In a Time of Pandemic

On a recent Sunday afternoon the family took a walk trough Graham Oaks Nature Park in Wilsonville. The park was open and there were several small groups enjoying a  beautiful spring day while maintaining social distance and mostly wearing masks.
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We walked in sunshine for quite a while and then we walked in the rain. It was a short but delightful break before returning to home and quarantine.
More than ever I have been conscious that the only thing that matters right now is the moment. Where will we be tomorrow? Will the economy collapse completely?. Will we or our loved ones get sick?
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Though most of us are making sincere efforts to follow health, social, and economic best practices, we have no real control.
We have never had control. We only do our best and after that what happens is what happens.
What we can do is relax our expectations while holding on to our dreams and desires. Life really does happen in the moment and the terrain constantly changes.
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Living life well is doing our best at any given moment, not looking at the good times as the life we are striving for so much as being present for what is and for whatever comes next.
There is nothing new in these thoughts, but being reminded can help.
It really is about the journey, not the destination, and what a joy that is (when we remember), because we spend every moment on the journey – and the destination is the stopping place.

Presence

My walks always begin with the expectation that I am about to discover a “gift.” I am never disappointed.

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Sometimes the gift is a song sparrow enthusiastically singing his little heart out near the top of a shrub. Rarely it’s a glimpse of two bright-eyed baby raccoons hiding under a sidewalk drain, peeking at Teddy and I as we walk down the street in the early morning.

Sometimes the gift is the brief sighting of a doe or the mid-day surprise of a large Barred Owl staring at me through a tangle of branches.

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Most often the gifts I find are modest; a small patch of violets in the grass, or a particularly charming mushroom I’ve never seen before. I notice them because I’ve chosen to pay attention during my walks, to be fully present,  because I’m looking for the gift. These small experiences stay with me for at least a day, sometimes for years.

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From now on, I plan to begin my days as I begin my walks, confident that I will find gifts in the midst of cleaning the kitchen, folding clothes, watering plants, laughing with family, coping with small irritations and social distancing, working in the yard, visiting dear friends over Zoom, and watching the baby discover the world.

If we expect something delightful, we will find it. That’s what I learned on my walks, and it’s what I hope to remember more often.

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Close to Home

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Teddy

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Most of us have been sequestered during the last couple of weeks, preoccupied with the health and well-being of our loved ones and ourselves. Some have been busy providing health care and other critical services.

Thanks to wet weather,  Teddy and I have stayed close to home on our walks.  It’s been an opportunity to appreciate spring in the neighborhood. Waving at neighbors and greeting them (from 6′ away) is one way to hold on to a feeling of connection.

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Despite the human state of anxiety, the natural world has moved forward and suddenly it is spring.

Teddy stopped to examine pee mail the other day and I noticed tiny red maple leaf buds beginning to stretch and uncurl, ready to meet their season in the sun. Other trees are heavy with so many blossoms there is enough left over to carpet the ground.

Small white daisies adorn  neighbor’s lawns, and daffodils are already nearly done blooming.

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I noticed a robin, just one, sitting and singing from the most prominent peak of each house on the block. One robin for each house. I admire the robins for their equitable distribution of territory.

 

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Peace that comes from getting close to nature can be as simple as stepping outside and paying attention. I hope you are clinging to good things, the people and things that keep you grounded while we wait for this strange time to pass, and it will pass. Be well.

 

False Spring

I’ve been sick and tired of the cold, gray, wet world we’ve been living in for weeks. Then, as though to answer a prayer, the sun came out to play for an entire day recently!

By early afternoon, I only needed a light jacket to be outside. The streets had filled with children riding bikes and scooters, tossing balls, and celebrating the arrival of sunshine.

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Grownups were walking dogs, and greeting each other on the street. There is a particularly friendly ambiance in the air when an unexpected sunny day follows weeks of cold rain.

Teddy and I eagerly left the house planning a long walk around Gettman Trail, but we were barely out the door when he began favoring his right front paw. For his sake, I opted for the shorter walk around Shaad Park. His limp  disappeared by the time we got to the park making me wonder if the little dog had a reason to fake it.

The last time we visited Shaad Park it was a cold and foggy morning (Cancelled Flights). Teddy and I were alone on the hill that day. there were no hikers and no children using the playground.

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This sunny day was different. Grandparents sat on a bench near the playground watching children use the slide and play in the sand.

With the fog gone, we found brilliant views waiting for us on top of the hill. Teddy and I stood by ourselves soaking up warm sunshine and fresh air, feasting our eyes on the  valley and the hills surrounding it.

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Blue Jays, perky little wrens, and Robins flew noisily from one large old oak to another. They were far too busy to pose for me. The ground was wet and sponge-like from recent rains. Muddy water threatened to fill my shoes but I took the soggy path anyway.

I knew it wouldn’t last of course. It’s not really spring just yet. That sunny day was just a short reprieve from the monotony of winter, but it did remind me to be patient.

In only weeks, the birds will begin the busy nesting season, daffodils will push through moist warming soil, and lipstick-red tulips will brazenly declare true spring. Thanks to a little taste of sunshine the other day, I’m willing to wait.

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There’s almost always a delightful collection of Tonka Trucks in the sand pit. They are only temporarily abandoned. The owners had been called home the afternoon I was there.

Cancelled Flights

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I wouldn’t want that foggy gray silence all the time, but it was eerily beautiful for a morning walk.

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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.

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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.

Happy 2020 to You!

 

 

 

Kicking the Habit

 

“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” 

Will Rogers

IMG_0686As Teddy and I walk the neighborhood and trails, he keeps an eye out for fire plugs and tree trunks, places to leave his calling card. I watch for local wildlife, friendly faces, and the occasional litter to take home and throw away. What little trash I find is almost always plastic: protein bar and candy wrappers, empty water bottles and many, many, plastic grocery bags.

I’ve never thought too much about litter because it isn’t a major problem in my neighborhood. My perspective has changed, however, after seeing plastic grocery bags snagged high up in trees, caught deep in the bushes on local trails, or lying in a muddy puddle on the street. Plastic litter is just one symptom of our addiction to plastic.

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Albatross filled with plastic

Recently, I was jolted by photos of baby albatross who died because their bodies were filled with plastic which their parents had mistaken for food. We’ve all seen pictures of sea turtles and other wildlife tragically trapped in plastic or dead from ingesting it. I can’t say why the baby albatross suddenly made me want to take action, but the young birds were my tipping point

This time I realized the plastic those babies had eaten might as well have been mine.

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Not that I litter the beach with plastic, or toss it where it will be carried to the sea, but I’ve contributed to the problem with a great deal of complacency. My own plastic trash is in a landfill somewhere, and in our waterways. Some of it, no doubt, is in the form of tiny microplastics that exist in waterways the world over and have now found their way into our bodies.

Since the 1950’s, the use of plastic has grown so great, that when we look at pictures of suffering wildlife,or images of the Great Pacific garbage patch, we forget we have the power to do something. We once thought recycling was the answer, but very little of the plastic that we drop into our recycle bin actually gets recycled. In fact, tons of it is hauled from recycle facilities to landfills.

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The largest collection of plastic in the world, the Great Pacific garbage patch, covers a huge span from North America to Japan. Filled with floating plastic trash, it is only one of seven such garbage patches in oceans around the world.

Why don’t we just stop using plastics?

Total elimination of plastic may be a pipe dream today but imagine what 70 more years of carelessly using and tossing plastic will do to our earth.

Anti-smoking campaigns that began in the 1960’s gradually changed our culture around smoking. Campaigns aimed at plastic, particularly single-use plastic, could bring about a massive shift in our culture.

On November 1 this year, I decided to quit plastic, starting with non-recyclable single-use plastic.

Within days, I realized the impossibility of quitting plastic in a day.  Nearly everything is plastic, and what isn’t plastic comes to us wrapped in plastic.

Baby Steps

Every day we face news of climate change, pollution, and problems that seem beyond our ability to help. It can feel overwhelming. Honestly, it’s easier to look the other way.

Plastic is different; it’s a problem we ordinary souls can tackle because, as consumers, we have to power to vote with our wallets. I started small in November and I plan to make progress each month in eliminating plastics. Every month I’ll share what I’ve learned. I hope others will join me in this effort.

Here are the baby steps I took, and the lessons I learned, in November:

*Cloth and Net Bags

I began faithfully shopping with my washable cloth bags and net bags (for my fresh fruits and vegetables). If I forget the bags in the car, I walk back to fetch them (the extra walk helps me remember next time).

Lesson: The bags I bought on Amazon are washable and attractive. I love them, but each bag was unnecessarily wrapped in single-use plastic and they came in a large plastic mailer from Amazon.

*Vegetables

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I’ve no longer buy packaged, pre-washed greens. Now I buy unwrapped and unwashed fruits and veggies, use my own net bags, and wash everything at home.

*Less Consumer Product Packaging

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This will be an ongoing effort. As I run out of items, I look for suitable products that aren’t packaged in plastic. For instance, I replaced liquid shampoo and conditioner with bars. I love the product, by the way.

Lesson:  I ordered the shampoo and conditioner from Amazon the same day I ordered the grocery bags. They came in a recyclable box packed in shredded cardboard, but they were mailed in a large plastic mailer, cushioned by a plastic pillow. See why reducing plastic is so challenging?

*To-Go Meals

Only a day or two after committing to a major reduction of plastic in my life the family decided to order Thai for dinner. Without thinking, I ordered chicken satay which arrived in a hard, plastic container with an additional plastic container for the delicious peanut sauce.

Lesson: Old habits die hard. I’ll need to think about all food packaging, including take-out food.

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Challenges

 Fresh fruits and vegetables were fairly easy to figure out, but every trip to the grocery store, every decision about what to buy, what to eat, and what personal and cleaning products to use, is challenging.

Plastic is a huge part of our lives. It’s in our cars, our computers, our phones, and our homes. Drastically reducing plastic means looking at everything with fresh eyes. There may not always be alternatives and then I’ll have to decide what foods and products I can eliminate from my “must-have” list.

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Black-browed Albatross

Globally, about 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year (10% is recycled). Seven million tons of plastic end up in the sea each year.

The fact that cutting out plastic is so challenging tells us just how important it is.

Please consider joining me in taking small and large steps to drastically reduce plastic in our day-to-day lives and in our environment. Stay in touch and share the things you learn so that we can all benefit.

There is much in this world that we have no control over. My small efforts won’t make much difference, but if many of us decide to be part of the solution, we could start a peaceful revolution.

Books:

Plastic Free, How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, by Beth Terry.  Ms. Terry is a well-known leader in the movement and has already done much of the work of finding alternative products. Her book is full of sensible information and it is written with humor and humility. Even if you are not ready to commit to reducing plastic, you will enjoy her writing.

Plastic, a Toxic Love Story, by  Susan Freinkel

I’ll add more books and blog sites in future posts as I read and learn.

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Little Lane

 

IMG-1849Last 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.

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Little Lane

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.

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Beginning of Logging Road

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.

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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.”

“Are you a city girl?” Charles asked.

“I guess so,” I said, “Thanks for not shooting!”

 

 

Season of the Toadstool

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.

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This white mushroom was all alone 15 feet up the tree.
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Gorgeous mushroom colony growing on a dead hazelnut tree
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A lovely Bouquet
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Just pushing through the soil

 

 

 

 

 

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Also emerging from the soil

 

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I think this is the largest wild mushroom I’ve ever seen. I had nothing to photograph next to it but Teddy (see below) in order to demonstrate how huge it was. In a lawn in Newberg.

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Ghost Town

During my early morning walk, I stumbled across a small hazelnut orchard.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This little guy scolded me from his perch in one of the trees.

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.

 

Close Call

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.
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Teddy
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.
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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?
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Photo: Shutterstock
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.
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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.