Friday’s Quick Picks: Autumn Garden/Meditation

Walk with me. Masterly branches spill their autumn flame. Water sweetens air, tenders ear with purity of sound. Rock and stone praise communion with plant, fish, fowl, insect, ancient earth of all life. Spider spins in peaceable labor. Light sublime meets flesh and breath, finds the soul. We can move this way right through time. Bright and unafraid. Full. Whole. Walk with me.

Click here for audio




Posted in meditations, photography, Photos with poetry, poetry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Weather Wins Out


Before the worst of the storm

A mighty crack seized then jolted me from my writing repose that early afternoon. I ran to the living room, peered out the rain-lashed, wind-whipped picture window as a second, fiercer explosion of sound erupted, this time with a near-blinding flash of light. The rooms blacked out. I fell to the floor and rolled but glanced outside: a power line whip lashed toward the building. Eerie metallic sounds unreeled beyond the walls. Bordering weakened trees would have to put up a fight. These were the expected high wind gusts brought by the tail end of Pacific Ocean’s Typhoon Songda. And I thought I was prepared. I had felt the changes in barometric pressure, watched intense shudders of wind grab and toss about tree branches and treetops for the last 24 hours and was calmly waiting things out. I had just put away the balcony chimes, chairs and tables. Now I wasn’t certain of anything as adrenaline pumped full force to every sense and my galloping heart.

The transformer right by our building had blown; the pole was tilting toward pavement. As I got up on hands and knees for another look, more power cables and lines crashed down on each other and into tree limbs, flailing every which way. That orange spurt–one big sweet gum treetop was aflame. I grabbed a cell phone but my fingers fumbled tapping out 911. More lines whined complaints and there came continued cracking of branches. I thought I heard my spouse yell my name; he’d left earlier to get supplies. His voice startled me; maybe he’d returned. But where was he? I succeeded with 911 and got through. The dispatcher gleaned details and reported a fire engine was on its way. She must have heard my nervousness; she informed me as if I didn’t realize: “Well, now, we’ve got a big storm.”

I flung open our front door, called into the pitch-black hallway and stairwell. “Marc! You there?”

“Yes, I’m trying to get upstairs!”

I found the banister, made my way down, checked on his physical state. He said he was alright but sounded spooked. I grabbed a couple of grocery bags. He panted as he climbed steps. My heart carried on its pounding as we went back inside.

“I was right outside the outside door,” he said, “when that huge tree branch crashed and the transformer blew. Knocked me right off my feet– maybe instinct to move–and fell right into the doorway just opened. Only a few feet away from those downed lines…I felt stuck there. You okay? There are other branches down–those damned trees! The earth is sodden, we’ll be losing more here.”

We could hear the fire engine, then police sirens and watched through windows, huddled together on the sofa in the windswept afternoon. It had been raining buckets the past 24 hours but now the downpour had ceased in our neighborhood while winds gusted to 40-50 mph. There are dozens of old trees around here, majestic and comforting. But even though two unhealthy sweet gums were removed over time, there remained a couple around our place that needed serious reconsideration. It was up to the building’s owners; the city, though they actually owned the curbside grassy area, did not remove trees. Now more than one person had to deal with the precarious state of affected power lines.

And at that moment it was the firemen who stepped up, but the small blaze had luckily extinguished itself and smoke curled upward and away. They walked the perimeter of the area and talked at length. There seemed to be great concern for the already multiple downed wires and cables and others in peril. The huge fallen branch, big as a small tree, leaned from the ground into more lines and was trapped within another tree. The police taped off the whole block on both sides of the road; our building was additionally taped off.  They stayed to guard each end of the block. This would not be an easy fix.

We were, it occurred to us, prisoners in our own place with lines dangerous, sprawled out, waiting for utility company personnel. The initial fear I felt would not be fully shaken until they arrived. I of course respect electricity, am grateful for its aid in our daily activities. We take it for granted and should not. But it also is so powerful that I’m never at ease if something goes awry– if even sparks are involved or threat of worse–until professionals arrive like the heroes they are even when it’s minor. (My spouse is great with numbers/statistics/various technologies but he’d admit he’s not such a handyman. Nor am I.)

We were fixed at the window until the police looked up, waved us back. We managed to watch from a bit of distance as six trucks and fifteen power company workers arrive. They set to assessing and planning. The decommissioned transformer’s impact on things appeared considerable; the downed lines were not yet grounded. Though we would hear from them that between only 50-100 had lost power from it. Our neighbors to the west and east had lights blazing while our refrigerator had long stopped humming and electric baseboards were cool. The apartment grew duskier, dimmer, though the repair process captured our attention.

After a half hour, a policeman knocked on the building’s entrance. Marc answered it and returned.

“It’s strongly advised we vacate. There are branches hanging over the rooftop and the storm isn’t over. They have a lot of work before we’ll be safer and finally get power.”


Another beautiful but offending tree

Since our place is on the top floor I agreed that was wise. We have previously had roof damage from crashing limbs; cars had also been dented by broken branches. And it would be good to get out in the air and away from the hullabaloo now that a newsman and plenty of gawkers were about. I decided to pack a small tote bag with a few things–my heart medicines, a change of clothing–just in case we had to stay out overnight. And as I did so, I recalled the sense of foreboding I had experienced in the morning upon awakening. I had nearly packed a bag then as the wind howled and my chimes on the balcony rattled and clanged. The week-end forecast for Oregon and Washington had not been good.

I grew up in storm-prone Midwest. I had been trained long ago by a mother who had grown up in “tornado alley” Missouri before moving to mid-Michigan. I learned to go on high alert when stormy skies changed from slate grey to turbulent yellow to alarming green-black. Tornado watches were common each spring and summer. The warning siren struck panic in me as we opened up windows to alleviate pressure, then traipsed to the basement with radio and supplies to wait it out. Fortunately, no serious harm ever came to our house. And so far we’d been more or less okay in Portland. Oregon has very few tornadic cloud formations and they rarely make landfall.

Well, we had a basement here, too. Or we could hunker down in darkening rooms and hope for the best. But the more sensible and pleasant action to take was to head to our coffee shop, Peet’s. Plus, a lice of pumpkin bread or cake would rejuvenate– if the place was still open. The car could not be moved, however, as it was behind police lines. We donned raincoats and walked the few blocks, damp and wind-blown. All the way there, to our surprise, people walked and even cycled as if not too much was going on. Was there not a big storm in our area? Yes, we routinely get windy, rainy weather in fall and winter. This was different, right? Turns out, as always, it depended on where you lived. Many were battling flooding and worried over landslides. High winds in the mountains made roads impassable. In coastal towns, two tornadoes hit, heretofore unheard of. Other areas had few issues, not even power outage.

The chipper young barista listened to our small tale of woe. “Yeah, my Grandma is in the west hills and she’s out of power. Typically it takes three or four days to get it back on.” She shrugged. “She’s lived up there for decades; that’s how it is so she’s prepared.”

A bit chastened, we sat and respectively enjoyed the pumpkin bread and a marionberry scone with hot beverages in the cozy, classical music-infused shop. It wasn’t too bad to be put out of house.

I talked about about those who’d had their homes, their countrysides demolished by hurricanes so far this season in the USA and other places. Who were still homeless or trying to make do in terribly inadequate conditions, who were hungry, ill, injured. Who had died. My sending money to organizations did not alleviate the pain experienced–how much did it truly help people in the end? Our experience was nothing at all.

I recalled the few times I’d briefly experienced homelessness when a young woman. There had always been some place to take refuge, someone who could put me up a night, a bowl of soup or sandwich or even a meal shared, relatives or friends who allowed longer stays if necessary. It was uncomfortable, disheartening, scary. Humiliating at moments. But it was not even close to what the victims of monstrous weather’s vagaries must feel.

Sitting in a coffee shop with others chatting and laughing was at odds with my discomfort and a heightened sense of what is really happening to this world. But I started to breathe more easily as Marc and I talked about how to handle the night. We could rent a hotel room. We could call on relatives or even a friend. We could go back home. After close to an hour and a half, we decided to return and ascertain what had been done to restore things to more normal status. We noted it was much quieter outdoors, too. It was darker, gentler as we made our way back.

But our neighborhood block was buzzing with utility workers and impressive, active trucks, some outfitted with “cherry pickers’ to propel linemen to the pole’s top and into the trees. It appeared the worst weather had advanced in another direction. Rain had slowed to a near stop; the wind now rough up the air, as if stillness was a right result of its passing. Tree branches looked less threatening, whether or not that was so. We eased behind police tapes with approval and entered home.


Our heroes at work

The first order of business was to locate all the candles and light them up,, perhaps twenty of different sizes. Main rooms filled with a softening yellow to apricot light. We avidly watched the men work; it was so foreign to us, and garnered our respect. It took eight hours from start to finish. The crew cheered as lights came on, one room after the other, near eleven p.m. It was almost as if I could see current move, like magic, and the workers’ excitement spilled over to us. I waved and nearly ran out to hug someone but instead checked our living spaces.

We were lit up–except in the bathroom and one bedroom. And the stove top hood light and fan didn’t work. Nor the inner and outer hall lights, for that matter. But I read my recently favored novel by the light of a blue candle while propped up by my cushy pillows and drifted off, relieved.

The next day following a review by one of the owners of the building of the havoc wreaked, the errant branches was removed from a cable and the other big tree. More were deeply pruned. There were many trees uprooted by this storm, and homes damaged. The landlord was unhappy about the expense of it all, with the additional need of of an electrician to replace circuit breakers and review other issues. I later bore his incensed irritation on the phone until I offered sympathy about his troubles while also insisting he not target me with his anger. I’ve helped pay off his mortgage for many years. And those last two unhealthy sweet gums have been left to break apart, storm by storm.

storm-damage-pretty-streets-001 storm-damage-pretty-streets-034 after-storm-bright-trees-030 after-storm-bright-trees-029

On a walk we found numerous signs of wreckage, mostly strewn tree branches and other plant odds and ends, deep puddling about storm drains. It happened in a day or so; for us, it had happened in a literal flash. And I will miss the trees we continue lose. Marc’s shiny newer car had been lashed by a cable and the windshield was cracked, the roof and hood marred. Still, I pondered how one might feel to awaken to see much worse, to lose it all, and knew it had to be hell. This was distressing to a minor degree.

Weather does seem to be more treacherous everywhere (at least windy and rain storms) than years back. As a child I played Scrabble by flashlight or sang songs with my family in the fruit cellar while major thunderstorms blew. We trudged through hip- and even chest- high drifts of snow, shovels in hand as icy wind scorched cheeks and noses. Weather was nature and nature was beloved by all I knew, if occasionally anxiety-provoking. But in the past couple decades my country has gone through much with increased wildfires, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes– and earthquakes. I happen to live in earthquake country, along a major fault line and sometimes I do think: is this the day? It all does give one pause. From earth’s beginnings weather has dictated human agendas, even survival. It is awesome to behold, at times daunting or worse.

As for today, I’m grateful for what did not occur over the week-end, for the safety and pleasures of another autumn day. For this singular moment comprised of shale skies and impetuous spittings of rain, vibrant leaves that litter streets and light up a cloudy horizon–it makes me happy. I’m blessed to sit covered with warmth, to write as I look out the window. Who can know what will blow this way next? You’re only as ready in life as you try to become; the rest may be up for grabs.


Leaves gathering after storm, gifts of beauty in their vivid and timely passing.


After clean up a few blocks over–so tidy it almost bothered me–but at least safer from the wreckage. For now…


Posted in creative nonfiction, nonfiction, Personal essay, pictorial essay, prose, Uncategorized, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mapmaker Girl

COpurtesy Wikimeida Commons: 1823_darton_and_gardner_comparative_chart_of_world_mountains_and_rivers_-_geographicus_-_mountainsandrivers-darton-

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons: 1823, Darton and Gardner Comparative chart of world mountains and rivers

Suriya never planned on becoming a mapmaker. Her heart was set on architecture, creating place from wood and stone, glass and metals. It wasn’t only the imagining of an entire construction, it’s becoming an enlivened entity with breath made of those who dwelt within and without. Though as she held that in her central mind the idea astonished her. No, it was the work of it: conception of design, the measurements and rejection or acceptance of materials, every alteration to the plan. The blood heat of all that went on inside her thinking and being. The anticipation like fear that thrilled as the building was to be created.

She dreamed of this inside the small grey cinder block  house she shared with most of her family. It was a humble box lost among all the others built to withstand the winds and weather draped and dropped on their village, Milliad. She watched other, older Makers construct and erect the places she improved upon in her designing mind. Nearly cried out for a place among them. And tended to the work she was given and needs she perceived.

Except her father’s needs. Zel was a Traveler, and since it was an honor to be a trading man they endured his absence. But it was also inconvenient when a man had a wife and six children–to leave them to their own devices could be dangerous, as well. But they made do. Her mother, Aya, worked the water line from dawn to dusk, muscular arms hefting urns and pots in a sliding rhythm and managing the line when others grew slack. Her body’s sways and twists unleashed song; she was paid extra for it. Suriya’s older brother, Torn, corralled his siblings, getting them to the Community Classroom and collecting rocks to trade with the Stone Master for food passes. He yearned to one day leave as had their father, to see the world. To be free of the drudgery.

Torn charged Suriya with keeping track of their father’s voyages. Father drew them rough diagrams in the earth, acting as if it made little difference to them if he went north or east, south or west. But Torn was hungry for details and his sister knew how to capture them. Suriya could draw with such precision that at fourteen she already was being given jobs by the community, documenting people’s faces and possessions. Torn convinced their mother that she would bring more security and prestige to the family if she followed that path. Maybe they would even be allowed to move. Mapmaking would be useful to all. She should be apprenticed to Mapmaker Master Joss, who’d asked for her already.

Suriya went off to find and sign on with him, not unhappily. If she drew more she might gain skill for architectural blueprints, in time. She would also be out of the house. She would not carry water or pick rocks.

Joss was pleased to have her and the Tribune was relieved to have a new apprentice such as she. In very little time she caught on to the latitudinal and longitudinal manner of all Place, the bodies of earth and water, the divergence of many skies from endless horizon. She knew about the three moons and both fixed and unfixed stars from her father’s tales. She grasped directions, spacial orientation and markers before they were uttered. The Mapmaker Master found she had such a talent that he stood behind her watching over her tidy head with its small red scarf, following every line and mark with barely hidden awe. He gave her more complex measurements of various Travelers’ distances and topographical information and let her go to it. Joss encouraged her but gave faint, often no praise. He would know more as time went by. He would consult with the Tribune if needed but he suspected the truth and knew all would be revealed fully: Suriya could become Grand Mistress of Maps. But the longer she was not informed and not officially chosen, the better for Joss and the Tribune. He had separate work to get out of her first.

Suriya took home a pouch of small multi-colored orbs each week to exchange for household goods. Over time it came to mean more than she expected. Her mother was proud of her daughter’s fine skill and contribution and told her more than once. But Aya was well aware of her daughter’s passion for creating beautiful structures. She waited to see if Suriya would stay of her own accord. It was likely this child would bring something more than acclaim to their family but she didn’t yet know what. How much she might damage, how much illuminate. It frightened Aya but she kept the feeling wrapped up tight, tucked far away. Her husband expected her to work and live without probing for more than could be yet answered. It was safer that way.

Her son, Torn, on the other hand, always sought more despite the wisdom of patience. He fingered the smooth glass orbs and thought how much he would rather see a key to the gates and the route where his father roamed, for starters. Then he went to the trading place to obtain what was needed for his mother, wondering over the possibility of a life free of rocks and orbs and grains for the bread they ate to sustain them another day.

In the night’s lonely depth and width as the others slept, Suriya perched on the flat top of the rough roof, the part before it slanted downward. She pulled from her loose garment rough paper sheaves and a drawing charcoal, then drew the route she believed their father had taken this time.

Though without costly rich dyes to aid her, she knew in her mind what colored her sketches: black-blue and violet mountains, rust brown and grey for shorelines, wide expanses of flat land that had no color except for flecks of orange and green. The sweetness of red inside white for blossoms. The moist greeness of hollows where the animals roamed. There was no sound she could hear about her as there was none in the maps. The vivid silence was music to her and it reverberated within her, a cushioned thunder of great wings moving in soft air. She glimpsed feet running along steep, barren hillsides and then they were gone. Suriya drew until her hand cramped, stiffened, until night was frayed at the edges with tiny licks of light. Then she descended the ladder and crawled into her window and then into the loft’s bed swing. And slept deeply and briefly.

But even when the map appeared to succeed with its beauty, each intuitively discovered byway declared remarkable by an astonished Joss, Suriya could not tell if he was pleased. He seemed disconcerted, even dismayed in his stern, closed way.

“I think I’ve gotten very close to Father,” she told Torn as they washed after first meal. “In true fact, it is more that Father has gotten to me and my work.”

Torn took no care in keeping the water off the floor and her garment and he splashed his face another time. “You don’t want me to know, I’m sure. You’ve already figured out I want to leave, find and go with him. Then you’ll be stuck here with the others.”

Suriya dried her face on the tail of her frock. “It’s not that easy to go. It will take a miracle to get out of the gate until you are twenty years and even then, you have to be invited for a purpose as we know. No one does something without a purpose. That is our way.”

He roughed up his ebony black hair so it stuck out in small barbs. “That is your fate, not mine.”

“I didn’t say that–we can choose our own final fate once we’re called forth by the Tribune or the Highest Power. It may require sacrifice but… oh, why must you be contrary?” She drank from the cup of her palm then flung droplets at him.

Torn batted her away and she batted him back; it seemed like play until he gave her a small shove.

“You mean like Joss and soon the Tribune have called you forth- -and yet you have chosen well enough, have you?”

She stood with feet apart and hands on hips, then let out a rush of air  and shook her head. She brought her smooth strong hands together, one cupping the other before her chest. “Please don’t joke. Drawing chose me. The images chose me. You have always known that….You are not the same brother, Torn, as you were before Father was gone so much.”

Torn knit together his tanned, lined brow as he looked into her, then away. “I’m not a child anymore, that is all, well past your age. And soon you won’t be so childish, either. There are things you can’t imagine yet because your mind can’t hold them as real. They are too big– and bitter and simple. Not tender or complex like your sweet strange dreams, your mad fantasies.” He cackled as if he’d made a joke but she felt it as a sting.

“Come to the roof tonight,” she said, “and we’ll see what is and what isn’t.”

Torn considered her standing there, her hands now gathering her skirt. She could be so earnest and what did that even count in Milliad? He’d often asked her this. But her eyes had become luminous over the passing of time. Their color–dark blue with gold around the edges–startled him again as she refused to break her gaze from his. Her hair had fallen out of her scarf, unruly and thick, hence the scarf until she gave in and cut it chin length like the older girls. But her still, steeply planed face was inscrutable. They had once been told they favored one another. Torn didn’t know so much about her, anymore, he realized and she didn’t likely know about him.

Or did she? A chill twitched his shoulders as she smiled lightly, something more beneath its easiness.

“Help me with the children, it’s late,” he told her. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Together they rounded up the four young ones. The little ones had their pieces of fruit and bread and their woven bags. They pulled on soft-soled shoes. The six of them walked to the Community Classrooms, their older brother and sister so good to see when they looked back, then whispered among themselves. This was different, surprising, all of them leaving twelve footprints in the dusty paths, the wind hovering over them and then whisking away their tittering voices.


Suriya had had trouble at the Mapmaker Workshop and it followed her all the way home. It seemed Joss had wanted her to diverge from what made she’d drawn. He’d directed her to follow his mechanical compass as she worked on the paper flattened out on the work bench. Instinct told her he was wrong but how could she disagree? There were other Mapmakers who worked swiftly, quietly, but he was a Mapmaker Master held in great regard. She was young, had been there far less time than anyone else. But he had not disagreed with her renderings until this time.

Zel’s current trail was not as important now, Joss had told her, as were her findings of obscure passages, whether taken by others or none other yet. Could she see the off-shooting trails amid forests? The danger and mystery of distant mountains beckoning or did they recede from her mind? Could she feel where lesser rivers and tiny creeks turned or sudden rapids became impassable? And what about the towns they should record and visit or avoid? The hamlets that, like Milliad, meant something only to the inhabitants and thus, not to them at this time. He needed to find prosperous settlements that yielded greater profits. Zel was one among many and he had such irksome principles.

Joss knew how Suriya’s gift manifested by now: she made the maps come alive, each rendered from her interior visionary views, her sensations and sightings of place and energy. He didn’t know how it worked, only what it could likely do for them all; he’d have her proficiency honed into a power he could net and wield, too, one day. If she trusted him. But when she got too close to her father’s footsteps he urged her elsewhere. Joss had his own mission in that room with her, one that would be essential to Milliad’s growth,  more so for his status and security. But he knew he had to be watchful of all Suriya’s mapmaking skills could reveal lest he miss an important cue leading to those grander days.

Suriya walked home with a brisk pace, her hand trailing a stick in the dirt. The intrepid shadows at end of day greeted and cooled her as she blinked them out of her sight. They slowly melted into the golden hour. She needed to talk to Torn tonight, to unburden herself, to share with him her secret work. Was it even possible to speak the truth in this place where people said so little? Even then it was often obscured, layered in meanings. It was the Milliad way, born of harsh weather and tightly knit families and work that held them apart more than brought them together. The mill town kept people fed but also kept them exhausted in the vast fields and ancient large mill, quick to find privacy to rest, bodies limp, minds emptied. The Tribune wanted them to give their all to the community, not so to others. They were spokes of a wheel, yes, and those spokes did not touch but strengthened the wheel of Milliad.

The night fell upon Suriya without hesitation, twilight brief and darkness blurring the perplexing ways and means of humans while other creatures lay down and just slept.

“I can hear you, Torn. You think you’re so stealthy but your body resists the wind and gives you away.”

He unfolded himself at ladder’s top and came round to the flat spot near center, before the gradual slope of roof increased.

“A more sly four-legged I am not; I have to move as keeps me well alive.” He sat beside her. “Ah, too long since I have been up here.”

“I’ve always wanted to anchor a bench here,” she said. “The roof top is just a flattened length of stucco where we might even set up a small table. If we put a rail around it even the younger ones could join us–”

“That’s the point, right? This is not a children’s area; they belong inside until they’re old enough to climb safely.”

She shook her head and rolled her eyes. Her hair billowed out of the scarf as wind gusted; she held tightly her drawn-up knees. “Milliad’s ways, separating and dividing people except at school where we had to sit crunched side by side all day long in the stifling heat. I want to make more community spaces!”

She glanced at him but he was looking out over their village and beyond. The horizon brightened to opalescent then went black, crowded with starry bodies taking their places. He pulled his shoulders up high and let them drop, then leaned back on his hands.

“Out there….” Torn murmured, chin jutting toward the gate.

“…is what you hope to find…but also what you don’t want. Not all would be so wonderful. Father clarified that when Mother wanted to follow him, all of us like vagabonds.”

“No matter all that now. I know how to make my passage. I’m leaving soon. Don’t ask me how or when.”

Suriya felt a knot yank tight in her chest. “You can’t wait until you’re of age? Then just walk out safely?”

“There’s only so much time, sister. So many days I hate it here, the rules and cunning, the work designations and extra demands on families, the obedience to Tribunal methods. It is not a place to find more or better; everything is regulated, set to ancient law that needs amending. ”

“But what can you accomplish by running off?”

“I don’t know yet. It’s waiting to speak to me but I can almost hear the wisdom rising. I tell you this because you will find a way to understand…and you’ll forget to share it with others, am I right?”

She tapped his hand three times, their childhood signal of loyalty.

“Now what was it you wanted to tell me? Or are we to sit and gaze at the sky until we become stuporous?”

She turned sideways and placed her hands on his shoulders. “I know where father is going, brother.”

Torn grabbed her forearms and shook her a little.”You found him? How?”

Suriya reached into the middle pocket of her garment and pulled out four maps, then stopped his hands from snatching them.

“Because, Torn, I make the maps he follows.”

Torn released her and leaned back involuntarily, put his hand to his lips and gazed at her hard.

“I start out drawing what comes to my mind’s visual expanse. I feel directed in part by his thinking but that isn’t all.”

She said this as if she was explaining the way water erodes a riverbank, a thing common and expected.

“He directs you…?” Torn said, feeling scared but uncertain why.

“I just know where he wants to go, so I show him how to get there. I draw the maps for him here”–she held out the maps–“and he holds it in his mind while I work and finally when I’m done. And on he goes.”

Torn made a light snickering sound. “…and on he goes… Then how did he get places before, without your help?”

“He didn’t need my help then. Now he does. The Tribune and Joss have other plans; he has to be safe. He realizes I know things.”

Suriya turned away as he read her maps. She could hear the first moon rising, the second preparing to join it, or perhaps it was night birds lifting off from a faraway branch with a swoop. She wished she could stand up, leap out to follow, whatever the delicate ruffles of sound were. She wanted to do something unexpected, even to herself.

“These are amazing, Suriya, so detailed and beautifully made. And you believe he is headed this way?” Torn pointed to the upper edge of the second map.

“Yes. Tomorrow he crosses over a forgotten mountain here,” she said and moved her finger along lines she’d trailed in charcoal.

Her brother put his face close to the map to better see it in the deepening dark. He traced the way of her finger and let out a deep tremulous breath.

She smiled at him, knuckled his spiky hair. “They’re yours to keep. I have them in my memory. I figured you’d want them when you leave, which I suppose is quite soon. It seems the bitter, simple realities you’d mentioned revolve about people being greedy and selfish too often. They–Joss, the Tribune–want our father to bring back all he can forcibly take. But he isn’t that man. He’s a fine, hearty Traveler, a good trader, but fair and just. He knows much about many things and will not aggrieve others if he can avoid it…I so miss him. Now you will go…”

“Suriya, I can’t fathom that you’re giving me these powerful tools. Your work to help Father. You know I was to leave in three days time…? And now I will know where to go. Will you and I know each other’s ways, too? I don’t want us to get lost in all this change.”

She only nodded. Looked out into the tree branches that swayed against the elegant palette of nighttime, the stars winking at them as if they knew, too, their stories. At the rows and rows of pale squat homes lined up below, the people all ensconced inside their neat little house-prisons.

“I want to build such new places of worship, places of play, places of eating and talking and laughing. I want Mother to bring her dance and songs, bring us to our feet as she did when she was young. I want more happiness, Torn, and peace for Milliad. I ask you and Father to come back and help us. But for now you have been called, brother, so you must go.”

“Thank you, Suriya… from my soul. We will return home and we’ll find ways to make all kinds of changes.” Torn softly kissed her cheek, then left to further prepare.

Suriya stood tall, raised her arms into the enveloping darkness, then unknotted a small red scarf from her dark hair. It unfurled then floated away as wind blew the wavy strands from her gleaming blue-gold eyes envisioning even now the journey she’d soon map for her brother as well as their father. For perhaps their whole family. For where there would be new pathways there was need of the first lines made in dirt or on paper, of light to be cast ahead and a way to find and be found.


Posted in fiction, prose, short fiction, short stories, Uncategorized, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Friday’s Passing Fancies/Poem: Word Puzzle


Today it won’t come easy, in spite of wanting.
Letters skim off meanings of entire words,
inviolate vowels and consonants harbor
little truths as more beg entry to the
charismatic soul, disquieted mind.

Some poems and other matters are made
of hard beginnings and loose ends,
moments that culminate like
fire breaking out from logs
that mean to just spit and sizzle

or the other way around.
Each one, poem or passage, is made
of this and that, despite refining,
wrestling. The waiting.

Tunneling with words cannot be more than it is;
certain revelations will not reveal life itself.
The latest story may only be
a closing of an eye caught
winking in reflections.

Posted in Photos with poetry, poem-making, poetry, Uncategorized, writing poems | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Everyday Beautiful Life in a City Park


At last. I have arrived at one of our neighborhood parks, a favorite. And I am filled with sweet relief. I’m released of artificial enclosures, set free in a world of green abundance and those critters who always occupy it. The park is its own entity, a series of paved and hard-packed dirt pathways, many varieties of towering trees clustered together or spread about the rise and fall of 25 acres.  Their quietly powerful forms arch overhead, massive and lithe branches rustling in the breezes. I want to greet them: “Great-grandmother, Great-grandfather, hello.” (I have recently read of research verifying that trees do communicate and live interdependently in a number of ways, as many have suspected. Or perhaps as we all knew once upon a time when the workings of nature included us more intimately and routinely.) Perhaps they know me and perhaps not, but they seem to welcome me.


As I power-walk the steeper incline, the fist-sized heart muscle squeezes and releases fast and strong, glad of partnership with lungs, aiding my reaching legs and arms. All mental fog clears as oxygen is given rapid delivery to cells. It then commences to empty and refill with simpler and finer stuff. Eyes note rocks, twirling airborne leaves, patches of cobalt sky and chameleon clouds, birds a flutter of feathers and plaintive or cheery melodies. My senses are governing me, guiding me through each moment; they do what they do very well indeed. Without this daily walk I would be a lesser human being and far less fit. Without this rolling park and more in my city, I would feel bereft–yes, it’s true– of much my mind, body and soul crave.

I am near the top of the hill when I halt progress. There is something going on with the crows as they surround nearby area, a zigzag of cried orders or observations that change to scolding or an alarm signifying worse. I gaze upward into thickets of leaves and crisscrossing branches, searching for what it is they are fussing over. There, is that the issue? A barred owl perching in what appears to be one of the park’s pretty magnolia trees. That explains it: owls and crows seem born enemies. This owl must have been found out and disturbed. It’s nervous and perhaps annoyed, repeatedly turning its head ’round and about. I pull out my camera, capture its wild beauty. It darts its black eyes at me, looks away, back again. I more often site various owls in denser forested acreage, rarely in broad daylight–they are sleep of course and blend in perfectly. But this one has been spotted by more than just me.


The mob mentality of crows takes over. They are diving about the tree, making a louder racket, harassing the singular creature. An ominous sense of anxiety creeps up as I watch; it is rarely a welcome party by the ever-governing crows. It will roust the barred owl if at all possible, peck it, swoop down upon it, perhaps even prey upon it. I stand and wait several minutes but the crows seem unable to reach the bird. Or that is not yet their intent. I am surprised by a slow anger toward the fifteen or more crows. They are such aggressive birds, dominating all they can. On the other hand, I suspect owls can make a meal of a crow or two when at their prime advantage. I have read that Great Horned owls are masters at it.

In a flash, the owl flees the magnolia for another tree and its wings are wonderful to see, its small soft-feathered body so strong. I can somewhat see the division of crows race after it. The owl appears to find refuge among branches again. I do not have a good enough view to note what is next. The bombastic calls of the relentless crows go on.

I feel for the moment that the barred owl has the upper hand and so press on, contemplating the natural order of things. The curious incidents experienced here and during other park walks. The hierarchies in place and dramas played out, the battles fought, lost and won. It seems no creature can be entirely free of it.

But there is usually better news at the park. I find it immediately.

There are grassy off-leash, dog friendly areas and they take right to it. I walk by and enjoy the fun vicariously, being without a dog these days. Large and small, energetic and more retiring, they’re game and take full advantage of freedom, as any reasonably healthy dog will. They leap for Frisbees, fetch balls flung far and wide, sniff and greet, race each other madly back and forth. And the subtle posturing of various canine messaging goes beyond my ken. But the not so subtle occurs, too, as one gets too friendly or another finds the personality, breed or rank of another unappealing or even threatening. The owners compare notes and chat like great friends, too, including their pets in sometimes baby talk, sometimes adult conversations. I am always interested in whom goes with which dog; it isn’t always so easy to guess correctly.



I am particularly interested in the man who does squats while his dog politely waits for him to finish. It appears the man is talking to the dog, perhaps explaining his routine, or counting aloud or asking his pet to be patient– his time will come. I also wonder if the man is more motivated to exercise when out with his dog. Pets can do that for us–start us up, keep us going in one way or another. The park has plenty of older citizens walking with their faithful friends. I feel gratified to see it and like to greet them both.

There are friends in deep conversation, with linked arms or companionable silence everywhere. I was recently asked who I walk with daily and it gave me pause. Not that many, I admit. Some friends are still working or live a bit far away. A couple have hip or knee problems. My spouse is not so much a moving-right-along walker as one who likes to pause and look at every small thing that catches his eye along the paths, in a bush, peeking up from dirt, moss and grass. He is quite engaged in collecting rocks and sticks. I enjoy looking up and around as I speed by, catching bits of talk, noting the way the light falls through the leaves and the shadows dance. I do stop long enough to take photographs. My older sister says it exhausts her to see me go; she likes to mosey, sit on a bench and chat–which I do like doing with her. In truth, not too many keep up with my pace. It’s not even intentional; I have always been fast on my feet. Most of my five adult kids likely can outpace me; they tend to be quite active and fit. I look forward to taking off with them; it pushes me. I treasure such times with them, the brisk pace, the bright air, the sounds of nature mingling with human. Their nearness. But most of them live in other states, so it is getting more rare these days to share these times outdoors. (If I’m lucky, I can hang out some with grandchildren. My fourteen year old granddaughter told me today that she is NOT too old to go to the pumpkin patch and when can we go? I about leapt for joy but composed myself and texted back.)


Yes, I sometimes wish I walked with others more. But not often; I well appreciate being one among others, amidst nature within the city. I feel safe; I pay attention. The park is full of all ages with their own life stories.

I’m a happy gal to be able to keep my heart strong, to commune with the natural designs about us. To observe the human theater, photograph the scenes. Everything fascinates me in one way or another: the butterfly’s wings against a bloom, the reflection in an inch of water, the sounds of a pack of teens running in concert, the sun beaming on a turtle, the child reaching for a duckling.  The breaths I still can take– in, out; life given, life shared. So I go to the park to ease aches physically and emotionally, to even connect more readily with God as I meditate on such small beauty, each curious anomaly. These moments given like many gifts unexpected.

I also walk to jar free some ideas for writing. A first sentence, an image, a character or two–these will come forward as I move across a landscape. It’s as if they are waiting for me to clear more space for internal movement, to allow creative energy to take rein. I find a good walking pace generates more useful moments, rather than depleting me. I return home or go on to the next task feeling renewed.


In this city-block-sized park (actually two, also with a children’s playground, basketball and tennis courts) there are runners, power walkers, strollers, sitters, Tai Chi and yoga practitioners, cyclists and roller skaters and more. I frequently see people practicing acrobatics. Tumbling pairs of adults. Those balancing/walking atop what appears to be a cord strung tautly between two trees will stop me cold a few moments. Jugglers practice their art and draw onlookers, too.

There are sometimes groups of young moms exercising, babies in strollers beside them. Many park-goers spread feasts on picnic tables, feeding a slew of family and friends. Some read in the shady quiet spots while others doze and sunbathe, even in October before winter rains take hold. And musicians like to bring their instruments; I have enjoyed a tuba player (very good), saxophonist (also good), a flutist (fair but chipper), a violinist (beginning stages), many guitarists and singers of various levels of talent and piano players (there is an upright kept in a maintenance building, brought out now and again). I keep waiting for someone to bring a drum kit and wonder how folks would enjoy that. I’d listen.

Sadly, Portland has thousands of homeless persons. The parks are often temporary camp-out areas. I don’t know all public park laws or how stringently they are enforced. But it’s not unusual to come upon several empty or occupied sleeping bags, a tent or two, shopping carts piled high with belongings, circles of folks who must know each other on the streets and meet up at the park, too. They are living their lives. Occasionally someone is talking to himself or seems upset about something. They are mostly quietly talking, smoking, listening to a radio. Sometimes we exchange a greeting, other times barely nod. But I do not find them invisible. Something we clearly have in common is an appreciation for the park’s offerings: old sturdy trees with their shade, open expanses for roaming and areas for solitude. Its easy atmosphere. Its richness.

There is a good-sized pond inhabited by common water fowl. I watch the squabbling, floating, friendly ducks.  I admire an occasional elegant blue heron from a distance as it perches and stands tireless, still, and sometimes it swoops down from a treetop. There are turtles aplenty basking in sunshine on logs in the pond, and a garter snake here and gone in the grass. Everywhere are benches about the pond where people sit and commune or snooze or chat with friends or lovers. Many take pictures there, greenery casting glowing reflections upon its calm surface.


Almost no one makes a fuss. Sometimes there seem to be tears shed. I, too, have taken refuge to settle a clattering mind, let sorrow wend its way from my heart. It’s as if we all agree to democratically share these common spaces in order to rest, rejuvenate, play, meditate. To acknowledge each other and share a smile, a few words, or to pass by without even a glance, safe in silence. How much life the park has witnessed, how many secrets it keeps from over more than a century of use. Its presence is rounded out by us, its visitors and keepers. (Many volunteers augment the park staff; I saw them raking today.)


Portland is growing very quickly after a bit of a lull of a couple of decades. The natural  beauty of the Northwest is a magnet. It seems everyone from everywhere else wants to take part in our economy known for entrepreneurial ventures and the small businesses’ success stories. It is a city that draws people with creative energy and vibrant city center. Each day there are more attractive old buildings and houses torn down, replaced by plain, tall apartment buildings, often multi-use –and they cost a lot to live in. The lifestyle may be easy going here but the cost of living isn’t, not anymore. As we become more crowded, more will be seeking places to spread out, to breathe deeper, to find a spot to sit and gaze outward and inward. We have treasures nearby us–the Columbia River and Gorge, our mountain ranges, wild and gentle rivers, the vast Pacific Ocean and its beaches, valleys and vineyards, the arid lands in eastern Oregon. There is always somewhere to explore, to learn about and appreciate.

But in the city we need our public parks, places to go to at a moment’s notice, to access most hours of day and evening. Not all have to be impressive in size or history. We have about 180 parks in Portland, including the Guinness Book of World Records’ smallest city park in the United States. But we also enjoy over 5,000 acres of Forest Park within city limits, a mere ten minute drive for me. Around 11% of our city land is devoted to parks–a reason I love being here.


I thought quite awhile today about what sort of post I wanted to write. To be truthful, I wanted to write about my youngest daughter’s wedding two years ago this date. Her wedding reception was at a venue right across from the park I visited. The couple lives in California for now. I would be glad to s hare much more but she prefers her private life to not be so public as she gains momentum in a fascinating career. Still, while I was musing about the parks’ importance, I also recalled her wedding day in a beautiful meadow, deep in a woodland park in our city. The pictures, I have to admit, are fairly breathtaking. I am showing just a glimpse of the forest dream of a wedding day: her hands and mine; hers with her husband’s, her crazy-fab shoes, of course…She and my son-in-law wanted it to be smack in the middle of nature’s wilds with  trees, plants and all creeping, crawling, flying creatures–along with people–as witnesses. I understood that desire, and we made it happen.

My spouse and I were hiking over there recently. We mentioned again how fortunate we are to have this verdant rain forest landscape to play in. No wonder she wanted that forest wedding; she is her tree-seeking mother’s daughter–and her rock-hunting father’s. Happy Anniversary, my beloved youngest and that good husband–the Northwest misses you both just as you miss it. We will share a happy park walking date again.

Now that my motherly moment is done, back to one of Portland’s loveliest parks. Please enjoy more pictures below. Celebrate public parks; they celebrate community and that includes you!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Posted in creative nonfiction, memoir, nonfiction, Personal essay, photo story, prose, Uncategorized, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments