Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: No Changes, No Gains

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.

Saturday’s Words & Photos: Life and Hoyt Arboretum

Photos, Cynthia Guenther Richardson 2018

Blue sky and sunshine gleam at me, the autumn colors becoming richer day by day. I am looking out my open balcony doors; the October air lately has been soft and inviting. How fortunate I feel to enjoy such a lesisurely afternoon.

And yet, it has been a challenging week, first dealing with a second knee injury that occurred a week ago on another nature walk. Ah, the importance of strong healthy knees! A greater worry is my one remaining sister being in hospital with heart issues (family health legacy, unfortunately). The past couple days I have been sedentary –a big challenge for me–and very concerned for my sis Allanya. One by one, each of us surviving siblings deal with ongoing heart health matters.

I wasn’t going to post today. Then I recalled a slew of pictures from another recent woodsy foray (not the hike during which I tripped on a piece of hidden rebar sticking up from muddy creek-side earth…a shock out in the woods). Yes!– I can relive the happiness of hiking even as I rest and ice my swollen knee. And take even more good will to my sister, bedside.

The Hoyt Arboretum, on a high ridge of the west hills of Portland, OR., was established in 1928 as a way to conserve endangered tree species. Within the 189 acres are over 6000 specimens of trees and 2300 species, of which 63 are considered endangered or vulnerable. There is a huge collection of conifers, magnolias, deciduous trees…far more than I can note here, and other plants including bamboo. There is also an Herbarium, a natural sciences collection museum for scientists with many samples of plants.

There are 12 miles of hiking trails within a a place of serenity and many wonders. Please enjoy part of our 7 mile hike undertaken one partly sunny/partly rainy afternoon!

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July 4th–and An Isle of Biodiversity’s Pleasures

Beautiful farms upon entering the island
Farmland upon entering Sauvie Island

It was a good day, one made of cooling clouds that accompanied my morning walk. Voluminous fluff of grey and white soon parted to make way for sunshine, light turning all amber and toasty. Now it is a fading back light to the end of day. ‘Tis the 4th of July in the U.S.A. It has been a day of lazing about, grilling and enjoying tasty turkey burgers, my dill potato salad and corn, keeping company with some of our family. I can hear bombastic fireworks and can envision the brilliant displays. We’ve attended countless displays over time so opted out since most grandchildren were elsewhere this year.

Tangential thoughts linger, though. Independence Day: what that heralded and how it happened, what it still means. It’s complicated to consider and a demanding a topic for a short post. I think of the real implications in juxtaposition to Native Americans as my mind tosses about divergent responses. There is much to ponder just as there is much to study and question regarding the history of the world, how land and culture is altered repeatedly so that entire peoples have been impacted on every continent. Became changed and also became change makers. Americans were once–and still often are–immigrants, by and large, a topic rife with conflict these days so many places.

I also think of the motley crew, that bunch of aristocrats, scholars of various means, visionary ragamuffins and assorted trail blazers who fought for and won self-rule. And managed to create a document called the Declaration of Independence that made it all official in 1776. England watched and must have wondered what on earth next. Turns out, plenty during 240 years. American born (a happy mix of German, Irish, English, Scotch predominantly), do remain and shall be. I love this place and the diversity of peoples. I dearly hope for the better parts to gain firmer ground and more troublesome ones to improve.

That said, I find myself coming back to what I love here and now. All I really want to do is share pictures of a place husband Marc and I visited over the week-end: Sauvie Island, about ten miles northwest of our city.

It is one of the biggest river islands in North America, and the largest freshwater isle in our country. It is a rich agricultural area that supplies a large population with wonderful fruits  and vegetables, and flowers (U-pick, too). We saw many gathering armfuls of lavender, buckets of raspberries and blueberries. We find the best pumpkins there for Halloween and have had a blast picking strawberries and apples.

The island has a large wildlife preserve and a few sandy beaches along the Columbia River side (one clothing-optional–a surprise the first time we stumbled on it) and even a lake. Sauvie Island is situated within the Columbia and Willamette rivers, as well as the Multnomah Channel, where houseboats line up at water’s edge. On a clear day, you can see neighboring mountain peaks in Washington and Oregon, including Mount St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood.

This time we took a two mile loop within Wapato Greenway State Park, part of a 12,000 acre Sauvie Island IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, having met an internationally agreed upon set of criteria). It lies within a one hundred year floodplain of the Willamette River. The landscape types include: open water, oak savanna, hardwood forest, upland prairie, riparian woodland, wetlands and grassy meadows. Each displays unique, attractive characteristics.

It was a very hot afternoon; I wore my wide brimmed hat this time and we took plenty of water and a snack. There were some dive bombing mosquitoes–not that common in much of Oregon and controlled in this area–but not enough to be bothersome if we kept moving along. (I used bug spray before entering, just in case; Marc seems oddly immune.) Bees were industrious and plentiful.We walked in search of even a few of one hundred species of birds that thrive there. Their wide ranging songs were startling and so melodic. We always carry binoculars but could identify very few as they flitted and hid, true to bird nature. There was a great blue heron. There were several kestrel nest boxes noted but no kestrels seen. We did see a lot of evidence of black tail deer. Coyotes apparently roam; I kept my eye peeled to no avail though they tend to nose about everywhere.

Here are a few photographs taken as we explored via winding, at times nearly overgrown trails for over two hours. We often return to this island as there are such wonders to explore. If there was more time I’d add more– but this time I hope enjoy a taste of Sauvie Island’s voluminous delights!

A sinuous insect-buzzing trail
A sinuous sunshine-and-shadow, insect-buzzing trail.
Sauvie Island and other 073
We trekked along a channel of the Willamette River for awhile.
Sauvie Island and other 065
The boating life– I am an aficionado, myself!
Sauvie Island and other 115
A very old, huge white oak on oak Savannah acreage.
Sauvie Island and other 055
There are numerous areas of marshland.
Sauvie Island and other 106
Grassland meadows studded with flowers and bees.
Sauvie Island and other 144
Marc: Isn’t that a warbler?
Sauvie Island and other 139
Peace: a moment of partial shady repose as temps hit 85 degrees F.
Sauvie Island and other 208
Mt. Hood–we call it simply The Mountain
Sauvie Island and other 174
An osprey nest, one of many. Oregon has lots of ospreys, a delight to watch fly, to hear the whistling calls.
Sauvie Island and other 170
Mount St. Helens is in WA. state but close to us–a volcano which famously blew in 1980, and has been agitated since. We have, I believe, 5 active volcanoes in our NW area. And one extinct right in our city that is now a beautiful park.
Sauvie Island and other 201
Multnomah Channel, past of the Willamette River. The Columbia and Willamette converge but the Columbia flows to the Pacific Ocean perhaps 90 minutes from Portland.
Sauvie Island and other 198
An idle day’s end fantasy: to live in a houseboat! I took far too many pictures of them with their tidy boats…