We are having our traditional Early February downpour. Our atmospheric river has cousins drenching California, the southeast, and everyone from Iowa to the East and Virginia to the north. So I thought I’d talk about moss.
Auntie Katie posted pictures yesterday of her visit to our Japanese Garden here in Portland, saying she remembered walking there as a kid and trying to help me figure out how to grow moss in Salinas. I remember those trips too, wanting to bring that lush green to dry Salinas, and failing miserably.
When you grow up in a desert (and let’s face it, anything south of San Francisco is basically a desert), the sidewalks are always grey, the concrete is always hard, the corners are always sharp. It’s like seeing Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon. There is nothing to erode them.
But in a rain-rich environment, corners get soft and sidewalks get green. Tombstones and birdbath become gardens. Walls become magical.
And if you have the emotional strength to get into real clothes and shoes and go out to see these marvels, your day will be better. I promise.
I have rarely had trouble sleeping. As a teacher for thirty years and a working mom for twenty of those, I was so tired by bedtime that I was asleep before the lamp was cool. My body and brain had been running so fast all day, it was bliss to just shut down and go away for a while.
But lately, there has been trouble in sleepy-nigh’ night paradise. There are lots of perfectly good reasons for this.
We are in the middle of an ‘atmospheric river’ that is currently dumping seven inches of rain on Portland. I am a good sport about rain, but going for a real decent walk just isn’t as much fun. So I’m not getting as much exercise as I probably should.
Age may have something to do with it. What seem like little aches during the day become (you’ll forgive the expression) real pains in the neck, and can make finding and keeping a comfortable position difficult.
And then there is the news. Last night my brain kept running scenarios, not of plans, not anything I could help or stop, but scenes from a hypothetical disaster movie called “How it Ended for (your city here).” People were smashing things. Roads were blocked. It was like being in the Capital, but there was no place to be evacuated to. It was just us, and them. I won’t bother attaching photos. I’m sure they are etched into your brain, as well.
So this morning I am hobbling by on two hours sleep, determined to do the day as best I can. To not get snippy with my people, to do art and French and exercise and pet the cat. To do the day and be ready for sleep when it is done.
Winter cold and wet is an opportunity for art, sewing, and reading. I just finished David McCullough’s giant biography of Harry Truman, and it was enjoyable and informative. It felt good to read about a President who, though very much in over his head, made an honest effort to do the job well.
But with current political drama becoming almost overwhelming, I am happy to say goodbye to Harry’s battles, and move on to something … lighter.
And I’ve chosen a very different path. The late Peter Mayle, who retired from a London advertising firm to live in the south of France, wrote delightful stories about his life and his neighbors. His first collection was “A Year in Provence”, which made him famous and was made into a film. This second volume is “Toujours Provence” and continues his explorations of the quirky characters he meets.
He tells of a fellow in the next village over who is taught toads to sing LaMarseilles for the France’s bicentennial. This places the story in 1989, about as topical as his stories get. In another essay, Mayle describes, in wincing detail, the difficulties of a simple plumbing repair to his ancient house in the hills.
All of these misadventures happen under the blazing Provençal sunshine. One August, when it was 85 degrees by breakfast and even the wild hogs slept in the shade, Peter tells of driving to Chateau Neuf de Pape for a ‘degustation’, a wine tasting, that included two enormous meals and countless glasses of wine. After a stultifying lunch, he napped under a tree until awoken for an equally paralyzing dinner.
It is pleasant, these damp, chilly days, to mentally wander the hills of the Luberon, just above Marseilles, with an eccentric, literate Brit as a guide. It sends me to sleep with sunshine.
This season, between Hanukah, anniversaries, Christmas, and New Years’, has felt very full. Gifts coming and going, lots of ZOOM, and way too much fancy, delicious food and drink. I think I may have sprained a holiday muscle.
I went out for walk in the rain. Not to see the Christmas lights, not to see anything, really. Just to be outside, clear my head, and interact with the world a bit. It helped a little.
Up at the corner between our house and Laurelhurst Park, I did stop to see some lights. Traffic lights, that is.
The dark and the rain made them particularly pretty, and I stood for quite a while under my umbrella, enjoying the reflections and not thinking much of anything.
And when I got cold and the rain started to come through my boots, I headed back home. I know this mood is partly holiday letdown, partly Covid isolation blues, and partly the result of too much rich food and wine. I know it will pass.
So until it does, I will keep looking for the light.
For the last few days, we have been in a river…. an atmospheric river, to be exact. This is a system of very wet air that has blown up from the tropics, bumped into our cold air, and is just dumping water like crazy. This is a lot of rain, even for drippy Portland.
So of course we went for a walk to lovely Laurelhurst Park. The hillsides are muddy and very slick, so I stayed on the path. The last thing I need from 2020 is a busted bottom. The puddles forming by the path made perfect mirrors to appreciate the majestic trees and gray skies.
Firwood Lake has had a particularly thick layer of duckweed this year, looking more like a soccer field in some areas. But at the east end, a surreal swirly effect is finding new ways to be beautiful.
And just as I thought the swirly green and black water couldn’t get more weirdly beautiful, a raindrop plopped in and created concentric circles.
Life is beautiful, even (or maybe especially) in the rain.
It was a big, fat, wet, grey day. So of course we went for a walk!
We had some errands to run, to mail some packages and pick up a replacement coffee grinder. We found lots of puddles, happy wet dogs, and kids in new rubber boots. Bright leaves floated down the gutters and stuck to our shoes.
By the time we had dropped off and picked up, the first wave of the storm had moved along and some blue skies showed through.
And when we got home, we drew, painted, and cooked, enjoying the sound of the wind and scattering leaves.
By the time the chili and corn bread were ready, the second wave had come and we listened to the rain through open windows.
As you may know, there is a trial going on in the Senate to decide whether President Trump should be removed from his office. The Democrats have argued that using the influence of the most powerful position in the world to force a weaker country to do your political bidding is wrong. The Republicans disagree.
There are a lot of negative feelings about it. We worry about how our country is seen in the world and how this may change how we are governed. Grandpa Nelson decided that the remedy for this worry was a nice, long walk to The Bipartisan Cafe. There was a solid rain coming down, but no wind, and about 50 degrees…. pleasant for this time of year. So I said, “Sure!”
We walked East on Belmont, past lovely old house that is being restored, and up onto the shoulder of Mt. Tabor.
I was thinking about how homeowners living here must battle to keep their houses secure against the elements when I saw this, a garage that is almost completely hidden by ivy. I guess sometimes, the battle is lost.
Further up the hill, we found this delightful mosaic covered tiny library! The roof, glass door and tile exterior make it beautiful and weather proof. It was a joy to see.
When we had worked up a bit of a sweat inside our coats, we reached to top of Belmont Street. There was the paved road down, or an “unimproved road”… guess which we took?
Yep. It was a bit muddy, but delightfully rustic. Tall trees and shrubs leaned over picnic tables and little yards. This would be heaven in the summer.
We headed down the East face of the Mountain into the quaint neighborhood of Montavilla. It used to be called “Mount Tabor Village”, but the name was too long to fit on the streetcars. They shortened it, and the name stuck.
Enjoying the window displays (gnomes!), we finally arrived at our destination, three miles from home. We were damp but victorious. And there was pie!
The Bipartisan Cafe is decorated with old political posters, from John Tyler’s presidential run to John Kennedy’s campaign in the 1960s. It is funky, comfy, delicious, and feels very much like home. It was busy, but we were able to find a small couch all to ourselves, and enjoyed tea and pie.
As we sat there, we realized that our feet were chilly, that it was still raining, and that it was another three miles back home.
it is still rainy here in Portland. If it isn’t raining at any given minute, it has just stopped or will soon start. Such is winter here.
The neighborhood is full of things to see…like this tiny frozen pond up on Ankeny.
We get out every day for a walk. But these aren’t the five mile leisurely strolls of summer. Yesterday I put on four layers plus a coat, gloves and fuzzy hat to walk to the market. Grandpa Nelson bundled up to get a haircut. Auntie Bridgett shivered to and from the gallery.
But I keep busy. I am falling back in love with my story. I am making Gingernuts from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible for a brunch at the SideStreet Arts Gallery.
And yesterday I played a Scrabble game all by myself. Not a regular game, but one where I set out to make a pattern on the board. It was inspired by our accidental, real-game situation where we used only HALF the board. “What other patterns could I make?” I asked.
Each turn is a legal turn and the words are all real words. I had to shift a few letters, but otherwise played by the rules. And I got this .