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It’s been a while, a long while.

It’s been just about nine months since I last wrote. There’s been the early sunlight of summer, the eager nightfall of autumn, and the monotonous wetness—the homogenous grayness—of winter in Portland. In no way will I try to generalize my experiences over the seasons, but I’d like to provide some glimpses of what it’s been like.

*NOTE: As an effect of the vagueness of this post, and the fact that I just finished a ten week course at Ooligan called Grammar for Writers (check out the anthology of our work: Flash Grammar!!), in which I spent much of my time writing about my experiences in Portland, the nature of this entry is going to be more creative writing based then usual. If you are frightened by poems, unpunctuated, or creative pieces in general, you should probably look away now. I promise my next post won’t be so, well, literary(?).

It was early November, and as the darkness of fall set in heavy, I wrote this poem as I walked home over the Hawthorne bridge from class:

It’s November in Portland and the sidewalks are flaming,
the leaves fallen embers from their branches freezing
and the windows are sealed with our breaths.
The month morning never lifts night falls fast and heavy
blinding us senseless,
timeless,
lost in black
our toes curl cold and naked
at the crease of our sheets
the furnace rattles, the heat creeps and squeezes
till we stomp through the dark dawn dew.
Frost at six-thirty.
Light at eight.
Another late arrival.

A week later I was lucky enough to attend Christine’s (the author of Food is Food is Food, Right?) brother’s wedding in….Maui!! Let’s just say everything there stood in exact contrast to everything in Portland. Everything. It wasn’t better, (Don’t you get offended you prideful Pacific Northwesterners! I love you.) just different. Here’s one of the pieces (focused on using repetition) featured in Flash Grammar that I wrote about the island fever I returned home with. Don’t tell TSA, but I’d have liked to strangle the pilot when, after a six hour flight away from paradise, he announced, “Alright folks, we’re close to our destination: Portland, Oregon. Clouds and rain. Thirty-eight degrees. Enjoy!”

I am a Fish

“You’re gonna get the fever. They always do,” he’d said.

They come over here with their sunscreen and their tank tops and their romance novels. They rent their snorkels and their boogie boards and their hatchbacks with rainbowed license plates and they swim-swim-swim, surf-surf-surf, drive-drive-drive. They eat the fruit. They drink the sun. They steep in island pace and they burn. They kiss the sugar-cane hills and the rainstorms and the reef waves and the apple-bananas and the color in everything and the idea of this place and then they never leave.

They get on their planes, back to Chicago or Sacramento or Milwaukee or Portland. They go home to their purple mountains or their rolling plains or their miserable sidewalks. They sit in their offices or their classes or their perfect houses with their paperwork or their books or their dust bunnies and they don’t breathe. They drown. They gulp and flop around on the mainland while their souls float on the current they know they never should have left, in the sands they know they can never live without, above the rainforest they know they’ll never leave again.

“You’re gonna get it,” he’d said. “It happened to me.”

Winter pressed on. School and work continued, and somehow I made it through the quarter with little harm, save for knotted shoulders and the looming sense of invisible responsibility (which I have since recovered from over spring break; today’s the last day, in case you’re wondering). Though, sometimes as I’d walk over the bridge in the mid-January storm season, wearing a semi-permeable raincoat (unfortunately), I’d wonder how easy it’d be to accidentally get blown over the hand rail into the Willamette. Storm by storm, my paranoia increased, and bicyclists would yell at me as my path began to drift against the wind towards the middle of the sidewalk. I got a pair of new suede boots for Christmas, and I didn’t want to ruin them with an icy swim in the river, for godsakes. I know it’s silly, but that’s where this came from. No punctuation. Just rhythm (it’s easier if you read it aloud).

i stepped out of the office and into the street where the wind blew and blew like there wasn’t anything the world could possibly make of itself but the cold hard air that persuaded me to walk i looked down at my new boots and thought a good breaking in would do and the night would only be chaos for so long and i wanted to be a part of it so i put one foot in front of the other towards the river and through the sidewalk puddles in the direction of home i had reached hawthorne bridge when the wind was roaring and the synthetic hood of my raincoat pressed against my face like a plastic bag on a light pole i walked listening to the rhythm of my feet swinging my arms to the beat of my pace the loose ends of my hair whipped and flapped as the intensity of everything peaked with diagonal rain and i turned to stand still above the center of the wide willamette the rain stung my face my eyelids clenched tight and without my vision i felt the danger and thrill of the height the slapping ropes on the flag pole beneath the stars and stripes the vibration and rumble as traffic passed cars buses bikes they all watched me standing they all watched the weather beating they all watched me disappear over the ledge the suede of my boots hasn’t been the same since

So, finally, here we sit, all caught up to the present for the most part. I have ten more weeks of grad school, two-and-a-half weeks to finish my portfolio, and four weeks to move (yes, again). Spring is here despite its camouflage of wind and rain. Things are good.

Of Portland

The wind, the rain, the summers bright,
the chill, and trees, make souls alight
in nights so clear, the moon about,
the fires burn, turn insides out.

The beer, the bread, the coffee roasts;
the pubs spill out in streets for toasts.
The Timbers win and fill the seats,
a town of vegans/love of meats.

A land of rivers, long and wide,
seven bridges cross to stride
the stretch, a stream, a city road;
the water bares a lighter load.

Mt. Hood sits watching, distance deep,
her presence constant, morning creeps
over her shoulder, bounds and skips;
the sun, it shines like upturned lips.

And with the dawn, the wheels turn ‘round,
the cars, the bikes, they tread the ground
from corner homes and garden lands
to shining glass and skyscraped hands.

The sidewalks swell with coats and caps,
their owners walk their mental maps
of gridded streets, of stairs, of steps;
they end up in the downtown depths.

And as they teach, or cook, or build,
the skies turn, tumble, torrents wield,
the pavements shift from light to bold,
from dry to drenched, the change is told.

The petals spread and faces turn,
for gaps in showers, clouds to burn,
but puddles bloom with windstorms born;
we wait for spring, our patience worn.

But with the sky tears, walking home,
the gray light guides us all alone,
to low lit secrets, darkened rooms
warmed by wax, the city’s wombs.

We run from weather, deep inside,
the walls surround, our souls are dried,
and here we’re healed, no longer scarred;
our faces face, our eyes, they’re starred,

with alcohol, our hopes and dreams,
all’s closer in this light, it seems.
And so we laugh, and share, and stand
the night away, without demand,

while weather holds her stubborn state,
her teardrops fall a steady rate
and ping and tap the roof about,
the fires burn, turn insides out.

Thanks for reading! You’ll hear from me soon.

We be jammin’— strawberry jammin’.

(Okay, okay, I know it’s like a week late. My apologies.)

If you read this, then you know I recently spent a day picking the sweetest, reddest strawberries I’ve ever seen or eaten. Oh, and I ate plenty of them—in fact, as we were carrying our flat box, dense with berries, back to the farm-stand to be weighed, a very subtle feeling, something like silly, childish guilt started rising from the pit of my stomach. I looked at Ian and asked, “Is my mouth red?” (because my fingertips and pant-legs were and I didn’t want the nice farm lady to see any incriminating “berry-sampling” evidence smeared all over my face.) He laughed, asked me the same question, and stuck out his tongue just to make sure it wasn’t too berry stained. We were clean enough, I suppose; she didn’t say a word, except to commend us on our picking yield.

In the car on the way home, I held the box in my lap and snuck berries into my mouth when Ian was distracted with the road. I developed a system: Grab an outer-lying berry with the very tips of my fingers. Make a remark to contribute to conversation. Look out the window. Lean my head on the hand holding the berry. Pretend to be interested in something outside while chewing. Enjoy the sweetness. I was shameless. I managed to eat 3 or 4 before I was caught and forced to choose one last one (as a compromise), and put the remaining jewels on the backseat, out of reach.

“Kristin, they’re for the jam. A little self-control,” he pleaded.

Okay. Okay, fine.

But resisting was worth it. Here’s why:

STRAWBERRY JAM

ingredients

  • 8 pounds fresh strawberries
  • 3 cups sugar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 7-8 green strawberries (for extra pectin)

directions

  1. Put a small plate in the freezer for set-test.
  2. In a large stainless steel or enamel pot, coarsely mash the fresh and green strawberries using a potato-masher. The strawberries will break down naturally while cooking, so don’t stress about mashing them to death.
  3. Over medium heat while stirring frequently, sweat strawberries. Once they’ve broken down a bit, turn the heat up to high and boil for 3 minutes and continue stirring.
  4. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the lemon juice. Continue to simmer for 3 minutes.
  5. Add the sugar and turn the heat up to high and stir constantly until all sugar is dissolved into the berries.
  6. Return to simmer and cook until it’s desirably set. Be careful not to overcook it. When you think it’s set firm enough, test it by spooning a small amount onto the frozen plate. When the jam is cool, you’ll be able to tell how much it has gelled.
  7. Can it up!

* This recipe is for a soft-set jam—it’s not cooked as long as other jam recipes because it doesn’t need to be. It’s meant to show off how fresh the berries are, not taste like burnt fruit leather. If you like a stiffer jam, use any low-sugar pectin according to the directions on the box.

STRAWBERRY CONSERVE

ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh strawberries
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeded
  • 1 lemon peel

directions

  1. In a large pot, add the sugar, the vanilla bean and seeds, and the lemon peel to the strawberries. Let stand for 2 hours, tossing every 1/2 hour or so, to help flavors meld together.
  2. Discard the vanilla bean and the lemon peel and bring the strawberries to a boil, and then immediately reduce to a simmer for 3 minutes.
  3. Remove berries from pot with a slotted spoon, and place them in a colander over a bowl. Reduce the syrup left in the pot by half.
  4. Return berries to simmering syrup for 3 minutes.
  5. Can it up!

* Best when served over vanilla ice-cream or cheesecake! Yes, cheesecake.

School’s Out

ITS TIME FOR FRENCH TOAST EATING, BRIDGE DRIVING, and STRAWBERRY PICKING (all in one day!)

Finals are finished, my portfolio’s turned-in, and school’s out for summer. Soooo…we celebrated on a random Thursday with french toast + maple syrup + fresh nectarines for breakfast! It was a great start of a very busy day: french toast as fuel for field-working. The sun was shining (sort of), the weather was mild, and we knew the first Oregon strawberries of the season were ripe for the pickin’ at Sauvie Island.

This little island, situated between the Columbia River, Willamette River, and Multnomah Channel, is a microcosm of local agriculture. U-pick farms of varying berries, produce, and flowers speckle the island during the summertime, and pumpkin patches and corn-mazes attract families in the fall. It’s a little north of the city, and accessible by one, sole bridge. Soooo…we started bridge driving.

First we crossed this one, the Fremont Bridge. Finished in 1973, this is one of the most popular “post-card” bridges in Portland. I’m always excited to drive over it because the curve of the Willamette hinders it from the view of the more inner-city bridges, and it’s mostly used by highway commuters, not inner-city river-hoppers like me.

Then, we crossed  over this one, the St. John’s Bridge (1931!!). This bridge-trip was completely unnecessary to our journey to Sauvie Island, but it’s the most beautiful bridge in Portland, and we were driving right by it and we just wanted to drive over it. So that’s what we did. We drove over it, and then we drove back over it to return to our course. And, it was worth it.

And, last but not least, we drove over the Sauvie Island bridge (this new one is only 3 or 4 years old). I could almost smell the strawberries.

We made our way along Sauvie Island Road, until we came upon Columbia Farms and their magnificent $1.35/lb U-pick strawberries. The rows of Hood (a super sweet very red berry), Honeoye (a more floral-fragrant berry), and Puget (extra juicy!) varietals were marked by red, yellow, and blue flags. Flat boxes and baskets were conveniently available for a buck or two, so we grabbed a whole flat and booked it out to the strawberry patch. Lucky for us, an elementary class had just made their way back to the bus, and the field was quiet.

How to pick strawberries:

Step 1— Walk out to the patch through a meadow of mesmerizing red clovers.


Step 2— Locate strawberry plants.

Step 3—Sample berries and pick the good ones!

Step 4— Sample more berries and keep picking.

We picked until our flat was full, and then paid a whole $12.00 for about 10 pounds of berries. What a deal! And the tiny bit of extra hardwork didn’t even feel like work…I’ll never buy strawberries at the grocery-store again! (well, unless there’s some kind of emergency).

Stay-tuned in tomorrow for Ian’s strawberry jam and conserve recipes!

I still can’t believe I live in this beautiful place. Here are a couple more sights from our berry picking day that made me think “Holy smokes, do I really live here?!”

U-pick Peonies at Kruger's Farm, Sauvie Island

The Story of a Garden (from an amateur green-thumb)

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It was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s symbolic depiction of hidden life in The Secret Garden that first intrigued my sense of wonder in nature—or, more precisely, my understanding of my role as a part of nature. I appreciated the outdoors before I devoured this book as a fifth grader, but it wasn’t until Mary and I discovered the living green within the locked garden walls that I started creating my own imaginary havens.

I made secret hiding places under the hanging bows of the apple trees in the small orchard behind my house; the wooden fences, the smell of the fallen plums, the tall dry grass, the limbs weighted with fruit—I would sit there, sticky with peach juice, proud of my leafy lair, certain that this was the place I could go if I wanted to be lost (though now I’m sure my dad always knew about my nest). In the early springtime when the pasture hadn’t been mowed and the grasses were still green and waist-high, Hatch, the old black lab, and I would venture together into the unknown and lay down in the middle of the field; save for the parted grasses that marked our trail, we were invisible. With one ear to the ground, I swore to myself I could hear the ants working and the ladybugs landing, and thanks to the warnings of my parents, I’d imagine the snakes and spiders in the dense grasses around me that were as invisible as I was.

My dad kept a vegetable garden and did his best to maintain our wily orchard and my mom always planted flowers in the beds around our house. I perceived the life and growth of these things as some kind of magic that I was lucky to witness, and it wasn’t until the last couple of summers that I’ve learned what it means to be a gardener. By no means am I a green-thumb— I’ve been known to smash new seedlings with the garden hose and water my house plants to death (or forget to water them at all, for that matter), but this spring I’ve been learning.

While I was trying not to drive myself crazy in my Publishing Software class, Ian was reading this: Ten Speed Press’s (of course!) How to Grow More Vegetables, by John Jeavons. Jeavons is the director of Ecology Action, and a leader in the Biointensive method of sustainable gardening, so naturally, he quickly became one of Ian’s heroes…and visions of a  gigantic, anything-a-human-can-possibly-eat, every-vegetable-under-the-sun, oh-and-don’t-forget-Kristin’s-flowers, dream garden quickly began to dominate Ian’s existence and cognition.

So we sat down. I drew a grid in my sketchbook with dates that began at the last frost and rotated with appropriate regard to the lunar cycle (who knew that the moon’s gravitational pull, if utilized, can encourage stronger root development!?). He found the perfect seed company: “v”  is for Victory Seeds. I wrote down the list. And before we knew it, 42 packets of a gazillion seeds arrived at our door: tomatoes, broccoli, brussell sprouts, onions, beans, peas, potatoes, strawberries, popcorn, melons, herbs, flowers, squash, cucumbers, peppers, radishes, carrots (all with their own number of varieties)…the list goes on and on. Actually, I dare you to name something that isn’t going to be grown (hopefully) in my backyard this summer.

This was Ian’s first time planning a garden this size with so many varieties with so many of their own needs, and it was no easy feat. So, we color coded. The List (see left) details the planting, transplanting, direct sow, and rotation dates of all of our crop. It was a slow process. It involved an eraser. I hate coloring in boxes. And that’s what I did. For multiple hours. Through dictation. But it’s finished now, in all of it’s detailed glory.

And…we have been using it “as more of a guide” because Mother Nature does NOT care about color-coding! Who knew!?

Once the preliminary planning and mapping of the  physical layout of the garden was complete, it was time to start our seeds. I walked home from Cellar Door one day to find Ian, Bruce, and Joe taking apart a gigantic purple door that Ian had found leaning against a light pole or something. He couldn’t carry it, so he rolled it home on his skateboard.

“What is that?” I asked.

“It’s our planter boxes,” he said, as if it made total sense.

Bruce and Joe both helped immensely with the “controlled” demolition.

When Ian finished building the boxes, despite limited tools and rainy weather, the living room planting session commenced.

And then came the waiting game. It’s the hardest part for me, especially as a more active part of the process. It seems like as a child, I wouldn’t notice the plums until they were ripe, but now I can’t stand the anticipation of seeing that first leaf; I have to know that the seed I planted is living and growing, or it drives me nuts! But, before long, the seeds were sprouting in the pantry…

and in the bedroom…

and in the cold frames…

I tried to help Ian double-dig and weed the garden beds, but honestly, he did most of the hard work. Somehow, the area that once housed and fed eight chickens has evolved into garden grounds with serious potential. It’s late spring, the sun is finally more present than not, and all those plants need from us now is water. It’s a good feeling.

Today was a beautiful day, and the garden was beautiful too. In the spirit of sharing, I’d like to share these with you:

the garden beds

peas!

fava beans, strawberries, and peas

the strawberry patch...with blossoms already!

radishes, carrots, and lettuce

red,red radishes

Someday this will be Eden, but until then, I’ll be holding my breath, anxious for my sweet-peas to open their first blossoms. I can only wait.

My Life in a Photograph

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I spy, with my little eye, sunflower sprouts, Tig (the snail), Dagny (the beta), a copy of The Portland Red Guide (my name’s inside it!), a Por Que No? (the best taqueria in town) taco punch card, a silly 50s matchbook endorsing the lucrative field of electrical work (that I’ve been meaning to send to you, Dad), a key to Cellar Door, a sheet of empty thumbnail squares which I’m supposed to fill before Book Design and Production class on Monday, a Freedom Socialist Party flyer from the May Day March and Red Guide release date, my trusty 6 year-old (vintage) Mac PowerBook, a white, round eraser that reads “shit.” (hey, I’m almost a professional editor, remember), three half-used sticks of Burt’s Beeswax chapstick, the most recent (and so far the best) issue of Pathos Literary Magazine out of PSU, three graded designed interior excerpts of Markham’s Man with a Hoe and Other Poems, the first and only pencil sharpener to ever share a college dorm room with me, The Copyeditor’s Handbook, a red button asking, “Is your bookstore breeding radicals?,” a black button declaring, “Be well Red” (these buttons are the product of many budget pitches and slogan votes, I fought hard for them, and won), a page with Ian’s scrawled coffee roasting times and temps, The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., a birthday card I meant to send on March 30th (sorry again, Dad), a gray binder filled with samples, pictures, and fragments of sentences that I’ve resolved to organize, edit, and set into my grandmother’s life-story, seeds resting in their packets, waiting to be planted, a set of Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils—good for drawing teapots and such—my favorite new tool, a visual notebook planner (never once used for planning, just doodling), The Merriam-Webster Dictionary that I purchased during my rice and bean months (which is why it isn’t the giant collegiate edition), a printer that decided it’s tired of being functional just in time for portfolios, an empty bottle that once held the delicious Bachelor E.S.B. from Deschutes Brewery, a kneadable gray (more polite) eraser and it’s closest enemy: Whiteout, Bluets, by Maggie Nelson (a book that is a severe distraction, but it’s worth it), the exquisitely developed plans of the future Eden in the backyard (it’s a work in progress), and a strange wrinkled Deschutes pub receipt with a phone number, “Dan Connor…Beer Brewing Monday at? scribble scribble…my place” written on the back, a canister full of writing utensils that only work, it seems, when I forget that they don’t.

My life, in a photograph.

Thanks for looking,

Kristin

The Lower Macleay Trail

A PHOTO ESSAY by Ian Wilson

We went to the trail. We got lost in nature. Ian took pictures. Good pictures.
Here are the few he selected to share:












These times are changing.

A great thing happened to me this week: I got laid off. Yep, I lost my job and it’s exactly what I needed. Now I can breathe in the in-between hours. I can write again. I can run again. The animals actually recognize me.

This morning, I made breakfast, my favorite kind of breakfast—a fried egg sandwich, like my dad would make us, with lettuce and cheese, but instead of mayo, I use good mustard on both pieces of the toast—french-pressed some of Ian’s latest roast (the same Bali Kintamani that is, or was, in Lucky’s sauce at Old Soul), sat down on the couch, put my plate on the coffee table, and ate. Slowly. Consciously. Aware of the choiceless exchange of my all too usual at-the-desk-breakfast of office drip (that was consistently crap-tastic) and whatever leftover doughnut I could find by chance in the break-room, for this kind of morning; the green, tapestry-tinted light, the sun squares scattered on the beaten, scratched hardwoods in my apartment, the soft rattle of the ugly gold furnace in the living room, the lingering quietness left behind by the passing night, Bruce drooling over my breakfast onto the futon cover—all of this from my awakened sense of expendable time .

If I’ve learned one lesson from the change I’ve experienced this week, it is that time is a sensory tool. As social as I can be, I am more of an observant, introspective person by nature. I like seeing things, but I’d stopped looking. I like hearing things, but I’d stopped listening. I like feeling things, existing in my moments, but I’d stopped paying attention… all because I haven’t had the time, or at least that’s how I felt. It takes time to think about the world you’re in—you can’t think about the world if you can’t see it, and you can’t see it if you don’t take the time to look.

So, at Cellar Door today, instead of wishing I could’ve slept in for once, I was present there. A customer spilled her cup of coffee into a tray and destroyed the rest of the paper to-go cups sitting on it. Both of the air-pots were empty and every single person in line wanted french-press to-go. Things went wrong, as they do; and we dealt with them, as we do. But not in a hurried frenzy of half-ass communication. Not in a haphazardly coordinated ‘dance of the barista’. Nope.

I focused on the weight of the tamp in my hand, the slight vibration of the steaming pitcher—a result of the swirling milk inside, the soft hum of customer conversations, the next thing to do. Nothing was new, but my focus on the simple tasks at hand (instead of dedicating part of my thought to the zillion other things floating around in my head) made everything feel different, better, more real.

But losing my job isn’t the only change in this life in Portland. My friend and downstairs neighbor, the motherhen of my house, is moving after three years of living here; some of the lawn in the backyard has been replaced with garden beds; Cellar Door just bought an ice-cream machine and is expanding into the second story of the building; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky today.

These times are changing. Thank you, Spring.

Family and friends, please enjoy this cup of love in honor of spring change, and spring rain.

Kristin

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