First rain

Oh, the first post after a long interval, it’s killer. But, Patrick managed it, and it seems to have gotten him rolling, so here we go.

We’re in Portland! I cannot begin to express how amazing that feels.

I did not realize how much my body missed seasons. This place speaks to my physical being, reaching back to my Michigan childhood. It is cold right now, apparently unseasonably cold, with nighttime lows dipping into the twenties. When we ride, my chin gets frightfully cold. I make funny faces to make sure I can still hold expressions besides my riding grimace, and Patrick seems to find them quite amusing. I have taken over our only neck gaiter, since Patrick is bearded and it doesn’t bother him so much. Fingers and face have been the coldest spots on rides, and the hills have meant that the rest of me has no trouble staying warm. That is, of course, with wool long underwear, a wool sweater, and a wind-breaking layer. We got some snowboarding gloves that mostly keep my fingers warm. Riding in the cold is amazing. The air is so crisp on my skin that the air seems thinner and my connection to the world, the road, my surroundings that much closer.

When we first arrived in late October the leaves were all changing on the seemingly innumerable trees. Trees! There are trees in California, but comparatively, there just aren’t any. Palms do not count. So many trees here that Patrick thought at first that the sound of the wind in the trees was what we call “the monster” — the sound of cars rushing past on the highway, which haunted our days and nights in Oakland. But no, though the monster is still here, muted, but present as it is in all population centers now, the dominant sound at our house is the sound of the wind in trees.

The leaves pretty much all fell in November, and in some places, like Ladd’s Addition, were so deep on the road that they were a riding hazard. Mulched by the passage of cars, they were like a colorful slush. The city uses plows to pile and gather them. To us they are a valuable resource — mulch and compost. I want to tell each person I see raking leaves into the street from a well-groomed yard that they would not need so much expensive organic mulch hauled home in plastic bags if they saved their harvest of leaves in compost heaps. Our neighbor, who is a tremendous gardener, raked up all the leaves from her gorgeous japanese maple and packed them in those paper bags for yard waste pick up, and I see bags of compost that she buys all of the time in her driveway. I know, though, that this is a hard conversion for people to make. It is hard to imagine that something of value is free, in this world where the dollar reigns supreme. Free things, gifts from nature, are made invisible. The tidiness factor is tough for folks as well, I know. Composting seems to bring out so many fears about nature that people have. Rot, and rats, and hassle. People have offered me many horror stories when I suggest it. Perhaps Patrick and I are singularly blessed, but I doubt it, frankly. It is a change of outlook.

It really is as wonderful to bike here as we had hoped. There are some thoughtless drivers, but truly not so many as we are accustomed to. Perhaps it’s a brute population fact. It is hard for me to fathom how many fewer people are here, especially in light of how much talk there is of population growth. But there are only a little over three and a half million people in the entire state, to the Bay Area’s seven million plus. People are not in as much of a hurry here, either. “Success” seems to be measured in a differently-sized vessel. I hope that remains true. I find myself saying quiet prayers that the temporary subsidence in gas prices quickly reverses. So much planned sprawl here, that I hope does not happen. Suburban outposts that will have to wither soon enough, it would be better not to waste resources on them now.

We are getting chickens soon — sooner than I thought. 2 Buff Orpingtons and 1 Australorp (in PDX you can have 3 chickens without a permit), 9 month-old layers. Yesterday I pulled up the plastic in the back section of yard where the coop will go. We are going to start off with only a fence, and see if we need to do overhead bird netting once they arrive. They’re all heavy breeds, but even heavy, our Australorps were always able to get out of their run, though never back in. We’ve got to dig the coop in, we’ll probably line the bottom with stone or hardware cloth, since we have discovered diggers in our yard already — probably rats. They dug up around our compost and chewed the edge off the protective base, so we had to line that with hardware cloth. I don’t think they’d be able to chew through the redwood of the coop, since it is aged and mighty tough, but this soil is much looser and diggable than we had in Oakland. We went to Linnton Feed and Seed yesterday and got organic feed and some wood chips for the coop. Once we have the coop in place we’ll go pick up a few bales of hay to surround and insulate it in the cold weather. My dad, who was just in town, and who grew up on a farm in Flint, Michigan, which gets much colder than here, said they never heated their coop and never lost a bird, except one who escaped the coop and froze outside. Chickens love to pile together to sleep, and between that and their feathers fare fine in pretty cold weather.

It will be good to get birds, pulling us into the yard, making our acquaintance with this new place, new life, new soil. We are getting around on our bikes, trying new restaurants, new groceries, new routes, but need more grounding right here. I just read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I found it quite powerful, and somewhat discomfitting as well. The narrator and protagonist is autistic, and at one point talks about why he does not like to go to new places. He notes that people generally do not pay attention to much of their surroundings. When they visit a country field with cows in it, they look around and think, oh, how lovely, a field with cows in it, and move on with their attention. But he is confronted by everything in that field. He counts all 19 cows, and notes the patterns on the 15 black and white cows, and the three different kinds of flowers, and the four types of grasses, and the shapes of each tree. He goes on to wonder at people’s needs to travel all over the world, when he finds so much to notice in his own house. Changing the position of a chair requires a remapping of the relationships of all the other items in the living room.

I found a powerful resonance in me at this description. While I have spent much of my life believing that I should be participating the world travel of my peers, I find myself increasingly reluctant to travel even to another state, finding insufficient time and energy to truly see everything in the small radius I call home. I want to ride my bike up to the Columbia River Gorge. I want to know what all the plants in my yard are. I want to know the names of the people who shop and work at my co-op. What is the lichen on our back fence? I just found out that all lichen is actually made up of two plants, the inner part an algae, and the outer a sort of exo-skeleton. This from a wonderful guide to wild spaces in our urban setting Wild in the City. How can I go to Europe when I don’t know what lives in my yard?

And sleep has totally changed here. The quiet, the dramatic reduction of stress. We have been sleeping and dreaming so much. It feels so luxurious to sink into the patterns of winter rest. My dreams are full, sometimes in that way that leaves me on waking a bit uneasy, but it feels necessary. Dark dreams need their time, and these long nights of midwinter seem like the right one. Now I had best go have dinner, so then, at the end of another day, I can lay my head and see what awaits in the dark hours.

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