, he was in the water for a good hour. That’s what he told her–“Time to refresh and keep my physique in good shape”–when she complained he was gone too much. The lap pool welcomed him every time; the forgiving water flowed about him, a shield of light-filled mystery and power, and he was made stronger with each stroke. Lynette, on the other hand, had tried it three times with him and failed to see the value, much less joy in it. The chlorine, the chilly depths, the need for goggles since she wore contacts. She stank of chlorine for days and her fine hair rebelled. Let him have it, she was meant for mostly sunbathing by their own tidy pool. Oh yes, they had a pool, now, but he could not swim real laps or execute a good dive there, so he left backyard indulgences to her and Sammy, their preteen daughter.
He thought he had done well so far in life. He made good money now and Lynette was happier than the first ten years of marriage. But it didn’t stop her from finding fault. Daily. That he wore bow ties when getting dressed up; the tiny limp he retained from an old hiking fall; his rumination over this and that, quietly to himself; his unfortunate choices of jewelry for her gifts and his lack of insight into Sammy’s moods. His smartness surely rivaled hers and sometimes they sparred for the wit of it, but it could cross a line. It could get dangerous, words like swords.
His size always vexed her–she was two inches taller. He thought she was attracted to him so she could diminish him further by saying he was a “tidy guy” or a “cute shrimp” yet give her a sense of more control, as well. When she pulled herself to her full height, he thought of a giraffe and smiled as one might at such a curious creature. But he thought her rather sexy, anyway, though who would know it lately.
“My Queen, forgive my stature but adore my income,” he would say when really aggravated by her demeaning way, and peck her hand. It was not kind, no, but he did have his limit.
“Be a proper man, stand taller as if you mean it, Ernest, you are such a slouch sometimes,” she insisted and swiped at his head with her palm as if he was truly her subject. Whereby he’d back away, out of the room, head bowed. As he turned to go, he would throw her a scowl, a fierce look, a warning (though of what, really?– just a look)–she couldn’t mistake that feeling in any case.
If anyone at work saw this they would have a field day. Even Sammy waffled between sniggering and looking away, embarrassed for them both. Ernest and Lynette had had better days when younger, living simpler with few worries. They had not mellowed; they had soured.
He would leave for the pool if it was finally enough. It often was more than enough. What else did she want of him?
What was it that made him happy besides monetary success and being right and swimming? So little else.
“I hear you swim,” she said as she stirred
creamer into her mug of coffee.
Ernest looked up from his own steaming, bitter
mug-full of caffeine.
She added more vanilla-caramel to sweeten it up and as she did so, she pinned back a sweep of glossy hair with her other hand. To keep it from falling in, it was that long and swingy.
“Well,” he said, surprised, and paused,
torn between his agenda and this unknown factor.
“I do, too, used to competitively dive, for one thing.” She laughed lightly. “Okay, years ago. But I still do what I love to do.”
“Oh, I see, nice,” he said and started off.
“Where do you go? I’m new in the area.”
He slurped a little, then studied her as she stirred
away, eyes on pecan cookies left from a meeting. She snatched one up and dipped
it in her coffee.
“There are several good pools, depending upon where
“I’m just down the street, Premiere Apartments.” She raised her eyebrows at this as everyone knew they were at best mid-grade. One would rather avoid those long-term. “Just for awhile, we’ll see how this works out.”
“This?” he asked as they left the break
“Sorry, I assumed you knew…I’m Celeste, an unemployed accountant who is the new cashier?” She held out her hand, cookie already gone. “Remember? I know who you are, of course.”
“Ernest, yes, and welcome.” He shook her hand briefly and she smiled at him again; he thought she had remarkably large front teeth but the smile was downright dazzling. Great for cashiering. He guessed he did recall her but he had met many over the past year.
he thought as he shook her hand. As he walked back to his office, he mused
further. A strange thing to think in the
middle of the day at work after talking
with a new diver. Uh, cashier.
They nodded at each other each morning. At times
they passed each other in the aisles and smiled if so inclined. They shared a
cup of coffee once more the first month. Some mornings she was not there due to
her schedule–he might think of it by lunch time when he vaguely wondered if
she’d had a break. He heard nothing but good reports, saw good results. Everyone
liked her that was clear, both men and women chatted away with her, both
customers or employees.
Ernest once had to pull her aside.
“Mustn’t get too chummy, mind on work, keep the
pace brisk, not everything is about personal relations.”
Her pronounced cheeks colored the slightest bit as
she turned back to her cash register.”Yes, sir,” she agreed amiably
but she was quieter, at least when he appeared.
He felt he might have made her commitment to the
store more tenuous by criticizing too soon, so beckoned to her when she was on
the way back from the restroom. “You are doing very well, Celeste, keep up
the great attitude.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said and hurried on,
as if she was only too clear he was the Boss now..
Well, so be it. But he’d been about to say she could have a day shift
exclusively if she kept it up. he heard she was taking classes somewhere and
wondered if the change would help. He didn’t mention it; let her seek a change
if needed, that was best.
All was well at Hale’s Holistic Marketplace, and
made better by her being there everyone said. he was about to get a decent raise;
he was feeling generous and was about to recommend a couple, too.
Water, the water. He slipped into the deep end without a sound and initial strokes powered him to pool’s center. Slip and slice, rocket through with quiet ease. His lungs were strong and heart steady. His eyes saw legs and feet and hands and arms of others who came for exercise, relief, fun. The color–a rich but soft turquoise, wasn’t this the true and correct color for a pool?–unbound him as well. He felt the sun’s caress although light was primarily overhead lights; he heard the wind in treetops if he pretended long enough. He was entirely himself.
Ernest had lived at a lake for a time before finally marrying Lynette, and if he closed his eyes and floated on his back he was there again. There he was truly liberated from constraint and self-consciousness for the first time, and then various swimming pools were in his life. He was a lucky man to have had them all.
He propelled himself upward and then dove again, slipping through sinuous flow, resistance enough upon his skin to make him work a bit as he sped up. And then–he never imagined or saw it coming– there erupted an explosion beyond his fingertips, wavelets of color with sounds that engulfed him. Someone had dived in, regardless of his presence–though underwater, of course–and forceful bubbles escaped a mouth, legs stirred up the turquoise to a fizzier green-blue.
Before he broke the surface there was a glimpse of a one piece coral suit but then in it was Celeste, her taut, lithe form racing toward air as if to beat him at it. He broke first.
But she didn’t see him, or if she did, she was far more intent on diving. She climbed up, over the edge in one swift movement and strode to the high dive board and walked out like a champ, steely nerves and clear head. He side stroked to the pool edge and watched, hoping to be invisible. Such an elegant form as she bounced once, shoulders and arms clean of line and potent of muscle and legs, too, how all of that moved as she sprang into steamy air. Over and over, a double flip, a clean entry into waiting water and then a quick swim to the edge. And back to the board.
Mesmerized, he forgot about swimming. An amnesia took him from being too little of this and that and the almighty paycheck and residual emptiness and it was just water and her dives and a stillness he felt, an increasing vibration of stillness that somehow moved him as he hadn’t been moved in too long. Celeste and her diving were extraordinary, he saw this in entirety. It was like being awakened from a habit of common thoughts and the dullard of sighing days, then pulled though another dimension where water ruled and Celeste was this creature beyond all others. At least, here. Now.
He put his whole head in the water, resurfaced, shook it hard, got out and went to the roped off lanes to begin necessary laps. He stayed at it long enough that he thought she’d be gone and he’d stop envisioning her dives. Until he rested finally, breathless and wrung out by the cement edge. It was late. Few swimmers were left as it was dinner time. Celeste stared right at him from the distant end, then was gone, too. The last of the light shimmied and skidded across the water and put itself out.
The next day, they didn’t see each other. The following days if happenstance brought their steps toward one another they only nodded, as if nothing had happened. He surmised nothing had, yet he felt as if it had. Yet work was work; swimming was swimming. No one else thought anything was different, and when he looked in the mirror he was the same moderately nice fellow who was short but trim, and smart but not blazingly so, he knew that, and he was lucky to have what he had. But there was something…as if he saw things more clearly, and yet exactly what was it he saw?
This question drove him a little mad–as if a well known picture had been altered, but what and where was the slight mark that had changed all? There was the nagging mystery of it, a puzzle. He kept on with all he knew well and studied it less as the days rolled or lurched by. Lynette only glanced at him a couple of times, as if he said something but she didn’t quite catch and wondered what he meant to say. But he was circumspect as ever. And he never asked her what it was that rippled over her face; she didn’t bother further. he lay in bed listening to her gentle snore and thought she was good at heart but her heart wasn’t really even in this. His was still. But barely, his loyalty and hope the few leaves hanging on a low branch; a gust might do it all in.
Near misses, all.
But there was the pool.
Three times a week, that’s how often he swam laps, when she almost exclusively dove. Some days they came in at different times due to her shifts; some weeks they saw each other once or twice. That is, they spotted each other and almost imperceptibly nodded–and watched one another on occasion as they shared brief performances. Eyes sliding toward the far-off form. They were each expert at what they did so others offered appreciation and wide berth. Ernest was a master of stamina, nuance and fluid rhythms. Celeste was a bolt of lightning, a dancer in midair. Everyone knew their names. Yet the two did not cross paths unless there came a flurry of movement underwater and there–it was her, it was him–closer for a passing moment. No words, no touch.
It was, after all, swimming and diving, water slipping about them and empowering them, transforming a mundane day into eternity, and a blessing. They made the most of it. Their movements meant something, but they couldn’t say exactly what part of a bigger scheme, meanings both nebulous and full of heft and beauty. They awakened in the pool, then gave over to the clarifying brilliance of water. And were happy and no longer alone in their happiness. But they always came and left alone.
Ernest began to chat with people at work, to loosen up a fraction and found he was willing to forgive some wrongness of things from time to time. Then Marv out of the blue sent him a memo: “Remember the bottom line, keep high the bar with your expertise.” It shook up Ernest–had he been failing?– but momentarily. He kept to tasks at hand and learned to relax without slipping up. Others gossiped some about it. He, oddly, had started whistling and caught himself just a bar or so in usually. Celeste heard him but denied it to the others as they snickered, and she just smiled to herself, never veering from the rhythm of her job.
Celeste was working more hours, taking another class and still looking for an accounting job; she wanted more in a life. They worked together, one might run into the other in the break room, and then a briefly shared cup and chatter about ordinary things. He had the family, such busyness, and his good stressful job and there were many little things that made things interesting. They parted as people might who worked together but unequally, each being congenial and going on without a backward glance. They kept their thoughts cool and calm and no one else was allowed access to their knowledge.
The pool never came up; that was the other life they led.
When they swam they were aquatic people, a wilder, finer breed. They moved together, though parallel, within different aspects of water’s identity and embraces. It worked perfectly. And for Ernest, that was excellent enough. For Celeste, it was evidence of an alternate reality of pure love.
I was a different person several hours yesterday. I’m not referring to the fact that, one day to the next we are, of course, not utterly the same inside-out. No, I felt like someone I didn’t well recognize, pacing the perimeters of our new home, flitting one thing to another. Or maybe I recognized myself in an oblique way but I didn’t like that version much.
The view beyond a huge window held my attention well–a new bird feeder draws chickadees so far, a random squirrel is foiled, and the hummingbird feeder beckons hummers. The gathering greenness is captivating. Then again the multitudinous odd tasks kept me moving. Only I’d start one, then another and then another and retrace my steps as if I had ADHD, which I do not. Up and down the stairs, in and out of rooms, cleaning, ordering, moving things about, throwing in a load of laundry, sitting to read a few minutes. My mind and body buzzed. Well, perhaps the chai tea, then a couple hours later a cold brew coffee…?
But it was more than that. I felt aggrieved and penned in by our new address. The place seemed to have shrunk overnight. Ceilings too high, paint hues subdued to a sleepy monotone, rooms facing wrong directions, a kitchen with sleek black counter tops–who thought of that? Every day as I descend stairs to the living area all is resonant with shadow and silence, waiting for me patiently though I barely know these forms or sounds, the habitat’s nature nor the day’s intent. Yes, loveliness everywhere, too. So what will this move bring–and what can I bring to it?
But at that moment rational thought was not trumping nerves on edge. Why is it hard to change familiar environments? Really, to change at all? Nothing is static in nature or life, not for long. We are as fluid as we allow ourselves to be. Still my innards were jumpy enough that I needed to calm this sudden scuffle with reality, being uprooted and replanted. A couple of days ago I was content and delighted; to be so at odds with my life was unexpected and unwanted.
Let me recap Tuesday afternoon blow by blow…
I want to run despite having a sore little toe from so much steep hiking about. Something to alter physiological responses to sudden awareness of change. So I throw on my jacket (after not finding my keys so grab the spare set). Do we need food? Should I cruise by the post office with a couple of bills? And what about the new library–shouldn’t I have seen it by now? All three are on my mind as I set out by car and follow my nose. I know the main road down into town. And I try to go somewhere new several times a week to figure out the lay of the land out here, so far from the maze of the rambunctious city I have known and loved so well. And recently up and left.
The curve of roads, rollicking hills, blur of trees. My head does not clear. Traffic is heating up a bit–we are in a smallish-woodsy-suburban place, yes, but still a city. I had left the house during mid-day. Which lane to get in? Oh, construction up ahead. Now what as the road splits off? No one drives slowly here, to my surprise. Steady hands, breathe slower, look at the signs: no anxiety necessary. I rarely get lost and even if…there is the GPS if I choose to use it (usually would rather not). I have been on these streets before; I have a good natural compass; I will find my way. All about are buildings I am only cursorily familiar with, landscaping foreign and lush. It is this visual information I seek to gather and memorize and yet I am still distracted as I drive.
I breeze into and out of the post office driveway and pop bills into the mailbox–surprises me. But it does not soothe me.
Once in the new grocery, I pick my way through produce to breads to freezer section, getting each thing on my short list. I bypass the cold brew coffee. The store is a small maze I learn to navigate. Once done, I get in line. People often dress a bit differently. The woman ahead of me is close to my age but very tan, fitter than fair in early April, very blond. I suspect she flew in from the Caribbean last week. I glance about for a crunchy-granola nature-loving boomer and spot a few and relax smile. But when I check out I think this is a different grocery and look for my rewards card. Oh, not there, am here. I ask for cash and stuff the receipt and small bills, smile and share pleasantries–the cashier was lovely– and load up the car trunk. I am still abuzz with uncertainty and, well, stress.
Next: gas up the car. A relief to find my favorite brand across from the grocery. I slide in, pull the gas cap lever–only it is the trunk release. The congenial guy who gasses up the car closes it for me and I get the right lever second time. I smile graciously but feel twitchy again, as if my teeth are clenching–are they?–and my tricky neck has a tough knot. I turn the key enough to listen to the jazz station, working at the tight muscle of my shoulder. Study the conifers’ treetops, how the wind moves through the branches and the blue sky pulses with sunshine and feel better. The man says “Ma’am?” and seems to have been holding my receipt out to me a few seconds. I take it, thank him with cheery courtesy, move out the exit, pull up to the stoplight. And hope fervently I don’t turn too soon or late on the yellow light. Streets don’t follow much of a city-type grid here even at intersections, but curve into each other–have to keep eyes peeled. Anticipate.
I roll down two windows completely and let newness of April sweep through, muss my hair. I may not have a convertible but it feels close enough. In a mile I turn onto a road leading to the quaint downtown. The library is not far from corners with buildings I recognize. There’s a neat sign with arrow: LIBRARY. A wave of relief arrives as I breathe in fragrant air and head to the last stop. It is if I have made it to absolute safety. Books: I know this sort of place so intimately, nothing can ruin the day now.
The late afternoon brings me back to myself and yet I feel invisible while roaming the stacks, checking out the wood-and-glass contemporary building, the placement of materials. Everyone here has a romance going with books and learning new things, like me. I speak to a couple of librarians. (“Why are all fiction subgenres shelved together?” “Well, it’s an experiment; so far, pretty good outcome.” “Hmm.” We will see how I like it, why not?)
I check out two mysteries, a literary novel and two documentary DVDs for four weeks. It doesn’t matter if I get to them all. It is the orderly ease of a library, the smell of books snugged up against one another, and information and intrigue at one’s fingertips. There is a symmetry to this physical,intellectual and emotional space and I get to be in it. The live wire of my jarred neurology is grounded once more; so am I. Tension and worry are vanishing.
Getting home is nothing at all. I know the way. If I didn’t, I would find one. I can adapt. I can fit the need with solutions or ask the right questions of someone who has them. The human brain is resilient, even when pushed to the limit, even when worn out and befuddled and spooked and lost. Much if not most of the time, there is some action to take that can result in a positive reaction, even a solid fulfillment of the goal.
Last week I was winding along a labyrinth of trails by our home when a companion asked how I seemed easily to find my way without any map. I was surprised. Besides having an apparently fine sense of direction, there is faith in my ability to figure out puzzles. I have pretty decent visual memory. I also utilize intuitive cues. If there is doubt, it is another problem to address and another choice can be made. I pay attention to info gleaned and I want to stay safe–but one never gets anywhere if afraid of internal or external unknowns.
There is many a tunnel that takes a walker through woods and under roadways, and where it leads I do not know until I find myself in a new spot. The paths always surprise me as I go with the twists and turns. It’s part of the excitement, not being clear where I am heading. If didn’t enter that tunnel, I wouldn’t get to discover the surprise. If I didn’t turn that direction, I’d miss out on a rocky creek, a flower, a unique house that peeks out from dense bushes and trees, that woodpecker so high up. The birds seem to follow; rather, I try to follow them. Every now and then I see someone coming who lifts a hand in greeting, who nods and smiles or rushes by with a lumbering dog that half-drags them up the next hill. I don’t lollygag as it is exercise, neither do I keep my eyes to ground. I want to experience it all.
So when we decided a move was necessary, I was scared but undeterred. (I’m not generally a covers over the head person when there’s a bump in the night or a bad dream; I get up, turn on a light or get a big stick if instinct dictates.) So I knew that if I kept my eye on the end goal while doing the work required, and looked for support from God, friends and family, I would find a right relocation for the current needs. Body, mind and heart would direct me as I commandeered helpers and agenda. Besides, change is to the brain and spirit as synovial fluid is to joints: we have to get going, keep moving to stave off the discomfort resultant of disuse. And that goes for adaptation skills, old and new. I would rather take a chance than do nothing, try out something new than be stuck with the same old thing. Yes, I was anxious yesterday and that library stop was the ticket to full relief–but that was yesterday and today is today; things work out in one fashion or another. And how fun to explore a new library with different titles showcased and unique ways of doing things. Despite challenges of change, it creates differences that enrich and expand and, thus, keep life vibrant.
Last week-end we headed up to the peak of the extinct volcano we live on (there are many in the area). Nansen Summit, at 975 feet (we live at about 800 feet) tops Mount Sylvania, an ancient volcano on the Boring Lava Field. It was mentioned to me when we moved in so Marc and I took off in search of it. As we climbed and climbed, the early spring sun soon heated us to a fine sweat as leg muscles and hearts whinged a bit. It is a rapid, steep ascent as so many paths are. We didn’t know the extent of what awaited but we finally emerged from woods into white-bright sunshine.
First, there are mega houses way up there. But otherwise, what a good pay off: 360 degree views of the Tualatin River Valley, Mt. Hood (though it was mostly hiding in clouds as it often does) and foothills (West Hills) of the Coast Range. You will note the weather station and radio telemetry antenna as well. We enjoyed hanging out on a couple of benches provided for rest and meditation, then had a much easier descent.
Truth is, we are already starting to love it here.