Playing Tourist at Home in Oregon

Grotto

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.