Rose City, Rip City, Bridgetown, Stumptown, Etc….

the colors of autumn

Spencer here: Mission accomplished–I think–we landed in Portland anyway.  Billy promptly went to work Monday morning, getting his old job back, and I inquired about some of my old jobs. Perhaps it was the Universe saving me from immediate burn-out, but several of my previous employers had just hired people a few days before we got back into town. So I started in earnest to find another job. In the meantime, there was plenty to do at our friends’ house. We had several fun offers from lovely friends to stay for awhile on couches, backyards, in army tents and in basements, but settled quickly at my best friend and her partner’s place. They bought a new house (new to them) and I am just the “houseboy” for the odd jobs needed doing, such as building a barn out of a car port, fixing fences, feeding cats, walking dogs, and wearing short shorts in the hot tub. Billy and I started work right away on the “stage house” in their backyard. The house is part porch, part stage, but soon it will be our our little “cabana house”. Working with salvaged materials is one of my favorite things and so it was a quick decision to turn the “stage house” into a livable little room for Billy and I. (Portland’s sky-rocketing rent also had a lot to do with this decision). We put on a new roof right away before the rain threatened and currently we are putting in windows and a “Dutch” door. It is a lot of work, but ultimately will give everyone a little more space and will be a cute and cheap way to live for awhile. Thanks friends for all your love and support and opportunities for us.

Work on the “car port conversion” was also high on the list of priorities. We framed the steel beams with wood and started putting up ship lap siding salvaged from an old barn. In a week we had one side done. Next, I framed in the window and door, more trips to salvage windows, trips to Home Depot and the ReBuilding Center. I got skillz that almost pay the billz (or at least work them off!) (The following pictures were taken by our official “Team Car Port” photographer, E.F.P.).

While our landing in Portland has been reasonably soft–open and generous friends and family, a place to live, jobs and great weather, I couldn’t help but to feel a little winded and depressed. It was a long journey across the country, yet it seemed to fly by. And Portland continues to develop and change rapidly every day, whilst everyone complains and big businesses make lots of money building condos and boutiques and bars. Walking down Alberta Street, I could hardly remember where my favorite burrito place was.  (But thankfully, it is still there!) It felt like a long time ago since I lived on NE 19th, and it was.  In 2002, I moved to Portland from Michigan and hidden around every corner here is a memory. Neither good or bad, I just remember the feelings I had being here and the busy pace that is out of my league. It also seems ages since we left here, but we were only in New Mexico for two years. I think the city hasn’t changed so much as I have changed. I’m slowly grasping the things I learned and the gifts I received being in a small, rural community in New Mexico and I get why Billy has talked it up all these years. Coming back to a city really has reflected all this to me in an important way and I long even more for the day when Billy and I can work hard on our own land and property, in a rural place.

For now, Portland has a lot to offer for both of us and I’m starting to feel better about being here again.  Setting good goals and not losing sight of them while we are here, and not taking things too seriously, I think we can make the best of it–do all the things we always wanted to do here but were too distracted to take advantage of. Besides, I missed our friends, the art, the music, the rivers, the trees, the funny people, the great public transportation, the amazing library system and yes, the rain too! (But now I miss waking up to birds and sunshine on 30 acres!)

Billy Here. There are new songs in the city: the number 6 bus swells with a machine string orchestra led by an orange gypsy melody on the violin and the shower lets out a diva metallic tone through the pipes, while the drain ooh-la-las a chorus up from below. Yesterday I watched a spider diligently weaving its web on the bus stop at dawn, stopping before placing each segment carefully on the strands. Every night the people mingle on the street in our neighborhood to watch the swifts spiral into a chimney at dusk on their way down south. Goats silently munch lawns in the yards. Roosters crow in the back yards. Sirens ring through the air, with the hydraulics of buses, bass lines from cars, mopeds, sports games at the city park, skids at the intersections, and airplanes taking off at the international airport less than five miles from our house.

Things are different here than when I left, but the development is no surprise, in myself or the in city.  There are things I miss, to be sure, such as my wonderful friends and family. The library is celebrating its 150 year anniversary and regaining my library card was my primary impetus to get my Oregon identification back. I finally joined the Independent Press Resource Center and plan on taking advantage of their workshops before I start school next fall. But there is still this feeling of dangerous lull that is simultaneously the tyranny of speed, a complacency with being too busy to be present that comes with the urban culture. This is everywhere though, even in rural New Mexico, perhaps due to the desire for people to make social change happen at a rapid pace and the sheer amount of labor it takes to survive in a rural environment. But it takes effort to center and slow down, to make intentions and focus enough to follow through with these intentions. We had a wonderful Autumn Equinox dinner party with my sister and her girlfriend, during which we passed around a drinking horn filled with chocolate porter and spoke of gratitude and intentions: to be present, to be gentle with ourselves, to give ourselves space to be creative, to spend more time in the forest and near the rivers and to appreciate what we have now. I find myself longing for the solitude of the wild, but where am I now, and what choices have I made to be here? Why curse myself with wanting to be other than where I am, somewhere other than present in my life?

The lessons we learn from the wild become the etiquette of freedom. We can enjoy our humanity with its flashy brains and sexual buzz, its social cravings and stubborn tantrums, and take ourselves as no more and no less than other being in the Big Watershed. We can accept each other all as barefoot equals sleeping on the ground. We can give up hoping to be eternal and quit fighting dirt. We can chase off mosquitoes and fence out varmints without hating them. No expectations, alert and sufficient, grateful and careful, generous and direct. A calm and clarity attend us in the moment we are wiping the grease off our hands between tasks and glancing up at the passing clouds.


-Gary Snyder, from The Practice of the Wild

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