Monday’s Meander: The Grotto, a Meditative Walk

From the start, you can tell this is no ordinary walk in the woods. First off, there is the name, The Grotto. The history indicates that a young boy prayed for his mother’s life after she nearly died in childbirth and when she lived, he promised God he would build a shrine. Years later he joined the Servite Order and was sent to minister in the Archdiocese of Portland, OR. In 1923 he found acreage that was appropriate and work began on carving out a cave for an altar in a 110 ft. basalt cliffside. The 62 acre property was developed by the Catholic Church over time, including gardens and a Grotto Monastery of the Order of Friar Servants of Mary atop the cliff. There is daily mass held, retreats offered, weddings in the pretty church and many special events for surrounding communities. The Servites remain active in work and prayer at the monastery.

The well attended Church on the ground level.

In order to fully enjoy the gardens and a view of the Monastery, as well as embark on a contemplative walk, we take the elevator up to the clifftop. The view upon disembarking is expansive, allowing one to observe parts of the city and the Cascade Mountains (on the Washington State side of the Columbia River).

On the Upper Level are opportunities for a prayerful experience with the Stations of the Cross, a Meditation Chapel, a labyrinth, the monastery and a few cultural shrines of Mary, as well as lovely green and floral garden walkways. There are ponds and flowers, a few benches to rest upon. The birdsong and towering trees are wonderful.

The Monastery

The labyrinth is designed to replicate France’s Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth. I had never walked it; it isn’t a quick or easy meditation to do. But I was truly awestruck by photos of Chartres as a young teen and later as an art student in college, and ever after longed to go there, to experience it scared beauty in person. But I may never do that. So this time, I walked this labyrinth and took my time. Though others came and went and a couple started then quit walking it, I was fairly oblivious. Soon the labyrinth pulled me in and I followed the complicated turns, step by step. I kept on, up and around and back and forth and toward to center again. I felt its quietude, its unique power. I can’t explain why. I stood in the center and felt deep calm. I followed the way out and as it ended I was deeply moved, with the surprise of tears arriving.

We completed the walk through the gardens in an hour, grateful for cool breezes and pervasive silence, the prayerful texts and the opportunity to contemplate the many ways God can be sought and discovered.

We had come full circle and decided to end with the Meditation Chapel before taking the elevator back “down to earth”. We chose to stay outside as many people came and went. There’s a wall of glass on the western side of the chapel and the view is excellent. It does make one feel like a small speck in the scheme of things. And yet, a part of the scheme and counted.

Monday’s Meanders: A Blooming Lavender Heaven

A couple of weekends ago, despite temperatures soaring again to the upper nineties, Marc and I took to the country. I had decided I wanted fresh lavender. There were several good choices as lavender grows abundantly in this area but I chose Mountainside Lavender Farm. We enjoyed talking to the congenial owner–he was extracting/making lavender oil– and gathering our own fragrant bunches. His little store wasn’t open due to the pandemic but a few items were set out to peruse.

I have to confess that I have had a lifelong fear of bees. It isn’t at phobia-level but I was stung many times roaming barefoot in clover-strewn grasses as a child and have also gotten stung as an adult. I could hear the bees busy at work, a vibrating buzz throughout the lavender plants. There was a sign stating that you cut your bouquets at your own risk, though the owner stated only a handful get stung each season. Marc and I procured baskets and scissors and headed out. He was less concerned, so I thought. I determined I would find a way to get my blooms without regret! When we got to the beautiful rows of standing purple stems, we hesitated. It was quite a suite of bee labor song–perhaps, I thought, they were happy out there, too. Marc started down some wider spaced rows. I was close behind and when he hesitated, I suggested we get right in there and simply ignore them. They were clearly busy. So dive in we did.

I tried to snap photos of clusters of the boundless bees, and was surprised when I failed to capture them–I guess they move too fast!

I was right–just pretending confidence, watching them do what they do, calmed my fears as I reached deeply into plants to hold stems and then snip them off. They didn’t bother us but kept right at it or flew to the next stem or plant. There was plenty for them–and for us. But it was hot, then felt much hotter out there after a hour. We hydrated often, and finally sought shade. I watched others as Marc found the owner to chat–there were only a few folks but they seemed to enjoy themselves, too.

We wandered a bit more before buying our bouquets, sachet and soap.

Until next time, Mountainside Lavender. Our living area at home is now filled with the comforting scent of dried, sweetly pungent lavender.

Monday’s Meander: Winter Solstice and a Crystal Springs Wintering

I won’t see the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn tonight; the skies are cloudy, air is clogged with rain, and 15-20 mph winter winds howl. But the Winter Solstice with its longest night and shortest day of the year holds meaning for me. It is reminder to be quietly patient as we wait with the darkness for the coming of more light. Winter will give way to greater sunlight gradually and with it, rebirth. Such cycles of nature comfort and instruct. They deepen my sense of unity and wholeness both within and without.

That said, I once more turn to Mother Nature’s offerings. It has been too long since I wandered through one of my favorite local islands of peace and beauty, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. The last visit was in late summer, but usually a family member or friend and I visit each season. Therein grow such lush flowering plants and trees–as well as omnipresent “rhoddies” and azaleas. And, as well, a pretty larger pond plus smaller one and a musical waterfall. There are ample nooks and crannies to sit and meditate. Waterfowl settled in there live quite cushy lives.

Every season has its attributes. It is attractive in winter, as well. These photos are ones taken years past; they were chosen for some good winter memories. There may be less variety of color, and more water from the heavy rains that dominate late fall to spring. The tones are soothing with a softer palette. Some were taken in November, others in January. Several kinds of flowers begin to bloom in later Dec. I’ll be glad to also share the garden in full splendor by spring and next summer.

May this coming week be kinder and strength of hope keep you; don’t forget to find solace in nature’s ways.

Monday’s Meander: Back to Bishop’s Close in December

I am thinking daily of family and holidays, as are most. And photos surfaced of a wintry walk through Elk Rock at Bishops Close, a place about which I have posted often. It is a delight– the grounds are seamed with trails and rocky steps, shadowed with hideaways, and gentled by trickling water and a small pond or two. My last visit here was shared on WP in July this year.

The Scottish estate house always impresses a bit–it is so stolid and commands a respect. Elk Rock, its garden, is perhaps the oldest and biggest (13 acres) private garden in Oregon. It was managed from 1897 until 1957 by businessman Peter Kerr who developed his estate and grounds. It is now used by the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon.

In summer the air was bright, the plants and flowers waving in warm breezes. This time winter’s veil is lain over all. The quietude of December wandering is deeper. The air sharp, the river that wends it way below a bit more forbidding, birdsongs more silenced. Yet I am drawn to it as much in this season as any other. It is a place to think as one climb’s about and to long pause and admire nature’s work.

These photos date back to 2016, the day of Christmas. Naomi was visiting from S. Carolina where she was/is an art professor; Alexandra was visiting from CA. where she was PR manager at an arts center. And since I appreciate Bishops Close as well as my adult children here is that mosey. (Not all family like personal photos shared so those are discreet.)

An altar used for outdoor Holy Eucharist.
View of Mt. Hood, across the Willamette River, seen from the back lawn.

On my refrigerator is a sticky note left by Naomi last year before she flew back to S.C. after Thanksgiving. I’d had the luxury of seeing her three times in 2019. On that note she wrote: “Bye, Mom! Love you! See you again before too long. XOXOXO-Na.” I left it there to enjoy looking at– never thinking it would at least a year more. But I’ve not seen her once since, nor another daughter, Cait, in VA., for an even longer period of time.

So it is that we begin a new sort of Christmas or other religious holiday. No doubt you will agree: one primarily of the heart and spirit. We can manage it, though, can’t we. Make sure to get out and take good walks, no matter wintry or other interesting weather. I will be out there with you, as well as right here.

Monday's Meanders: Extinct Volcano, River and Woods

I had mentioned before that our area spreads about an extinct volcano, Mount Sylvania–one of several that provide enjoyable small “peak experiences” around Portland. This one is about 1000 feet. Nansen Summit (named for Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian diplomat, polar explorer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient) is close enough to walk to–if you call trudging up a long, steep incline mere walking. The area is lushly green on the way and when at top, gratifying as when final views are embraced with wind and sunshine. The West Hills, Tualatin Valley can be seen. The more distant Coast Range is often clear enough to take in, as well as the Cascades. It was a bit smoggy or misty (take your pick; we do often have some foggy conditions) that day. Portland sprawls below the volcanic site.

We headed down the other side of the steep hill to look about, and turned this way and that to avoid residential areas with imposing homes since we like being in nature more. All persons we passed on foot–a couple dozen in an hour–were friendly as usual, if “socially distanced.” We were surprised so many were venturing out with the virus worry, but good to see as t hey stayed safely apart.

The previous day we enjoyed a familiar Willamette River walk. A creek or two also gurgle along as they seek to join the big waterway. Perhaps this is the last time we will be there for awhile; Governor Brown, following many others, has mandated today that we “stay at home.” We can still walk, run and hike in more open swaths of space and air but carefully, where there are fewer people…But Saturday there was no mandate and there were some groups gathered, to my surprise, especially young people who love the water. Of course, six feet apart is not always hard to accomplish outdoors–not on some water craft. We saw a fair number of lone fishermen and women, also.

Ignorance is bliss.
Flowers keep flowering everywhere, thank goodness.

Marc enjoying a view; me, taking a break before entering a city park. All in all, two happy walkabouts we got in over the week-end! It sure is true that fresh air and feet on the move are always good if possible. See you soon with my usual “Wednesday’s Words” post. Until then, be well. I am off for a shorter, chillier walk.