Take a gander at a few of our Portland, Oregon city scenes. I had a lovely week-end hanging out in city center, so had to shoot a few views. Our Saturday Market (also on Sundays) is bustling from March til after Christmas (despite formidable rains), and our diverse citizenry are as interesting as arts/crafts and random offerings. I picked up a few birthday gifts and enjoyed the afternoon with Marc despite it being in the upper 80s Fahrenheit; it made for sweaty browsing and walking for about 5 miles around the market and along the Willamette River.
I’ve ended up with extra time to post a little more–a change since our joy-eliciting and thriving twin grand babies arrived. There’s a different baby caregiving schedule, for now. And since I don’t always (usually, though) choose written language as my main mode of creative expression, this Monday spot will be primarily photographic pieces. I do like to share shots of places roamed and views that draw eye and mind, so Monday is once more for designated for just that.
My head is full of pictures, those recently snapped as well as those saturating the media. Additionally, there are those arising from music heard and night dreams, from daily walks and greater journeys. I fill my head with images in magazines, from photography shared by others on blogs and elsewhere, from the spare art work I design in my mind and at times on paper. More visual than some, less than others, I am apt to think in images at some point even as ideas are swapped in live conversation. Yes, language is the tool that build foundation and habitation within which writing works and thrives. Words are conduits that provide emotions, postulations and hard facts the heft of expanding life. Yet intellectual inquiries, stories or poems do evoke pictures, unleash mentally constructed scenarios. I as well as others read books, in part, due to that very expectation. We want to be taken into another place or time for a rich experience, another life or few with attendant differing viewpoints. Open a book and discover stages being set and soon you are absorbed by narrative, each act and part played out as you become them as well as an invisible figure within an unfolding scene. Yes, miraculous words.
But it’s clear we are animals that rely heavily upon visual data. This begs the question about what we truly do see and also store in our memories. It also asks us how it impacts each person from that moment. How do news images provoke and shape the tenor of our days and nights, our very thoughts? How about films and television, art and even live theater? There has been much debate about the violence in our country and it is most distressingly hypnotic when we see it on a huge screen.
The Las Vegas massacre was horrific beyond any imagining, the latest in mass murders and worldwide terrorist attacks. Firearm-related deaths are increasingly numerous the past few decades in the U.S. There have long been protests about the entertainment industry depicting vicious and deadly violence too often. Sometimes I go from the news to a television show and find there are disturbing similarities. How did this come about and why isn’t it being responsibly addressed by scriptwriters and producers? I find it hard to believe that an everyday man or woman longs to be engulfed by such shows. I promptly change the channel or just turn it off. There is less and less I care to watch so carefully choose films or a series. Even then, I can be bamboozled by first scenes and finally have to give up.
This is the point when I face my responsibility for my own well-being. And for what I create, both for me and any readers. There are topics I write about frequently, things that have mattered to me professionally or personally. Not easy subjects at times, they center on physical, emotional and spiritual wholeness or its ruinous lack. I evaluate how healing has occurred and how to continue to take care as well as how others might improve their lives. And since violence personally has impacted my life, I do not seek it though I do note its worldly presence. I may have been a counselor who remained very calm when faced with a bitter, aggressive client but inside I was swamped with sadness, compassion; weary, too, of the pain and misery I witnessed.
The powerlessness we often feel when catastrophic events occur can be paralyzing. The overload of images and reports can become numbing, even take over sleep, then intrude on wakefulness. If we actually live through such events, it is magnified a thousand fold, encompasses everything. For the rest, it’s natural to note increased stress and even depression when indirectly immersed via the news. We may worry daily about the state of things. If we are prayerful, those prayers become more intense and frequent. Yet we have choices–to take action, to help improve the lives we inhabit as well as others’. How best to do that besides donating money to various charities or causes, or being politically more active?
An editor and author I know and respect, Jessica Morrell, shared on social media and also in her essay that those who write need to keep writing, to not let the world’s debacles, crises and sorrows mute our voices (http://jessicamorrell.com). I agree and commented that “to not to write is to signal giving up.” We can use pain and worry to fuel worthy artistic responses. To fashion greater commitment to change while mining more hope. To feed the life-renewing energy even one beneficial action can instill. A powerful state results from being present and practicing empathy in daunting times. It is critical for me to maintain an internal and external balance by instigating positive creative activity. It is at the core of my being, this urge to care as well as create in an often bedazzled yet beleaguered life.
Decades ago, a therapist I met for a first session looked at me long and hard, then said, “You’re carrying the grief of the world inside you.” It first startled me–that she’d easily found vulnerability, that pulsing kernel of love and also of despair. In the quietest places inside it rang out as true. Tears suddenly flowed. The larger world spun within me, yes, because what I had experienced countless other people already had for centuries in one way or another. And what was not yet experienced I could imagine, connect to in the nerve center of who I was. There had to be an outlet for all that, one that didn’t any more destroy me (as addiction had nearly managed).
Therapy can be helpful but I had to keep writing poetry and prose and songs, dance, make art, explore and use as a wellspring the lavish complexities of nature. That and more often reach out. There is nothing like helping others to hew a healthy path away from our own self-centered issues. We identify with others or at least empathize when we have shouldered burdens and grappled with our own monstrous moments. There are many ways to accomplish this. We each have leanings, talents and yet-hidden resources we can develop. We just need to make opportunities to try our hand at something useful or beautiful or honorable.
I used to worry about being of real service. Sometimes I still do, feeling what I now offer can never be enough–this pecking away at the keyboard and letting the sentences float into a virtual atmosphere. This amateurish taking of endless pictures, this offering up of my vision as single moments of an embracing faith and wonderment. But it’s largely what I can do in this world. It is the joyous challenge that propels my life.
Once when I was in my twenties a former in-law asked if I would “ever learn decent domestic skills–can’t you even darn socks? Can you only write poetry?”
“Yes, that’s all,” I answered, hurt and embarrassed (it was mostly true, I had little talent for those duties) yet felt fierce as I held my head up. “Because I am working on being a poet, not so much a housewife.”
I learned how to fix torn and broken things in all sorts of ways eventually, how to make roast chicken dinners and can fresh tomatoes, plant flower seeds and split wood, make a lasting fire from old furniture when every pipe froze and the good wood was gone. But I wrote poems as much as I could and anything else so moved to write. It didn’t occur to me it wasn’t at least as necessary to nourish heart and soul as it was to feed the stomach–and this is what I taught my children from the start. It is important to make something from nothing, to recognize and create beauty for its own sake, to delve deeper for truths. To use time and abilities on endeavors that may not ever garner worldly rewards. Because we are not just bellies and brains, sinew and bone.
What I do will in fact never be “enough” but I don’t have to be the only one trying to do anything. All over this world there are scores of others forging creative roads into new territory right this moment. Sharing inspirational stories in print or around a warming fire. Negotiating peace or demonstrating revolutionary lives, perhaps with potent essays. We cannot live well if at all in the world without these flares of hope. And so I keep on writing, taking pictures of all that moves me, whatever might have some value. I join each day a vast community of doers and dreamers. Now more than ever, we must take action.
Remember the images I spoke about at the beginning of this post? It seems as if I focused more on writing yet each sentence has been accompanied by an image in the multitasking brain. Still, I also took a lot of photographs over last week-end in the three-dimensional world. Let me share some of what I saw–a small offering, a little balm. (And please click on each circle to see full photo.)
Peace to you, wherever you live and strive and love.
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.
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.
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.)
Night, canvass for city’s dashes, strokes;
lights, sharp or soft gestures in dark like
greetings tacked onto daylight farewells
as I explore alleys that curl and strike
through each block traversed.
These were scarred caverns, warehouses
where now entrepreneurs set up shop,
and housing, the sips ‘n eats and chic ice cream
along shiny parkways: like a giant bullhorn
it shouts new new new. I regret and accept this.
Every corner hawks its lore, ferments ideas.
Emptied lots host food cart delights,
a window is a doorway to other doors,
old industry is broken into new lines
that frame present and future,
each a step removed from the past.
Rubble can be made cutting edge,
even if not buried under thirty floors.
This big brightness of prosperity
hums in the night like a forgotten
tune reworked; it catches my ear.
I want to hum, too, though progress
may spurn a romance like mine.
But this is my rose; I’ve come to adore it.
My city has brought me to its embrace
through rains (and pain) that shatter air,
heat (and longing) that leaches greenness,
dirt and smog (and anger) that get into my house
like a pestilence. And then those winds–
they play every chime as if made of silver
and gold, spells of joy by day and an
alarm in odd, fang-studded nights.
Some voices that cry out are human flares.
I need this familiar and strange beauty,
even weeping, snarling. Prayer and love in shadows.
I carry my heart on and off the streets
to find people, a glory of sights,
twisty tales with more to come.
We all have our hands out, minds ajar.
No one gets away without something
to tuck into, to take back somewhere.
We slide by one another, eyes sweet
or lost in the kindness of lamp light.
We are who we wish under veil of night
in the deep wells of our city,
inside this Northwestern flower, its
perfumes that wreathe steel and glass,
wonders which will make way for others
beneath the vast presidio of mountains.