Featuring walks and thoughts as I explore my new home

Tag: neighborhood

Eugene by foot: Walk #5

In the taxonomy of walks, there is a branch composed of the fun and the leisurely, the social stroll. Yet another type bristles with purpose, speed and calorie-burning intent. A third category is a bleaker affair — walks of increasing desperation and despair. What have I gotten myself into?

As winter started to take hold here in Eugene, I decided one Sunday afternoon to finish what I’d started weeks before — the Pretty Ponds tour in my Eugene and Springfield Townscape Walks guide. Little did I know what I was in for.

After goodbyes to Jon and Roxy, both of whom were enmeshed in projects and perfectly happy to stay home, I marched out the door around 3:30. This meant I’d only have a little under two hours before sunset, a fact that barely registered in the lovely, glowing light of the clear afternoon.

One thing I’ve learned since our arrival in August is that the weather in Central Oregon changes constantly throughout the day. Other places say they have such fluctuating elements, but this is a region that truly deserves Mark Twain’s adage “If you don’t like the weather … just wait five minutes!” Even so, when the air is sparkling and the sun strong, it can be hard not to cling firmly to the present, draped with a blanket of denial.

A beautiful day for a walk … for now.

The first time I attempted the Pretty Ponds walk, I meandered south with Roxy toward our neighborhood of the future. This time I began by heading north on the River Path, the quickly flowing Willamette to my left. Leaves flecked the pavement, their fall colors muted after a series of freezing nights and gusty winds. Views to the river and into the neighboring communities had opened up, but the trees still held tight to their heartiest foliage. Moving briskly, I felt happy to be out in the fresh swirl of air. I glanced at my phone — it was 45 degrees.

The light- and leaf-flecked path

The River Path has become a familiar friend in the months since we moved here. Walkers, bikers, runners, skaters and dogs zip by, interspersed with the occasional rollerblader and wandering minstrel (it’s true; one particular individual likes to sit on the Owosso foot bridge on Sundays with an accordion and decorated cart, singing about Jesus and fixing their lipstick). On both sides of the river, you can spot murals under bridges, or on a patch of old fence. And on days when the sun’s out, the regular flow of traffic quadruples. Everyone comes out to celebrate the light — a simple ritual of gratitude.

At the one-mile mark, I noticed the breeze picking up. I rewound my scarf and zipped my jacket higher, increasing my pace.

+++++

A few months into our lives as new residents of Eugene, OR, I ran across an article about the Dutch practice of uitwaaien, or “outblowing.” It turns out that what sounds like a violent bodily function after a robust meal is actually the healthy practice of getting outside in cold weather to exchange one’s old/stuffy/indoor air with fresh/exhilarating/outdoor air. I’m not sure about the science here, but I do know that, enrobed in the right layers, I am completely willing to exercise en plein air.

I’ve since come across a pile of other articles explaining and espousing Scandinavian winter ways. In Norway, there’s friluftsliv – the habit of “open-air living” that translates to all kinds of activity in, and appreciation for, the raw outdoors. The Swedes have their afternoon coffee ritual of fika, but also lagom, or “just the right amount,” a moderation-in-all-things sensibility that leaves room for simple pursuits and time spent in nature. Meanwhile, in Iceland, there’s the practice of venturing out on cabin holidays, or sumarbustaður, to take advantage of the country’s magnificent beauty, while parents believe having blanket-bundled babies nap outside in freezing temperatures is the ticket to a long and healthy life.

Essentially, the message is the same: don’t let the weather stop you. Cold (or, in the case of Oregon, wet and chilly) will happen, so rather than huddling inside until the milder months, put on the right clothes and venture forth.

+++++

By the time I got to the end of the River Path, where Green Acres Road meets Delta Highway, I was feeling the nippy air. I had a long walk ahead of me, and — while I wore a jacket, sweatshirt, mittens and a scarf — I was quickly realizing my uncovered head, ankle socks and insignificant joggers weren’t doing the trick. I decided to stop at a Starbucks across the street to grab a hot drink.

Clutching a steaming flat white, I continued up Delta Highway and made a right into the north Eugene neighborhood of Delta Pines. As the light started to turn golden and fade, I ambled by small houses with carports next door to double-wide trailers with screened-in porches and late season gardens. I noticed a “Choose kindness” sign propped in a window, and then a “We believe: Black lives matter, love is love, …” declaration posted near a mailbox.

Crossing to the other side of the street, I noticed a Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) person-hole cover in the sidewalk. I liked how the spoke-and-hub design echoed a crisp, neat spider web and wondered if it was intentional. (Later, I checked out their website. Their logo, sadly, isn’t a web but three illustrated mountain peaks. I also learned that EWEB is Oregon’s largest customer-owned utility and has been operating for 110 years.)

An EWEB person-hole cover

Rounding a bend, I approached two magnificent trees that had yet to shed their bright fall leaves. Against a sky that was starting to fill with grey clouds, the orangey-red and dusky yellow foliage seemed electrified.

A riot of color

Winding up and around the street, I missed a few turns in the guidebook (I’m not sure the hand-drawn map is completely accurate), but still made it up to Ayers Road and then over to Gilham, two main routes I’d traipsed on previous walks. This was the northeastern-most point of the walk, and my farthest point from home.

It was 41 degrees.

“Time to speed up,” I muttered to myself, memorizing the next few turns before tucking the book under my arm and burrowing my face in my scarf.

I hoofed along, grateful my family hadn’t come (the complaints that the walk was too long and too cold would’ve undoubtedly started) but also suddenly missing their company. I was on my third or fourth podcast by then (my usual solo walk form of entertainment), having learned that I really need to watch The Queen’s Gambit, but could skip the series of cult-related documentaries that had recently been released.

After a C-shaped, side-street detour that brought me back to Gilham, I turned right at the light on to Holly and then left on Norakenzie. This took me up and over Beltline Highway, before sloping down to Linda and a residential neighborhood. The houses here seemed older and more architecturally interesting; one sported some early holiday lights that warmed up the street and made me want to knock on the door and say thank you.

A festive house

Even in the cooling air, there were still a few folks out and about — a pair talking in a driveway, someone walking a dog, and one crazy dude in shorts and a long-sleeved shirt out for a run.

Finally, with the sun mostly set and a deep, rich-blue sky visible behind the massing clouds, I reached an intersection with Goodpasture Island Road. The guidebook said to keep going straight — the route would take me south for a few miles, eventually hitting the section that Roxy and I did weeks before. Were I to turn right, I could simply follow Goodpasture west for 1-2 miles, back over Delta Highway and, ultimately, home.

I peered at my phone. It was 5:45 and 38 degrees.

I turned right.

Run-walking now to keep warm and just get done, I zipped by streets and signs I actually knew from my trips about town in the car. As I headed up a short incline, the houses came to a stop and a patch of woods began. I dashed across the barely lit street before the sidewalk on my side ended and looked up to see a man and two young girls approaching. All three of them wore masks (as did I). As we drew closer, I heard him identifying a plant. “Daddy, wait!” squeaked the younger girl, as they fell in to single file to give me room to pass.

“Thank you,” I said, waving. “Have a great evening!”

“You, too!” they chimed in unison.  

As their chatter quieted behind me, I thought about how few interactions we have these days with people we don’t know. COVID has pulled our worlds in close, adding “danger” to the idea of “stranger” in new and heartbreaking ways. It makes me feel that each crossing of paths, however brief and banal, is an opportunity for significance. I crested the hill and looked down just in time to notice “LOVE” spray-painted in bold yellow letters on the sidewalk. What a warm reminder … right there on the dark road in the cold.

I crossed over Delta Highway and realized I was a block from the Chevron where I get gas and drop off mail; it’s an official USPS counter inside the mini-mart that Jon and I have affectionately dubbed the “gas-t office.” I felt a quick thrill of energy. The thought of another hot drink, no matter what it was, propelled me down the hill, through the pokey hedge, across the parking lot and around the fuel pumps, into the store.

Inside the overly bright space, I wandered the aisles, attempting to warm up while I made my snack decision. I opted for a small hot chocolate and watched as the brown-crayon-colored liquid frothed from the weird, whirring machine into my clutched paper cup.

Back outside, I stripped off my mask and sipped my steaming drink, gazing at the quiet street. It’s never loud in Eugene, especially compared with my old neighborhood in Los Angeles (where cars whizzed down the hill by our house and helicopters often whirred overhead), but on a cold Sunday evening in the midst of a global pandemic, it was particularly still. Folks were home, hunkered down, hopefully surrounded by someone or ones whom they love.  

Which is where I was ready to be! I gulped down the flavorless brew, reaffixed my mask and scarf, and loped across the street. From there it was a quick march home along the shadowed sidewalk, by the fire station, and down the final stretch of road alongside Delta Ponds. The sign for our complex gleamed, beacon-like, in the damp and fog. I practically ran the last quarter mile, my eyelashes heavy with freezing mist and my nose dripping.

“I’m home!” I yelled, muffled, into my mask as I kicked off my shoes inside the front door. “That took a lot longer than I thought it would.”

“I was wondering what happened,” said Jon from his desk around the corner. “It’s late!”

That evening, as the temperature continued to drop to the low 30s, I took a long bubble bath, luxuriating in the enveloping heat, while our kitten padded along the rim of the clawfoot tub. “Next time, I’ll finish,” I swore to myself, imagining that final section of the walk that remained unexplored.

Still, I’d managed to cover just under 7½ miles.

That’s a lot of uitwaaien.

Eugene by foot: Walk #4

Last month, I attempted to knock out the next trip in my Eugene and Springfield Townscape Walks manual, Pretty Ponds. It has about five different versions, starting with a fairly simple three-mile “box loop” that kicks off to the north at Delta Highway and Green Acres Road. Instead, I opted to do a portion of the southern part of the trail because it 1) begins near my current home, so no driving required and 2) proceeds to the neighborhood where we’re building a house, enabling me to stitch together how these two different parts of the city connect.

I convinced my daughter to join me for the walk; it was her day off from ballet and she had the afternoon free once virtual school wrapped up. With book in hand and jackets loosely zipped in honor of the partly sunny afternoon, we took off from our house on foot, heading to the River Path.  

Officially called the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail System, the River Path is a popular, nearly 20-mile paved trail that threads along both sides of the lovely Willamette and is one of my favorite parts of Eugene so far. On the weekends, it’s acrawl with runners, bikers, skateboarders, dogwalkers, strollers, bird watchers and wanderers all out in mini crowds or onesies and twosies. During the week, it’s still quite active, depending on the weather. The path shares its name with the first woman to serve as mayor of the city, Iowa-born Ruth Ellen Bascom, whose mid-90s term involved efforts to revitalize downtown with bike and pedestrian paths.

Roxy and I turned south on the path, careful to stay to the right as cyclists and runners sped by. We stopped a fair amount, particularly in the Delta Ponds section of the trail, which passes over several of the river’s overflow wetlands beloved by all kinds of cool birds — heron, egret, osprey and ducks, plus squawking clusters of Canadian geese interlopers. Not only does Rox love taking photos of anything bright and fun we pass on walks (flowers, interesting signs, random objects), but as apparently many dancers do in the world, she requests frequent pauses to demonstrate interesting dance moves; in this case, jutting a leg sky-high. “It’s called a needle,” she’s let Jon and me know on many occasions. And this needle is — stretched? performed? threaded? — by this flexible teenager next to monuments, atop hills, in front of murals, you name it.

We finally reached our first junction and made a left toward Delta Bridge. This striking, red-cabled structure extends up and over more of Delta Ponds from Goodpasture Island Road (a name that strikes me as one part dairy farm, one part golf resort) to a cluster of homes tucked alongside Willagillespie Road (not to be confused with nearby Willakenzie Road or Norkenzie Road or, I’m sure somewhere out there, a Willawilla Road).

Delta Bridge and some rockin’ clouds

This was new territory for us, the interstitial zone between our current home and our future home. After exiting the bridge, we wandered by older, single-story structures on one side of the street that face a new development of closely packed, two-story houses with cute little porches. After crossing Willagillespie, we made a right down that busier street, hoofing it to the next light. The city felt less built up along this flat stretch of road, with empty fenced fields and a few scattered businesses under the enormous, cloud-filled sky.

We made a left on to Clinton — many of Eugene’s streets are named after U.S. presidents — and walked along its bumpy sidewalk. We passed a Little Free Library with its two support posts ending in sneakers; it was filled with children’s books and toys, and I hoped it was bringing some joy to local kids stuck at home.

At Debrick Road, we left the outlined map behind in order to slip by the grassy plot that will someday host our house. It was still grassy and still otherwise empty. “Give it a year,” I said to Roxy, feeling grateful that our rental is comfortable and well-shaped for each week’s boatload of virtual tasks. She shrugged and laughed.

Rox is an easy walking companion. She’s got a long, quick stride and, other than pausing for photos, quietly chugs along with few comments or complaints. She participates in my random conversation starters and appreciates the ways people decorate their homes. I say all this with gratitude. More than a few friends have children who act like family walks are a form of slow torture. “They can barely make it to the stop sign without whining,” lamented one girlfriend in the second month of the pandemic. “You’d think they’d be happy to go outside.”

We looped back to Debrick and then, stepping off route once again, veered on to Crenshaw Road so that I could introduce Roxy to the neighborhood’s eponymous Gillespie Butte. Crenshaw has a satisfying, steep rise to it, reminding me of our former perch in Los Angeles in the Mt. Washington hills northeast of downtown. My legs were happy to dig in to the climb.

The road leading up to Gillespie Butte

Midway up the hill, we spotted a rusty old electric meter box, minus the meter, beneath its own mossy wooden roof.

“This feels very Oregon,” I said to Roxy. She grinned and stopped, steadying her phone to take a few photos.

“Maybe it’s from Gravity Falls” she joked, referring to one of her favorite shows, a smart, funny and totally engrossing animated series (set in a mysterious Oregon town) that I dubbed “The X-Files for kids” after about the third episode.

Rust in spite of the roof

Near the crest of the hill, we hopped on to the dirt trail that leads to the wild top of the butte. The sun was bright and the wide views across the valley, with higher buttes and hills off in the distance, soul-soothing and fresh.

Alongside the trail stood a cluster of gnarled, impressive oaks. Roxy made a beeline to one of the largest while yelling over her shoulder, “Can you take a picture?” As I snapped quick photos of her stretching and pulling and working her way into a rod-straight “needle,” a mask-free couple hiking down the trail looked over and gawked. We waved and I shrugged. Why not stretch your leg straight up past your ear while standing under a magnificent ancient tree?

Oaks atop Gillespie Butte

Our photo session done, I pointed out a few landmarks, including Autzen Stadium where the University of Oregon Ducks play their football games, normally to a roaring pack of thousands, and the silent bulk of the Hult Performance Hall downtown.

“We can continue back to the route and do a few more miles on this side of town,” I offered, poring over the book’s map. “Or we can retrace our steps and head home.”

“Retrace our steps and head home,” said Roxy. “I’m hungry.”

And that we did: descending from that little top of the world in Eugene, down and around the roads that will someday be as familiar and well-trod as those in Mt. Washington, across the bridge and up the path beside the beautiful river toward home.

Eugene by foot: Walk #3

Walking with people is different from solitary strolling.

There’s the moderation of one’s pace — quicker, marching steps with some, a slower gait with others, the ridiculously languid Test of Patience and Friendship with those who shall not be named. There’s the positioning: Do we walk side-by-side (thus jutting into the shared walk/bike path or dominating a narrow trail), or does one person take the definitive lead, stopping now and then so everyone can catch up? And then there’s the satisfying soul of the walk — the stuff that your head and heart are up to, while legs, feet, arms do all that moving. With companions, conversation wanders and observations are noted aloud. On my own, I think and muse, my focus dragging up close and then pulling far out, like a kid with a viewfinder.

I decided to skip over Route #3 in my book, Eugene and Springfield Townscape Walks; it’s called Christmas Lights, so that’ll feel more timely in a few weeks. Instead, I jumped to #4: Honeywood Hop, a course I’d be loathe to search online, but was perfectly happy to embark upon one late-October Tuesday with my husband. Our daughter was at back-to-back ballet lessons in the studio (yes, masked, physically distanced and expressly prohibited from using the bathroom), so we had a few hours to spend outside in the fresh air.

Jon and I drove north from the studio downtown to start our jaunt at Gilham Elementary School. It was a beautiful, Oregon-mild afternoon and still quite light; the deflating Fall Back ritual wouldn’t be happening for another week or two.

We walked down Honeywood, following its curve around and about to Wester. Familiar sights from my prior walks — yellow-bright leaves, pumpkins and gourds, lawn after lawn — rolled by.

Seeing so much grass, most of it green, is still quite novel to my Southern California eyes more accustomed to drought-tolerant succulents, straw-colored grasses, and rocks of all shapes and sizes. As the climate continues to change, will lawns in this lusher, drizzled upon landscape make sense? And if the lawns weren’t there, what local plants would fill their place? The native plant nursery Willamette Wildlings lists a veritable word salad of available local shrubs, trees and perennials, including Sidalcea virgata (rosy checkermallow), Fragaria chiloensis (sand strawberry), Rubus parviflorus (thimbleberry) and Mahonia repens (creeping Oregon grape). When it’s time for my extended family to landscape around the homes we’re building, I’ll remember this.

Side-by-side, we walked and talked and wove down streets. The neighborhood transitioned from compact, single-story homes to increasingly elaborate structures perched in bountiful greenery. At the same time, the Halloween decorations went from mighty in number to mighty in size. One house, its entrance dwarfed by a magnificent grove of cedar trees, boasted a blow-up black cat and dragon on the edges of the yard. Surrounded by all that nature the fantastic, 20-foot-tall beasts were oddly effective; rather than having been planted there by humans they seemed like surprised visitors, ready to pounce and burn.   

Enormous Halloween decorations dwarfed by trees
A close-up of the cat (nice claws!)

I started snapping photos of the most magnificent decorations to share with Roxy: a skiff tilting in the grass with a skeleton pirate at the helm, a Harry Potter-themed getup complete with boxy blue car lodged in a Whomping Willow-wannabe tree, towering skeletons walking skeleton dogs. Later, on Halloween afternoon itself, the two of us would drive through the neighborhood with hot drinks in hand and a spooky Spotify soundtrack on deck, so she could experience the scene firsthand. I loved the fact that my sweet 14-year-old still oohed and aahed at the efforts people had made, honestly enjoying it all with nary an eyeroll or “whatever.”

Webs, webs, webs — and a nod to COVIDween

At one point, Jon and I came across a house covered in Nightmare Before Christmas paraphernalia. In the driveway sat a restored Dodge boasting a flashy flame-job on the hood and old Oregon plates. “Great car,” we said simultaneously. I wondered how often the owners took it for a spin and if I’d see it around.

One cool car

We crossed busier Gilham to do a squared off loop in one corner of the neighborhood — and then crossed back again to do another. Compared with my previous walks, there was a more active hum at this later time of day. We saw dogwalkers, a mail carrier, a few kids on bikes … and skirted one very determined homeowner with a leaf blower, hell-bent on blasting every visible particle from his yard to, and then across, the street.

Our conversation ambled and skittered as we marched along. We riled ourselves up thinking about Journalism’s misses when too many eyes focus on too few stories. We evaluated design choices as we wandered by home after home (why does everyone like columns so much?). We laughed at the house with the neatly hung NFL banners — one for the Green Bay Packers and one for the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Now that’s a mixed marriage,” declared Jon.

We also pointed out little things, from a cat watching the world from under a bush, to the thorn-laced berry vines creeping close to the sidewalk, to strangely studded red fruit filling a tree. Curious what the “cherries from outer space” really were, Jon used a plant detector app on his phone. It turns out they’re Strawberry Tree Fruit, and Atlas Obscura has even written about them.

Cherries from outer space?

With the day’s light fading, we rounded the final turn at the edge of the elementary school’s adjacent park and approached the car. I glanced at the exercise app on my watch; we’d gone 4.74 miles in 90 minutes, with the thrilling elevation gain of seven feet.

“That was satisfying,” I said, climbing in after a quick curbside stretch. A brisk pace, no awkward jockeying for position — and plenty of good soul.