Paper Skies

“I … wondered irrelevantly if I was to be caught with a teapot in my hand on every dramatic occasion.” Barbara Pym, Excellent Women

Leave it to the insightful wit of Barbara Pym to describe, in a quirky way, how it feels to live, at times, in this chaotic world. For the following poem, I put down the teapot, as it were, and went for a long walk in a favorite place.

Thinking of a friend today, beginning chemo, mastectomy, and a long, long road.

unquiet leaves
fall from paper skies
infinite confetti , shredded
she seeks to match
the restless day
breathe’d mist
her sole outcry

parchment paths
through forest gloom
softly walking, with no trace
of where one has been
some dry whisper
rends the air, to lie
amongst the lovely dead
unquiet leaves

The Hairy Stairs

These days my walks around town are less bustling boulevard and more field and hedgerow.

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We love rambling around our new neighborhood, which we have dubbed ‘the Shire’, because it has so many winding, narrow lanes, charming old cottage style homes, and not a sidewalk to be seen. And, as all the neighbors resolutely attest, there will likely be no sidewalks. It might involve tree removal, or nesting sites disrupted, or a wet land deflected.

The Discover challenge appealed to me, not only because it introduced a new word into my vocabulary–flaneur–but because exploring our environs is something we enjoy. Of course, there are different shades of flaneur, no doubt…most having to do with actual people. People-watching at the airport, for example (oh the stories one can weave) or power-eavesdropping at a coffee shop, are both different in tone than listening for elusive bird calls coming from a nearby thicket.

All, however, exercise the power of curiosity and have an enlivening effect on the mind.

Oregonians love their scenic wonderland, and Portlanders get their dose of all that plus the fascination of a beautiful city. We’re less than five minutes from downtown Portland by car, but our ‘hairy staircase’ gets us to the Village in about the same time, on foot.

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What is the hairy staircase? It’s what a little neighbor girl calls the mossy and wooded path, tucked between some obliging neighbors, that gives the other neighbors a shortcut down the hill into the village. It’s somewhat secret but not, because everyone knows about it. It makes a trip into ‘the village’ only about five minutes on foot, even with a stroller.

If you’re a bit arthritic and slow, not to worry, we have a solution for you, so come along. Strollers can navigate the path, too.

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There’s even a book depot on the way. In case you run out of provisions on your journey and desperately need a book to read. (it happens) Take one, leave one. Loosely maintained by a kind neighbor who adds a sprinkling of cyclamen and daffodil bulbs on occasion.

Once in the village, oh my. There’s good coffee, a local brewpub, outdoor cafes, my favorite wool shop, a funky bead emporium, a historic tavern that has an interesting rooftop way of sending off its loyal patrons that kick the bucket…and the list of attractions goes on.

architecture, old buildings PDX, street photography, bar, dining out, tableside

Oregon is known for its friendly watering holes, and our feisty brewers.

(we take our refreshment very seriously here)

We also have the natural variety of watering hole, in this case my birdfeeder, patronized by very feisty patrons that are assuredly not birds. For now the squirrels have worked out an arrangement, but I sense the tension building.

There will be wars, and fur flying in a moment.

There’s the downtown boulevard at dusk, in beautiful colors….

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and here is one of my favorite ‘boulevards’ in the neighborhood. It cuts through a park and leads to the Hairy Stairs.

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Here we are;  be prepared to book shop on the way, in case you didn’t get to Powell’s bookstore for your fix… the ground is so springy underfoot, from years of moss drippings and wood shavings.

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Be careful; it gets a bit steep in places and you’re probably going to want to gaze at all the beautiful fall color on your way. Not that I have ever slipped, or anything, while eagerly ogling a flash of red twig against a spray of yellow…that would be so flaneur, right?

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The other distraction are these lovely blooms; quite fragrant and sweet. They would seem to herald spring, but the chill in the air tells me otherwise, and that our footsteps must hasten on to that coffee shop in the village.

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Thanks to the neighborhood app, we’ve just been alerted to the fact that One Particular Hen who shall remain nameless has escaped again. Known as ‘not actually lost but trying to find herself’ this little Russian Orloff has ambitions.

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But she’s not here, at this field. Only tiny finches in the underbrush, and the rustlings of field mice. The finches stop twittering as soon as I stray too close–which makes me feel quite left out. I wish I could get them used to my presence so they would continue to chatter on as freely as the college girls hanging out at the Powell’s coffee shop at midnight. But perhaps that sounds a little too…flaneur?

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The rain outwitted us and hit with a mighty splash before we’re home, but we’re used to it.

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One eventually dries out. And we have a warm welcome awaiting us.

Discover

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Blue Stockings and Muddy Petticoats

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“The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Henry David Thoreau was a great walker. His walking was directly linked to his ability to think. Directly linked to his philosophy. If Thoreau did not walk, Thoreau could not write.

Thinking about this made me realize why I have been unable to finish up this post from my series that has been given the quizzical name ‘Perambulations.’ A post that was beginning to drag on as long as Ben Jonson’s epic walk to Edinburgh in 1618.

I have not been walking. The ground has been as frozen and inhospitable as a Bronte moor, and the wind has been bitter cold. There are, in this house, enough knitted and crocheted hats and scarves to clothe an army, but I am a fair weather walker.

“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “my thoughts begin to flow.”

Yesterday the sun returned with brilliant apologies and warm entreaties. The earth was still frozen, our porch and stairs still a solid pool of ice, yet something of an ambient flow was beginning to stir.

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Encouraged by the dazzling rays of light we immediately ventured out to experience the truth of writer Rebecca Solnit’s observation

‘…walking articulates both physical and mental freedom.”

What she said. And what Thoreau said. I began to think about perambulations, pedestrianism, peregrinations; all those lovely, fascinating words relating to the philosophy and exercise of walking. Like sweetmeats to the wordsmith, they animate the curiosity, savor of possibility, and my eager thoughts begin to rise like puffs of steam in warm sunlight.

“The distance is nothing when one has a motive.” Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)

This is the magic of walking; though our steps may be regular, our chosen path familiar, linear or even slightly curved, our thoughts are left free to wander far away from our feet. The same tree on our customary path looks different in all types of light, and radiates new possibilities. In elliptical, soaring patterns, our imagination makes great loops of thought in the sky, connecting philosophical dots, shooting across eons of space to create galaxies of fantastic dimensions and people it with drama, conflict, resolution. Perhaps our thoughts take us back to the past or weave us ever more tightly to the dizzying matrix of the present.

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Our eye catches sight of a beautiful bird, spiraling upward, or a flock of birds forming V patterns etched in thin silhouette, and our thoughts travel with them in after image, chasing similar shapes and spirals, or arcs in fractal waves like starlings.

Wherever we go in our mind, the beauty of it is that our feet are still on solid ground. There is comfort in that; we drop to earth with a soft thud to match our pedestrian gait and soon enough we are back to the warmth of the fireside and the well-rooted chair. Time enough to think about blue stockings and muddy petticoats, and wonder if anyone else would find such a subject interesting? And as to that, have you ever thought about the inherent contradiction in a word like pedestrianism?

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Writer Margaret Lane alluded to this dichotomy of preference. In the foreword to her lovely collection of essays Purely for Pleasure *, she writes:

‘There is no unifying theme to be found in this handful of essays. They are personal excursions indulged in purely for pleasure—perambulations, so to speak, in chosen company.’

A happy life often consists of many small moments like this—curious bursts of pleasure that no one else might understand, let alone anticipate. I was thrilled to see that she thought of ‘perambulations’ in the same way I did. [for more on the wordsmith aspect of this, I refer you to The Curious Word]

In recent months, via this blog we have strolled through several gardens with several writers, taken brisk walks with poets, pondered John Muir’s epic mountain ramblings, and explored why Mary N. Murphree didn’t walk the heights and depths of the Blue Mountains but cleverly wrote as if she did.

Most of the famous walkers from history that come to mind are usually men. But have you met The Bluestockings? As a group, they fascinate. One particular Bluestocking, however, relates more specifically to my recent perambulations. Continue reading