A Gardener Spends an Hour or Two at Powell’s Books

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Last Friday the sun was out in the City of Roses and I was running around getting ready for my nieces’s 21st birthday party.
Why not stop for a bit at Powell’s? Right?

I have been visiting the nationally-known and locally-loved store since I was a girl and to say that it’s part of my routine and my life is an understatement. Long before the Internet existed I was using this book lovers’ destination as a much needed resource—along with the local library system of course!

Walking the two blocks from where I’d parked my car I enjoyed the familiar sights.
There were the usual humorous things to see too—even if I was the only one laughing.
No folks, this is no longer a trash can once it’s painted and planted!
As for the Italian cypress, it reminded me a bit of the old drunk men I used to see in this area as a girl. They too leaned up against the walls of building just like this poor thing.
Portland looked much different during the 1970s. I suppose to outsiders, we still look different, but in a much more friendly way.

For instance, we have our urban windmills atop buildings. Everyone does that right?

Since I hadn’t been to the downtown location for several months I’d not yet noticed that the gardening section had been expanded a bit.

There was a great display of new books and I was happy to see they’ve included a cheap section again with older titles that don’t cost as much as the newbies.

Yes, it’s harder now to find great deals on books here but that’s happening everywhere.

My favorite section was still very much intact.

Beside it is my other favorite section in the store. As someone with a background in critical theory and philosophy relating to art history and visual analysis this section has been nice to transition into over the years. At least with gardens you can actually talk about something.

Upstairs in the arts area I was excited to see vintage typewriters on display with houseplants. This is a nice Ficus elastica.

Some of the other houseplants didn’t look as nice but this is a bookstore after all. I felt like turning this Sansevieria but then I decided that I might look like one of those obsessive characters in that popular tv show you’ve probably heard about that’s filmed here.

Before I left I was looking at hiking books because I plan to go on more plant and nature adventures this year. It was strange to me that an older edition of one of the used books seemed familiar. I looked on the back and suddenly remembered that my dad had resold the remainders he’d purchased from the original publisher when they’d gone out of business. I may have actually put this sticker on the back of this book because I used to do things like that when I was younger.  As the daughter of a publisher, I was lucky to grow up surrounded by books. I always could earn some extra money too.

When I was a young girl my Saturday mornings downtown at Powell’s with my dad were often the highlight of my week. We’d often spend several hours there together reading quietly and watching people.

It was really nice to remember those memories just before leaving and I also found some great books for my niece.

To Chelsea on Her 21st Birthday

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Chelsea is my eldest niece and she loves nature.
Me, well, I love this kid—and the other two girls too.
Before I had a garden to help me bury the pains caused by a rare illness, I found a lot of happiness and joy in these three beautiful creatures.
These 3 are a creative triple threat, but most of the time, they just “are”.
We’ve seen many of the wonders of the Pacific Northwest together, and as a child, she and her younger sister Lindsey and their best friend Emily went all over the place with me—looking at plants, and other stuff.
You know, just normal nature stuff like this.
If I never have a child, it’s ok since I’ve always had Chelsea.
And she likes to think she’s my only child.
 And when I see pictures like this I know we are related to one another.
 We’ve always got Emily too.
 Chelsea has taken our relationship quite seriously for many years.
 Sometimes, she reminds me a lot of my dad.
I guess that’s where our quirks originated.
My brother (her dad) is pretty goofy too.
 She likes animation. I used to watch a lot of it with her. I guess I taught her to value certain things in life too.
 I think she’s a bit more colorful than I am at times, but that’s not an issue. She is her own garden.
At heart she loves animals and nature.
When I graduated from college I was so proud she was there to see me succeed.
My friend Brendan, the guy with his eyes shut, well he later acted as college art instructor to the young woman who became Chelsea’s high school art instructor.
I am happy she grew up around art. I sure wish I had! Although I wish Chelsea was making more art right now. She is a very talented artist.
She grew up around plants too and this image is from a Seattle trip to attend the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. (Sorry about the quality of this photo. It was rescued.)
Here first tattoo was of the much more common orange California poppy.
Taking the girls on road trips to CA was a great deal of fun for me.
And here we have Emily and Chelsea again. They were helping me to load pavers into the wagon after a friend our family had passed away. We wanted to use the pavers in my garden.
So often when I see the beauty in the small details of flowers I think of Chelsea. She sees even more beauty in the world than I. Too often my brain and words get in my way.

As girls, both Chelsea and her sister Lindsey liked to be a bit different.

Of course I encouraged this kind of thing.

When I worked at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House it was wonderful to see them all during visits. They were just kids and they enjoyed the house and absorbed its design.
I am not so sure they liked his Marin County building as much, but they saw it.
Chelsea loves her little sister Lindsey and I think this is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken of her.
Emily is a bird of a different feather. That’s why we love her so much.
Like any aunt I prefer to think of them like this—tiptoeing through the tulips.
Of course Chelsea had to shock us all a bit—especially her little sister.

Not having had sisters it was a blessing to watch these little women grow.

They opened up a whole new world to me and I needed it.

Chelsea will always be “so metal” when she rakes.
She will always be a garden design sceptic.
Happy Birthday Chelsea.
Happy Birthday.

Happy. Happy.
Birthday.

Someday all three of you will be gardeners and I know it. It is in your blood on both sides. So get out there and keep doing what you do until you land and dig deeper to set down your own roots. Whatever you do, it will be beautiful like you.

NaNoWriMo, the Amateur Bot-ann-ist, and the PNW Coast

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A few years back I made an attempt (or two) at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) but this year, with things in my life being much different, I plan to reach my goal. It will not be a garden novel, but it will be digging deeper into my past, into my heart and soul really, back to where it all began.
It all started when I was a nature writer and reader. That’s where I’m returning to, and oddly enough, it’s where garden literature sprouted from as well—so I think it’s quite fitting.
I’m prepared to finish too, and that’s a decent way to begin.
There is also a fat carrot being dangled in front of my nose thanks to a dear old friend who knew me back at the beginning too, and she wants me to be the person I need to be again.
We compromise so much of ourselves sometimes, especially when illness takes over and truly prevents us from being able to function. I was struck down before I’d even started but I have time now to change the rules a bit.
Maurice the Cat last night performing his nightly viewing of a “cat friendly video” while I sat there wondering how to get my arm away from him without his noticing.
My poor little laptop will make it through just so long as Maurice doesn’t insist too often on “participating” with me. He really does not seem to understand why I can’t keep typing while he snoozes on my arm.
He also seems to think that the cushion in my chair belongs to him but he’s learning quickly that it does not.
I have been a writer. I have been a gardener. It’s time now for me to be much more serious about being both and I plan to make that happen too. I have to since I don’t know what else to do.
Obviously, he enjoys having me there to lean on as he watches the same video for what feels like to me to be the 129th time.
Blogging will continue as usual and I’ll begin working on more plant stuff in the house.
I will also be dashing off to the Coast a few times during the month of November to get some writing done. (I was there for several days this past weekend outlining the story and it was wonderful to get away.)
The area will be included in the novel since it means so much to me and because Astoria is my favorite city in Oregon—other than Portland, of course!
Astoria is there on the right. Those tiny little white spots in the distance.

Last month (on September 29th) I drove out to the area so that I could participate in the annual bridge walk/run at the mouth of the Columbia. With 2,999 other people I made the trek and it really deepened my sense for the place. The night I arrived there was a full moon and I dashed around taking photos I shared with friends on Facebook—many of whom miss home and live in other places now for various reasons.

I made it to the south jetty and watched the sunset too before heading back to get some rest before the big walk.

The next day I walked and walked.

Entering Astoria on foot from the Washington side was truly an amazing experience. As I walked along, passing people here and there, it was clear from the stories I overheard how much they all love where they live.

Watching salmon fishermen as they waved to all of us from their boats in the river, they would stop to take pictures of us, and we’d all wave back at them.

Looking back over the bridge I was happy to see all the way to the other side where I usually stay at my parent’s other house. Yes, I like Washington State too.

Me, last weekend in the backyard of my parent’s coastal house. I’d spent hours watching the birds flying up and down behind the house, along the river, so I went down to see the salmon remains they were all feasting upon. It’s always one of those magical moments in nature to see their white bones glowing along the riverbanks. Made me think of salmon fertilizer too and how much I love to use it in my garden.
I may have lost a lot this year, but that walk was an accomplishment that won’t be taken away from me anytime soon. It was accomplishing a goal I’d long wanted to do but had been physically unable to do so.
So now comes a novel, and during the month of December I can celebrate the 1st Anniversary of being well after having been prescribed the special medication that’s helped me so much. Then I have my Blogoversary too. (Check out the countdown up in the right-hand corner.)
I think this is a nice way for a plant nerd to spend her autumn and winter, don’t you? (Oh, just wait until I get to the surprise during the heart of winter. That should be fun for all of us.)

Oh, and if you’re wondering if there will be any plants, the answer is, “Yes.” Just don’t tell all of my friends because I know that SOME of them will writhe and groan a little bit. We cannot all have green thumbs and hearts.

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).

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.

Winter Awakening and an Assortment of Seeds

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Winter snow visited our home and garden this week and I’m happy that it didn’t stay for very long because it was really an unexpected event and we weren’t prepared for guests.

It snowed a lot on Tuesday night (January 17th, 2012), and my excitement was remarkable—though I know not why—except to say that up until just last month I would not have been able to stay outside in such cold temperatures for that long. So maybe I do know the reason why, but it is such a personal reason, having more to do with my illness, that I feel I must explain.

As I write this, the movie Awakenings (1990) is playing on the television. Based on the British neurologist Oliver Sacks’s memoir Awakenings (1973) it’s a movie about a group of patients who awaken from their catatonic states after being given an experimental treatment in 1969, and over time, the drug that they’re given stops being effective, and they return to their catatonia.

The mother of one of the patients describes never having asked, when her son was born, “Why? Why was my son born healthy?” But after his illness sets in later, she remarks to the doctors that she hasn’t stopped asking, “Why? Why is my son unhealthy? Why?” Then she must watch as her son slowly returns to being catatonic again, unable to communicate at all, after having had him back so briefly.

Chronic illness follows this cycle, and it is for this reason that I garden and grow seeds, finding in their annual return and growth the false confidence that I need, and an additional natural comfort when I need it. Gardening keeps me far away from the Why? questions, and instead, the activity leaves me suspended in a healthy state of awe and speechlessness.

For the last few weeks I’ve felt alive again, and I’ve been afraid to note that here on my blog.

One of the reasons why is that I am afraid it won’t last for very long. I have lived with many chemical windows both opening and closing much like the patients in the film, though not nearly so dramatically, and I live with the ongoing dread that I will run out of options. For the last few weeks I have been doing much better than I have in about 5 years and it scares me. I must admit too that I have been living, and that means I’ve not been here so much, and that I’ve been having fun and I’ve been enjoying the winter and time spent with my husband.

Taking pictures of the snow at 11pm was just the kind of activity I needed. It filled me with a funny kind of joy and I looked around at the dark homes of our neighbors and wondered why they weren’t out there too—just as excited as I was at that hour—and I realized then that my mood had more to do with my most recent “awakening”than anything else. These are often the joyful moments we spend by ourselves and that’s alright I suppose, I just hope that all of you remember to have them too.

So yesterday the snow melted, and while keeping warm, I finally began my last seed sorting session for the 2011 harvest. Maurice the cat felt like helping too so I let him spend some time with me on the floor while I sorted all of the paper bags and poured the seeds out onto paper plates.

All of the seeds are now out in the open and I am so happy that I am able to capture them all in one shot. This is only 1/8th or less of what I collected last year so this really is a big deal for me to be so near the end.

Some of these are from the wild and some are from gardens. How I figured them all out, when some had no plant ID at all, is still a mystery to me. If they’re without a name I have no one to blame but myself.

I just cannot believe that the process is beginning again, since I feel as though I’ve just woken up a bit myself, and although I am a bit terrified that this new medication may fail me, the garden must grow on and so must I.