shades of red

rusty saws, Eagle Point, Oregon

My weekend in southern Oregon was colored in shades of red and brown, involving an adult-sized, baby-pink casket (not pictured); a wall of rusty logging saws;

Butte Creek Mill, Eagle Point, Oregon

an old water-powered mill-cum-country store proffering small, expensive bags of beans, grains, and flours;

carriage wheel propped against the Butte Creek Mill wall

an old, unidentified stone building across the street from the mill with a herringbone-patterned, pockmarked wooden door; 

herringbone door, stone walls, Eagle Point, Oregon

and, permeating everything, a layer of brown haze draped visible along all horizons, turning the sunsets red and the mornings rosé.

Lake of the Woods in fire haze, Oregon, August 2012

When we stopped in the Cascades, 5,000 feet above sea level, between the morning funeral and afternoon burial, a whole county apart, we could not smell the pines for smoke. Large swaths of forest across the West are burning, while Midwest crops crisp in drought—ashes to ashes, dust to dust, desert to desert. It's fitting that my auburn-haired great-aunt took her leave not in a Hollywood scene of drizzle, the family shaded under large black umbrellas, but rather in a month aflame.


in memoriam

family album: Mary & Donna, studio photo, 1940s

My beautiful, auburn-haired great-aunt, Mary Louise, lover of butterflies and gardens, is dead. She was in her early 80s, with failing health and memory, after years of falls, broken bones, and reduced mobility, which could not have been easy for an active, independent woman. Like her two sisters, she was social, strong-willed, opinionated, and occasionally razor-tongued. Even into her old age, she fought with her younger sister, Donna, for reasons unknown to the rest of us, the origins somewhere in the depths of childhood sibling rivalry, though the competition did not include her four brothers or older sister, my grandmother. Dramatically, Mary would often arrive at family events an hour and a half late, and one learned to plan accordingly. She adored children but could only have one of her own (and that somehow miraculously, per the doctors), a son who died tragically in his twenties. She married five times, twice to the same man, her longest marriage ending with a gentle, quiet man 18 years her junior, who will be burying her this week.

family album: my grandmother, Beverley, 1930s

My childhood holidays were spent eavesdropping on my great-aunts and uncles' lively conversations as the women prepped the meals under the direction of my great-grandmother. That era is long gone. Now there is but one left, the second-to-youngest, and how wrenching it must feel to my great-aunt Donna to have lost so many—and to be the last.


fit for a picnic

picnic blanket with tomatoes, library book, water bottle, & nasturtiums

Meet my new blue-striped, slubby-cotton summer picnic blanket thrifted at Goodwill over the weekend. With all the job training and redecorating lately, I've not made much time to relax. And in three whole years I've somehow never spent any time in the yard doing anything other than gardening. So this evening, after hand-watering the tomatoes, harvesting the ripe ones (to give away—sigh) and a couple lemon cucumbers, and stuffing a load of whites into the basement dryer, I grabbed my new secondhand picnic blanket, a library book, and a bottle of water, and headed out to the backyard where I spent an hour or so lying on the lawn reading.

Japanese maple, sky, & balcony rail viewed from below

Above me passed a couple jets, a dragonfly, bees, and other unidentified fluttering things. The arms of a Japanese maple hovered overhead, leaves twitching in the breeze and contrasting with the pale sky.

cucumber, green bean, nasturtium, and squash plants

The blanket is large and thin enough that when the air grew chill, I pulled one side over to cover my bare arms and legs until the light dimmed and I gathered up my things to head indoors, drawing from my hair a couple of fallen leaves. And during all, day and night, with sun and water, the garden grows.


good-bye, stuff; hello, space

black Chinese wedding cabinet, sold on Craigslist

Where there is accumulation, there must also be release. I've written about this before of belongings coming and going. Because lately I have returned to my thrift-store rounds, for balance, other things have had to go, even the furniture, at least the pieces I no longer love, namely those that were dark and heavy in both color and emotional weight. What can I say? My decorative taste is fickle, I need money, and I want more space. After having cocooned in my bedroom for three years when at home, being out of practice at sharing personal space with anyone other than a mate, I am claiming territory, spreading out.

But though I fell out of love with an armoire and a rug, to others, these objects were exactly what they were seeking. And so I am filling needs (wants) with my discard pile, serving humanity via Craigslist and consignment shops. No one else knows or cares about the baggage attached to my stuff, so by selling what's unwanted, I also free myself from more of the past, making space for something new—or secondhand, rather.

West Elm, dark-brown, jute bouclé rug, sold on Craigslist

And so the new housemate and I have been rearranging the furniture with an emphasis on more efficient pathways, better views, and more light. As a bonus, our landlord even had all the windows washed inside and out. Some of the walls will even get painted. I'm taking some curtains down, putting others up, rotating my bedding, shaking things up. Clearing out and cleaning up function for me as mood boosters, ways to take control of my surroundings when other aspects of life seem out of my control. Plus, the process makes possessions feel fresh again, as well as more attractive and functional in a more comfortable, welcoming home.

For inspiration, books such as Laurie Ward's Use What You Have Decorating offer useful tips for making one's current décor work in new ways, involving conversational furniture placement around a focal point, visual balance, the importance of traffic flow, lighting, and so on. Even though the rooms pictured in Ward's text are outdated and unfit for current issues of Dwell or tours on Apartment Therapy, the basic concepts are invaluable. I like Ward's professional commitment to the frugal concept of 'making do' while making one's belongings function more practically and pleasingly. And I like that she emphasizes editing, that often the best change is not what's added but what's removed. Bye-bye, heavy, dark, light-sucking armoire and rug. Hello, vintage mirror and filing-cabinets-turned-console pulled into the main room from my bedroom, reflecting the balcony view of trees and sky.

filing cabinet and vintage mirror console

And because I dragged the filing cabinets out of my overstuffed bedroom, I finally have room in the corner for a reading nook, after finding a vintage upholstered chair yesterday in great condition (which, at least for me, is rare) at Deseret Industries that is at the same time comfortable, elegant, and also a little retro-funky in plush orange-gold. Since my bedroom is the sunniest place in the apartment come winter afternoons, I intend this spot for daydreaming, writing, and reading, with more homey touches to follow, now that I have the space.

thrifted vintage chair, reading nook


field trip: Oregon City

Blue Heron Paper Company

Because Saturday was a rare triple-digit day for Portland, Jeff and I took refuge in retail air conditioning down in the southeast suburbs. We hit two Goodwills and the Red, White, and Blue Thrift Store (the latter not a store I'm fond of because of the lack of dressing rooms and clothing unsorted by size, only type and color). Then, inspired or maybe just bored after finding only one decent XL T-shirt over three stores, Jeff offered an impromptu, open-air Jeep tour of Oregon City.

First, we stopped at the locally famous elevator on the bluff but didn't ride it, mostly because we felt sheepish about joyriding down and back up the cliff for no reason in front of a live elevator operator, circa 1955. So instead we walked up the promenade for a view of Willamette Falls and the now-defunct Blue Heron Paper Company, whose innards are being auctioned off in between mysterious fires.

Willamette Falls, Blue Heron Paper Company, August 2012

Large falls in the West, of course, tend to be harnessed for generating hydroelectricity, such as that flowing along the power lines above us, silent and invisible.

power lines

Our next stop was to locate the old pioneer cemetery, Mountain View, farther up the Oregon City plateau (because we all know I like old cemeteries), where we wandered around till closing time at dusk, scanning grave markers in the old, upstanding, hard-to-mow section.

rusted gate, Mountain View Cemetery, Oregon City

The marker below of John Meldrum and Susan Cox provides some of the most detailed biographical information I've ever seen on a headstone. They, or at least John, "crossed the plains to Oregon in 1845," some of the earliest settlers.

John Meldrum & Susan Cox, Oregon Pioneers

Another more recent headstone also caught my eye because of its contrasting brevity—only first names, last initial, a professional title, and death dates—and yet it seems a whole story is contained within, the likeliest scenario being a young woman marrying a much older man for financial security, a doctor, who preceded her in death by 46 years. Since she apparently never remarried, that would have meant most of a lifetime spent single. Statistics say widows and especially widowers of happy marriages are more likely to remarry. So perhaps theirs was not happy. Maybe Elnora cherished her solitude over daily companionship. Maybe she had unofficial or familial companionship. Or maybe a good man is hard to find. All, of course, is mere speculation off a piece of inscribed granite.

Dr. Willard & Elnora G.

At dusk, Jeff and I went searching for Oregon City founder Dr. John McLoughlin's house (and grave) in the historic district, which turned out to be a smaller-than-expected, white, Georgian-style box with a murky fountain out back in which I bathed my dusty feet. A cat trotted over across the street to greet us, but otherwise we strolled undisturbed.

And then we ended my tour of Oregon City in the empty parking lot of the Visitor Center at the End of the Oregon Trail, the fabric covers on the giant wagon replicas long shredded and removed, per Jeff. I kept arguing with him, teasing him that I didn't see why American settlers would have picked Oregon City, of all places, as the end of the line. Surely they would have wanted to see the ocean—all that way across the country to end up in Oregon City?

But I wasn't thinking like a pioneer settler: they weren't on a road trip and this was no vacation. These were farmers relocating their households on foot and wagon over a five-month trek, seeking untapped river valleys for pristine farmland and easy water rights in free square-mile land grants for married folk. All I can say in my defense is that my study of Oregon history took place in grade school and centered on memorizing state counties and learning a sanitized version of the Whitman Massacre. A quick Google search or two, once home, set me straight.

The settlers didn't give a hoot about the Pacific Ocean because they were headed up the Willamette River, moving east all the way across the country but then turning south at the 'T' junction of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers to head deeper into the Willamette Valley, in this case 'south' geographically meaning 'up.' Oregon City, though early founded for water-powered milling, became the last stop on the Oregon Trail because boats couldn't easily get past the Willamette Falls, which contains the second largest water-flow volume in the U.S. after Niagara Falls.

fire at Metro South Station

The tour had ended, though discussion was continuing, when right near the Visitor Center we saw clouds of smoke and several fire trucks and pulled over to see that something inside was on fire at the Metro South transfer station for garbage and recycling. But whatever was going on involved more smoke and flashing red lights than action, so we turned into the Home Depot across the street so Jeff could buy a box of screws. He reminisced on the way into the building, informing me we were walking across the top of an old landfill.

Oregon City Home Depot

Because Jeff grew up in this area, he remembers residents backing their trucks up to the dump site and opening their tailgates to shove trash off the edge, remembers the days when escaping methane plumes used to be burned off rather than the energy trapped and harvested. Leave it to Americans to build a dump at the very end of the historic Oregon Trail and then, once real estate gets tighter, cover over the landfill and stick a shiny orange Home Depot on top. Honey, we're home.


afternoon tea

tea & shortbread (on thrifted Heath Ceramics)

This week has been one for packages. After I mulled for days over how to spend the Amazon gift cards from my siblings last month, an intro-to-photography reference book and a Moleskine 18-month planner showed up on my doorstep today. Because of an embarrassing scheduling mishap a few weeks ago, I have chosen to renew my day-planner vows and get all religious with color coding on Google Calender. Plus, the Moleskine will double as that notebook writers always insist on carrying for jotting down random observations and fleeting inspirations.

My friend Dan also sent a book and a "medicinal" box of Lindt dark-chocolate truffles, which I'm not supposed to eat, mind you. I ate several and then, feeling guilty and afraid my face would tell tales, shared the rest with my roommate.

Then I got a package from my friend Stephanie in London who'd airmailed a box of buttery shortbread and prettily packaged tea infusions—White Tea & Raspberry; Lemon, Ginger, & Ginseng; and Rooibos & Vanilla—from Marks & Spencer, the shortbread of which I'm also not supposed to eat but of course had to try, and it was luscious.

I had myself a little tea party this afternoon, and it was like celebrating the big day all over again, such a treat. Thank you, all.

boxes of Marks & Spencer tea infusions

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