From 32,000 feet, Montana arcs across the globe in waves and folds. Each range like a spiny lizard’s tail, row after row tapering down into snow-quilted valleys. I make a game of the view, guessing whether frozen lakes lie beneath the snow’s pattern between the alpine ridges, or whether dead-winter pastures of browned grasses and seed husks are what is actually buried below.
Moments later, we cross over Idaho and the Bitterroot Mountains. I wave to John Rember, Pete Fromm, and a few others who are also making their way to the Oregon coast for the writing residency. I send a farewell kiss to the backcountry lakeside campsite I pitched at for a week a few years back; wave to my former lover, remembering how we forgot to pack our dinners and ate grits and peanut butter instead of hiking back out.
Before noon, Pacific time, I’ve landed at Portland International Airport and the rain drizzles out of the sky – as if it could be any other way. At the crosswalk in the parking terminal, I feel it: the evergreen breath of moist air across my forearms, the tickling wind that’s barreled far down the Columbia River Valley, the memory of childhood like a blanket across my face. Like pastures and lakes below the snow, what lies beneath in this old city of mine is anybody’s guess; a story in the making – a story I’m making through this writing life.
Clearing the overpasses, I look for it. Crossing the Markham Bridge I look again. No sign of Mt. Hood on this overcast day. But onward, through the city: there is the Rose Building, the Black Box, the dock for the Dragon Boats, then OHSU and Pill Hill and oh, yeah – Waterfront Park and the Esplinade and Coffee People Coffee and more and more.
At a friend’s house, I snap a photo] of a sword fern tucked under the limbs of a fat blue spruce. Florescent shades of heather grey across the spectrum to a wintermint green form the tips and needles of this tree. Beneath it, the sword fern is mighty, with bundles of fronds at least three feet high. The wind blows and rustles the spruce tree, which bends and sways. I look up and feel off-kilter staring at the top of the tree. My heart bends a little too, closer to the ground, closer to settled, closer to home.