I’ve been inside too long. It happens from time to time; the weather, work, general ennui keep me from getting out into the world. So when Beth called on Monday and insisted that we had to strike while the sun was shining, I couldn’t argue. That and the fact that she offered to make lunch for us. Lunch is always a clincher. She had heard of a recently renovated trail in a suburb of Portland. The area is called Sellwood and the trail is located in the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.
This is yet another thing I love about this corner of the world. Open spaces. Let’s face it, heading outside for a long walk generally means a lot of concrete and roadways. The green around us is usually somewhat manicured – lawns, trees, landscaping. Pretty? Sure. But it is controlled nature; domesticated for daily use. Finding nature – real, unconstrained, feral nature? That’s a gem. And we have a lot of it around here. Stand in the middle of Forest Park in Portland and you could fool yourself into thinking that you were light years from civilization. Well, if you ignore the trail runners, dog walkers, and schlubs like me.
Discovery Park and Fauntleroy Park in Seattle have the same knack. The Hoyt Arboretum, also in Portland, is another. And so is Oaks Bottom.
There is some neatness about it, a little bit of that domestication. It arrives in the form of a neatly groomed trail replete with some raised, grated walkways (it is a wetland, after all), a nice observation area, some quaint wooden bridges and even a couple of nicely situated sitting areas. And yet even these amenities do not seem to diminish the wildness. Okay, there is one thing. There is a large – seriously huge – building that has attempted to blend in by way of some pretty murals of wetland birds on the trail-facing side of the bluff. I want to like it, but I found it a bit disorienting (this thing is several stories tall). Thankfully, it is easy to ignore if you want to, because there is all this wonderful river wetland just out there.
We watched lazy ducks dozing in the spring sun, looked hard for herons who were all doing a really good job of blending in to the landscape, marveled at wild violets and enthused over bursts of magenta, violet, and pink flowers that dotted the hillside. There were warblers and finches to serenade us, crows to heckle, and any number of breath taking views that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
I love that experience of silence that isn’t really silence. The sound of the wind in the trees, the birds, the rustle of undergrowth and of water in motion. The thousand little sounds that are easily missed in the hum of city life are symphony when you find them.
Beth noted that this is the sort of place you come back to in different seasons, as it will be different in summer, different in fall, different each time. Water will flood in and recede, birds will follow migratory patterns, trees will change colors. I have a feeling that we will be back, probably soon. Next time, perhaps, better prepared with all the gear – binoculars, cameras, a map…
We need green spaces, open spaces, access to nature. We need them on a fundamental level. We need the noisy silence of them, the grand spaces, the feel of earth under our feet. We need them in ways that are primal. I am deeply grateful that I live in a place that gets that. That understands how such places feed our souls.