Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Tiny Travelogue: First Day in Portland, OR

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What strikes me most about this city is the lack of congestion: both people and traffic. I live near Chicago, and I’m used to bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hours and non-rush hours too. I’m used to angry drivers and pedestrians, each swearing and spitting at each other in red-faced rage.

Portland is closer vibe-wise to the Twin Cities. And just like the Twin Cities, faces aren’t so tight. People aren’t millimeters from slamming each other as they pass on the sidewalk. Sure, some white man nearly sat on me — because what? It’s too hard to look where you’re sitting down? I had to rapidly leap over before he sat On Me. But that’s white male privilege, and it operates in all regions, at all hours of the day.

Otherwise, there was no further crushing. No shouting. No screaming. No middle fingers waved at me or anyone else. No one tried to grab my attention — it was all extremely pleasurable.

Even better were the square parks that dotted my walk to the Pearl District. One park cradled a deep belly red brick amphitheater. The other flowed with water falls cleverly constructed out of cement platforms and pylons. Bushes and grasses were green and lush despite the late summer season. I had left a yellowing Midwest behind me to enter a serene verdure.

Life runs on a different frequency here. The waves scamper along the silvery blue Willamette River, twining beneath my hotel window, and then the vibrancy rises and falls further on, towards the evergreen clad mountains and hazy horizon line beyond. I can catch only single notes that make up a blazing chorus my mind cannot fathom yet.

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A Tale of Two Worlds

I walk past a window on my way to get a glass of water and note the snow falling outside.  As I fill my glass at the sink, my thoughts have already turned back to my work on the computer. I’m wrestling with the household budget, when I’ll fit some reading in, how to get on with my writing work, when I’ll exercise, when I’ll catch up with email correspondence and the list goes on and on.

Anytime I stop my work and look up, past the chatter in my mind, the snow catches me off guard as if it’s the first time I’m seeing it. I debate whether I can put off the grocery store to avoid driving in the snow.

This is the world of the everyday. It’s full of a thousand petty cares, some essential to living, others not as much but all in a lump group, tugging us along.

But there are times my mind needs something more refreshing, and it’s time to take a break. And that’s where music comes in—as powerful as Circe creating a circle of magic with her staff. I pick out music without words (or words I don’t understand). Today is Rimsky-Korsakov, tomorrow might be the film Phantom Thread’s soundtrack, or a piece of jazz played by Lucky Thompson.

As Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden starts, the circle opens. I come out of the everyday world and enter somewhere extraordinary, where beauty converges with life and cares and worries exit for a time. And all it takes is a little music, a little snow, and entering the moment that is now.

I watch the snow falling, noting the wind direction as the snow blows southeast and then drops and then exhales again southwards. I note the density of the snow, how it’s light and sparkling and then downy, heavy, and wet.  My thoughts finally still and I turn off the music. A heavy relief passes over my body and mind and I am still, watching the beauty of the world.

The Fog Rises Up and We Come Down to Meet It

This winter has frozen and thawed. And then frozen and thawed once again. With the most recent exhale of cold, fog rises up from the melting ground and wraps my town in a trance.

It softens the ragged tops of trees and transforms the dead yellowed grass into a carpet spreading out into unseen lands.  With foggy foreshortened vision, the world becomes finite and in the smallness, my wonder grows.  Trees become gloomy gods, bushes hunch over like mysterious beings with secrets hidden in twiggy souls. The sky blurs out and the land rises up to meet it and everything is reformed or brought down to its most basic form. It is easy to become lost and confused.

I walk the perimeter of my neighborhood park. We become redone together.  The playground becomes enchanted, strangely unknowable as the slides and swings soften and distort.

The ballpark’s high chain link fence however, becomes more sure.  The metal darkens and braces and holds against the diffused white light.  I stare at it through my camera lens, delighted by its ferocity while everything else around it wavers and melts.

A train passes over the hill and I can see nothing, it has been whitened out, but I can hear the busy clack of the iron wheels running on steel rails.

Geese fly overhead for a minute and then vanish.

I press on and the mist parts as I walk and so we walk together, softened, softening with the night closing in behind our steps.  The night takes everything behind us, rebuilds it like it wishes and then I step into my home and close the door.

Rain falls a few hours later and the fog mounts up, gently pressing at the windows but by morning, it is all gone and only little bits of ice remain on the walkway.