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.
Last month I spent a delightful week in Arkansas with my brother Ken, and his wife Georgia. We had never met before this year. In fact, we hadn’t been aware of each other’s existence when Ancestry.com connected us.
I’ve much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. There is the family I’ve treasured all my life, and now the unearned bonus of warm and wonderful new family connections.
Life is good.
My brother and his wife live on Little Lane, a pleasant country road less than an hour from Little Rock. Little Lane must be about a quarter mile long. Five or six homes, each with some acreage, sit along each side of the road. One end of the road meets a smooth two-lane country highway that invites speed and has almost no safe shoulder for a walker. On the other hand, an old logging road at the other end of Little lane felt like a beautiful place to walk one sunny October morning.
As I started down the dusty old logging road I noticed logging debris, and many birds flitting in and out of the bushes I was wishing I’d brought my binoculars and tempted to follow one path that led into a small treed canyon where there might be a stream, but I decided to save that path for another day. Instead, I headed toward the pine forest some distance ahead. It was bound to offer pleasant exploration.
After strolling for a few minutes, I came to a fork in the road. As Yogi Berra once suggested, I took it, carefully noting the direction I was taking so I wouldn’t get lost on the way back. I had walked for another ten minutes or so when I saw a small homemade metal structure. The legs of the structure supported a platform four or five feet off of the ground and the platform had old carpeting hanging down so that a person could sit there without being seen. I congratulated myself on recognizing that the structure was a blind. I’d seen them on National Geographic and other wildlife programs.
I continued on for a few feet as I contemplated the usefulness of a blind for observing birds and other wildlife.
Then I had a thought, “Hunters also use blinds. It seems more likely that was a hunting blind.”
Maybe I felt just a little bit uneasy then, but not very much. The blind was tipping over and the old carpeting looked like it had been hanging there for several years. It was probably something someone used years ago.
Just the same, turning around and heading back to Little Lane suddenly felt like the right thing to do.
As I retraced my steps, I noticed two men walking toward me. One of the men had dark hair and a tidy dark beard. When I saw the stern look on his face, I was sure I’d made a mistake.
“You mind if I ask who you are?” the bearded man said, “This is my land, I recently bought it.”
Pretending I wasn’t at all intimidated, I offered my hand, “Hi, my name is Susan.”
I pointed to my brother’s house only a few doors away, “I’m visiting my brother Ken and his wife Georgia. I apologize for trespassing. I assumed this was an old county or logging company road. I won’t do it again.”
“My name is Charles, but people call me Coot,” the bearded man said. “My friend here is Gene.”
“Oh! “I said, “Gene, you must be Georgia’s brother-in-law. She told me you lived near here.”
Charles spoke up again and pointed to the nearest house. “We were talking together over there and we couldn’t figure out why a woman would be walking out there in the woods, not wearing orange, on the first day of deer season.”
“Deer season?” I said.
“Yes, you didn’t know?” Coot said.
“No, I didn’t. You can be sure I won’t be out there again.”
After that we had a long, friendly, chat about the neighborhood and Gene’s connection with Ken and Georgia.
“I don’t mind if you walk in there,” Coot said, “just wear orange. You’re not legal if you’re not wearing orange.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ll just come back another time – when it’s not deer season.”
It’s the fall fungi season. Mushrooms began appearing everywhere near the end of September. I’ve been enjoying the huge variety of fungi this fall, and wanted to share some of them. The little beauty below, with the delicate purple cup and pretty shape is my favorite so far. I stumbled on all of these this month during my daily walks in Newberg. Mushrooms are not plants or animals, though some say they are most closely related to animals.
During my early morning walk, I stumbled across a small hazelnut orchard.
The trees in that orchard didn’t look healthy. Leaves that should have been soft and green were mostly brown and brittle. Great chunks of dead branches covered the ground. The dead branches still clinging to the trees posed naked and stark against the blue sky.
The first day I visited the orchard, I saw many sickly trees and dusty ground. Missing were insects, and small songbirds though there were plenty of birds in the green shrubs and blackberries surrounding the orchard. The only sounds in the orchard were the rasping screeches of a single Steller’s Jay and the eerie scream of a soaring Red-Tailed Hawk high overhead. I did see signs of predation on the path; coyote scat, remnants of bunny fur, and a sad pile of Mourning Dove feathers in the dust near the blackberries.
At home later that first day, I researched hazelnut trees and read about local orchards. I learned that many hazelnut orchards had been stricken by a blight in recent years. I wondered if that is what happened to the trees.
Despite the sensation of a lifeless graveyard for dying trees, there is something beautiful about the quiet orchard. I had to visit it again to see what I might have missed.
The orchard offers no cover for small prey animals. Yet when I took the time to wait in silence, watching the long, wide path between the surrounding bushes and the hazelnut trees, a single bunny eventually popped out from beneath thorny blackberries to sit in the sun. Two or three minutes later a squirrel dared to run across open ground to a nearby tree. A minute after that, and twenty feet farther down the row, a small chipmunk, put on a burst of speed and risked his life to dash across the path to the hazelnuts. Without my tripod, and quite a bit of patience, it was impossible to capture a picture of the dangerous high-speed run from cover to hazelnuts.
Sometimes first impressions mislead us. The weary little orchard wasn’t quite dead. A few trees still struggled. Life still stirred. As long as I stayed quiet and out of the way, one small creature after another bravely dashed from the brush to the small bounty of nuts.
All the while a Red Tail Hawk sat biding his time, and occasionally screaming, from a tall tree nearby.
Last April, at my home in Milwaukie, I enjoyed one particularly wild and stormy night. I slept better than I had in weeks that night. It wasn’t that the storm didn’t wake me; but each time I woke I went back to sleep enjoying the thunder, the wind, and the pounding rain.
My neighbors at the time had two or three tall fir trees in their yard. If those trees had lost their footing in the soil, they might have destroyed one end of the house. That could have been unfortunate for Teddy and me as we slept in the shadow of the firs. But a small group of healthy firs are safer than a lone tree. They entangle their roots and protect each other from the elements.
I relaxed in my bed that night and enjoyed the staccato of fir cones bouncing across the roof, and branches hitting the shingles then rolling toward the ground, or catching in the gutters. The relentless rain, so dreary in daytime, is just a lullaby at night.
A week ago, here in Newberg, we had a small thunderstorm. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the spring storm, but it was a pleasure.
I was eight years old when I first remember a thunderstorm. My mother came into the bedroom late one night and shook me awake.
“Get up and come with me!” she said, “I have something to show you.”
On our tiny covered front porch she had set up two chairs.
“I wanted you to see the thunderstorm!” she said.
We sat there, watching lightening fill the night sky. The storm seemed to be directly overhead. I don’t remember if there was rain.
My mother’s face was lifted to the spectacle over our heads. She was smiling and full of awe. The mental torments she lived with were absent that night. She was happy and she wanted to share it with me.
Teddy and I walked the Gettman Loop by the golf course a few days ago. There was a large stand of blackberry bushes covered in juicy, ripe berries at the beginning of the path.
After enjoying a few of the sweet berries, we walked along the golf course until the trail dipped sharply. Suddenly, we were in the middle of a forest surrounded by tall trees, ferns, and thick underbrush. Not quite full light yet, the heavy canopy made the forest feel like dusk.
As we walked, the only signs of life were the soft sound of my sneakers on the dirt, small birds calling, and occasional rustling in the bushes. Half-way through the forest trail, Teddy stopped abruptly, stayed cautiously behind my legs and stared intently into the brush. When I tugged on his leash, he refused to move past whatever was lurking a mere three feet ahead. I trusted the dog sensed something, but I couldn’t see what it was.
I remembered a cougar recently being reported near the Tryon Creek Natural area in Portland. If a cougar visited near my friend Suzy’s home in Oregon City (Suzy’s Gardens) last year, only blocks from a busy business area, why wouldn’t a cougar be here, in the dark early dawn of the forest?
I imagined myself fighting off a cougar while Teddy ran for his life and I felt no confidence at all about the outcome. I reached for the pepper spray in my jacket pocket. Not much bigger than a tube of lipstick, my weapon seemed more likely to convince an angry cougar that he wanted me dead!
There we stood, me and Teddy, alone in the dim early morning light on the far side of the golf course where not a soul would hear me scream… because no one else was foolish enough to be in the forest before dawn while hungry killers with huge incisors and sharp claws confidently prowled the underbrush.
Should I boldly march forward or retreat? Was I doomed either way? As I weighed my options, a pair of chipmunks tumbled out from the underbrush onto the path in front of us. I jumped and yelped loudly. You might say I screamed. Either way, the terrified little creatures fled back to where they had come.
Obviously Teddy let his imagination get the best of him.
David and Lenda Black worked side-by-side on their Woodburn home for thirteen years. As they worked, they turned a modest 1970’s home and lot into a one-of-a-kind garden showplace. They have artfully blended the tidy look of a formal garden with the relaxed warmth of home and garden; a place where one might wander and lose track of time for hours.
Tall fir trees surround parts of David and Lenda’s back yard, making a lovely backdrop for flower beds and providing home to a pair of large hawks (possibly Northern Harriers). While Lenda and I savored lunch on the patio, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and tree squirrels, enjoyed sunflower seeds at their nearby feeding station.
Although there is plenty of plant variety in David and Lenda’s yard, it’s not hard to guess that Hydrangeas are Lenda’s favorite.
“If I could have only one flower in my garden, it would be Hydrangeas,” Lenda said.
Hydrangeas bloomed in many colors that day, some varieties with flowers so unusual Lenda had to tell me they were Hydrangeas.
Like most gardeners, Lenda admits that she sometimes sees only the weeds that appear overnight and forgets to appreciate what she and David have created.
Every corner of David and Lenda’s garden is well-loved. The side yards are tended and cultivated as lovingly as the back and front yards. Every bed is home to many happy plants, and flower beds have pleasing shapes and soft edges. The beds seem balanced, with each plant seeming to belong exactly where it is, though Lenda says they didn’t plan the garden in advance.
As Lenda and I walked, I realized what a generous source of life a well-loved garden can be. Everywhere I looked there was movement; hummingbirds, bees and other insects, tiny white butterflies moving from bush to bush, and huge yellow and black Swallowtail Butterflies. The garden was teeming with creatures dancing quickly from plant to plant, and flower to flower, while colorful Goldfinches took turns at the feeders.
As we walked through the yard, I couldn’t help but imagine the balance of heavy labor and tenderness that created Lenda’s garden.
“I look to the garden for peaceful reflection and to keep the body in motion,” Lenda said. “David considers himself a Jack of all trades, master of none; yet he constantly amazes me with his ability to learn new skills.He has done all of the remodeling of our home and has built all of the garden structures.”
David created the door that leads from the house to the covered patio and the back garden. It is simple and lovely, made of straight grain fir, which I will admit means absolutely nothing to me. I only know that I find the door very beautiful.
The first time I saw that door it seemed to speak me, “Welcome, I am an invitation, a promise that you will be delighted when you walk through to the garden beyond”
David recently created a beautiful clear cedar tongue and groove ceiling for the covered patio. He also screened in the patio, which in no way inhibits the view of the garden, but did enable a delicious, yellow-jacket free, fresh air lunch the day I was there.
Lenda and David are modest about the beautiful home they have remodeled and the amazing garden they have built from scratch, though they confess it was, “an awful lot of work.”
A few minutes before I left their home, David, Lenda, and I were admiring a large blooming white Hydrangea in the back yard. Only a few feet away from where we stood, a bunny was busy collecting grass in her mouth. She didn’t seem to mind us as we watched her carry the grass under a large bush where she settled down comfortably on her nest. She was just another example of the richness of David and Lenda’s garden, and she was a delightful end to a lovely afternoon!
The back yard before David and Lenda began their gardens:
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.
A couple of springs past, after my early morning walk, I stood at the front living room window admiring the beautiful spring day when I heard faint high-pitched noises coming from the heat duct at my feet. I couldn’t imagine what the noise was and briefly questioned whether it was my shoes, but my shoes didn’t squeak. I stood still, barely breathing, straining to identify the sounds.
On my hands and knees, with my ears near the duct, I heard the squealing and whimpering of several tiny animals greeting their mother and nosing around looking for a nipple. It could only be mice.
We had once made the mistake of leaving cat food in the basement and found ourselves hosting a small colony of mice who chose an antique pin ball machine for their home. But we hadn’t seen any sign of mice for years.
When Dave got up a few minutes later, I had him listen to the sounds. On his hands and knees, he was also able to hear the tiny squealing creatures. We agreed, mice were nesting in the heat ducts, but we inspected the ducts downstairs and couldn’t find the place they had entered. I soon realized that I could also hear the nesting creatures when I stood next to the bathroom duct.
Thanks to Google I found the sounds of a full nest of baby mice, confirming we had mice in our heat ducts, and proving you really can find anything on Google.
Then the sound disappeared for a while; we couldn’t find a trace of it anyplace in the house. After a couple of weeks, it was easy to forget about the issue until the noise returned.
After a walk, I went to the front window to pull the drapes and there, at my feet, once again coming from the duct, was the sound of another litter of mice. A mouse can breed up to ten times a year. Babies begin breeding within weeks of birth and can have up to fourteen babies in one litter. There was a rodent disaster about to break loose.
My mind ran wild with visions of a quiet army of mice, breeding, defecating, dying, while warm air from the furnace wafted over their filth and gently deposited the plague in every single corner of the house, in every breath we took. I began researching pest control services.
Before the week was up I went in for a routine visit with my doctor. As I sat in the quiet exam room, waiting for the doctor and flipping through a magazine, I heard it again. A faint mewling sound coming from under the chair I was sitting on.
“Wow!” I thought, “That sounds exactly like the mice in our ducts!” Then, in a moment that embarrasses me even today, I realized the pitiful sound of a dozen tiny, nursing, mammals was coming from the soles of my shoes which were quietly planted on the floor beneath me. I removed one shoe and saw thousands of tiny air bubbles and small drops of moisture seeping from the soles.
Moisture and air. That was it. I’d worn my walking shoes that morning. The pavement was wet from an early shower. I’m convinced Google used the sound of damp walking shoes to demonstrate the sound of a litter of mice!
Each time I heard the noise, I had been standing over the ducts in the quiet early morning after my walk. I had been standing next to Dave every time I asked him listen to the sound from the ducts.
The next time you think you’ve done something dumb, or made an ignorant assumption, remember this true tale. You’ll feel better about yourself.
It was thirty minutes before sunrise when I pulled in to the parking lot at Sellwood Riverside Park. I was planning to walk Springwater Trail to the wildlife refuge.
Since it was dark, and I was counting on being alone, I sat in the locked car for a minute or two, assessing the safety of the early morning. With the engine turned off, and the windows rolled up, I heard something. Someone must be out there disturbing the early morning with their music, I thought. I rolled the window down an inch or two and the mellow tones of a flute filled the car.
Long, low, rich tones floated gracefully from the direction of the river. I wasn’t hearing a familiar tune it was a series of slowly played tones that blended with the darkness and the night sky. I took in the very light blanket of fog, the dark quiet of pre-dawn, and the flute; I knew I was receiving a gift. The gentle music was drifting above the vast lawn in the park and filling the nearby woods. I was enchanted.
I set caution aside and let my feet guide me in the direction of the music. I couldn’t have done anything else. As I neared the river, I saw the outline of a lone figure sitting in the the dark on one of the picnic tables. The stranger’s feet were on the bench, and his peaceful song was coming from a wooden flute. His dark hair was loose and fell well past his shoulders. He wore jeans, I think, and a jacket against the morning chill. He raised his head slightly, saw me, but did not acknowledge me. I chose to widen my path around him; not out of fear of a lone stranger in the dark, but out of fear that the music would end.
Not ready to leave the experience behind, I took the longest path to the Springwater Trail. I walked past the stranger, through the grassy field that would be filled with people and dogs in a few hours, into the woods by the frog pond, and finally up to the trail where the music gradually faded and the sun was beginning to rise.