Monday’s Meanders: Hark! To the Volcano!

Since most of the smoke from the terrible wildfires has dissipated for now, it is a joy to once more climb the hills, take in lungsful of fresh air and feast our eyes on the terrain. We undertook a Sunday outing at Mt. Tabor, a volcano in the city limits. Though still too dry, it was great to see the colors of life everywhere.

The Boring Lava Field, a 1-2 million years old volcanic zone, underlies Portland, OR. with 32 cinder vents and several small shield volcanoes. Portland metro area has four dormant volcanoes. Mt. Tabor, right in city limits, is not very high at 634 feet but there are still good views at top. (The towering, snow-domed Mt. Hood, 100 miles to the east of us, is on the U.S. short list of “very high threat” volcanoes. Though it hasn’t erupted for about 220 years, there was again activity in the mid-1850s; it is still monitored closely.)

A reservoir and the city below. This is a popular Fourth of July fireworks viewing spot.

Mt. Tabor has many old fir stands and other wooded areas, plus open meadows which embrace dirt and paved trails. There are three water reservoirs that a long while supplied drinking water but now are offline. These manmade lakes are still maintained for their attractive features and are a draw for visitors. Three main trails are marked; we took the Blue Trail, the longest loop at 3.31 miles. We meandered among shady trees, dry grassy meadows and on moderately demanding trails. Many other folks were reveling in blue skies and warm temperatures.

Lamp posts are located on the trails as they are open until midnight. Never have hiked that late!

Early fall cannot be denied with fallen leaves that crunched beneath our feet, the faintest cooler edge to some of the breeze. The earth smelled of fall!

Nearing the top, there are more open areas.

Please click for slideshow, below, to see the city and hills from the top.

Still near the top, the trail descends slowly to a children’s play area and a small amphitheater (not shown). This is very popular for family gatherings and picnics. There were three birthday or other parties in progress.

We headed further down the trail, then rested a bit on a slope where many were sunning and visiting. It was good to see so many people feeling peaceful and sociable–though there were those, ourselves included, who wore our masks much of the time.

Please click for a slideshow and enjoy groups relaxing–and pretty views of the water and beyond.

We wound up by the main reservoir which always intrigues me. It was a public water source for so long, yet it is lovelier that something so utilitarian–tranquil to look upon.

One last gaze over the lowest reservoir, below, and the city backdrop with foothills of the Coast Range, then home again. A perfect afternoon of gratitude for all we still have in Portland.

Being Let Loose

Yachats11-10 040“Do you always sit this still?” the physical therapist inquired. “Your head doesn’t move much at all and your shoulders seem frozen. You do walk off balance which is why you came. But you look…way too still somehow. How and why do you do that?” She sighed.

That took me aback. I laughed, a bit embarrassed. Nothing like being told that my muscles were knotted, my posture askew and my neck like a post.

“Well, I was paid to sit at attention for most of my counseling career, about twenty-five years. But now I’m not working for money. Maybe it’s time to loosen things up more.”

I explained that I had sat in an office chair every day. I always leaned forward a little, hands folded in my lap, every sensory avenue tuned to the client who sat before me. Attentive listening it is called. I became so adept at not influencing or distracting clients as they spoke, so calm in the midst of anger, fear, pain and grief, that I would lose sense of my own physicality. I was intent on discovering what their true energy was, where the maze of thoughts and feelings took us. They were demanding puzzles, but shared stories that broke open their insides. And mine, though quietly.

Intuitive responses arise partly from complex and minute informational bits that people share, less with words than with their bodies. What they do not say. I watched and heard. And after a time my feet might get tingly, my hands cold. Headaches geared up. Yawning could creep in by late afternoon; my brain could feel buzzy and empty at once. I realized my circulation wasn’t so great. In between clients, I would shake out the kinks and stretch a little, but  client turnaround time was often five minutes or less. Lunch hours were very short at the desk. For ten or more hours a day I paid attention. I was trained in the art of hearing and enjoyed listening deeply, responding with support and interventions. The rest of the ten to twelve-hour days was spent on documentation via computer.

It was the educational and therapy groups that saved me from becoming immobilized. I enjoy public speaking and sharing new ideas with others, so stood at ease before a crowded room, challenged and conversed with people. But the real bonus: I finally got to move like a human being. I felt free walking back and forth before the group, covering the chalkboard with diagrams and key points. I could let my hands speak; they flew about like happy birds.

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Still, I would return home desperate for a walk and a massage. Just simple relaxation. At eight thirty each night I would walk with my husband or alone if needed in the rain, wind, the sun setting or long set. Then I was returned to myself and my mind would slowly clear, become transparent. Awake but meditative.

Being quiet and still all those years did me no favors. It is against my nature, possibly against all human nature. Let me enter the woods and hike, indulge in long meandering walks. Let me do simple physical labor to ground me, loosen me. I just swept (with a regular broom) and tidied our lengthy sidewalk and parking area today because I wanted to. My landlord could do it and I know more leaves are falling. I felt enlivened and comfortable with the rhythm of sweeping. The crackling bright air filled my lungs. My mind rested and writing ideas came forward, prayers were released, worries made more powerless.

Like most kids, I grew up in full motion–running and swimming, ice skating and tobogganing, bicycling and skipping rope, playing volleyball. I danced every day. I swung from and climbed up trees. I drew pictures, acted, played cello and sang on stages. I was even a cheerleader. Never did I imagine I would sit still for a living. But as a youth when I had to keep my body quiet for, say, one of my father’s concerts, it felt unnatural, hard to pull off. I wanted to use every sense and breathe fully, be spontaneous in mind, spirit and flesh. Move.

It has been many months since I resigned from my last position. I am a woman without a title. Still I sit. I roll my shoulders up and back as I type. I write five to seven hours daily, five to six days a week. This, after all, is the main reason I am home: I have a core-deep, focused, lovely passion for writing. But I am learning once again that I need to get up, do a few exercises, turn on the music and dance around. When I have an anemic poem or a story that mocks me at every turn, outdoors I go. If I’m lucky I hike, but a turn around the neighborhood will do it.

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If it is really storming, then I get busy doing anything. Sometimes all it takes to get blood racing and brain recharging is a simple activity. Vacuuming, for instance, or the orderly folding of laundry.

Earlier this week I decided food would be useful; I tend to forget meals when I am absorbed in something. I pulled out the requisite items: lettuce, tomato, onion, bread, sliced turkey. Tried to shake off frustration about the short story I have revised several times. Realized I should clean the kitchen, so made a swipe or two. Heard my characters yakking in my head, giving directives to each other and me. I got out the mayo and Dijon mustard, then spread each on  bread. And then I put the bread together.

Meantime, I could clearly envision my story’s protagonist, Jasper, sitting on the hillside in his splintery Adirondack chair, gazing at the psychic artisan’s house below. The woman he finds on the far side of strange but likes a little, anyway. He is going to help her out, but how?

And then I figured it all out, what he would do next. Energized again, I took a big bite of my sandwich–Ha! Now for food!–and put it down again. I talked aloud to myself: “Well, that was absolute idiocy!”, with a swear word as exclamation point. It had nothing on it but lettuce and condiments. I had lost track of the physical world a few seconds… yet the very act of moving and doing something so pedestrian had shaken loose the next decent line of the story.

My number one therapeutic intervention to restart creative momentum is walking. Then I get somewhere fast inside my head. The rhythmic swing of legs and arms, heart pumping harder, taking in sounds and colorful sights, finding an array of scents: my mind is loosed. I hear words come alive within and they tell me things I did not know before. They travel from my soul to dodgy (aggressive coronary artery disease) but determined heart, to rapid-firing synapses and back again. I feel and become stronger, opened up, realigned in body and mind. Other creatures don’t think it all over; they just get into gear. So why do I deliberate each time?

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Many situations have been imprisoning in my life. We all know that dark corner feeling. There have been times I have felt like a hostage, emerging with scars and a jaded view. Others have enlightened me more than I imagined at the onset. But if our earth-bound sensory lives can damn us, they also can save us. Just as I must keep my spirit primed with thanksgiving and love of the Divine, I must also give my body opportunities to fully appreciate itself. We are each made all of one piece. We create from fullness and paucity, from expansiveness and the narrows of our lives. Our bodies need us to experience wonders and we need their wisdom. I am a person well acquainted with physical pain yet still I find it so.

And since I am not working for pay, next on my real life list is this: a couple of hours each Friday for a few weeks I will step far away from the desk. I am finally going to take flamenco classes. Flamenco is music and movement that shakes me up and shares life with me. I know there will be good stories and poems arising from this willingness to dance. I will let life and limb loosen more so I can journey deeper into its essence.

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In Good Time

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We had been talking as we walked near the edge of a cliff, catching glimpses of the Columbia River muscling its way through rocky landscape below. It was hotter in the mountains than I’d expected, and there was a steady stripe of sweat from my neck to my waist, a rim of damp on my upper lip and forehead. Carissa seemed cool as can be, walking briskly, her white flats clicking on the asphalt. I couldn’t believe she had worn a dress, a pretty one at that, as though she was attending a garden party. Well, I could believe it. She’d be perfect at a table set for tea and scones. It was just her. I wondered if she had another set of clothing in her trunk for the hike.

I was anxious to get off the walkway and tackle the trail to the waterfalls. We had waited a more than reasonable, red-hot hour. I’d shared my water bottle since she had forgotten hers. Matt and Grant had said they’d join us for a little prayer, a good work-out on the trail and refreshments. I’d packed four peanut butter sandwiches and Fuji apples and was getting hungry already. Carissa had brought trail mix just in case but the chocolate drops had started to melt all over the almonds. Still, it took a strong will to not grab the baggie with the mix from her and scarf down a couple handfuls.

She frowned and wriggled as I swatted a spider from her shoulder.

“I wish I knew why they weren’t here, Margo. I tried hard to accommodate their schedules. I know Matt worked this morning but Grant…well, he always wants to see me.” She turned to me with the smallest smile, like she was embarrassed. “It’s almost a problem.”

I shrugged. “Grant can be a nuisance but he’s okay. I think it’s all that wavy blond hair accented by baby blue eyes. He likes attention and you just give it to him.”

“Well, I didn’t say it was a bad problem. Just an inconvenience at times. But you would think the least he’d do is be here on time.” She looked around. “Just be here with me, us…”

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I sat under an ancient, gargantuan tree and fanned myself with a trail map. After a big gulp of water, I handed it to Carissa but she declined, leaning back on her hands, ankles crossed. Tiny scratches crisscrossed her feet and calves. They looked mean on her ivory skin.

It was Matt, Grant’s twin, I tried not to think about. He was as much like Grant as a plum was like a pickle. Broad of shoulder and big of spirit, he had what my mother called color. Everything he did was either fun or verging on sly. Carissa said he was a scamp. I thought he was a bit like a bee, flitting flower to flower, but hopefully no pollination was going on. That would have disappointed me. But you never knew with Matt what the consequences of his choices would be. It kept it interesting as far as I was concerned.

We had all been schooled in what was important in life, what was right and wrong. Even I didn’t always know what it all meant and my uncle was a minister. If truth be told, I was inclined toward very human thoughts and doings yet I never doubted my security in the good Lord’s arms. Uncle Travis said it best: I had an understanding with God from birth. That meant I felt close to God and tried hard to live up to expectations but I had questions and ideas. If I failed anyone, so be it. God kept the door open from what I could tell. I wasn’t prone to much rugged worry.

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Carissa, though, she had a fear of things, of spiders and eating too much and sneezing loud, or giggling in the middle of church. She feared not getting on the honor roll, wearing one item of clothing twice in the same week. Once she was upset she had left out the butter so it began to liquefy. I didn’t understand it and I had known her most of our lives. Still, she was a good kid. I was older by ten months and bigger so naturally I felt protective.

So when she started to fuss as time hemmed and hawed and stretched into an hour and fifteen minutes but still no boys, I took her cool hands in mine and said, “Look, let’s hit the trail. It’ll be cooler down in the trees and we can sit by the waterfall and eat. They couldn’t make it, I guess. We could try calling them, but…”

“No, let’s go.”

She smoothed back her wispy bangs and lifted her chin. I worried about her flats and told her so but she was unconcerned. We started down the incline gingerly, the gravel rolling off the dirt. I was in front and twice she grabbed me as she slipped. I hesitated. All we needed was an accident, her dress ruined, shins fully bloodied. The path soon leveled off and was beaten hard so we kept on. My t-shirt was soaked in back and my chest felt prickly. A mess is what I was, but the woods were thick with greenness and everything glowed in the afternoon light. The ferns, slugs and mushrooms, the lichen clinging to nurse logs, the breeze sweetening: I was in heaven. I fell into a pleasing rhythm and forgot to watch over Carissa.

It was a good trek into the dappled cool of the forest. As we descended towards the snaky creek and rounded a curve, waterfalls seemingly dropped from the brilliant sky, parting the rocks. They called out to us with happy music. I could see one fall mixing with another and wished I could slide right down them into the sapphire pool below.

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At the bridge I turned to Carissa. She was leaning against the railing, staring into the creek.

“I came here to celebrate another day with the Lord, but nobody’s here…” she said in a near-whisper.

Really, I thought I heard her wrong. I studied her perspiring face, the corners of her downturned mouth, her chest heaving as she tried not to cry. What I saw shook me up.

“What?”

“No one came.”

“I’m here, Carissa. I’m always here, if you think about it.”

She propped her chin in her hands, then squeezed her eyes tight. “Yes, but…”

“And God’s here, right under your nose. ”

“I guess. Yes, of course. Still.”

The water roared like a playful creature. I found I couldn’t hear Carissa anymore. I crossed the bridge, climbed up thirty-two railroad ties with muscles straining so hard I thought I’d have to stop, but didn’t. I had to keep going. Finally I arrived at the top platform overlooking Bridal Veil falls. My heart was banging but I felt strong, good, like I had gained stamina along the way. I stood alone but it didn’t bother me at all. Here was creation and it was amazing to behold. It hit me that I was at home, where I belonged.

When I finally turned to see if Carissa was joining me, I heard my name called. There came Matt running down the trail, just Matt, his hands waving like crazy at me. Carissa stood alone at the bridge, her mouth open, arms wide, palms up as he passed her by. It made me sad to see her there in that pretty aqua dress and dusty flats. But I guess the right time is when things happen of their own accord. That’s how God sends us a little message. At least, that’s how I see it. Carissa–she’ll find her own faith sooner or later. I’ll likely be around to offer her a hand if she wants it.

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A Truth on a Mountain Trail

I read a couple of articles recently about writing with honesty and being true to the essence of one’s self. These aren’t necessarily one and the same. I could write factually, historically, about what has occurred in my life, and likely there is some validity and value in that. I have lived in peculiar times; my personal decades have reflected those changes and challenges. And I have experienced a number of events that have been unusual or dangerous, insufferable yet inspiring, curious and surprisingly sweet. So why not just write about those, the unvarnished truth–put them out there and see how they do?

But usually it is another story that draws me. It is the one recalled by an inner vision, or that simply seeks my attention and pulls me like a magnet. This hideaway of stories is a vast and homely palace where who I am lives, made of bits and pieces of wonderings,  snippets of images and visions. It is a place of wonders.  It is erected and maintained in my heart and in my dreaming. Call it a writer’s way of being or maybe just a lowly pilgrim’s. But this process of seeking the whole story cracks open much of what I know as truths, at least mine.

So I will tell you a small tale about climbing up a trail in Mt. Hood National Forest to see Mirror Lake.

It was a brilliant day, the sort we have been waiting for all year in the northwest. I had heard about the trail for years. Walking and hiking are like bread for my soul and body–basic, a daily requirement, a tool in my toolkit. But I have a coronary artery disease diagnosis, and even with two stent implants to keep the blood flowing nicely,  I wasn’t certain if I could climb this trail for an hour and a half. But it is  considered relatively easy , so is popular with families. There is, after all, only a 700 ft. elevation change. And at the end of that trail, there is the reward of a lovely lake and a grand view of Mt. Hood.

These are the facts of this post so far. Now comes the rest.

The heat dallied, then gradually seeped out of the deepening forest but it was quite warm enough. I was good with sandals and jeans rolled up, a light t-shirt. I climbed with Marc, my spouse, and as we pushed forward l sought to turn out all thought and let nature envelop me. In fact, the goal here was to fully empty my mind–and find refuge from stress.

This is the hard part. It has been a rough start of summer, ragged ’round the edges. Many changes in my family and more to come. Some of it has brought pain, the sort that needles me unless I surrender to work or the joys and passions which overflow the flexible parameters of my life. The harder life becomes, the harder I tend to work, as though I can tame it, put all the unruly things back into their corners. Or smooth out the creases with a strong and steady hand. And in the midst of the work, find solace and release. I have great energy and will but sometimes it seems small match for this adventure we call human life.

I kept on. The trail curved and steepened. I was breathing harder, so paused. Beads of sweat had sprung up on my forehead and neck. I studied others who passed. They looked cool, relaxed. Nearby was a stream which swirled and tumbled, its music buoyant. I examined soft moss that clung to logs crisscrossing the water, then started again.

Each step brought air that was thinner in my lungs, to my brain. My breathing was labored. Perspiration snaked its way down my chest and back; it was as though tears fell from my pores while my eyes stayed clear. My heart, at moments syncopated, began to settle, and beat well if quickly. Clusters of people came and went with their enthusiastic children and lively dogs. How far could it be to the top?

I let many pass, in need of more communion with nature. I was closer to that vivid moment when all falls away and life becomes again harmonious, within and without. Treetops shimmered in the swish and sigh of breezes. Looking up, I felt dizzy with warmth and pleasure. My mind began to recalibrate. My soul sat up.

The ascent went on like that for me, climbing as long as I could, the sweat dampening my skin but my breathing steadier. Then a long pause. My legs were heavier but moving as demanded, and my arms swung so that I fell into the rhythm of it, feet sure, knees a bit cranky but doing their job well. And the forest kept beguiling me with its perfumes and beauties and odd asides.  We admired plants, bugs, berries; watched ground squirrels scamper; wondered over cougars and bears. We were moving into the wilderness, though well-travelled by humans there. I kept on, heart shifting smoothly,  lungs filling with redolent, clean air. I was well challenged, more attuned. Heartbeats took oxygen to blood and brain; my senses sharpened.

We were nearing the top. Light spilled into shadows. The trees encroached less, patches of sky were more often visible. We gazed out over Zig Zag Valley, an exquisite scene. Such heavenly blueness, like an infinite cape.

When we arrived at Mirror Lake I heard, then saw, adults and children splashing and laughing. They were relieved and happy to be cooled by an alpine lake, with sunshine hot and golden on their backs. I felt that feeling I always have when seeing a body of water like this: a great dash of joy, a familiar peace.

It reminds me of childhood summers in northern Michigan where only good things were allowed if at all possible, like boating and swimming and laying in a chaise lounge and reading all day. Sitting around a fire and roasting marshmallows. Listening to birds and catching fireflies.

There was a feeling of being brave back then, and of life so rich with possibilities. And even when the bad times came (which they did, as they do, with a vengeance), there was that muscular power to my belief that all could be overcome. Endured. Healed. It was the feeling of an ancient and eternal love made visible in sky and water, in the mellifluous sounds of life. Way back then, as a child, it made its way into the cells of this body, the synapses of this brain so that I am, unapologetically, a believer. In the supreme design. In God alive. Here. Now.

Mirror Lake may not be the most breathtaking lake I have ever seen. But imperial Mt. Hood reigns if you walk to a grassy spot on one side of it.  There, in the brazen mountain sunshine, is the reflective quality that gives the lake its name. I like how it spreads gently among forest and rocks. As we sat in the shade my mind was clarified. The sharp stings of my difficulties had left no poison behind. I was small here at the top of the trail, and yet had my place.

How can I forget that the pain I hold too close slips away when my heart opens wide? I was given gratitude at the top of this trail, in the center of a summer day. This is much of the truth, the real story that sooner or later finds me.