Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Find the Welcome, Wherever You Are

I am back to travelling mostly by magazine and video, and it isn’t too bad. I have often been tantalized by pictures of foreign places, of turquoise waters slapping glistening beaches; jagged mountains contrasting with plunging canyons; grass-dancing plains with endless sky; apparently jewel-encrusted snow and hulking icebergs; boggy moors and emerald, undulating hills. Book my trip! And, too, there are such possibilities within fascinating sprawl of cities and cozy, tidy villages. What lives must be led there, what treats await, doors opening into another way of living.

I know people who have enjoyed vast far-flung travels. I would go here and there if I could, but content myself with passing visuals that enable my imagination’s many returns. Luckily, I can mentally insert myself into what I see–likely most do the same. Thus, I can “arrive” so many places, and have a partial experience of what is out there. During childhood I read magazines like National Geographic, Life or Look (awhile ago…) and developed a more voracious appetite for learning. I found this akin to getting on a train and reaching out to the greater world. It was a way to transport my “imaging mind”.

By comparison, my quotidian home views are perhaps modest. From the windows of our home on the west side are towering sitka spruce trees and big leaf maples, so thick sunlight barely sneaks onto the balcony with several yearning-for-more potted flowers. The trees provide a fine cooling effect as temperatures rise to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We are built into a steep incline; being high up, this view offers a sneak peek at townhouses below and vivid patches of sky. In the distance are mountains, less visible until winter.

A partial balcony view
Another nearby view

On the east side of our place is a narrow winding drive, but there are more spruce trees lining the way and mostly hidden residences. Generally, we are in extensive woodlands. It is Oregon; we are located within a metro area embraced by trees, rimmed by mountains. Unlike one of my beloved sisters who cut down several pines about her mountainside house, oddly complaining she could see little else and it was too shady, I never tire of any sort of trees.

My realization is that although I can’t travel far these days, I’m not so discontent–in truth, never bored with the Pacific Northwest, as I often unabashedly state in my posts.

Since we left the city and moved here, I was surprised, though, to see only a handful of folks walking regularly. More go out a short time with their dogs. Now, by cars noted, I surmise many work at home–or not working at all. I wonder what they do–we live in a privacy-prized place. People are less easily connected with now. Children’s happy shouts may shake the silence–or stillness is punctured by wails if rarely. Some nights adult voices dial up. Yet I hear an owl or two as I fall asleep. Quietness can feel palpable the long days and nights, a genial companion. When cars pass down the hill, it is a fleeting rumble. This area can give off a dreamy quality. I am acutely aware we are set apart since our last neighborhood, fascinating and lovely, was part of a buzzing, traffic-jammed, densely-packed Portland.

It is more than a pretty place. It is a world within many, and an abundance of natural designs rippled outward. The extinct volcano upon which we live is bounded only by inattention or attention, what we do with what is experienced. Nature provides inestimable opportunities to consider more than meets the eye. (I confess I also love the clean lines of typical older Northwest architectural styles; even grander houses blend into landscape, semi-secret sanctuaries.)

Marc looks for oak galls that are discarded, which he collects. Wasps lay parasitic larvae on a part of the tree and then inject a hormone into tissue that creates a round, hard protective growth. Oddly, one can make ink from these, and Marc is into making natural inks. (Then making pens to use the ink.) He also is on the lookout for good rocks anywhere we trod. His collection is gathering… he knows a few things by now. (And shares finds with my son, an true wilderness rock hunter.)

We both admire all the varieties of birds, mostly small and always industrious, unique in plumage and behaviors. Cooper’s hawks call fairly often in one spot and we spotted two last week. When attempting to photograph them, they were just too camouflaged high on branches. They watched me as I watched them, attractive and stealthy, strong hunters. Their high pitched calls sail, silvery and piercing at once. There are also downy woodpeckers, northern flickers, juncos and spotted owls as well and some visit our feeder and nest close by. (Sad to say baby juncos drowned in their nest, made within a hanging confetti plant after a deluge early summer). Hummingbirds are a favorite, and love my fuchsias. I have much to learn and but it is treat to watch the birds anywhere.

During a pandemic, such low-risk activities are good entertainment. I am fortunate to live here and take advantage of its wonders. I’ve shared many day trip outings, too, in WordPress posts. We don’t remain inside long– even books and computers are taken outdoors in good weather. If we are stuck here for a lot longer, we will be quite alright. Or find other solutions.

The truth is, I’ll always be alright in my core–unless totally unable due to circumstances beyond total control. For one thing, it is not a foreign experience to endure difficult places and circumstances: in very inhospitable hospitals; in rundown abodes (a tiny chicken coop converted to a dwelling before tiny houses were on trend); in miles of neighbor-less countryside; in places where my life was in jeopardy; in a neighborhood where gunshots and gang action were common–we got good at hitting the floor; without little food and/or no heat in winter; and homeless for weeks or months.

One quite unusual situation was living in a state park, first in a park lodge, then in two millipede- and other insect-infested, rustic cabins for two and a half months with five kids. No reasonable houses were available in a rural Tennessee area after a job transfer. But it worked out okay. Any shelter with water…well, anyone can manage with basics.

I have gotten intimate with a life lacking pride and artifice. Every place I landed presented an opportunity for self-knowledge and greater gains.

Sure, I’ve lived in more gracious situations in these 70 years, a few that remain happy to recall. They are also good to write about. But since I don’t know what next year will bring–Marc being one more person to lose his job due to COVID-19 downsizing–it is better to recall how one adapts further. We may retire to a tiny cottage somewhere far from here, who knows? It may be harder than that.

Clearly, people possess a mammoth urge to survive; we overcome what appears daunting, even disabling circumstances. We make things do, make even better out of very little. We can manage to find our way during shut down resultant of a virulent contagion. In fact, we are fortunate if we have a place that is safe.

I find–no matter where I am–there are a few things to consider:

  1. There are goodhearted and fascinating people to connect with in some manner, even if only to observe and wonder over. Hopefully to swap stories with and appreciate. And flora and fauna to learn about if you tend that way.
  2. There are ever changing sights to seek beyond your nose, just look out a window. (If only the sky. Clouds are marvelous with changing hues and shapes, gradations of dark and light–and indicate weather, too.) Magical things are await to be explored, no matter how weird or inconsequential it may seem to another. There is never a dearth of ways to contemplate how and why we connect to the greater universe each day. The infinitesimal miracles of creation, as our senses and busy brains are springboards to greater knowledge. Practice quietness, and listen.
  3. Indoor spaces are what you make of them. Let in more light. If small, use your ways and means to enlarge upon it. Get organized and pare down. If your place feels a bit shabby, make a picture, place colorful pictures from magazines on walls, add nature’s decor. If big and empty, turn it into a place of refuge by honoring chosen areas with what you value, even candles, sweet grass, incense, a humble bouquet, a chime for the wind outside. Open your arms, dance, make music so that your body finds its better balance and joy. Let creatures be happily around/with you. Breathe in that space. And fill time with ideas, even dreams for a hopeful future. And here, too, gentle stillness will keep you well. Finally, read to escape or enliven, make for something for fun not perfection, try new hobbies, meditate and pray, offer up songs–and include others. Thank them for being there… you are less alone than many. Make a phone call–the human voice is a pleasure to hear, a lifesaver sometimes.
  4. You in entirety make a physical space what it is: your attitude and personal vision will alter it. If you’re sullen and bleak, so will be your home. If you find relief even in smallest happiness, it will grow. If you have gratitude, you cannot forget what matters most. If you offer hope to others it will color your world, too, with expectancy of healing and wholeness. You will expand beyond circumstance. Reach out.
  5. I am never entirely alone. Nature is attendant, for certain. But for me the omnipresent, numinous power of Divine Love, of God is here, is there. I can’t persuade anyone to believe in this; we each find our own way. It shapes my living and creating, seeking and growing. It enables trust in living hour to hour, if needed. I acknowledge the world and its terrors. But this does not discount my faith in both humanity and God’s wisdom and the universal pulses that connect all. I admit I feel as if visiting here, at times; likely it is so for everyone. Wayfarers, we are. In the meantime, we can be authentically ourselves and aspire to more. We can be present for one another–is this not doing good? It is a reflection of God-ness: to not be stingy with kindness, forgiveness.
  6. The world isn’t a static place and human beings are in a state of flux internally, externally. Life is a mighty change agent as we participate in the process of building, dissembling, recreating, pursuing worthy solutions. Either we utilize forces of mind and soul, or we do not. We gather resources and share them, or do not. We brainstorm, push on. Prepare while waiting until we can do so once more.
  7. Patience is required of us in tough circumstances of any sort, as well as insight and a modicum of courage. And if generosity of heart can tip a balance, we are better off to trust one another–more so now, in a time when greater energy and flexibility are needed to keep on.
  8. All of this is not too much to ask of myself. Ourselves. I have survived other trials, as have you. We awaken, if all goes well enough, to a new day. The world’s history attests to human resilience and perseverance, even amid pestilence and war and natural destruction.

So, back to unknown vista where I shall not go: I don’t travel far these days. But neither do I feel imprisoned in a time or place. I don’t have to go far to find inspiration and peace. There remains energetic human imagination. Impulses of spirit to seek more beyond the moment. Powers of body to adapt, keep on, recover, be strengthened even when damage may be wrought. Some may not, this is also true. It is grievous–we play out our mythic cycle of being born, living and dying. To be human is to know the wrenching away from it all, too.

We have the capacity to become more than survivors of the times. We can become forces for regeneration, rebuilding, greater equity of human lives. It takes persistence and faith to believe in change, even enough for this day.

I muse often in this time of crisis as I walk the woodlands: how to find the grace in every circumstance, and make the weaving of my life denser and varied. How to share compassion–the deeper, richer hope of it. The whole of things as opposed to simply small pieces I can see. Each morning I return to waking sunlight and leave it with heart and soul intact, not just this reaching, plodding body. My truest self is, then, my permanent residence. And the welcome mat is out.