Dang, we had a long winter here in Oregon. Rain, cold, and dreary skies persisted for months my motivation plummeting with the temperature. Looking out at the first portion of my native plant garden I planted last year I fretted that many plants had perished over the winter leaving dreadful bare patches with their demise. Then bam- a few sunny days in the 70s and 80s last week changed all that. All around I spotted my little green friends emerging shyly from the depths of the earth.
I look to my garden for the understanding of life. We certainly don’t flourish in all conditions. I certainly have been in a period of dormancy due to inhospitable conditions in my life. But as my garden tells me, inspiration will return with better times.
Some plants are coming back stronger than ever. A few I thought I’d lost during the heat of last summer are returning in force. My expensive Trillium kurabayashii that failed to bloom last year is blooming and returned with it a friend. Then a few of my white trillium lost the battle with slugs. A little wood rush perished for good. Replant or try something new? Such it is with our creative children…
The muse has flipped her sign to “open.” It is over 60 degrees today. I think I shall go out and work in the garden.
Tucked away in the Oregon Cascade Mountains lies Breitenbush Hot Springs. I’ve been going there mostly every winter for over 25 years for a getaway with friends and sometimes solo. It is an intentional, off-grid community dedicated to living in harmony with nature and providing nurturing experiences to its guests.
In 2020 a catastrophic wildfire tore through the area. Through massive efforts, Breitenbush is being rebuilt. I just returned from a two-day stay there with a friend.
The fire left a mosaic
of green among black
surviving trees standing proud
above layers of ferns, mossy rocks,
and the glossy red leaves of Oregon grape
I recognize familiar voices
chickadees, nuthatches, crows, and jays
busy among the treetops
as squirrels scamper below
Thanks to the bravery of a few souls
the stately lodge remains standing
the meals served there are
still ample, still delicious
with nary a scrap of meat
The stone-lined pools in the meadow
and the hot tubs down the hill
offer respite to the body as they always have
their hot minerals sinking deep into muscles and soul
We sleep in new lodgings
in the spot where forested rows
of boxy brown cabins once stood
and mice once played
in the heart of night
The river still flows with vigor
a roar of rapids over stones
unconcerned of the surrounding devastation
a vein of life in a wounded land
its soft breeze on my cheek reminding me
that life goes on
no matter how much pain we endure
the landscape has changed
as have we
destruction and rejuvenation
stand side by side
as the earth's heart
beats strong and steady
beneath our feet
It’s good to be back
I love creative retreats. It’s a time when I can escape from the nagging responsibilities of daily life and immerse myself in the creativity of some genre. In July I rejoined the Fishtrap experience, but this time instead of being in the remote grandeur of the Zumwalt Prairie like last summer, I attended the summer Fishtrap Gathering of Writers for five days at the Wallowa Lake Lodge. Wallowa Lake is nestled at the foot of the rugged, snow-capped Wallowa Mountains in Eastern Oregon, an eight hour drive frome my home in the Willamette Valley.
What is Fishtrap? Founded 35 years ago by forward-thinking writers Kim Stafford, Rich Wandschneider, and historian, Alvin Josephy this organization was created to provide support, connection, and education to West Coast writers
From their website “ Every July, readers, writers, journalists, historians, publishers, and lovers of the arts from all over the world gather at Wallowa Lake to write, to explore issues important to people of the West, and to make connections. The weeklong conference has provided hundreds of writers the opportunity to work with some of the best authors and teachers in the West including Ursula K. LeGuin, Luis Alberto Urrea, Bill Kittredge, Laura Pritchett, Anis Mojgani, Kathleen Dean Moore, and many, many others”.
We returned from four days at Paradise Campground, a favorite camping spot in old growth forest on the McKenzie River here in Oregon last week. It was our first visit since a devastating wildfire swept the area in the summer of 2020. This was one of our favorite camping and kayaking spots. We were devastated when it burned. The fire destroyed thousands of acres of forest taking a multitude of homes and businesses with it. Thankfully, the upper McKenzie where we would be camping was spared.
Who doesn’t love flowers? There seems to be even more of a special place in people’s hearts for the wildflowers found in nature. Here in Oregon it is prime wildflower season. Some are even blooming currently in my new native plant garden. Especially prevalent right now are camas (Camas quamash), beautiful blue-violet spikes of star-like flowers that pop up in the meadows. They were a significant food source for the Native Americans that once inhabited the area
About 40 minutes away from my home in the town of West LInn a new Nature Conservancy site opened up last year, the Camassia Nature Preserve. The 22 acre parcel is a mix of lush forest, meadows, and oak savannah with a boardwalk that meanders the main route. There is about 2 miles of hiking trails in the area. Also prevalent are glacial erratics- boulders from Montana and Canada that were dropped in this area after the great floods that occurred after the melting of the ice sheets that covered the north during the Ice Age.
Yesterday the weather was lovely, partly sunny and in the 60s, a welcome change from the rain and cool temperatures. I decided to take a drive and check it out. I was not disappointed!
Here are some of the things I saw in this special place.
A bit of wildflower trivia…
The reason you may often see the dazzling combination of bright yellow and purple wildflowers together is that it attracts pollinators- and humans seeking beauty.
And…my photos really don’t do this place justice!
Looked what bloomed today!
a wild Iris
a queen amidst my garden
her lilac petals arch gracefully
like arms in a curtsy
about her throat a white collar
etched with fine black lines
with a blush of gold
Gaudy hybrids shout for my attention
down the driveway
but it's her sublime elegance
that captures my wild heart
It’s been a very cool spring – even by NW Oregon standards. April set a record for the wettest ever recorded so native plants planted in late February & Early March have been slow to emmerge. Still, it’s been thrilling to watch the ferns unfurl and various flowers to reveal themselves in my native plant garden. I’ve been adding some artistic touches with some old sculptures of mine scattered about the garden.
One great find at “Hortlandia” was a little table made of scrap wood for a top and legs of thick curly willow. I added two small benches cut from the stump of an old walnut tree that was taken out a few years ago. and sorely missed. Now I have benches to remember it by This area is my fairy tea spot.
As children, most of us have been told “Don’t color on the walls!”, but it is so satisfying to have such an expanse waiting to be graced with marks made from your small hands.
I did get my chance as an adult. For a number of years I was an artist in residence in an assortment of schools in a three-county area. At times there were opportunities to color on walls creating murals with a cadre of small hands.
Now that I’m retired from all manner of teaching and the monetization of my artwork, I have a chance to color on my own walls. A boarded-up window on the outside of my detached studio building has been calling to me for a makeover. Numerous ideas swirled around my head for months. A cheery window scene was my ultimate goal. I sketched out many thumbnails but nothing seemed totally right. One thing I knew for sure, I was going to paint a black crow on the right side of the piece to disguise a hole that birds had enlarged for a nesting nook. Also I wanted my tuxedo cat, Zander in the picture along with a teapot, cup, and some flowers (I have this thing about teapots). I nixed the sun at the top in favor of a compass, a symbol that shows up frequently in my images.
Ultimately I settled on a basic design, a color scheme, and sketched it out on the wood. Procrastination settled in as perfectionism (fear) took over. Then I decided the worse thing that could happen is I would paint over what I didn’t like. So I got going.
I worked on the mural bit by bit in the cool of the evenings as the heat wave here in Oregon made it unfeasible to work during the day in the hot sun. Eventually, I finished- yesterday! In all I only painted over one vase that was bright orange, changing the color to more of an understated coral.
I love this mural because it is personal to me and adds a happy focal point to an otherwise boring wall My next goal is to doodle all the way up my stairwell. Let’s see how that goes!
In the NE corner of Oregon in Wallowa County lies a little visited wonder known as the Zumwalt Prairie. I recently returned from a five day writing workshop in this remote place and still memories swirl in my mind like the prairie wind.
This 330,000 acre bunchgrass prairie remains largely intact as the high elevation averaging 4,000 feet, poor soils, and harsh weather conditions made it unsuitable for the plow. This was a summering ground for the Nez Perce tribe before white settlers and broken treaties ultimately exiled them from their lands. This land is still home to a plethora of wildflowers, elk, deer, badgers, bird, and insect species, many of them threatened.
The Nature Conservancy owns and operates 36,000 acres of this land. It’s a nature preserve but part of its mission is to work with the local ranchers integrating them with their mission of conservation work which includes biological inventories, ecological monitoring and preserving biodiversity. It’s a partnership with conservation and private interests. Careful grazing management is part of the picture. The Nature Conservancy field station was a farmstead abandoned years ago as the harsh conditions of hot summers, frigid winters, poor soil, and remoteness made it too difficult to farm.
We were driving back from a blissful writing workshop up in a remote area in E. Oregon when we came back into cell service. I’ll never forget my friend, Linda saying “Oh my god- there’s this thing called a heat dome that’s moving into the Pacific NW. It’s going to get up to 116 degrees F!” Seriously I thought she was joking until she insisted it was true.
We live in a place where occasionally we will experience triple-digit temperatures in the low hundreds but not this. These are Death Valley or Phoenix temps.- not Oregon. Another blow- last year it was the forest fires and now in late June extreme heat. Add to that the pandemic, politics and it’s beyond cataclysmic.
My house has no AC. There have been few times we have needed it as it is well insulated. This time, however, since it only dropped into the high 80s at night the house would not cool off and remained at 89 degrees inside. This was intolerable- especially for me as I am highly sensitive to the heat and can get ill.
September has been a gruesome month in my home state of Oregon. We were traumatized by wildfires and smoke that began Labor Day Weekend staying in our homes for 10 days to avoid breathing the toxic cloud of air that descended over the state. Thousand of people were evacuated from their homes. The fires ravaged over a million acres of land burning several 2800 structures including homes and businesses. About 11 people lost their lives. Many are homeless and without jobs. The towns of Detroit Lake, Talent, and Phoenix were decimated as with many communities up the McKenzie River Hwy. Many of the larger fires are still burning.
Particularly heartbreaking to me is knowing that some of my favorite places were hit especially hard; the Breitenbush Hot Springs Community, the McKenzie River corridor, and the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center and Wilderness. These were places that recharged my soul. Nature will renew them- but not in my lifetime. It looks like my ashes will be scattered among the ashes.