“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when
our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
Today I celebrate my fourth year as an Oregonian. On this day, four years ago, I arrived in Portland after driving 2,000 miles over the span of three days from Wisconsin, car packed to the brim with only the essentials: Cole, my camera, camping gear, laptop, bike, and clothes. The laptop crashed somewhere in Utah and my bike was stolen within 6-months of arriving in Portland but Cole and I remain intact. Since that blustery hot day of my arrival, I have been on a mission to explore the Pacific Northwest in every direction, feeding my soul with all that the area has to offer and this past year has been no exception. In addition to my adventures in nature that I’ve come to expect year after year, there have been a few transformational occurrences as well.
I hiked the Bayocean Penninsula on the coast, the Deschutes River in the Columbia River Gorge, and various trails in Forest Park in Portland. I camped and hiked with friends at Northrup Creek in the Clatsop State Forest and took several road trips to Eastern Oregon exploring rivers, waterfalls, state parks, and abandoned towns and buildings. I also took several road trips to the coast to explore beaches, state parks, islands, and creeks. Most memorable this year, I took a day trip to Panther Creek Falls on the Washington side of the Columbia River. Not only is it memorable because of the slackliner I got to watch balance high above the rocks below while Panther Creek Falls rushed down in the background, but that was the day the Eagle Creek fire broke out, forever altering roughly 50,000 acres of the pristine landscape on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.
Outside of my adventures in nature, there were a handful of other excursions this year as well. Thousands of people flocked to Oregon for a front row seat to the solar eclipse. I chose to stay put in Portland but I did wander over to the Willamette River waterfront to photograph the people that gathered there to watch the eclipse. I finally attended the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival this year, albeit on a rather rainy and muddy afternoon. As has become a yearly tradition, I attended all three nights of the Banff Center Mountain Film Festival at Cinema 21, an event that always stokes my appreciation for the outdoors, the triumph of the human spirit, and the art of filmmaking. For the first year ever, Cole, looking quite dapper in his pug-tux, and I attended the Pug Crawl, a fundraiser for the Oregon Humane Society. I spent the fourth of July with a friend in the West Hills and had a panoramic view of everyone’s fireworks display, from Vancouver to Gresham. And what year would be complete without a couple of concerts? This past year I got to see Leif Vollebekk perform at the Doug Fir Lounge and the Wood Brothers at the Crystal Ballroom, both spectacular shows.
After suffering some health issues suspected to be chronic fatigue, I learned to slow down and began exploring the concept of minimalism. I quickly realized that minimalism was helping me to focus on what was most important in my life and the things that truly mattered. I began hosting monthly dinner parties as an opportunity to stretch my culinary muscle while also spending quality time with the people who are important to me. I sold and donated many of my belongings, including chopping off 8-inches of my hair. I also realized that financial freedom was one very big key to so many things that I had been seeking so I decided to sell my car, and downsize to a studio apartment to save money and pay off debts. It also helped me decide that it was time to finally drop my ex-husband’s last name and choose a whole new last name to start a legacy that was truly mine, all while honoring Cole’s significance in my life.
My photography endeavors were as varied as my experiences this past year. I finally began my Legacy project, a portrait and storytelling series of childless women over the age of 60. I opened my Etsy shop to sell photographic prints and merchandise and also converted my photography website to a new (and free) platform. I launched a new second website that helps the female traveler and her canine companion navigate all that Oregon has to offer a nature enthusiast. I had my first photographs published in a book and I also participated in my first ever PDX Squared photo contest. I learned of the Immigrant Story at one of the brown bag lectures at the Portland Art Museum and felt compelled to get involved so I started volunteering as a writer/photographer with their organization dedicated to combating xenophobia. Lastly, I donated again to the annual ShelterCare Art Gives Hope fundraiser, this year two color prints on glass, while also attending the event in Eugene to see the bidders in action.
As usual, Cole was by my side throughout all of the adventures this year, having a spectacular time hanging his head out the car window, running on beaches, leading the way on hiking trails, and getting in some quality play time with his pug friends. Unfortunately, he suffered some setbacks too including a urinary tract infection, an ear infection, a ripped dew claw from playing so hard during a playdate, a stomach bug that had both of us not feeling so hot, and even a strained leg muscle from overdoing it at the dog park shortly after our move to our new neighborhood. It seems his age may be starting to catch up with him so I got him some stairs to help make getting on and off the bed a little easier, as well as a nice big comfy dog bed, in case he ever not feels up for the climb into bed.
I, too, have dealt with my own fair share of health issues this past year. In addition to the chronic fatigue, I have experienced a lot more than normal back issues. After yet another muscle pull that had me laid up for three days, I decided to talk to my primary care physician to see if we could do some new imaging to get an idea on what’s been going on in my back since my surgery 13 years ago. That imaging accidentally found a mass on my kidney, suspected to be kidney cancer, which would have otherwise gone unnoticed for possibly another decade. Never have I been so grateful for my chronic back issues until now. I am now awaiting surgery scheduled for July 20th to remove the mass via a robotic-assisted laparoscopic partial nephrectomy. I am looking at a 6-week recovery time but then should be as good as new again and can resume my Pacific Northwest adventures with Cole.
Overall, it has been quite the year. Despite not having family nearby, I still feel truly lucky to call Oregon home. There are so many beautiful natural places, talented artists, and delicious food spots. I’ve come to greater appreciate the friends I’ve made and connections I’ve built with my coworkers since moving here. So much has happened in the four years since that day I took a leap of faith and decided to pursue a new life in the Pacific Northwest. With a renewed appreciation for the fragility that is each of our lives, I look forward to seeing what this next year brings. I suspect the sunsets will look a little more colorful, the spring flowers will smell a little sweeter, and my bucket list will have a little fewer items left unchecked.