We started on the west side of the Columbia River in Washington State one hot afternoon. We had headed to a nature preserve but found it closed, so when we went on, seeking a different area. We found a small parking lot that with access to a walkway by the river. Since we’d not been on this southern part of the the river walk, we checked it out.
There is a reason why we hadn’t intended to stop there. The Captain William Clark Park (of Corps of Discovery, 1806–though we know Native Americans resided there…) is by a small city, Camas, so lots of people traverse that part of a very long, winding walkway. And we enjoy nature with far less people. But any river calls to me–I’ll stop at small or big ones, with or without parks or any path. Columbia River is one I deeply admire, am fascinated by–no matter how many times I visit it. At 1240 miles, starting in British Columbia and emptying into Pacific Ocean after flowing through seven U.S. states… mammoth. It also holds one third of our potential hydropower, so what a resource.
The photos attempt to share its softer nature that afternoon, and how people were enjoying it. We came to Cottonwood Beach which I did not photograph much; it was packed, to our surprise in this pandemic, and we avoided huge groups of friend and family gatherings–but they were having a pleasant time in the unusually warm sunshine.
It is hard to describe how big and deep and restless this river is. The often strong winds were were rather still; the water surface fairly calm. But when I see the boats out there with fisher persons, I wonder if they ever feel intimidated by the mighty currents that occur, the breadth and width and depth of it. It is one of the biggest rivers in the U.S. flowing by Portland as well as Vancouver, WA. metro. There has been. alas, flooding occasionally…
On Saturday we returned to a place we explore each season, the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. The riparian forest, wetlands, and lowlands comprise over 1800 acres that are home to over 200 species of birds, 50 of mammals, 25 of amphibians and reptiles and a large assortment of insects, fish and plants.
We had our ears attuned to birdsong as eyes sought out critters among lush greenery. We heard more than saw wildlife–a snort of a black tailed deer, the sleek fat body of a river otter, the rustlings of perhaps a snake through the tall grasses. I was hoping for a bobcat but have never seen one, and may have sighted a coyote and beaver.
It was a peaceful mosey among groves of old great white oak trees, which support 800 kinds of creatures there. We missed the bigger groves but there are many other trees to enjoy along the paths. Small lakes amid the wetlands were luminous, dramatic as the sky darkened and brightened with sunshine alternating with rain clouds. The river itself was hidden much of the time–several areas are off-limits to humans to protect migrating birds.
Rain became a fickle companion, the sky feeling low and then high again.
Rain increased but it was a mild day and we are Oregonians…we kept on. At the end of our walk, the small lakes and swooping vocalizing birds captivated me. I could have set up camp there right through dusk and nightfall.
Clouds scudded off; the landscape flushed with honeyed light once more.
It was a soothing while also stimulating afternoon, and I always feel happy photographing nature. We will return when more paths are opened to our eager feet.
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.
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.
For some reason I have lately been having problems downloading iPhone photos to my Dell laptop. These few show a small array from the wonderful walk yesterday as it edged towards mid-60 degrees Fahrenheit. There were more shots of people fishing, of flowering bushes and 6+ feet tall graceful grasses and others… In any case, I am grateful we could get out and enjoy this. About a quarter of the sparse number of walkers had masks on. There was plenty of room to keep our distance–a little lonely for this time of year. Many cyclists of all ages sped by. Heartening to see kids on their bikes having fun.
Such a relaxing couple of hours outdoors! Spring perhaps means more than ever.
It was less empty than it appears…but in ordinary times, this area would be full of folks barbecuing (there is a covered picnic area just left of photo) and gathered in groups to chat. There were several dog walkers (I didn’t want to intrude upon snapping a pic) and a few couples and families on pathways alongside the water. We all found the relief of beauty and other peaceful moments, as well as friendly nods or greetings as best we can.
Until next time–be safe, stay connected to others, keep nurturing hope and spread small kindnesses.
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!
An imperturbable demeanor comes from perfect patience. Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune and misfortune at their own private pace like a clock during a thunderstorm.—Robert Louis Stevenson