From Fire to Rain, Power to Power

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Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

I have long found weather fascinating– amazing, perplexing, harsh and daunting but always impressive. Its complexity, changeability. Beauty, strangeness, danger.

I grew up living along with four seasons: snow-driven winters and hot, humid summers, unstable yet welcome springs and the glorious palettes of crisp autumns. That meant four kinds of clothing for activities: thick woolens, snow boots, hats, scarves and mittens; delicate dresses, shorts, sandals; rain coats and umbrellas; light-to-medium sweaters with long pants. Being prepared for 12 months meant unboxing then boxing back up items just as one became adapted to the current season.

When I moved to the Pacific Northwest I discovered the novelty of basically two seasons: Rain and No Rain.

The last three days presents me with the giddy relief of this juxtapositioning: woolly clouds bunching up and releasing precious moisture onto cracked and dusty earth. Onto me. Areas of bare skin are soothed by a long-missed pleasure. An extravagant sweep of wind aids me in my walk as autumn leaves spiral then are swamped in puddles and pools, a few overflowing drains. I breathe more deeply than in months; it’s as if clarified air carries its gifts into hungry red blood cells. But even four days ago there were layers of smoke, vert little brisk walking if any. I am so grateful for autumn’s quick start.

Weather affects all of us, now more than we thought it could. Other places have been tormented by hurricanes and earthquakes and my heart cries out for those ensnared by chaos and loss. More temperate weather events and our safety seem less like something we can count on, and so we live in ever more anxious times. Nature does as nature will do, that is clear, and we adapt, experience threats, know great losses.

Pacific Northwesterners meanwhile are working and playing on and around the Cascadia subduction zone, too, and it gives us pause as we consider the projected catastrophic earthquake that likely will someday occur. There additionally are 18 volcanoes in the Cascade Range, most of which have been active, with 7 so far rumbling and spewing in the last 200 years. There was the eruption of Washington’s Mt. St. Helens in 1980 that choked even our city with ash. I can see Mt. Hood, majestic and formidable, when I cross our many bridges or drive east into the Columbia Gorge.

But lately here in my valley–between the active volcanic Cascade Range and the Tualatin and Coast Ranges–it has been a burning summer, a crackling expanse of vast place and time, fiery days to nights into days and more nights. My body basked in a fan’s whipped-up air, (even hot air) and the trusty AC in most living areas. At one point, 57 days elapsed without rain and then came a short drizzle, then more weeks of no rain. The average temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit but it hit 100 with no problem. And Oregon’s wildfires raged on with over 640,000 acres ravaged at last count. And this wasn’t the worst fire weather on record though it affected many more people right here. With the arrival of the rains, wildfires in the Columbia Gorge are smoldering, perhaps soon extinguished. Fire season may be wrapping up at last.

Those of us either born in the Northwest or who have lived here some time (25 years for me) know there will be doses of very warm weather with bright sunshine off and on for another month. And then the driving, dribbling and chilling, gusty rain will make itself at home and remain until next late spring. Snow has already fallen in the Cascades; ski season may be excellent this year. Unsuspecting newcomers arrive in droves early to late summer and are overjoyed by our dramatically green, dry landscape and sparkling skies, not considering how much rain will fall the remainder of time. We have lots of bars and coffee houses that are even more stuffed in winter. You have to appreciate cloudiness and accept being wet to put down roots.

It is not hard for me, the rainfall. Darker starts to the day with earlier nightfall gentles body and brain, can challenge with cold dampness and insularity but also delight. It works well for writers or for anyone who digs deep into greater depth and breadth of solitude to ponder, dream, create. And my daily walks do not stop. I only hike less in sloping hills, mountains, woodlands–too much muddy trail and threat of landslides. And after the fires, the earth is far more unstable than usual. But hiking can wait for the eventual drying out.

Rain. Water that sustains and wields great power. I chart a new sort of compositional latitude and longitude, how these movements map the autumnal sky. Rain music lifts on a breeze, sinks with a lull, peaks as water pours down and drums roofs, branches, pavement and dirt. The constancy of it. Syncopation and freshly scored tempo. The misty auras of light that rim a horizon and seep from behind mountains–for sun will come and go as rain accumulates, runs with rivers. It fills me with bittersweet longing amid a bone-deep calm. Moves me as it cleaves to growing things, a sheen on all it touches. Teaches me stillness within the whorls of beauty and motion.

I have had enough of blazing blue sky and relentless heat and sweat that thickens along my spine. Had enough of rapacious fire, daily warnings of more being ruined. Perhaps I am weary, too, of my own unexpected life strife, a summer of high hopes and pointed, hard truths for myself and my family. Love and its fractures. Faith that begs to be tested. Strength that shows at times only a fair resolve. Summer can paint everything glorious even amid weakness or pain. But fall and winter…they offer different architectures of internal and external space, those pops of color alongside greyness imbued with scent and sign of rain.

I welcome the wet season. Can manage the shift, shape it into this or that while long blue shadows spread over my desk. What I thought was cool silence is only a breath between notes of rain…like a skirt that is all hidden pattern until it flares in every direction when its wearer begins to dance. My own dances are formed of gratitude, head bowed or lifted high, soul brimming as rain soothes and charges me. Just Monday spontaneous movement unearthed tears as I watched rain streak the air, a tide of tension coming forward, moving away. And there was a good peace felt as God’s presence. There are days I just trust that whatever comes, life will move me along one way or another, even if carried by angels.

The senescence of autumn, its leading to winter is a kindred state for me. A friendly reminder of who I am and yet may become in the midst of upheavals of many sorts. They can bring us each into bolder maturity, richness of spirit as the miracle of life displays inventiveness. Even as circumstances–and weather–inform and press us to be patient. To hold steady, offer a hand. Attend even the ache of it, and then make better where the good must be done.

 

Since I have not yet photographed rain much this year, I wanted to share farmer’s market scenes enjoyed well before rain visited. How fortunate to partake of the abundance; I do not forget this as I peruse the options for healthy food, alone.

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Beauty and this Beast: Wildfire!

Columbia Gorge: Before and After
Credit: James C King,  Oregon Wildland Firefighters

The pictures tell the story but I will say it: I am heartbroken.

To understand how much I love the Pacific Northwest, I will tell you that at 19 years old I fled my Midwest hometown via a one way plane ticket to live at the edge of Seattle, Washington. My life had been a strange mix of the horrid and sublime; it wasn’t to become truly and healthily balanced until years later. But I knew anything could be withstood if I was close–step-out-the-door close–to the wilder areas of nature, specifically mountains, rivers and lakes, forests. I had tasted some of that happiness when summer camping and other visits to northern Michigan. So I had yearned for even more wilderness before cabin living (with older sister) on Lake Washington, an area then still more rural. Every morning I stepped outdoors to take in expanses of lapping, radiant water and greenest trees, to hear music of scampering animals, trilling birds. It wasn’t perfect in all ways; I returned to MI. a year later. But the brash and gentling natural world had so potent an effect on me that all I had to do was shut my eyes: soon arrived the residual energy of its orderly and stirring designs, mysteries and truths. Nature always had felt like a conduit for the healing and instructive powers of God.

Most people seek and can be fortunate to claim a geography that fits them, feels most like home. I was relieved to give up flat, wide-sky expanses of mid-Michigan for this other. Though I visited often it took 20 years to make the permanent move; I have resided in Oregon since 1993. It has been everything I’d hoped in most aspects. Of greatest importance have been the natural world’s opportunities for exploration; activities have seemed endless.

But now: wildfires. Within this part of the state lies our historical treasure, the beloved Columbia Gorge. There is so far zero containment. Six hundred firefighters are out there working day and night. No human life has been lost at this time. Scores of forest creatures have perished, so many more to follow.

Last Saturday a teen-aged boy set off a firework during high fire danger weather in Eagle Creek. That fire began to rapidly grow, then exploded on Monday and now is merged with an older Indian Creek Fire: it now all covers 32,00 acres and counting. Many things can spark flames in fire weather but now these lick at the outer edges of Portland; my husband works in an area that is now at a Level 1 warning–“Be Ready” to evacuate (L 2, “Be Set”; L 3, “Go”). Many communities have been evacuated or may soon be.

And we are not the only ones; an estimated 500,00 acres are burning in Oregon alone. Many are raging in California. There are 1.8 million acres afire in the U.S. right now, per Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown’s latest figures.

Just ten days ago my spouse and I were hiking in the very areas where the fires are devastating the forests and creatures. My post last Wednesday was a cheerful account of hiking to Bridal Veil Falls and enjoying other areas. At that time I felt an eerie sense of the risks of brittle dryness as we trekked among voluminous grasses, unruly thickets and towering trees. One mistake or lightning strike could ignite a fire. But people here are wary and respectful of fire danger watches and warnings. It never occurred to anyone a Washington state youth would exercise such poor judgement, set a conflagration going.

I have stayed indoors for three days, trying to not watch too much news, waiting to hear from Marc on and off since he can see more from his office window. Air quality from falling ash (accumulating on cars, my balcony, other outdoor surfaces) and smoke blanketing the skies is unhealthy, causing burning eyes and congested lungs if out in it too long. (My not-perfectly-healthy heart warns me to take no chances.) The cat I caring for and I are anxiously pacing at times, peering out windows, sniffing the breeze through a cracked window and recoiling–even he does not want to go out. I have the air conditioning unit on high most of the time to filter and cool hot, thickened air. People have donned masks so they can breathe outside when they must leave their homes.

Ash on my son’s truck; he lives somewhat closer to the fires.

Everything feels different for me, brought into a razor-sharp focus I did not have 5 days ago. The trails I have loved hiking and walking, above and along the Columbia River, are forever altered, so quickly. I am profoundly thankful my sense of urgency told me ten days ago to hike those trails at Bridal Veil Falls among others, my annual pilgrimage (marking 16 years lived past a heart event while hiking). Any area structures and homes near there are being or have been evacuated.

Lively, tuneful birds flitting among the forest, the bears’ huffing calls, signs of cougar, rushing creeks and waterfalls, the sight and scents of that deep, sinuous, busy Columbia River from high wooded trails, the town of Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods and beyond…hard to think of today but harder to avoid. I try to console myself with the fact that I at least possess hundreds of photographs from over the years and such fine memories. I know there are other areas intact in the Northwest to enjoy but for the foreseeable future nothing will be well and not ever the same along miles of the Columbia Gorge. Not as it has been for many thousands of years.

So I weep, there is no stopping it, for great losses. How can we ever repair such damages? Or must we watch earth’s demise, just wait for Mother Nature to repair things again–and will that fully occur this time? Powerlessness wells up and harangues me. Hurricane Harvey has devastated so many areas down south. Now there is Hurricane Irma tearing a path of destruction. All over our globe climate change usurps the last flimsy denials, our illusions of domination. Many Native peoples everywhere spoke of the loss of natural balances long ago; so often those warnings went unheeded. I think hard on these things as I prepare to share a few photos from over the past 8-10 years.

What are we to learn amid all this? At the very least, we must come to know more deeply all we are given on this earth, so much better honor and care for it. And beware reckless greed though it feels so late. Nature’s bounties and complexities have been our guides and lifelines, yet too fast can be threatened. And lost. Can we have forgotten that the earth was made to be enjoyed and utilized in an alliance,  a partnership that provides us housing and food and a myriad resources every single day? This planet is constructed for an alliance, for interdependence that has sorely been taken for granted more often than we want to admit.

Love and honor your small spot on the earth wherever you are, love the beautiful and the homely, the short-lived and aged plants and creatures, those underfoot and making homes in small spaces and those high above, the ever blooming and those that require more tending, bodies of water that beguile and nourish or desert that stuns with its rare raiment, the jungles with their lushness and secrets, the valleys and woodlands with emerald swaths and changing shadows and light, the far northern lands with austere majesty.

I want to ask that you think of us here. Hurricanes and other disasters are so overwhelming while I suspect fires can be noted as spectacles then put aside by the public, with less probing thought afforded long-term consequences. Far less federal aid is generally allotted for fire damages and rebuilding efforts, as well as those who must relocate. I appreciate prayers for all life suffering from the wildfires in our country.

(Starting with the picture of the blue heron among Columbia River’s shoreline rocks are five consecutive pictures of Cascade Locks, a village/area long a favorite for us, and we most recently had lunch by the river just ten days ago…all now threatened by voracious flames with evacuations underway. You will see Bridge of the Gods that has so long spanned Oregon and Washington; we hope it holds. But news is that wildfire sparks have now “jumped” the river to WA. More devastation unfolds.)

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No Short Story Today; Life Just being Lived on Another Labor Day

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Photo by this writer, of flowers at our picnic table when all had been packed up and people had gone home.

I had thought I’d whip up a short story as usual for my Monday post but opted out. It is Labor Day in the U.S.A., traditionally a day when folks get together with family to share a grilled meal, relax, feel thankful for any decent employment, and grateful to enjoy the fruits of others’ labors that result in providing necessary services or material goods. And that many people can take a break from various labors, as well, during the traditional three day week-end. Marc, my husband, is engaged in the latter, reading books he usually has so little time to dive right into and enjoy.

It also signals summer’s last days, something about which I am not unhappy–it has been a too-hot and arduous summer for many in my family. And I am even longing for the autumn and winter rains. The crackling dryness begins to overtake body and mind, air is oddly tinged with smoke from wildfires–hundred-fifty hikers rescued from the Cascade Mountains over the week-end due to fires– and the skies barren of pretty clouds. It causes an eeriness as we check in to see the extreme fire weather warnings inform as not all that far way, communities are being evacuated. (We were in Cascade Locks and also some of these hiking areas a week ago; I noted extreme dryness in that post: https://talesforlife.blog/2017/08/30/young-or-older-we-are-carried-forward/)

I feel subdued, a hair and a half off, one of those days when a health issue presses upon me like a wet blanket, not “suffocating” but an aggravating nuisance. Enervating. Anyway, we saw most everyone yesterday at a picnic for a birthday. And our adult children–those in the area–are today in the midst of 1) a aiding a partner recovering from an emergency surgery 2) preparing for an important job interview and 3) busy with own family. Another one I chat with daily; she is on East coast time. And another has lately become a bit incommunicado. Family is complicated. Always loved no matter where we are, what we are up to, when we may meet again.

This vein of thought leads me to concerns of those in Houston, Texas and beyond who are dealing with ordinary life being wrenched from them. What a paramount misery it must be for many thousands, what they would give for a home to again languish within, a chance to grill a burger or veggie, to sit with friends and family and chat about nothing of import. My heart hurts for them. Simple routine work must seem a faraway dream: work now means finding shelter, safe food and water, tending to medical issues resultant of the hurricane with its winds, torrential rains and historic flooding. Let us not forget to offer healing prayers and offer money if we can spare a few dollars for organizations that directly aid the victims.

So all this gives me pause today, and if these words comprise not a diverting story or cheery essay, life gets so gritty and can bring me to a pensive state. It happens to us all.

Another thought is that this is typically the last day before school commences following summertime, whether small children and youth or young adults entering college. I saw various grandchildren yesterday at the picnic . They are very excited to resume work in school starting this week. Leisure time will again develop more value when they are caught in the throes of serious studies. Before they know it, they’ll be sweating away at a grown up job.

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Two beloved grandchildren, 11 and 15 (brother & sister). It was hot outside…don’t ask why fashion choices included cap plus hoodie plus camouflage pants- I can’t keep up. I know, the phones–but they played ball, too, and chatted. Hugs remain good, despite trends and ages.

So, Labor Day: I have been retired from counseling work for over four years now. But I recall demands of work and endless domestic needs, the deep relief of keeping some time protected, separated from employment though it might yet skirt edges of consciousness–even with beaded glass of iced tea in one hand, a glossy magazine in the other while basking in the sun.

I may still find myself waxing nostalgic about daily problem solving re: the quality of human life (with which I love to be engaged) and small victories (rather reassuring) and losses (which hurt but part and parcel of working with people in crisis). I held such passion for my job 45-55 hours/week. I still live a life stuffed with obligations and activities as well as the unpaid, tedious and enthralling labors of writing–and thinking of writing; reading copiously; more revising, ever more writing. Why, if no money is generously thrown into my bank account with promises of far-flung travel and public readings and… well, all those outrageous trappings? I simply cannot stop myself, it’s that much fun and fury. Each day, another writing adventure and i am panting, trying to keep up with all the ideas.

So. It doesn’t quite feel like I am being a bonafide laggard or, God forbid, a barely moving slug. We can always do more, of course.

My husband certainly enjoys each moment he can attend to without urgency or consequence. His work requires such attention on a daily basis so he should be at his absolute leisure (okay, he watered a few balcony plants, scrubbed the tub for me), absorbing all peace and quiet he can. For him, just not having to travel as much to “put out fires” in the aggressive world of manufacturing is a balm. So I’d consider this day a day spent well enough; he at the least deserves it. As do all others who toil so routinely.

In the end, each day is what it is; I am grateful to be able to live them as they come, not matter what the hours may require.  My life is decidedly not “picture perfect” today or any other. It all still matters–whether any of us is notably industrious or not.

I hope you folks out there are finding ways in which to enjoy time off work (if you celebrate Labor Day). Perhaps you also are taking stock of bounties and challenges. Stop and feel good about yourselves for doing what you do. And if you’re inclined toward a more pointed, factual post on Labor Day, you can find one from last year, here: US Labor Day=Time Out with a Day Off

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Fruit on Plate with Flowers on Wood

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

(For NJF)

About the time you think you’ve taken in just
enough to sustain you, to fade ten more marks
left by the world and ease the daily ache
that lodges along the spine like a blunt knife
delved into the earth of your nerves and sinew,
and you admit it is this voyager body and dancer soul
that must hold more, bear and hope and give more–

then you pass the dining room table and see
four sweet fruits nestled beside one another
on a plate found and offered by a daughter
to be used whenever you may desire.
Everything loosens and reassembles
as if the heart’s flesh, tender and tight,
opens then closes around an obdurate core,
the love that will not be ruined,
never dismissed, will not sell its secrets

but this, just being here, now, perfect: for you.

This Monday’s Post Has Already Departed for the Beach!

 

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We’re off to luxuriate in blue skies and sunshine, leisurely days and evenings and a little exploration–much needed since Marc has been travelling a lot for work, as usual. We do still miss each other (even at this point in married life) after awhile! Plus, it’s his birthday present, not saying for which one, out of loving respect. 🙂 Hope you readers can create time to enjoy yourselves and loved ones, too. I’ll be back with more pictures and words by Wednesday or Friday, depending on timing (and perhaps how very relaxed I become on the trip…)

May blessings surround you; may peace visit all.

Cannon Beach-Astoria-Lg Beach, 5-17 486