Teddy, my faithful walking partner.
When Teddy and I reached the top of the hill about a week ago, Mt. St. Helens and downtown Portland had been erased by the thick fog. The brilliant fall colors in the valley below, the spire of St. John’s Catholic Church had disappeared in the whiteness. Lately, I’ve thought about painting that view. When it’s not foggy, the splashes of green, orange, red and yellow are breathtaking. I forget that I have no talent for painting.
There was a lot of bird activity that day. I don’t know if the juncos and other small birds were staying low to the ground and avoiding flight until the fog lifted; but that’s how it felt and sounded. A pair of juncos, distracted by some kind of squabble or excitement, flew out of a bush into the street and nearly crashed into me. They landed in a small tree across the road and continued their noisy discussion.
Dark Eyed Junco
On a fir tree in open land, I saw a huge white splash of owl or hawk wash on the trunk. Although I’d never noticed it before, it is too extensive and wide to have been new. I’m sure it’s been there for a while and it looks as though the visitor has returned to his perch again and again. I believe I was unconsciously primed to finally see it because I had just finished Urban Bestiary, a beautiful book by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Ms. Haupt had mentioned that owls prefer a regular roosting branch while hawks tend to use different spots. This might be an owl roost! So I stepped into the trees, walked through dried leaves, snagged my blue jeans on a low growing blackberry vine, and craned my neck hoping to see the magnificent great horned owl looking back at me. I didn’t see the bird, but I did see where the wash began twenty feet up the tree. If it’s an owl, if he comes back, and if I am very lucky, I will see him another day.
Sounds are different in a heavy fog. The train running through downtown Milwaukie is only about a mile away; less than that “as the crow flies.” In yesterday’s fog it sounded more distant, muffled. A sparrow was rustling in the dry leaves under a red maple and the sound seemed both contained and amplified by the fog. So did the raucous conversation of the crows.
I heard geese flying above the fog, although I could see nothing. Just the same, I raised my eyes and watched the sky. Their calls grew louder as they came closer and passed invisibly overhead. Then the sound of their calls gradually faded as they left me behind. For about ten minutes small flocks of geese passed overhead in waves. I enjoyed the feeling of standing underneath and eavesdropping on those strangers. It gave me goosebumps.
On our way back down the hill, as the fog began to clear in some areas, I saw a huge bird sitting on top of a tall fir. Was it a hawk? Was it a great horned owl? Without my binoculars I couldn’t tell.
Fall is an amazing time of year. Two or three days in a row we have drenching rains. Then the air is suddenly crisper and the sun comes out dazzling us with brilliant blue sky. The bright fall foliage seems to appear overnight. It feels like only days later we are wading through colorful leaves.
One day it was the fog, the next morning a wild wind was pulling the trees apart. I woke to that wild wind. Fir branches and cones were hitting the roof. The neighbors deep wind chimes were moving too frantically to find a tune. I didn’t want to miss one bit of it. By 6:00 a.m., Teddy and I were out the door!
We waded through ankle high piles of maple and oak leaves as they shifted back and forth across the street. I tried to keep the hood on my jacket up but the wind fought with me and won. Who cares if my hair flies wildly? Why not soak up the energy of the wind? Fir and cedar limbs littered the street so that every step brought the aroma of Christmas.
Around the corner, on Beech Street, there is a large Chestnut tree. I put a few chestnuts in my pocket so I could have their beauty and cool smoothness between my fingers while I walked. Later, when I got home, I put them on the dining table, a place of honor.
I was aware of the possibility of a flying limb or worse, a falling tree. The only birds I saw braving the wind were a few sturdy crows. I imagined all but the scrappy crows were huddled close to a tree trunk gripping a limb with naked toes holding on with all their might.
I was thrilled with these wild fall days, and I was wild.
Yes, I was wild!