Blinding, Freezing Days

Dear Liza,

After staying inside for two whole days because it was just too cold to go for a walk, I bundled up and made it as far as the park. The temperature has been below freezing at night and never above 40 for days, but the sky has been blinding bright.

It is a crazy, bright, beautiful combination.

Of course, all the sunshine is encouraging new spring flowers.

Hyacinths grow just a few inches high, but camellias are budding way above my head!

There are some I don’t even know the names of, but they sure are going to town!


Once I got to Laurelhurst Park, I found a bench in the sun and enjoyed watching the people parade go by. Of course, it was still cold, but I was determined to soak up the sun. I lasted almost half an hour before I needed to get back inside.

I hope your weather is pretty and pleasant.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Bird Drama

Dear Liza,

I’ve told you about all the crows we have here in Portland. While there seem to be more crows than anything else, they do not rule the sky, and this seems to irritate them.

On a bright, near-freezing walk the other day, we got to see some proper bird drama. A tiny dog being walked by her owner disturbed a hawk lurking in a small tree. The hawk and took off and at least 20 crows ( I might even call it a Mass Murder) swooped around the elm tree where the hawk settled.

As we watched, the hawk took off from the limb and circled the neighborhood, menaced by the crows. One by one, the valiant smaller birds would swoop in and peck at the hawk, letting it know, in no uncertain terms, that it was NOT welcome.

After a few minutes the hawk settled again, in the very top of a fir tree. Again it was attacked by the crows but seemed unmoved. By this time our feet had begun to freeze and our ears ached, so we said farewell to the drama and headed toward Zach’s, where yummy hot dogs and french fries awaited us.

Such goings on!

Love,

Grandma Judy

December Hodgepodge

Dear Liza,

This nutsy year is coming to a close, and before I re-cap the whole thing, here are some random images from December.

An unconventional snowman, made just before everything melted, keeps watch on his corner.


Remaining snow frosts adorable metal yard decoration of Audrey II from ”Little Shop of Horrors”.


Someone’s Solstice Circle rests in Laurelhurst Park

A very holiday-ready spray of Pyracantha berries and moss hovers just beside a sidewalk.

See you in the New Year!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Winter Sunshine

Dear Liza,

It is winter in Portland. It doesn’t officially start until December 21, but it’s winter. We have rain which may turn to snow flurries, bridges that are getting icy, and dark, dark afternoons.

But then you look up and the clouds are gone for a while, and the sun comes out! And you don’t care that it is 40 degrees F. You put on two scarves and a wooly hat, and out you go.

We are blessed to live in our Laurelhurst/ Sunnyside neighborhood, with its gardens and hundred-year-old stone walls.

Moss and evergreens glow nicely in the low angled light of a Portland afternoon.

Succulents in a wall resemble magic gardens.

Azaleas and rhododendrons put out buds, defying the seasonal cold. And even though we know that tomorrow will be rainy and grey again, our mammal brains are happy for the light.

Love,

Grandma Judy.

Signs of Spring

Dear Liza,

Yes, the snow is barely melted in the neighborhood, but the sun came out yesterday and showed us some signs of spring.

A mighty Laurelhurst tree, down in the storm

At Laurelhurst Park, the totally saturated ground and heavy ice from our last storm caused another great tree to fall. This is on the edge of what I call The Ravine, and has been in many of my photos of this part of the park. It was angular and leaning and beautiful.

It is sad to see such a fine specimen down. This cusp between winter and spring can be difficult to navigate safely.

The same tree a few winters ago….

But there are more gentle signs of spring. Tiny crocuses coming up beside napping angels.

Early blooming trees cheering us up and letting us know that winter doesn’t last forever.

The list of folks getting vaccinated grows every day, making us all safer. And when we get ours, life will get more mobile and more fun. Then I will get to come visit you. And that will be very sweet.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Icy Magic

Dear Liza,

Just as I was getting used to snow, I started noticing the ice. A icy glaze covered every tiny branchof every bush and tree in the neighborhood, as though they had all been dipped in glass. I couldn’t stop staring at them.

The forecast was for warming Monday evening and rain through the week, so I am glad I managed to see the ice and get the pictures I did.

The sharp, drippy shards of icicles are amazing and alien looking, but something I saw that I didn’t expect was this lovely frozen-bumpy effect on car windows and mirrors. The temperature was so low that the rain froze as soon as it hit.

Sadly, all this magic will be gone by Tuesday morning. Icicles will drip into non-existence. Snow will melt and flow into the bioswales and from there to the river. We will be back to normal, and that’s okay, too.

Weird bubble mirror and Auntie Bridgett

I’m glad the snow doesn’t last long enough to be just “that darn white stuff”.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Snow in Portland! Part 2

Dear Liza,

After we realized the front gate was blocked, we headed out the garage door. Snow was there, too, but we could stomp through and get to the sidewalk, anyway. We walked toward Laurelhurst Park, staring at icicle drips and snow covered steps along the way.

Ghostly garden steps

We watched a cheery parade of folks dragging sleds and carrying plastic trash can lids. Every pair of cross country skis in East Portland was in use. It was like a party!

Tinseled nandina

And once we got to the park, the fun continued. Sledders found the ravine. Big fluffy dogs rolled and ran in the snow, like kids let out of school. People of a certain vintage walked like penguins, taking tiny steps.

The Off Leash area run amok!

At the west end of the park, one of the hundred year old trees had fallen across SE 33rd, barely missing the windows and facade of a house almost as old as the tree. It must have been a windier night than I realized! Of course, the downed tree became a temporary jungle gym for neighborhood kids, who climbed over its frosted branches.

By this time, my phone and I were both out of energy, so Auntie Bridgett and I trudged home. But this snow isn’t going anywhere for a day or two, so I’ll show you more frozen beauty tomorrow.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Snow in Portland! Part 1

Dear Liza,

In winter, Portland is mostly a wet and chilly city, not a cold and frozen city. This weekend has been different.

Our patio gnomes, snowed in…

We knew the snow was coming. The weather reports warned of heavy snow, freezing temperatures, and icy bridges. We did extra grocery shopping so we wouldn’t run out of things if we couldn’t drive or walk to the market. And when we went to bed Thursday night, it was snowing.

For me, a girl from the beach in Southern California, there is always something magical about snowfall. Unlike rain, which falls quickly and races away along the gutters, snow comes down at a leisurely pace, as if it is enjoying the scenery along the way. Then it makes little piles, settling in for a visit.

Modern art sculpture of trees in the courtyard…

Friday was a wonderful, mostly-stay-inside day. Grandpa Nelson and I got out to walk around the building just to hear the snow crunch under our boots, then got back inside before we fell in our butts. Tucked back inside, we watched as the snow came and went, with some chilly wind rattling the ice on the branches of the dogwood tree across the way. Even my bonsai forest, The Hundred Acre Wood, out on the balcony, got some snow.

Hundred Acre Wood in snowfall…

When we woke up Saturday, we saw that quite a bit of snow had decided to stay and visit. The little gate that separates our patio from the main walkway was frozen shut, the latch having been welded and glazed by freezing rain.

Frozen latch

Once I got that melted via a hot washcloth (thanks for the advice, Auntie Katie!) I realized that I had a bigger problem. The bottom six inches of the gate were buried in the snow. But my dad would not have been deterred, and I didn’t want to be, either.

I went in search of weaponry, but when we moved from our house in Salinas to our townhouse with no yard, we gave all that away. No shovel, rake, or push room, not even garden trowels. What did I have? A spatula and some cardboard.. I tried, I really did. But no go. There was no going out that way.

These footprints went nowhere!

Sigh. More tea…. more sewing. It could be so much worse.

I will tell you about our victory and adventure in the snow tomorrow!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Peter Mayle’s Sunshine

Dear Liza,

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.

Peter Mayle at his house in Provence

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 La Marseilles 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.

The hills of Provence

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.

Thank you, Mr. Mayle

Love,

Grandma Judy

Mossy Goodness

Dear Liza,

Well, it’s raining again. The past few years, Portland has seen drier winters, and we seem to be making up for it now.

All this rain allows for some lovely, if damp, walks. It thins out the masked crowds at Laurelhurst Park.

And it waters the moss. Portland is a city upholstered with fluffy green moss. I love it!

Walls around houses or office buildings become tiny gardens.

The most common materials, like red bricks, become abstract pieces of art or wondrous topographical maps.

Our Lone Fir Cemetery is especially blessed. This grave, already overwhelmed with a maple tree, is softened with a velvety soft green blanket.

The moss isn’t greedy, though. It shares the walls, bricks, and graves with all sorts of plants and animals . After the moss has softened the stone, it holds on to the rain so ferns can take root.

Tiny flowers and entire ecosystems sprout from the fluffy dampness.

Maybe I will bundle up today and go enjoy some rainy, mossy, goodness. Or maybe I will stay warm and dry in my new pajamas and just write about it.

Love,

Grandma Judy