You return to me in these places I journey.
Solo explorations beneath canopies of cottonwood and maple.
I hesitate to admire the trillium only today peeking out from the soil and hear your voice telling granddaughters about these white short-lived beauties that wake in those first moments of spring.
The brilliant yellow flowers from skunk cabbage flag me to slow down and breathe in its musky fragrance. I am reminded of the friend who walked this trail with me, she who left too soon.
I slow my step, breathe in and feel my body firmly on this ground.
Though you too are gone, memories of us in this shared place saturate my soul, flooding my beating heart and aching muscles as I unconsciously sift through the joys and fears now left to me alone.
It is not only you I am reminded of in these adored places, yet your recent death is closest to me in the spirits I feel.
My Childhood Place returns to me in waves.
The woods, steeped with Douglas fir, vine maples, blackberry brambles and trillium. Limbs lined with bold green moss and silver lichen, beckoning. Trees with trunks and boughs grounding me to earth as I picked ripe red cherries, gripped branches to hide or invited me to climb skyward.
The Willamette River lined with cottonwoods shedding white fibrous floaters in summer and whipping cold rain soaked leaves in the darkest of winter, bobbing in its cool ripples during the summer and peering into its dark rough current in the coldest of January. Smells that filled me, field burning and damp, decomposing maple leaves, spring blooming hyacinth, fishy riverbanks.
I remember the ones who didn’t make it through these times. Place brings them back to me.
Oh what childhood place travels in your memories, returning you to those from your past?
I found my Growing into Adult Place in a different place, the mountains of western Montana, where my wilder spirit rekindled and escaped.
I protested on Mother’s Day and worried about nuclear winter and built a snow man of then Interior Secretary high in the Mission Mountains, knocking it over as I swore and grieved over the threats to our wild lands and met new friends and lovers and mentors. Many who too have left this Place.
I learned to look at trees differently to visualize xylem moving water from roots and phloem moving food, all because of the miracle of photosynthesis, and I moved into adulthood sleeping overnight in snowbanks adjacent to frozen alpine lakes and exploring rivers on hot, sunny afternoons.
As I revisit this Place today, I rediscover my true older self, the one I build on as if a tapestry of multilayers, now that I have reached sixty.
This Place also whispers to me from my grandmother’s girlhood on a farm and a grandfather’s love of nature and my adventurist mom who breathlessly admired each peak and stream.
And the loss of my own innocence.
As I hike these mountains and walk river banks, memories of these loved ones journey with me.
Yet most nostalgic to me is this Willamette Valley, even in all that it has become.
This is the Place where even now for me, as I kayak the Willamette River, I glimpse Dad boating ahead of me in its ripples and Mom’s spirit radiating with each step I take on any trail, knowing her anticipation of what glorious crag or summit lies ahead at the next trail turn.
This Place too holds a cemetery with the remains of great great-ancestors where the power of presence surprises me, bursting azaleas or the bare branches of winter surround me and the gleaming Willamette catches my eye. I close my eyes and feel a nearness to these people, some I never knew.
This shared place that they too once admired, as I do now.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley is the Place my children grew into this world and holds snowfalls of yesterday and fires and smoke of tomorrow.
All of the good and the bad and the happy and sad memories spill over and overwhelm me in the great fortune and love I have in this life, even with today’s mammoth shadows.
These Places are where spirits return to me. No matter our beliefs, is it not impossible to feel those we love in these special Places we once shared?
The past melds into the present and the future.
I close my eyes and Place becomes the thrill of climbing onto a knotted rope swing hanging from a tall maple as I recline my head backwards and feel the breeze tickle my scalp and ruffle my hair; my legs stretched out as far as I can reach as I smell the newly burst cottonwood and fishy riverbank.
Place contains sadness in missing who came before and left too early.
Place is the worries of tomorrow as our temperatures soar and we worry about fires charring our forests and yards and homes.
Place is all of it: no definition bold or grand enough.
My Places different than yours, but no more or less important. As we move from grief to gratitude, we too better understand our stories of Place: who we shared them with, what we learned. As I learn your stories, I too understand your Places: the good and bad and happy and sad and hopes and dreams that uniquely tell each of our stories.
Note: I have been holding this piece, rejected from a recent publication. Yet, on this mournful 4th, it feels the right time to post here.