High Rocks in winter

heart graffiti at High Rocks, Clackamas River

I was almost to Safeway on a Sunday a few weeks ago when, after all these months of living in Gladstone, I finally noticed a paved trail forking off the sidewalk towards the river beside an office building, which then led me down into the northeast section of the notorious summer swimming hole on the Clackamas River called High Rocks. The path ended at a small parking lot with a his-and-hers restroom and signs saying parking was for emergency vehicles only—because paramedics and EMT lifeguards need close access to the rocky bank in summer to dive for bodies.

blue graffiti & warning sign, Clackamas River

This being winter and with no one else around, except some guy who slunk off as I arrived, I jumped from rock to rock, headed for the river, snapping photos, hearing invisible frogs.

Clackamas River footbridge

Clackamas River High Rocks with rusty metal link

Strange that this close to a cluster of chain stores and beside a freeway (the 205) one can feel so removed from the city. The tensions between the cold rushing water and the smooth rocks at a spot where, before the lifeguard program began, nearly every summer someone died, the then-bare trees juxtaposed with colorful, bright graffiti, the waning sun as it dropped ever closer to dusk all reflect my mood of late. Tense. Restless. Turbulent. On the edge of change.


overheard: two true stories

flowering branch against wire fence*

True Story #1:

(on the sidewalk in front of the Central Library, February 6th, 2015, 5:50 PM)

Woman, 40s, long blond hair, to man behind me: "Where are you?"

Man: "I'm right here!"

Woman: "No, I mean where are you parked?"

flowering branch*

True Story #2:

(on the McLoughlin/99E TRIMET bus #33, March 6th, 2015, 7:42 PM)

Guy behind me who wouldn't stop talking: "I lose weight every time I go to jail, yo."

*Anyone know what this flowering bush is?


orchid blooming trick

common white moth orchid, new bloom

After moving downtown from Brooklyn a year and a half ago and losing easy access to the free hot-pink sweet peas I'd grown accustomed to picking under overpasses and in ditches, I got into a phase for a while of occasionally buying common moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) at Trader Joe's, one fuchsia and two white ones; one even came with a double stem. An orchid habit is much cheaper than buying weekly cut flowers, with a stem of blooms lasting a good couple months. But the blooms eventually wilt and fall off, and then you're left with a small hardy green houseplant that you selfishly bought only for its showy sex organs.

Not having the heart to dump perfectly healthy plants and working this school year in a windowless closet impossible for plants, for space reasons I finally ended up giving away a couple of these orchid plants and have since learned my lesson about (not) buying orchids. In my experience, they never rebloom if the entire bloom stem is whacked off to the base. So don't do that. And don't buy orchids if you don't want yet another houseplant. Their flowers, while long-lasting, are only seasonal.

cut orchid stem, post-blooming

orchid stem offshoot
However, there's a tip I picked up from other orchid growers that has worked for me with more than one plant to trick the orchid into prolonging its blooming period, especially in spring and summer when the light is longer. If you'd like a common commercial moth orchid to rebloom, simply cut off the bloom stem just above the lowest bloom node, sit the plant in a bright spot away from direct sun (to avoid scorching the leaves), water it only when dry, and wait. Orchids do things slowly. The stem will look a little silly standing tall and bare tied to its painted stick above its big thick leathery leaves, but if you're lucky, within a few months it will start a new offshoot below the cut stem. The offshoot will usually stick out horizontally and awkwardly from the original vertical, and the process might take months but can be speeded up if the plant has clear temperature shifts between night and day (e.g., turning the heat down in winter at night) and is placed in bright light (though not too direct or too hot).

reblooming common white moth orchid, March 2015

Right now, my last remaining orchid has just flowered again in a single bloom, so now I'll tuck it back away from the sun on a shelf. Flowers, like children, are symbols of hope for the future (though flowers cause fewer heartaches).


NYDJ review

NYDJ tag in shadows

Embarrassingly, I've gained a few extra pounds over the last year and a half, probably from too much commuting, too much sitting, not enough walking, and general discontent. As a result, my jeans are all fitting tighter than they should, pulling into a noticeable, uncomfortable line across my thighs. So this fall and winter I've resorted to wearing primarily leggings and tunics, which feel like I'm somehow cheating and wearing pajamas to work, though acceptable because it's a school with a casual dress code.

Most people, if smart, will find a jeans brand or two that fit their body type well and then stick to those brands. For me, the brands that tend to fit have been primarily Lauren by Ralph Lauren and (to a lesser degree) DKNY in bootcut styles that help balance out my curvy thighs, and which I can occasionally find at Goodwill barely used, sometimes even half off.

But lately I've also been wearing Not Your Daughter's Jeans (NYDJ), after buying a slim-fit pair on deep clearance at Nordstom Rack, finding them more comfortable than my DKNY jeans. Of course the average 40-something female is going to have a different shape than the average 16-year-old, but we don't need that rubbed into our faces on top of all the other beginning signs of cultural ageism. (For the record, I didn't have the average 16-year-old body shape even when I was 16.) And of course a percentage of stretch is crucial for making a comfortable pair of jeans, unless you happen to be shaped like a boy.

I had vaguely seen the NYDJ brand before, but the name itself was a big turn-off since I'm not a mother and have no desire to wear mommy-branded comfort clothes. But then I found out these jeans, unlike most, are made in the U.S. And that I can support: quality in renewed local manufacturing over globalized mass manufacturing.

NYDJ tag in shadows

But in case Nordstrom prices are still too high, I also see NYDJ at Goodwill, and, right now as I write, am wearing a black pair of their bootcut jeans that I got half off at Goodwill for seven dollars. That's right: a made-in-the-U.S. pair of premium jeans for the price of a couple cups of cafĂ© coffee. (Though to be honest, they're a size too big, so I'll probably look for a smaller, slimmer pair.) The hardest part about buying thrift-store jeans, however, is finding the right cut, people's castoffs changing according to fickle trends—flare to bootcut to low-rise to skinny to boyfriend. More than following trends designed mainly to sell more clothes, we should be wearing clothes that fit and flatter our individual body shapes, that are made well, and that are made sustainably. And if you can find a brand of jeans that does all that, who cares what stupid name it has?


the island of bed

boat docked at the River Resources Museum, Clackamas River (February 2015)

Though neither sick nor newly in love (which is about the only time this happens), I found myself spending Saturday almost entirely in bed, which felt like being on vacation because it wasn't my bed but my roommate's. (Oh, but it's not what you might think—we're more like siblings.) At times we watched episodes of Top Gear, his favorite show. Other times, we were reading articles and researching various ideas on our laptops, specifically about opening online shops, among other things. We even had a snack lunch and random dinner in bed: homemade guacamole with corn chips, a can of mandarin oranges, a sandwich (him), leftover roasted curried cauliflower (me), peppermint tea (me). My cat came to visit between naps in other rooms. The housemate friend calls her "Squeak" because she doesn't meow properly. She was clearly wondering why I was holed up in his room and not ours.

This Frolic! post about a Portuguese guest house I'd kept open all day in my row of tabs, returning to it between other website tours. The minimalism of its old whitewashed walls, bare wood, green plants, bright light, and humble textiles feeds my soul. This is what "home" looks like to me: simple, natural, textural, and full of warm light.

I've been thinking a lot about geography again lately, place—wondering where mine is. There are the places we're given, chosen for us by parents and ancestors, the sites of our birth and upbringing—and the places we choose. For the most fortunate, those places happen to be the same. For them, their hometown locale meshes inextricably with their personality and values, or else their social network and family roots are so strong that this fundamental is never questioned. My roommate, for example, is lucky in this way; his family and friends are all here, and so will he always be. The rest of us must interrogate the very concept of home. Many Americans transplant themselves regularly from state to state, following jobs or partners, with no real angst. For others, like myself, the question becomes almost torturous. The hapless few might spend their whole lives searching for home or else misreading the signs of where home really was all along. I don't want to be one of those.

This real-estate-TV-show quiz claims I should live in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Charleston, South Carolina; or Portland, Oregon. But the quiz asked no geographical questions, other than proximity to wilderness, which is odd since weather and climate are for many people a Big Deal—and for some, a deal breaker, whether we're talking avoiding shoveling snow or fanning through months of muggy 100-degree days, complete with large insects.

Though I once longed to live in the great cities of the world—New York, London, Paris, Rome—where more and bigger things happen, my true home, I've come to accept, is on the American West Coast—not the East Coast, not the South, and certainly not the Midwest. My concept of home requires towering backdrop mountains, snow-fed crystalline rivers, and sunshine, while my core body temperature craves a Mediterranean climate (maybe because I was born in San Jose during a heat wave). Portland's nine-month gray cloud cover I feel not as a cozy, protective blanket, as some do, but one that could smother. We are mainly what we are used to.

moored boat,  River Resources Museum, Clackamas River (February 2015)

If it were only a matter of climate, I would gladly live in northern California (again), Australia, South Africa, or else in or near the actual Mediterranean: Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Turkey; but I am not from any of those places (other than California, in a sense). Unlike most Americans, I have tried living abroad as an outsider, twice, and for me it is not only socially and culturally isolating but linguistically infuriating to never feel native in conversation, to detour around missing vocabulary like potholes, to use words not as scalpels but hammers. Everyone should have that second-language, fish-out-of-water experience at least once to learn empathy, but it's another thing to live for years like a fish trying to grow legs. Plus, though my people hailed centuries ago from northern Europe, if I ever went "home" to Europe, I would need to sever body parts and scatter them across all the British Isles, Denmark, Switzerland, and Huguenot France. Pick a country, any country. Good luck with that. So America-the-young-and-flawed, it is.

For better or worse, northern California and southern Oregon feel most like home to me. Portland, lovely and appealing in many ways, has been feeling less and less like home, too damp and chill for too many months of the year, despite this odd warmish winter. Sadly, the whole of warm California grows ever more expensive. What to do? I mull over my future from the island of bed, contemplating who I am and what I most want—because no one can have everything at once, and there is no perfect place. But being comfortable in one's skin both within and without—in the intersection of membrane and air and the very ground under one's feet—how's that for a dream?

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