a seasonal retrospective

For as long as I can remember, September has been a time of change. Leaves changing brilliant colors, their veins bleeding red, orange, and yellow. Air cooling, pencils being sharpened, morning bike rides necessitating that extra layer at last. This seasonal change has usually been one that I relish, something that most people experience at the beginning of summer, where an overwhelming anticipation fills one’s body. My body craves that crisp air, that smell of crunchy leaves falling off trees that dance in the wind. I remember being filled with such great joy my last fall in Seattle during college. The air was crisp and cool and the trees that lined Jefferson Street near the base of Campion Hall were so gorgeous as I walked by them every day. I remember a very distinct moment when I walked by these trees one day. The feeling of change was strong in the air, since I was deciding where to move in a few months, but I knew that I couldn’t be away from the Northwest for long, if I did leave.

fall in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, January 2011

I was overjoyed to be in Portland last fall. The year before, I had spent fall-time in San Francisco, CA and remember photographing fire-colored trees all the way in January. The next month, it was 80 degrees on my birthday. Needless to say, I have breathed in the change in Portland’s seasons this year. The cyclical nature of season to season seems to go by so fast. With the gradual temperature and easing in to each season, it is hard to know that you’re in a new phase until it’s on its way out! In the last year, I have written about fall, early winter, and spring. As well as a seasonal reflection in general. It’s interesting to me that I didn’t write about summer this year. Maybe it’s because summer, to me, isn’t as much of a dramatic seasonal shift. And change, it is exhilarating, fodder for good writing.

Last spring, I remember venturing out on the first real warm day in March. It was just days after Portland had been hit by an unexpected snowstorm on March 1st. It was a lazy Sunday morning, and the sun came through the windows weak but filled with hope for warmer and drier days. We started our journey on bikes at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Everyone in Portland seemed to be out, as is the case on these first dry days after months of rain and cold. I remember this to be the case in Seattle as well. On the first few sunny days of Spring, Seattleites seemed to emerge from everywhere and students at my school would suddenly be all over campus, covering the green lawns with their bodies. Where did all these people come from!? In the Northwest, we tend to forget that we live in a city during the winter. Everyone retreats.

Elizabeth Caruthers Park, South Waterfront Portland. Photo credit: Lango Hansen, the architecture firm who designed the park

But on this grand day out on the first day of Spring in Portland, the Waterfront path was packed. Families were everywhere, dusting off their children’s bikes that had been left in garages for months, the weather finally good enough for their first use of the year. We made our way South, away from the throngs on the Esplanade, choosing, instead to bike through the South Waterfront Neighborhood. During last Fall and Winter, I enjoyed getting to know this new Portland neighborhood. I had been a Teaching Assistant at the Southwest Charter School, which was located at the far South end of the neighborhood, accessible from the Westbank Esplanade by a new and tightly planned set of bike lanes and paths that led under the freeway and down SW Moody Avenue. The neighborhood is  home to a new highrise Oregon Health Sciences University building, a sprawling open park, a retirement community, and many tall, glass apartment buildings, a lot of the rooms still empty. Though it’s the new ultra-urban neighborhood, and further removed from the city than the Pearl District, it’s an opportunity of change for Portland. Eco roofs on all the buildings! Interconnected bike paths! An aerial tram leading up to the hills! A new freeway overpass! A transit, bike, and pedestrian bridge in the works! The river, right there, a hub of ecol0gical excitement that Portlanders can witness from their front windows.

As we rode, Sam and I shared childhood memories of biking these very paths. My family would always stop for an ice-cream cone at the Little River Cafe, a reward for biking down the Esplanade. We also lived in the Residence Inn for three months when our house was recovering from a fire, which I pointed out as we biked by. Sam’s family would bike South along the Willamette River trail, often stopping to comment on the restaurant Who Song & Larry’s which has since burned down. As we made our way down the Willamette River trail, bumping our way along a path broken and rolling due to stubborn tree roots, I admired the golden winter light, illuminating the open water of the River directly off the trail, lined by bare trees not warm enough, yet, to get their leaves. The trail South of downtown was quieter, but we were always accompanied by the honks and squawks of Cormorants, Gulls, and Geese. Just South of Willamette Park, the trail narrowed, emptying out onto a small street reminiscent of Fairview Avenue in Seattle which lines Lake Union and its hidden house boats. We got off our bikes to walk along this small street overhung by trees yet leafed and soon enough we found ourselves on the Sellwood Bridge. We ended the day with a pint and some Irish tunes at the Muddy Rudder in Sellwood and enjoyed yet another sunset ride on the Springwater, the water reflecting the sun setting behind the buildings downtown, a perfect reflection of black and color.

the beginnings of fall here in Portland on Ankeny Street

Last night, I biked home along the Westbank Esplanade from the South Waterfront. The sun was setting, turning the River pink and orange. The air was just beginning to cool off, licking my arms with soft comfortable breezes. I was accompanied by other bikers and late evening commuters, slowly making their way along the path. I tried to pedal as slowly as a could, to drink in the beautiful sights around me. Bridges gleaming in the light of the setting sun, the River front always expansive and majestic as the center for the city, its dividing line. I could tell that Portland is getting ready for fall. But our 85 degree days this week tell me that we still have a few weeks to go. But this morning, on my ride down Ankeny Street, the local bike boulevard, I noticed a bit of a change. The trees had a certain yellow twinge to them, and in the cool morning air with the bright sunlight illuminating the trees, it did truly feel like fall.

The change in seasons has gotten me excited about adventuring. I am, once again, on the school schedule, starting a new job at an elementary school as a Teaching Assistant. In the first couple weeks, I have been bombarding by learning new things, my body situating to new schedules and routines, and our class has already embarked on new adventures. Next week we head out on a four day excursion to the Oregon Coast to bond as a class and enjoy the natural beauty that we’ll surely find there. Fall is time for adventure in my book. Weekend excursions, fall harvest bounty, and breathtaking color changes. I am grateful that the school schedule is oriented around the seasons because I am always reminded, with each change of the schedule, that our planet is constantly changing as well, responding to light expanding and retracting, turning and orbiting, striving for equilibrium and balance.


9 thoughts on “a seasonal retrospective

  1. Lovely descriptions of the seasons, Katie! Made me feel like I was biking alongside you. I hope you enjoy the trip to the oregon coast..!

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