Monday’s Meander: Helvetia Country

Go by car! That happens more these days- and I am happy to get out and about so off we went toward Helvetia, Oregon. This beautiful, hilly community is a lush and close-knit agricultural area established in late 19th century by Swiss immigrants. About a half hour deeper into the Tualatin Valley, we turned off a main artery. We remained on a narrow road that barely allowed two way traffic–of which there was almost none Sunday.

This community is also known for historic churches and pioneer cemeteries–none of which I have seen before and did not see this trip. Only a drive through this time, eyes feasting on pastoral landscape that revealed the fine farmers’ hard work.

You may see a few blurred spots–rarely stopped as any moment a vehicle could barrel around the sinuous hilly road. Well, bear with me–it is a driving meander, after all.

You will note the abundant red clover above. There are fields and fields of it (Marc says “crimson clover”- apparently different from simply red) planted in between other crop plantings to replenish nitrogen in the soil. Many crops do well, including lavender, peaches, many berries, wine grapes; pumpkins, eggplants, carrots, garlic, garbanzo beans and much more. I noted there are also gladiolus raised, but none were seen this time.

I love the big sky and clouds–mountain ranges and valleys make for interesting formations.

There are many lovely homes, also, some newer, and older farmhouses indicate a historically prosperous agricultural community. Incidentally, Roloff Farms is located here (“Little People, Big World” TV fame).

We passed about a dozen white and yellow boxes of bee hives– and the bees were wildly a-buzz for a long stretch. With all that clover and a diversity of other plants, they must be in pollinating heaven.

I hope you enjoyed the drive. Next time a longer ramble will be taken, and historic places enjoyed–with, I surely hope, several stops at produce stands.

Monday’s Meander: Woodsy Walk in Carmel-by-the Sea

During the visit to mid-northern coast of California, daughter Alexandra and I walked quiet, narrow streets of Carmel-by-the Sea during her lunch break from work at Sunset Center. I so wanted pictures of the quaint but splendid, substantial homes (even much smaller ones) but this is a place where there are no numbers on houses or mailboxes–only names. It was clear a “cottage” here is not like a the cottages where, as a youth in northern Michigan, I frolicked about woods and lakes. I mean, Doris Day But in 2020, deceased…she owned the Cypress Inn Hotel) and Clint Eastwood lived somewhere around there. And the place felt like a movie set…So, not the time to point and shoot away. ( I sneaked a very fast shot above; though too exposed you can see a house in the back ground…)

The sunshine began to diminish as we walked along and the thicket of trees grew. We followed a pretty pathway through an opening. The light became more diffuse, soft as heat lessened, and the silence– save for bird songs or rustlings in branches–hung in crackling dry, fragrant air. Eucalyptus is ubiquitous; its sharp, pungent scent intoxicated me.

The flowers that appeared were lovely, and perhaps the best were lilies…

…though this was a marvel. Captivating.

Back to town, and a few days later, back to Oregon after our lovely California respite.

Monday’s Meander: Monterey, California

I am contemplating Big Sur…the wide Pacific, the light

Four years ago around this time Marc and I visited our youngest daughter and son-in-law in Monterey and Carmel, CA. Since the hit series “Little Big Lies” showcases that town and area, I thought it’d be a fun diversion to post a few of my sunny photos once more. (Daughter A. had a great job at Sunset Center in Carmel-by-the-Sea– a performing arts venue.) Carmel is fancier, Monterey more artsy and homey to me.

A view of Monterey Bay

It truly is as beautiful as it is purported to be. The light is extraordinary; artists flock there as well as other creatives. The weather is about perfect, the landscapes scroll before one’s gaze, ever changing visual gifts. The area is inhabited by the more moneyed, generally, but even we middle class folks enjoyed happy roaming about at our leisure.

Some of these shots are taken as we traveled to Santa Cruz, Big Sur and the Pinnacles National Park, around the Salinas Valley (the valley is John Steinbeck country). Included also are picturesque sights from Carmel-by-the Sea. It all delighted with attractive architecture, streets, seaside and valley views.

I hope it gives you restful pleasure to view some of the places we visited. We start in Monterey and Carmel.

A slide show is below.
We hiked into Pinnacle National Park. Great time climbing, checking out the views.

Heading into Big Sur country…

Back to lovely Monterey and next-door Pacific Grove.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: A Garden Childhood

A favorite story; a sort of real life experience

My childhood was bounded and enlarged by gardens, smaller or bigger, private and public. I thrived where all things flourished with restraint– or with less. It fed my earliest poetic leanings, and reminded me daily how the universe near and far throbs with life.

My first childhood home on the corner of Trenton and Lamb was a rambling two-story that housed seven. The yard had pear and apple trees from which the family picked–or gathered from ground–fruits for canning or salads or desserts and out-of-hand munching. The white and pink blossoms shook in Missouri-humid breezes. Flowers lined the yard with rainbow colors.

In the breezeway, I was cradled in one arm of the one-handed woman who ironed for us and more with the one she had once a week. She sang as she rhythmically pressed the items, cushiony body swaying. The clean, fresh scent of laundered, warm cotton fabric still gives me happiness. As do trees and blossoms.

Not too distant from our house was my paternal grandparents’ tidy white clapboard abode, with a well-tended a kitchen garden in the back. It seemed a barely tamed jungle of hues and forms, scents and flavors set within a rectangular white picket fence on a gently rolling yard (beyond rippled more grass, greening a hilly terrain). The gate was not too large for me to reach to unlatch alone at first, but I grew. Over the years I’d make my way down even rows of tomatoes and potatoes, lettuce, squash, strawberries and watermelon, snap peas and sometimes a few tall stalks of corn; and between pansies and petunias, marigolds (averting pesky bugs), zinnias and rose bushes. I knelt down to put my face to the growing things, breathed in deeply a bouquet of tangy, earthy and sweet; it all smelled good and happy. I dug into rich soil, found worms in hand, beetles creeping across my palms. Bright butterflies drifted about as birds called out. My grandmother would stick her head out the back screened porch door, paring knife in hand or a perhaps a bowl and say my name. Though reluctant to leave such a half-secret world, those nodding flowers and mouth-watering berries I popped into my mouth and the bug-watching, I answered obediently. We would sit on the steps and shuck corn, soft silk sticking to my fingers a bit. A quiet, industrious woman, she and I got closer during such tasks–such as peeling potatoes and finally mastering the art of removing a peel in one long curl or washing and cutting up strawberries or removing corn husk faster.

My erudite grandfather was not avoidant of manual labor, and though he seemed more gentleman than small time farmer he would hoe, plant and weed, as well, his shabby straw hat perched atop luxurious white hair.

After moving to Michigan, those spring and summer visits were more coveted, and felt like strong sunshine radiant within me the whole year.

When older, there was an indoor botanical garden we visited when seeing relatives, an Art Deco-style feat of glass architecture of the Jewel Box in St. Louis, MO. Trees turned and twisted up to the ceiling; flowers were vibrant and exotic to me; in one display I imagined myself lost in South America. The light that streamed from every glass panel was enchanting; it was an entire world, removed. I would take off to explore, immerse myself in the lushness. Any visit was an event and once yearly not enough. It remains a display greenhouse of primarily flowers, and is on the National Historic Register.

In Michigan our house was smallish with an open, sloping back yard surrounded by pine trees in the back with only one small cherry tree, to the relief of my mother–no fallen and rotting fruit. But an impressively huge lot to the north was entirely a garden.

Mr. Benfer’s garden. He and his wife owned the lot but lived on the south side of our place. It was like the countryside had taken a detour and stopped, then put in roots. Those peonies! That rhubarb! They had rows and rows of corn, tomatoes, green beans and sugar peas, pumpkins and other squash, cucumbers, tons of strawberry plants and things I’d not known of before–my mother, who had grown up on a large farm, happily explained it all. The roses and irises, tulips and more drew me like the bees to varied delights.

I longed to hold them close and bury my nose. To get out there and pick a few things. But Mr. Benfer’s garden was not my grandparents’. It was more like Mr. McGregors’ garden and we were the bothersome rabbits: we were strictly forbidden entry. They were not fond of children nor even that much of adults. But we were seven and often inadvertently crossed boundaries during recreation–badminton and croquet, basketball and other ball games. Those balls, birdies and plastic darts ended up in that garden more than we’d hoped. My bother was a budding archer; stray arrows were trickiest to reclaim. I suspected he shot badly on purpose, on occasion, at a plant. (I hoped not the lovely rabbits hopping about with boldness– until shooed out with hoe. Like the famed McGregor story, I mused.)

There was a single heavy wire strung as a boundary between our yard and that lot, no more than a couple feet high–easy to get over or under. Which we managed fine. Or we could just step into the back of the garden which opened up onto a small tree nursery that also extended behind our yard. But I was the youngest so warned to stay back and watch a brother’s or sister’s antics. I was a designated guard, and kept an eye out for the Benfers –or our parents. How I longed for a sumptuous berry, a juicy cherry tomato. If lucky I might get one from the siblings, then sworn to secrecy. In truth, the mischievous excursions didn’t happen often; we knew what was right and wrong. And would also be scolded soundly. And several times my siblings got found out and were sternly spoken to, then commanded to avoid further trespassing. It didn’t fully deter anyone– the thrill of sneaking about and escaping without being seen was more fun than actual “borrowing” of produce. Stealing, though, was an actual sin.

Mr. Benfer was not a generous or easy-going man. Very tall and a little stooped even when younger, balding, he had wire-rimmed glasses that bracketed darting eyes. He emitted a low grunt if we dared speak to him, which I often did in hopes of making things friendlier. His wife might nod at me. Her big hats wavered about as she bent over the rows–their backs were bent for hours, it seemed. As I grew older I knew the work got taxing but I still hoped to taste the fruits of their labor. At times I was left on my own so managed to sneak over, snatch a warm, sweeter than anything strawberry. But most often I just stood at the back and looked and sniffed the ripening air, and marveled at how they could bring forth such bounty, such beauty. Despite being unfriendly, possibly unhappy people. I resolved to not trod upon their ground after my siblings left, one after the other, for college when I was twelve. It took restraint.

The flowers were stunning, and some fell to the side of our yards. Their irises were tall, happy sentinels, daffodils bright and lemony, and sunflowers were giants amid burgeoning rose bushes whose perfumes layered the air several feet away in June’s softer heat. The tulips–my birthday flower as well as forsythia– were sturdy and graceful in rainbow hues. I talked to them sometimes in passing as my fingers grazed their petals. And when storms ripped the blooms apart I felt almost forlorn without them to greet. At least the few flowers that grew around our house were more shielded.

Mrs. Benfer loosened up a little at us as time passed, despite us being chased out a few times, Mr.’s spade shaken in our direction. Mrs. even came to our door now and then with rhubarb, my mother’s favorite for pies, which I cared for little. But small bunches of peonies or roses that were brought by were a joy to behold and arrange in vases for our dining room table. But Mr. Benfer remained inscrutable and humorless. His garden was his true love; people were not his forte, perhaps. But what wonders he wrought with his wife, and that said a great deal.

Pathway in Monet’s Garden at Giverny by Claude Monet

The other neighborhood garden was tended by my mother’s best friend, a multi-skilled woman with whom I stayed after school for several years, as my mother taught elementary school– but not mine. My second mother, Winetta Titus. Opening her French doors to a blooming yard was heavenly. The birds loved it there, too. We’d sit on the patio and watch and listen as she taught me their names and habits. She, too, raised vegetables, but it was the flowers that drew me in. She’d cut bouquets for me to take home. Winetta’s presence was a gift to me during my growing up; her garden was lively poems of love and wonder, of generosity.

The last garden to note this time is Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan, where almost all my childhood and youth were spent. Herbert H. Dow was the founder of Dow Chemical, the mainstay of Midland’s employment and industrial leadership, and a generous giver of money and other gifts. His home included a lot of land; Dow Gardens is a 110 acre parcel filled with botanical offerings. The grounds are breathtaking: pretty bridges, water features, perennials and annuals, pines and other old, sturdy trees. One can stroll at one’s leisure or rest there for hours.

Since it is located beside the library, it was a perfect destination. Books and flowers, butterflies and all manner of other insects working away among the shady trees, a stream and pond. It was a sanctuary as our northern four seasons changed; an open-air school for my searching mind; a space to gather casually with others. It helped shape my sensibilities and preference for the outdoors. My hometown was and is nothing if not beautiful–this is noted with gratitude despite dealing with plenty of hard challenges there and then moving away to rarely return.

I miss those childhood gardens. I suppose every child is intimate with enchantments–or should be. I learned much by lingering in them, paying close attention … to bountiful natural design, the curious life cycles, weather’s impact, pleasures of discovery The patience needed. The mystery revealed. Our place in the scheme of things earthly, how connected our biological reality is to botany and other sciences in basic ways.

But mostly it was the allurements of nature amid proof of God’s genius that swept me up, carried me to deeper realms. Such experiences probed and savored seemed like the most virtuous moments. There was safety in that despite the vagaries of natural events. There was a routine reassurance in the regeneration of life. And it was a thrill to embrace even small bits of the immense complexity of nature’s ways and means.

A garden, after all, is synonymous with hope, a place for faith to flourish–even when not grand. Even if you plant a few tiny seeds in a small clay pot and see them produce more life.

Monday’s Meander: An Annual Waterfront Gathering and Concert

Usually I post pictures of landscapes or visits to museums, gardens, etc., but I miss seeing more people out and about, enjoying themselves. So many looked solemn, sad, weary today on our walk. Then I came across photos from a waterfront festival in Portland, year 2014. A free, open air Oregon Symphony Concert is a hit each year, and boaters come out in droves plus huge crowds that sit alongside the water and before the stage. The other performers that time included Portland Opera, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, 234th Army Band of the Oregon National Guard, Hillsboro School District, Mariachi Una Voz, BRAVO Youth Orchestras and the big drums of Portland Taiko. A fine, diverse group of offerings to fill senses, minds and hearts.

Such a normal state of events in healthier summer times. I feel a wave of nostalgia as I study them. I love being down in city center, going to art fairs and numbers of markets and eating out and shopping, just strolling by the Willamette River’s city walkways, sharing a coffee with others. I suspect I will be looking at more of my city shots, and posting them off and on.

But this also happily confirms that we have had scads of splendid days and nights in our vibrant, artsy, thriving Pacific NW city. And there will be more, sooner or later– if we follow mandates to stay as well as we can and thus, help others do the same. I know we can rebuild after things settle, eventually. I am proud of Portlanders’ willingness to do what is safe and try to support our local businesses as we can, and more and more online.

Like Powell’s Bookstore, for one, a fantastic independent bookseller (there are several, all closed now as are all brick and mortar nonessential businesses) that offer books to customers all over the world. Check them out at You’ll find rare books and first editions; literary, experimental and genre fiction along with graphic novels, tons of nonfiction and poetry, of course. And more. Yes, I read even longer hours now–a gift, except for too little sleep when nighttime reading…

I would enjoy hearing what you love about your towns and cities! Let me know with your comments.

Please take good care.