My little red dog was happy to inspect gopher holes and follow his nose at Schaad Park the other day. On the other end of the leash, I was disappointed that a cold, thick fog had erased the view from the top of the hill.
Schaad Park, on Eagle Street in Newberg, has a small playground with a sandy play area where neighborhood children often leave their Tonka trucks overnight. An impressive thirty-foot slide on the playground is said to be the longest in Oregon.
Despite the discouraging fog that morning, I decided to climb the hill and walk the mile-long Schaad Park Loop, up the zig-zag path to the top of the hill, around the perimeter of the winter-yellowed grass and craggy trees that make up a slice of precious Oak Savannah.
From the hilltop, the valley below had disappeared in the fog; the community, the hospital in the distance, and the green hills beyond. All of it temporarily erased. Sounds were muffled by the fog so that Teddy and I faced the quiet morning alone and in silence.
I wouldn’t want that foggy gray silence all the time, but it was eerily beautiful for a morning walk.
Scrub jays usually hang out on the hill but that morning not a single one could be heard screeching or seen darting through the trees. There was no bird noise at all.
One small bird sat quietly in a bush not far from us. She took note of me and Teddy, turning her head to look at us, but refusing to be startled out of her perch.
A small flock of Juncos, usually such noisy little chirpers, sat quietly together in a large bush.
Yesterday, as the sun was shining, we returned to the top of the hill. Scrub Jays flew and screeched noisily while Robins and Juncos flitted about and darted from tree to tree.
The fog was gone, regularly scheduled flights had resumed.
The lazy, drone of bullfrogs follows Teddy and I up and down the Cedar Creek Trail during our early morning walks. Bullfrogs, merciless hunters of our native wildlife, are with us to stay, so I allow myself to enjoy their tuneless call.
Several weeks ago, my dog Teddy and I stumbled upon the Cedar Creek Trail behind the YMCA in Sherwood. Stepping into such a peaceful world so near the busy highway was a delightful surprise.
The paved trail is surrounded by lush greenery; lovely suburban homes sit on one side and natural wetlands and wildlife haven stretch the length of the other side. In quiet places along the creek, red wing blackbirds sing from the top of old snags, and impressive stands of tall fir trees create a forest habitat where chipmunks play amidst fallen logs on the forest floor.
In the busy days since recently moving from Milwaukie to Newberg, I’ve missed the small daily adventure of immersing myself in the sight and smell of the outdoors and quietly observing the ordinary lives of suburban wildlife. Fortunately, I’m learning that this area has many opportunities for outdoor exploration.
Our first morning on the Cedar Creek trail I kept expecting the path to end around the next corner, but it continued through several neighborhoods with side trails giving access to the main trail. I followed the path as it snaked alongside the natural habitat, stopping to listen to birdsong, smell the fresh air, and pay attention to occasional rustling in the brush.
Along the trail I heard the buzz-trill of busy Towhees calling and flitting about in the low branches. I’ve never seen so many Towhees in such close proximity, though it is the busy nesting season. The songs of many birds fill the air and every few feet a robin hops about carrying a worm or grub. We would marvel at the beauty of the robin if we didn’t see them so often.
The creek flows evenly and gently in some places then stalls for a while, flattening out and providing quiet habitat for water birds and other creatures before turning into a gurgling, free-flowing body of water.
Three tiny bunnies hopped about on the trail ahead of me one morning, then they dashed toward the brush when they saw me. One bunny allowed me to stand only a few feet from him while he held still and silent, hoping he had become invisible. In silhouette he looked like a little piece of yard art. As soon as I tried to get his picture he made a dash for the underbrush.
Two weeks ago, I watched a pair of quail moving in and out of the bushes and, a week later, saw the older birds with several recently hatched babies.
I have yet to see a dog loose in the protected habitat, though there are plenty of dog walkers on the trail in the morning. Joggers, and dog walkers, birdwatchers, and day dreamers all seem to understand the importance of leaving the habitat to the wild creatures.
I’m just beginning to learn about the Cedar Creek Trail and other remarkable ways that the community has integrated wetland and natural habitat in the middle of human habitation. It’s a unique and extraordinary sign of a healthy community.
Several mornings lately I’ve taken my early morning walk intending to experiment with listening more. I wanted to pay attention to the sounds of spring.
As I walk, bird song and other natural sounds often fade behind everyday preoccupations. Last Tuesday I found the concentration to sharpen my listening. It was a wonderful exercise.
I stood at the top of a hill and marveled at the variety of birds I was hearing. Many of the songs and calls were easy to identify. All of them together were wonderful.
Bird song was coming from four directions. Some was produced only a few feet away and some was coming from at least a half-mile away. Using my phone, I began recording. I made four 30-second recordings.
All four recordings establish, without a doubt, that I breathe. I had held the phone near my right ear and the sound of my heavy breathing (I had just climbed the steep hill) drowned everything else out. A rookie mistake.
Never mind, I tried again. This time I held the phone as far away as my arm would reach. Playing that recording I heard a small quartet, not the symphony that was actually going on. I decided to simply enjoy the music and try to record another day.
On my way home I was able to capture the love song of a Song Sparrow . Turn the sound up!
A day or two later I stepped out our back door and captured the music of the
flicker, robin, bush tits, chickadees, crows, and many more. There was the symphony I’d been looking for– in my own back yard.
(Turn the sound up and pay no attention to the little red dog – he has a dog’s sense of decorum)
I dislike clutter. I’ve never collected anything: not salt shakers, beer steins, baseball caps, or stamps.
A thing should have a purpose or resemble art if it’s to sit around the house doing nothing.
But now I find myself in the grip of an obsession.
It started small. At Fred Meyer’s, on a small shelf near the fresh flowers, is a jar filled with a dozen two inch plants jammed together and their tentacle arms intertwined.
If I hadn’t asked the clerk what they were, I would be a free woman today.
“They are air plants,” she replied.
“They don’t look too healthy,” I said, “I think they’re past their expiration date!”
“If you take them home and wet them down they’re supposed to be ok. I’ve never done it, but they’re not supposed to need anything but air and water to come back to life.”
My curiosity was piqued. I gave her two dollars and took two tiny, brown plants home. That whim five years ago turned out to be the first step on a downhill (but exhilarating) slide toward toward my addiction.
I watched those first two little plants turn green and come to life with regular water spritzes and bright light. They grew slowly. After a year, one displayed a lovely purple, red and blue orchid-like blossom.
Occasionally, I would pick up another little plant, one that looked entirely different than those already decorating our home. My head swims to think there are more than 450 different air plant species.
Air plants (Tillandsia) are usually found rudely jammed into a jar as they were at Fred Meyer, or in a forgotten, easily overlooked corner of a gift or flower shop. They grow naturally in south and central America and require no soil, just light and water. The roots, grown only for anchoring, can be cut off.
People display air plants in decorative containers, hanging on walls and from ceilings. I enjoy my plants simply sitting on my coffee tables. Today, they sit on nearly every available flat surface.
Air plants take in nutrients and water through their leaves, so they respond well to just being spritzed a couple of times weekly. But they really love a good soak, their favorite treat. At first I soaked my plants in the kitchen sink. Soon my collection graduated to a large bucket. Then I used two buckets. Now, much to my daughter Laura’s amusement, I soak them in the bathtub with a little Miracle Gro thrown in for good measure.
I’ve made a little ritual of caring for my air plants which makes me feel less like an eccentric collector and more like I’m tending to something important. I do like to fuss over things, just ask my kids.
After I’ve soaked my plants in the tub for a couple of hours on Wednesday mornings, I take them out and dry them upside down. Drying upside down means water drains from the base of the plant to prevent rot on the plant and water stains on my furniture. After a few hours of drying, I rearrange them throughout the house. That’s the fun part.
This spring, I’ll share pictures of some blossoms.
Recently, I found a piece of Spanish Moss in a newly purchased plant. Spanish Moss may be the only air plant that grows naturally in the Southeast U.S. I’m babying that tiny piece of Spanish Moss, hoping it grows. Good thing I have high ceilings in the living room!
My daughter, Laura, is endlessly amused at my air plant fixation. She would want me to mention how often I pick them up, examine them, rearrange them, and whisper encouragement to them. It’s all true, even I’m surprised at how attached I’ve become.
That jar of “dead” Tillandsia still sits on the counter at Fred Meyer. Take a look, if you dare.