Tag Archives: The Pacific Northwest

Bonanza

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

After her divorce, my youngest sister moved closer to the center of town. Her street is a cul de sac primarily of duplexes, inhabited by highly educated, multi-ethnic, mixed-aged residents, both married and divorced. This is where she now rents and where she has found a real neighborhood.

A small creek runs behind my sister’s house, visible from the window over the kitchen sink. And just beyond the homes at the end of the cul-de-sac: train tracks. Where a commuter train frequently comes whistling through, connecting ‘burbs such as hers to downtown Boston.

The sound of the train gives me comfort when I visit. Day and night it’s a type of clockwork. As in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, everything seems to be running on time, as it should. But I know I derive more pleasure from this than my sister, for train trips had filled our family’s earliest vacations. By the time she was born, our family was flying.

After my divorce, I flung myself out to California. The seed for that, I believe, was planted long ago on those family train trips west to explore the national parks and reach The Pacific. I will always credit the railroad for opening my world. Whether the seed was planted in me, or I left a part of myself there, I don’t know. But I came to live out west and have given it the greater part of my life.

A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known to only that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance—to take its one and only chance to grow. 

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited. Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

The west calls to me with its wide open spaces and quietude—even in the cities, where drivers don’t lean on their horns and honk. I applaud that. When I fly back to Seattle from Boston, even the freeways feel like meditation. After all that honking and yelling and road rage.

One girl’s Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood; the other girl’s Bonanza. In one scenario a track runs round n round an idyllic village on a model train table. In the other, the tracks go the distance and seem to disappear, only to start a whole new life somewhere.

What calls people west? What makes some New Englanders stay and others go? Come to think of it, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was not only what my sister needed at the time, but what she has always wanted. Whereas I was always pushing out.

We are each given one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable.

My husband must be the same sort of soul. We recently recounted to a friend all the places we had lived since marrying, and how long now in The Pacific Northwest. “You are like the pioneers,” he smiled and said, “who settled here because this is where the wagon wheels fell off.”

I think that’s it. We age and we slow down or find ourselves at last.

Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.

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What an Old Growth Forest Knows

old-growth-cliff-2

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

A few years back when we were living in the city, I came down to the kitchen one morning, turned on KUOW, Seattle’s public radio, ground my beans and made coffee. These gestures always seemed to happen simultaneously. The program on air was in the middle of an interview with a writer who was on book tour, and I thought, I know that voice.

And I did. The crisp Australian cadence of her voice. Years ago we were neighbors north of San Diego. I’ll call her Harriet. I didn’t know her well—both of our families had a fair amount of land with avocado groves to manage, young children to raise, and were pretty busy–but on the few occasions that we did get together, her voice enchanted me. And here it was now, playing away in my kitchen.

That night I attended Harriet’s reading at Third Place Books in Lake Forest. And afterward, over lattes, caught up with the new life of my old neighbor. Both families had relocated. Her’s to Houston, while we obviously wound up in The Pacific Northwest.

Walking each other to the parking lot, I thought the evening had gone pleasantly enough until she gestured with a dismissive sweep of her arm at the dark green woods surrounding us.

“I don’t know how you can live here.,” she said. “If you’ve seen one pine tree, you’ve seen them all.”

And on that note, Harriet hopped in her vehicle and was gone.

I was stunned. My first thought was that they are not all pines, not by a long shot. It’s so much more complex than that. Richly complex.

The Old Growth Forests of The Pacific Northwest are essentially conifer forests, dominated by Douglas firs and Western hemlocks. Stretching from SE Alaska and SW British Columbia, through Western Washington and Western Oregon to the border of Northern California, and from the Pacific Ocean eastward to the crest of The Cascade Range. Sometimes referred to as Primary Forests, Virgin Forests, Primeval Forests, and my favorite, Ancient Woodlands (in Britain), an Old Growth Forest is defined by Wikipedia as a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance, and thereby exhibits unique ecological features.

Walk through it with me, if you would, for we later left the city and moved north—onto San Juan Island. Into the wilderness, so to speak. We live in an Old Growth Forest at the foot of the sea, where Western red cedar thrives. Growing year round in our mild winters, these trees reach heights of 200 ft, and may be two or three centuries old. This is the tree with which I am most familiar now.

Mother Cedar. Distinguished by it’s fluted base and graceful, feathery branches. It’s fragrant, sweet smelling needles softly carpeting the forest floor and tracking into our home daily. The exterior of our home is shingled in cedar shakes, making it appear at one with the woods. A half dozen cedar Adirondack chairs sit upon a cedar deck, and another half dozen in a circle around an outdoor fire pit. We are all about cedar here. We probably smell like cedar.

An Old Growth Forest is comprised of large trees, standing dead trees (snags), and fallen trees. Water-repellent and rot-resistant, red cedar can last for hundreds of years on the forest floor. As such, logs and snags may foster more life after their death than they had before. Covered now with mushrooms and mosses, and nursing huckleberries, ferns, and salal. Over time, it may provide a substrate for seedling shrubs and trees.

Time is long here. While some trees reach upwards of 1,000 years of age, others are on their way back to decay. There is a mix of tree ages and of regeneration. An Old Growth Forest is a continuum.

An Old Growth Forest has remarkable resilience—to natural events. Recovering quickly from fires, windstorms, and disease, but not from human events such as clear-cut logging. At a time when the U.S. has lost 96% of its Old Growth Forests, what this Old Growth Forest Knows is immense.

That air you breathe, Houston. We put it there.

old-growth-cliff-2

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Tracing Our Life Stories

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the very first time.” T. S. Eliot

Summery children’s voices through open windows. Wagons, scooters, and strollers–all the apparatus of play. A brother and sister squeeze into a pint-sized motorized car on a sidewalk which is well off the road. The littlest fellow across the street sports an electric bike. He had to have that, I suppose, as his dad rides a motorcycle–to Amazon everyday, where he’s a manager in cloud computing. An Amazon server was recently effected by thunderstorms in the area, but it’s all back up and running, the boy on the electric bike, the man on the motorcycle, and all the companies reliant on Amazon’s cloud service.

One evening in book group we realized that all of us are originally from the East Coast. Our individual paths, however, took us all over the map as we actively shaped our life stories into the tales we can tell today. Though some folks take a more direct route to where they are going or draw no map at all, they are probably not people I know. The people I know tend to be complex, which has me thinking there are a lot of labyrinths walking around amongst us.

I am careful not to call us mazes. A maze is a more crazed path with built-in trickery: dead ends, roundabouts, and decisions to be made at every turn. It’s doable, but usually with difficulty. Lucky are the labyrinth meanderers amongst us! Endlessly winding and understanding that there is only one path and it is your path and you are following it, going forward. Following a labyrinth course, and seeing one’s life as such, is a right-brain activity. It quiets the mind. There is but one choice and that is to follow it, however indirect or circuitous. “A labyrinth is a place you go to get found,” notes writer Sally Quinn, who commissioned to have a 50′ labyrinth built for her walking/meditation purposes in a clearing by the woods at her home in Maryland.

Well, maybe our paths have not been altogether labyrinthian either. Labyrinths are whole and circular with a center. Where you go in is where you come out, and its paths turn and gently fold alongside themselves much like brain matter. I drew my life journey by placing a piece of tracing paper over a map, starting of course with where I began, where I was born. From there, a line drawing of a mythical creature began to evolve and put down legs–if only to spring from. In it I see a deer in flight, a kangaroo, or wallaby, bounding off hind legs. Or possibly an ostrich or emu, sprinting off and landing here, in The Pacific Northwest. The Southern points on my map (St. Thomas, San Diego, and Tucson) were primarily for pushing off, as I know now that I had to go there to get here.

I have been living out West for half my life and my mother in New England still expects I will “move back home.” I am at home, or rather, where I am meant to be on my life’s journey. Whatever the animal/bird pictograph that is my life’s line drawing, it was always heading here. How many times in the woods I’ve remarked, “If I were a deer I’d live here!” And as bald eagles glide at tremendous height over the Puget Sound, “If I were a bird this is where I’d come to live!”

Maybe my mother knows something I don’t. That family plot down by The Connecticut River reserved by my grandparents so long ago for all the clan…. I haven’t decided. I may get lost in the woods yet or fall into the sea, but that plot, I suppose, would make this life story all the more labyrinthine.

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Musings from the Yard Guy

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”  Margaret Atwood

Next winter, should we start to complain about the gray season in Seattle, remind us that spring comes early. Chances are that as soon as some of us start to wonder if we can take it anymore, the season will turn a page. Already it seems to be upon us.

We have been enjoying a string of beautiful days in Seattle. The sun is clearing the sky of cloud. I do not have to imagine blue, it is blue. Crocuses are pushing up everywhere. Look up, and some trees are in bud. My neighbor’s hellebores are in full, outrageous bloom. It’s here!

With nature you just have to be there, be very, very present. So I dropped everything and ran outside to “spruce up” (I love that phrase) our little city lot. The Pacific Northwest is populated with cedars, redwoods and pines. The earth glows green, the light is green, and naturally, it smells green. In Southern California and the desert, the color green goes gray. Here, even the most mature and ancient trees shine with spring green. Each new leaf is a beginning, and each year I feel I’m being born. If I were a bird I’d fly to this part of the country. Whatever kind of creature, I’d fly, crawl, burrow, hop, swim or walk. I have found a sense of place here that I consider sacred, especially in the spring.

The Seattle Flower and Garden Show opens its doors this week. That is what I’m working toward, like a penance. I’m trimming and pruning and weeding and raking and mulching all around the house. Trimming incessant ivy and tying climbing hydrangea to the back fence. My husband is traveling and I am signing my emails to him each evening, “the yard guy.” By week’s end I intend to get to the show, that’s the goal. I just don’t want to go until I have my house, er grounds, in order. I want to go knowing that I can hold my head high, that my particular plot of earth is cleaned up and ready to receive any plants or bulbs I might carry home from this moment on.

The best is all ahead. When I am tending a garden, the plants’ well-being and my own become inexorably linked. And it works for writing as well. The door from my writing room will be thrown open to the terrace and I will start every day out there puttering around in the garden, finding my thoughts, and watering—which is like prayer or meditation, and then slip back in and write. The days will be longer. No more growing tired and ready for a nap at 4 pm.

I know I am getting ahead of myself, but I did the most significant thing this week: I opened a window. Imagine, after all this winter huddled up with rugs and throws and fireplaces. Such a simple gesture: open a window! It hits me like an epiphany every year.

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