Playing Tourist at Home in Oregon


Five days ago, I wrote that no cases of the coronavirus had been reported in Oregon. Maybe people were overreacting. But those reactions had caused me to cancel my trip to the AWP conference in San Antonio and stay home. Now there are 14 known cases in Oregon, and Gov. Kate Brown has added our state to the ones declaring a state of emergency.

The Archdiocese of Portland has asked its churches to stop giving out wine at Communion and to stop shaking hands at the Sign of Peace. I’ve been to Mass three times at three different churches in the last week. At two of those Masses, nobody held hands, shook hands or touched in any way. At our own church yesterday, our pastor noted that life is full of risk and we could decide for ourselves whether to hold hands—so we did. He also reminded us to use the big bottle of hand sanitizer on the way out.

What’s going to happen? Nobody knows for sure. I still worry that the reaction will cause more harm than the disease, but I could be wrong.

I was supposed to be celebrating my birthday today with friends in Texas. Instead, I’m back at home with no birthday plans beyond eating a red velvet cupcake I bought for myself and watching the Bachelor finale on TV. Stupidest season ever? It is, but do not call me after 8 p.m. PDT.

Since I was already out in the world with a packed suitcase, writing materials and free time, I played tourist in Oregon last week. I wrote in the mornings and went exploring in the afternoons, which sounds like a perfect vacation for a writer.

The weather was sunny but cold when I visited the Grotto, a Catholic sanctuary in Portland. I walked the paths admiring the plants, statues and shrines, reading and thinking about Jesus, Mary and Joseph, walking the labyrinth, saying hello to the ducks in the pond, and feeling all my anxieties melt away. I was exactly where I needed to be. When my feet got tired, I sat in the warm glass-walled meditation chapel soaking in the quiet as I looked out over the city past the freeway to Mt. Hood. Leaning back in my soft leather chair, I watched the white clouds moving slowly by and felt blessed.

Salem RiverfrontFrom Portland, I headed south to Salem, where I checked into a much nicer hotel, then walked through the Riverfront Park, which I hadn’t even known existed. It offers miles of walking/jogging paths along the Willamette, a playground and a carousel. I walked, then sat on a bench in the sun watching the world go by, taking pictures, and writing in my notebook. When hunger hit, I treated myself to a steak salad at the Capital Café.

The next day, I went shopping in downtown Salem, where I was sad to see the sidewalks jammed with homeless people and their possessions. So many. And it was cold. I was heading into the stores with money to burn, having filled my wallet with cash for the Texas trip that didn’t happen. I found treasures—music supplies, clothes, books—but I felt guilty as I stashed them in the car and left for Silverton, the small town on the way to the Oregon Garden.

Oregon Garden 3520Early March is not a good time to visit the garden. The visitors’ center was closed, the fountains were turned off, and most of the plants were still dormant for winter. The roses looked like dead sticks, the trees were bare, and the daises were just dry leaves. Only the daffodils were blooming. On the good side, I had most of the garden to myself. I walked and walked, resting on benches in the sun, thinking and taking notes for a poem about “potential,” about how inside these bare sticks are the makings for glorious flowers and fruits.

While the world was going nuts over coronavirus and while my favorite candidates were dropping out of the presidential race, while the stock market was plummeting in panic and both sides violated their agreement in the war in Afghanistan, I roamed among the sleeping plants and let it all go. I felt the sun on my face, breathed in fresh air scented with fertilizer, and watched a squirrel watching me from a stone wall. He was close enough for me to admire the different shades of brown in his fur.

I usually give up French fries for Lent. This year, I have chosen to give up Internet, TV and radio for two hours every day while I do something physical and real. We all need this. It’s so hard to tear ourselves away from our screens and our perpetual noise, especially with so much going on in the news, but we need to focus on what’s real right here and now.

I’m sad that I missed AWP. I’m sad that I didn’t see my friends. I’m sad that today is my first birthday without my father, but the sun is shining, I played a ton of music over the last two days, and now I’m here at home writing in my pajamas as Annie dozes nearby. What’s better than that?

How about you? Has coronavirus changed your plans? Are you worried about the illness or its effects? Is there a way to make lemonade out of these lemons? I welcome your comments.



Snow? I didn’t sign up for this

I should be at church playing the piano right now. Instead, I’m at a motel in Corvallis, looking out the window at a world coated with snow. The temperature is 12 degrees. Fahrenheit, not Celsius. The view is gorgeous. Beyond the snow and trees, the Willamette River sparkles in the early morning sun. Beyond that lie miles of snow-coated fields. I’ve always wanted to spend some time in Corvallis, to walk the streets, enjoy the stores and restaurants and stroll along the river, but this wasn’t quite how I pictured it.

I definitely didn’t imagine this when we moved to Oregon 17 ½ years ago. I came from a place where it doesn’t snow. It barely rains. When the thermometer dips below 70, folks complain that it’s too cold. I had heard that it rains a lot in Oregon. I thought okay, I’ll get a raincoat. I had no idea what 80 inches a year is like. But I learned. We Oregonians are taught to never carry an umbrella and never complain about the rain. It’s what keeps everything green.
But snow? Wait! I didn’t sign on for snow or for temperatures so low that it doesn’t melt for days and the roads are so slick I don’t know how to drive on them. One slide-around yesterday on Highway 34 on my way home from the airport convinced me to park as soon as possible. People who are used to snow are unfazed. I overheard my waiter at McMenaman’s brewpub last night telling a customer that he was comfortable driving in the snow but worried about those folks who don’t know what they’re doing. I wanted to set my Hammerhead beer down and raise my hand. Me!
My dogsitter is from the Midwest. She laughed when I asked if she had any trouble driving to my house on Friday night. I mean, come on. Everything in Newport was closed. They closed the schools and City Hall, stopped all the buses, and cancelled all the Christmas events. But Jo didn’t mind the snow and she knew how to turn on my faucets so they don’t freeze. Thank God. 
The good news is that the snow stopped falling two days ago, and the sun is shining. We just need everything to defrost. I was in San Francisco during the worst of it. There, it got down to the high 20s and just a few drops of rain fell on me as I walked back to my hotel from the hospital. (Dad’s doing great, by the way. He went home yesterday. He’s the rock star of the cardiac unit.)
Before our plane turned toward Portland, the pilot took us on a tour of San Francisco Bay. Blue sky, green water, sailboats, the Golden Gate Bridge, beautiful. I kept asking myself why I was going back to the black-and-white land of rain and snow. If I wanted to live in the snow, I’d move to Alaska. But it sure is pretty.
Way back in February 1996, Fred and I came to the Oregon Coast for the annual Seafood and Wine Festival. It snowed. Nothing like this, but it did snow. Does it do this often, we asked the locals. Nah! They said. And we believed them. Silly us.
You’ll find me at the Super 8 in Corvallis until the ice thaws.

Bask in a sea of red and gold

Halloween brought lots of color to the neighborhood over the weekend. Traveling through Corvallis, I happened upon parades of little ones dressed as everything from Spiderman to Lady Gaga, but what really caught my eye were the trees along the Willamette River. Their fall colors beat anything you could buy in a store. Today as a storm turns everything wet and gray, it’s nice to look back on the brightness of western Oregon’s maples, alders, dogwoods and other deciduous trees that light up the sky. These photos are mine, but if you want to see more, visit Oregon Fall Foliage. This site, sponsored by Travel Lane County, offers regular updates on where to see fall colors. Go quickly. Winter is blowing the furniture around on my deck as I write.

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