The sky beyond our conifers and deciduous trees turns pastel orange before 4:00 pm, and the jittery air beyond is clogging up with smoke. Since last evening we have been under a Level 1 warning for wildfires, which means our bags are packed, our documents are gathered and we are alert to changes in conditions. Our particular Oregon county–Clackamas Co.– is already partly engulfed by fires; a third to one half on the fire map is noted in a critical state, a deep red color. Though these are not yet too close to our home, they have already destroyed so many properties. We don’t know how many acres are charred, or what the loss of life and property is yet. But we have packed our bags and are alert to the ongoing reports and notices. Where will we go, with COVID-19 still circulating? An emergency shelter site? We’re thinking on a workable plan.
It is very difficult for firefighters and other agencies’ aid to keep on top of multitudinous firestorm areas, as we have been experiencing higher gusts of wind a couple of days; foliage and trees are so dry that ravenous fires spread rapidly. And we cherish our a multitude of trees, including this spot where we are. It is a fraction of the greater state of Oregon. There are 35 devastating wildfires burning now. And worse in California. There are some burning in the State of Washington, our neighbor across the Columbia River and Portland metro.
We have a yearly fire season; the Columbia Gorge in 2017 was a bad season. This time they are occurring in areas not often impacted, not ever as huge or close to suburban spots and many small towns. Thousands have been evacuated from the area, but south/southeast of us. Our governor has declared a State of Emergency, as there are these various and broad areas of raging fires. In fact, it has been called “unprecedented fire behavior.”
Unfortunately, sliding glass doors were left open a short while as potted balcony plants were watered early morning. Even before I came downstairs, I could smell it–that dry, noxious permeation of unmistakable if faint smoke. The doors were closed tightly again; we taped every window shut. We do not have an air purifier or even air conditioner. The good portable purifier broke a couple months ago. I didn’t think to replace it yet since my allergies don’t kick up until the leaves start to fall. So we’re sealed inside our townhouse. We’ve not needed the air conditioner as it remains evenly cool, even when temperatures reach mid-nineties. Why? Because we live among an abundance of trees…and face the west side, looking toward the Coast Mountain Range… where now the sky is not ordinary sky but a blanket of tangerine smoke that camouflages foothills and peaks.
It is ominous, strange. I feel secure here in the valley between mountain ranges. But now both an external and internal energy is powerfully unnerving, as if a suddenly unearthed demon spewed its breath across our astonishing and gorgeous topography. It feels irrelevant to calmly type as the smoke layers and bunches. The updates on fires are a constant background track to our days and nights. Just now another evacuation notice was posted, and people will flee with little in hand and hearts in their throats, pets under their arms and families rushing beside them. All the while knowing their homes will likely be gone, just like that. I cannot imagine such reverberating loss, not having endured it before.
This has been a blessing, to live within hills by rivers and forests, mountain ranges on both sides, beauty that is awe-inspiring. It has been both solace and joy to walk circuitous, challenging trails, visit rejuvenating waters that abound nearby. Now all we can do is wait out the horror of September 2020 wildfires and hope that the area is spared. Such a small word, hope, but essential.
Yet my words feel off-kilter as I try to think carefully–it feels uncomfortable or even wrong, for our state’s neighbors are not safe as they evacuate or wait to hear if they must go. None of us could imagine this, not here, not away from forested mountains. None of us are safe, nowhere near it yet. Not until towering fires are contained as dominating winds settle down–until our usual pure “green” air is near-breathable once more. It is enough to humble this woman, to threaten tears–but I remain vigilant, organized and prepared to leave all that fills this home if need be.
Think of us kindly, and countless numbers more. Discover and hold close all the gratitude for your lives. One never knows what is ahead–not in these peculiar and often dangerous times. I plan on writing another poem to share with you this Friday. Such is the nature of my own stubborn hope.
Call me lazy today but rather than sort recent pictures I have taken, I spent time perusing my slew of beachy pictures. I mean, it’s February, it rains all the time–then today as I was walking as I do daily, there came a flurry of bits of rain that soon morphed into hail-like stuff–an attempt at Oregon’s Willamette Valley snow. I kept on, invigorated–and appreciably more damp.
When I returned I began to think of the beach…and located a few decent older shots to post today. Ahhh. Of course, the reality is that it is usually very windy, chilly and wet at our Pacific Ocean beaches this month– but we always love it. Time to go again soon–if there isn’t too much real snow in the mountains to close passes we need to cross. Meanwhile–enjoy with me!
This morning I sip from a mug of Chai tea on our expansive balcony above terraced land, looking around and down the sudden slope, then beyond to shadowy foothills. I close my eyes. This resident wind is tender or sharp, easy or pushy. My hair swirls about; dashing along my neck a tingle of coolness is ruffled with warmth. The rising land still holds its rocky, earthy muskiness–out of which a coyote or skunk may emerge as if from hideaways–and floats upwards. A brighter fragrance–far-drifting new cherry tree flowerets?–joins in. Air currents are full of promise and mystery–palpable power–as it weaves through firs and red alders, grazes ubiquitous ivy which climbs over hillock and gully.
A hammer contacts wood in chirpy rhythmic fashion. The drone of a circular saw thrums beneath hammer’s affirmative strikes. Someone is stapling shingles, another broadly mowing. Soon a dog, then two and three voice approval or perhaps dissent. Robins and crows compete, flit and swoop then call and respond. Mourning doves utter throaty yet subtle refrains. Squirrels chit and chatter, rush along tree limbs. Of which there are so many my mind feels forested with greens and browns. The woman next door is sweeping her balcony, long strokes that make me think she is distracted by the horizon. My eyes fly open.
Two orange butterflies dance a romance in mid-air. There is, as ever, a veritable feast for the vision. Verdant land, with more to be revealed by the looks of budded limbs. A gleaming blue sky paints space above Coast Range foothills; they proudly reveal simple elegance. In the distance, a motorcycle–Harley-Davidson cruiser?–speeds up, drives on then downshifts, rounds a curve for steep descent to the valley, belches a satisfied growl. Soon a child spirals across a street, there is hard contact and response of a basketball, while a father’s laugh is reassuring of his love.
All of these spring signs have given me joy for as long as I can recall. Contentment is close to follow a shock of giddiness. Spring was not very gentle in my childhood Michigan and could be problematic despite the dreamy fever it brought. In Oregon, it sneaks into being, a balm spreading upon day and night, a surprise of sunlight here and there, a slow drying out of air and dirt and then more colors popping out. Blooms never really end here, but they prevail with more gaudiness and grow bigger in heat.
March in 2019: the advent of spring arrives after last acts of spotty snowfall or icy drizzle. It follows, for me, more death knells, then illnesses and pain which riddled my psyche as well as flesh. Added to the mix was a frustrating moving experience (and costly), undercut by rounds of sleeplessness. Spring is a relief even when it seems overdue, even if it feels lean. I can wait long no matter what. I rub the cocooning wintry dark from dim eyes. I reach for rejuvenation and find it. I look, behold.
But I studied the mirror the other day (not recommended after hard winters). Deeper and more lines bracket eyes and mouth from all that gritting of teeth (those left) and squinting of bloodshot eyes, a daily praying for strength and courage, shameless pleading for a truly good rebound. I am looking–becoming–older. And I am moving on, if not free of body’s complaints then pleased with more upsurges of energy. And a deep motivation to embrace our new home as well as the future and what it will offer (our daughter’s twins, for two wonders; care of both soon to be nervously/attentively/happily experienced…). I can do anything I must do, believe anything I desire to believe in. I make my own life become what it shall. The aching inside and out will lessen or be accepted, managed. Not only the great scheme of nature is resilient. We human animals daily take part, too, and we try hard until the very end, even excel at the labor of it.
So, spring arriving like an exquisite hope come true has made the demands of winter worth enduring–as it is for any who dwell within a land that brings chilly/rainy/dark/snowy winters. It is the soft singe of heat that is longed for, a soothing flutter of wings, the rustle and sweep of things growing in designs and hues that break through after hibernation.
When I walk here, I see snow-capped Cascades on the eastern side of where I live. At this surprising 800 feet–after living at sea level for over two decades–it feels like we reside in a grand high place. I see: resplendent Mt. Hood. A reshaped-by-volcanic-spews-yet-lovely Mt. St. Helens. And is it Mt. Baker there, too? Glimmering white crowns above jagged granite blues of enormous ranges. One cannot help but be raised up by peeks into beauty while moving through sunshine.
There is a system of trails atop these undulating hills. I explore them daily, pull on trail or tennis shoes and take off as if I know where I’m going. I trust that I will find my way. I have a good inner compass, am not floundering in wilderness. I recall landmarks as I go. There are fine houses interspersed among pathways and briefly admired, but trees and creatures captivate me. Swing of arms and squared thrust of shoulders, two light feet and an elongated back take me where I care to go. Mind as clear as spring water follows this beat; chest fills with heart’s power. I clamor my way up and up winding, steep ascents and then I rest, gulping piney air. I hope to find musical brooks; there is a lake and the meandering river nearby. I lack nothing much, if anything. (Perhaps the sea, a short drive away.)
My well-seasoned body is regaining strength and new boldness with daily forays. My spirit is flooded with pleasures. I sink into bed with thankfulness. How much can the flesh and being hold of sorrow and elation and wonder? So much. So much. We need to welcome it all, open the windows and doors of home.
Who could have known what we needed was such a change, then guided us to such a good place? In the core of my being that constant hunger for forested land and wilder creatures with an outdoor life right within my reach rang loud and clear. My husband, Marc, also believed more nature with its authenticity and intrigue was needed. Now. So here we are. The city is close enough, while we awaken each day feeling far from it.
I came home the other day sweaty, my hair tangled, hands a little dirty, my brain and camera stuffed with ideas and images. I will take you with me as I learn the places and ways here. Enjoy now a little of what I have just begun to know.
Carry me along the rim of this world,
through capricious magic of sky-lit
waters where formidable tales are made
of labor, beguilement, exploration, survival.
Take me to heights and depths where life
shines, burrows, vanishes; light shadow dances;
gold and greens, silver and blues are silken
transparency and density of salt, fishes, shell, plant.
Bring me to the uncertain edge of capriciousness,
rapture of the seventh wave; cover me with lace of spray, sand and stone beneath feet. I will sing a song
of kingdoms built of the tumult and peace of the sea.
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