Silver Falls State Park: Returning to the Wilderness

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Yesterday, for the first time in over a decade, I returned to the Oregon woods by going for an 8-mile hike in Silver Falls State Park. It was my first significant long-distance hike in a long time and it went so well that I’m excited to think I’ll be able to delve deeper into more remote areas of my region as time goes on and my health and strength continue to improve. I very much want to re-enter the wilderness areas that so captivated and inspired me as a young girl to become the free spirit I am today.

North Falls, part of the Trail of Ten Falls.
When I became seriously ill, the first thing I reached for was plant-life. Gardening was for me my way out of an excruciatingly painful situation that destroyed me. Once I finally had accepted that I’d lost my fight and had to live with what was chronically (daily) occurring inside of my own body I had to let go of many things I held near and dear to my heart. In just a single plant I saw the freedom of the wilderness I was raised to believe in as both an Oregonian and descendant of many pioneers. Gardening then continued to help me as I rebuilt and grew back to who I am today.
So, yesterday I drove far away from my garden (the place that has been my safety zone for so long), and I went back to feel the source that bound me together during the most difficult period of my life. As my senses took it all in, that sensation of being calm and at home took over. I walked right in the front door and didn’t look back until I was finished and it was time to return to Portland.
(Following are some of the 10 waterfalls from the Trail of Ten Falls and some native plants too.)

South Falls.
Lower South Falls.
Vine Maple (Acer circinatum).
Western Maidenhair Fern, (Adiantum aleuticum).
Vine maples in the woods in autumn.
Piggy-back Plant, (Tolmiea menziesii).
Lower North Falls.
Double Falls.
Middle North Falls.
(Not one of the named falls. Just a bonus.)
North Falls.
North Falls with native Licorice Ferns (Polypodium glycyrrhiza).
Rattlesnake Plantain—a native orchid of the PNW, (Goodyera oblongifolia).

Sexy Wild Wildflower Moments (The Touch-Me-Not)

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Common Jewelweed a kind of Touch-Me-Not, (Impatiens capensis).
This is a post about something that’s a common experience, and it’s probably happened to you too.
Gardeners and plant people see the world differently, but we’re human after all, and many of us can also be sentimental in how we see the world around us. Sometimes this can help us when we’re not feeling so comfortable. It’s through these stories we often find our own release and can be set free again.
Here’s my story.
Anthropomorphizing isn’t just for poets, or maybe it is…
Sometimes we just see wildflowers, but at other times, we grab them and want to hold onto them and own them. So often they are ephemeral and delicate and once picked they droop and fade quickly. They’re not often as sturdy as other plants. And yet, that’s what makes them so special to us.
Our human desire to capture that brief momentary beauty can be a rush that evokes in us a kind of lust for something we can never truly possess.
And wildflowers are necessary to us because they are not the shrubs or trees in our lives. They are something far more special and their beauty touches us much differently.

If I were a wildflower, I’d be a Touch-Me-Not. In my moment I don’t just droop over and let my seeds trickle out, or worse yet, blow away in the wind. This is not the showiest of seed heads, but it’s energetic and active.

I am a seed collector and I’ve grabbed many wildflower seed heads—but only after their blooms had faded and the plants were near gone.

This summer I reached out and grabbed a wildflower and it faded quickly and when I went back to look inside for seeds, there were none.

Someone had been there long ago to drain the plant of its seeds. So now I’m walking away empty handed—but with the memory of the momentary pleasure of the bloom.

Imbued with the Spirit and Strength of Nature

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It has been at least a month since I’ve written anything substantial about gardening or plants here on my blog. Funny to have been so silent, but I’ve been rediscovering so many things about who I am, and I think it’s safe to say, I have been growing a great deal.

Some days I feel like that vine that ate the garage last summer. I’m blooming and blooming and I just cannot stop growing and reaching for the sunshine.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland, OR. I introduced some amazing new friends from Paris to this Stumptown gem last month.

Much of what’s been happening has also felt a lot like suturing a wide open wound. Long ago I forgot where I was going, even where I wanted to go. I only recently realized that most of my adult life has been based solely on what I was able to do within many physical and personal limitations. I hated it.

Pomegranate bloom at Lan Su Chinese Garden.
I am free of those restraints now for the first time in my adult life, and the rediscovery of myself has been a very complicated process. It wouldn’t have been possible either without all of the friends who’ve come back to help me with all of their love, support and feedback. Many of them had mourned the loss of who I’d been for very long and I cannot explain how amazing it is to see their excitement and emotion right now.
This Yucca filamentosa aka Adam’s Needle is one of the first plants I ever germinated. It was important for me to really enjoy its blooms this year.

Ever since I can remember my life has been imbued with a love and interest in nature and plants. Embracing this part of myself has been a big part of my recent activities as I’ve sought out many different kinds of activities beyond the garden gate. It is difficult to describe how these activities have been guided, but that’s because it’s been a day-to-day thing.

Streamers from an outdoor concert I attended in Portland with my cousin.

I have been enjoying every moment and feeling everyday and the sensations from both all feel like gifts now as I try to enjoy as many different kinds of activities as I am able to outdoors and with friends or family. After having spent so many summers indoors, unable to walk much, this is a huge change for me.

I am remembering what it feels like to filter and feel things other than the pain I felt for so many years from the swelling and discomfort my condition caused. I am such a sensation seeker and I have been loving all the things I’ve been feeling and sensing again.

May Pole ribbons from the Finnish American Folk Festival of Naselle, WA.

I also still see plants everywhere.

The finished piece—and yes, this is what a summer sky can look like in the Pacific Northwest.

Even when I’m enjoying other things I still see their meaning and importance all around me in different communities and groups. I take note of how others care about the plants where they live. It still fascinates me to see the nostalgia we attach to things we cannot control.

I have also committed myself to seeing and doing other things too. That’s why I haven’t been here too much recently. I am expanding growth in every direction right now.

I am growing to retrain myself.

I will prune what I need to again later.

I felt trapped in a corner too for a long time. I think we have all had this feeling.

Plants are still at my center.

I still adore clipped shrubs very much—especially when so much depends upon the white cat beside them.

I say this as I still see myself overlapping my love of art history and design with plant life more and more. I am imbuing meaning and emotions into so many things when I touch them—even when it’s just a snapshot.

Driftwood at the Washington Coast.

Then there is the ineffable experience of my region and its natural beauty and I have been re-experiencing my place here recently probably more than anything else. It creates a sacred feeling for me and it is silent. Everything about who I am springs from this place deep inside of me and the silence brings me much peace and calm.

A typical coastal salmon river in the Pacific Northwest.

I am not well-rested yet, but I am working on it. Since I have at least 10 years to catch up on it might take me awhile to feel more calm, collected and self-possesed.

My father and I as I channel my own inner Jacques Cousteau.

Spending time near water has been a high priority for me. I miss spending time in boats and this is something I plan to do more of in the future.

Two Great Blue Herons we spotted in a tree near the mouth of the river in the tidal zone.

The sounds, sights, and sensations on the water felt like home to me.

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maxium) seeds.

I saw plenty of seeds while on my adventures too. (Of course I had to add those.)

Native Vine Maple (Acer macrophyllum) reaching over the water.

I also very much enjoyed observing the many communities of plants along the riverbank—but that’s a whole other post.

Begonia boliviensis in my garden.

Then there is my garden back at home. I have not been in it much as I still connect a lot of unhappy memories with toiling in its soil. I buried a lot of distress and unhappiness here. There were many lonely hours spent wondering about my marriage. I also worked hard on my plants as a means to build the denial deep inside of myself of the reality that I no longer liked or even respected my husband very much. I was in denial of this fact for a very long time.

To say we’d grown apart is now an understatement since I now know we never grew or built anything together in the first place. I think in many ways this lack of a relationship is what drove me to plants more than anything.

I am currently separating these feelings from my garden.

And the cats are doing as they please…

Right now I am editing the plants. I still have no idea where I will be living a year from now, but no matter what, this needs to be done. Maybe I will be here, maybe I won’t.

Oddly, I was driven to remove plants I’d planted that I’d purchased long ago because my ex had expressed some kind of interest in them.

He never really liked the garden much though, and never sat and enjoyed it much at all, and like my illness and the mortgage, it was just another burden. I am happy to be free of this black cloud now and I hope to see my garden look amazing one more time.

The wine grapes were also some of the first plants to go.

And now as my garden is in a stage where it looks like the bedroom of a rebellious and messy teenager I stand firmly again on terra firma. Sure there are dead plants in pots like the plates of rotting food that often get misplaced beside the dirty socks in the rooms of our youth across the nation—but I am looking at this now and I am laughing. It is seriously funny to me.

Someone keeps telling me, “It’s ok.” As I look around at everything I just keep laughing. Here in this moment it might seem like I have a lot to do, but I’ll get it done. I am pretty sure my friend it correct. No matter what, I’ve been through a lot, and it will be ok.

Wordless Wednesday: Walking to the End of Spring

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Possibly Lonicera periclymenum. 
Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’. 
Phacelia tanacetifolia.  
Most obnoxious Roses ever! (I kind of like them.)
Lychnis coronaria with Eschscholzia californica. 
Lychnis haageana ‘Molten Fire’.
Pericallis. 
Fragaria vesca.
Rosa ‘Jeannie La Joie’.

Plants Make Me Ill (Revisiting Chronic Illness in the Garden)

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With all of the recent changes it has been difficult for me to sit and think about being chronically ill. Mostly that’s because it’s what I thought about for so many years; the diagnosis robbed me of many things and it hurt deeply. Gardening kept me busy, but mostly I read about it. Actually being outside all of the time was another thing altogether and that became more and more difficult as I became more ill. But who out there amongst us isn’t an armchair gardener at one point or another?
Now I am feeling better, so I don’t have as much time to sit and think, but the avoidance is mostly due to my not wanting to accept or even acknowledge what I’ve seen as a roadblock and an obstacle for so long. So much of my current divorce has to do with the illness, but it is certainly not everything and I know that too.
Peony bloom I snapped from the sidewalk.

Currently, when I don’t have plans with friends on Friday nights, I take leisurely 6-mile walks to Powell’s Books on Hawthorne and then I walk back home through Mt Tabor Park. These are productive walks where I not only get the much needed exercise I’ve missed for the last decade or so, but I also get to feel the joy I used to feel at just looking at things—mostly plants.

Rockery overflowing with Basket of Gold, Aurinia saxatilis.
During these walks I am in awe of how thrilling it is to be able to breathe and to walk. And although plants do still make me a bit ill—at least their pollen that is—I am learning how to better manage my asthma and to feel the symptoms in my body. For so long I was unable to do so because I’d become so numb from all of the swelling but I can feel a lot now.

Walking past Portland Nursery still makes me giggle a little since it’s no longer an escapist refuge for me as it once was when I could barely get anything done all day.

Seeing the cherry blossom petals scattered on the sidewalk while standing amongst them has made me smile with pleasure this year. They won’t be here for long and this year I won’t have to see them solely from the car as I fly past them. I savored them the other night because they’ll be gone next week.

No one knows this yet but I have lived at the base of Mt Tabor Park for almost 8 years and it was only within the last few months that I’ve been able to visit all of its reservoirs.

False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum.

Finding native plants in the park has been a great boon too.

Vine Maple, Acer circinatum.
Lastly, while up at the park, walking and thinking about chronic illness, I thought a lot about the native Vine Maple. It is so tiny among giants, stretching for the sunshine, doing its best as an understory resident. Thinking about how much I’ve always liked this tree, and how calm I’ve felt beneath them spring, summer, or fall, seeing them during my walk home in the woods of Mt. Tabor felt like coming across another old friend.
Somehow this comforting end to my walk on Friday helped me to find the courage to do some research into what to call the current stage of my chronic illness experience. From inside, I have felt so much certainty about so many things but I haven’t understood at all why. I have felt very isolated, but I just knew that if I looked hard enough I would find something—and I did!
Just as my disease is new and unknown, so too are the studies of people living as I do. We become chronically ill as adults, suffering for many years with uncertainty and change, there comes a moment when we face death, we get through it, and then with extra medical attention, we improve suddenly after something is changed or adjusted. We are the lucky ones. Many living with chronic illness will never get this opportunity and I think knowing this is part of the catalyst for what happens internally to some of us. I, like many others, have been rewarded with just the outcome we’d spent so much time trying to let go of so as not to create false hope within ourselves. We had to learn to live in that moment between enduring and suffering, committing to ourselves not to dream about being able to live in the reality I have just reentered—one with so much more freedom.
One study said that there may only be 5-10% who experience what they called self-reformation, but I think that further study will show a higher number of people who enter into this process. Medical science seems to improve daily and there will be more people like me. There must be others out there already too who, like me, simply don’t know what to call what they’re going through.
Here are the phases that have so far been identified, but I am putting them in my own order, as they occurred within myself: need for reciprocity (to help others who are suffering), value suffering, appreciate one’s abilities, a disregard for material things, maximizing today, reordering priorities and exiting from unsatisfying relationships.
This last one is the tricky one. It shows my part in the divorce, and I agree with what I read about other people in my situation. When I read the experience of one woman, I was shocked to see myself in her words. This list also points forward for me, and what I read also made me think so much about plants and gardening—funny how that always seems to happen. I am sure that many of you out there already understand this too in your own lives.
Plants might still make me a teeny tiny bit ill with allergy or an immune response but there is no way I am ever leaving the garden again. All roads seem to lead right back to plants in my life and that’s just the way it’s going to be…

Wordless Wednesday: My Garden and Life through the Eyes of a Therapeutic Foster Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Rosa “Golden Showers”.
Japanese Snowbell Tree, Styrax japonicus.
Pacific or Western Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa.
Multnomah Falls.
Trees in the Columbia River Gorge.
Rosa rugosa.
Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum.
Clematis “Josephine”.
Leopard’s Bane, Doronicum orientale.
Living wreath.
Entrance shade garden near the street and sidewalk.
Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris.
Me with box.
Macavity—the old lady black cat.
Peace Lily, Spathiphyllum.