A brisk, overcast Saturday morning in Portland, Oregon. I’ve taken my early morning walk, bundled up in one of the rainbow of down jackets I’ve collected since moving to this often bone-chilling climate. Rocky the cat has been schlepped to the veterinarian for his annual check-up, where, in the “new abnormal,” I waited in the car and conferred with his doctor by phone. Now I’m at my desk with a fresh cup of coffee, considering the distasteful death palette of a small tree just outside my window. Yellow leaves splotched with rusty brown. I long for the Midwest of my youth where fall was a kaleidoscope of golds and crimsons and oranges. As kids, we would rake up hills of fallen leaves, then dive in and roll around in the colorful crackle. The acrid whiff of burn piles lingered in the air until displaced by the scent of coming snow.
Today I smell not fall but fear. The presidential election is just over a week away, and I’m terrified of the outcome, regardless of who wins. I’ll stop there. No need to heap my personal political opinions on the mountain of discourse already burgeoning in social and other media. I look back at the leaves turning outside my window and am ashamed for dismissing them as distasteful. With all its wonders and worts, nature has been my salvation during the months of pandemic hibernation.
I’m ever grateful for the towering Atlas cedar that makes me feel as if I’m in a treehouse when nestled up on our living room couch. And for the pair of Douglas firs that mark out backyard boundary, even though their shade means dwarf vegetables in the garden beds beneath their far-reaching limbs. And for the terrace of plants that cradles our private patio, where some floral delight blooms from early spring through late fall. Handsome hellebores, fragrant lilacs, deep-red peonies, cheery lilies of the valley, hearty hostas, roses of all colors and sizes, purple hydrangea orbs, and other marvels whose names I don’t recall. Even the invasive English ivy that snakes exploratory tendrils into the off-limits yard, knowing the penalty of clipping shears, makes my heart happy. The election will come and go. Its impact on our country and world will linger for months and years to come. Amid the chaos, I’m counting on the natural world for peace of mind.