October 30, 2022
THE DOG TURNED five. We slept in. The dog’s been spending nights at the end of the bed these days, since the rains have come and the temperatures have fallen.
We’d thought yesterday afternoon we might have sex this morning.
Talking about dogs, a friend at lunch yesterday recommended a walk that begins where Thurman Street ends in our Northwest neighborhood of Portland. There’s an old fire road behind a closed gate, she said. That would be up past Ursula K. Le Guin’s house, I said.
Leif Erickson Drive, as it’s known, connects to a number of Forest Park side trails and loops and point-to-point runs from here to Beaverton, about twelve miles. Originally carved from the woods more than a century ago to promote real estate development—not to offer access to manage fires—the original Hillside Drive’s construction proved too costly, and winter landslides discouraged builders in the early decades of the twentieth century. The city seized much of that land and would later incorporate these woods and this road into Forest Park.
Yesterday after lunch this friend and I walked along Thurman Street halfway across the Balch Gulch Bridge overlooking Lower Macleay Park, where they’ve finished construction on a new trash rack that covers this section of Balch Creek to collect logs and other debris that flow from above and would otherwise clog the drain and storm sewer that connects the creek to the Willamette River. There would be flooding in the gulch.
I had a jasmine tea and this friend was drinking black coffee. But we didn’t have all afternoon. So we turned back on the bridge.
Short of the Le Guin house and short of Leif Erickson Drive, I stopped a number of times to tie my hiking boots. I set my tea on the ground. New laces, my friend wondered. I said they were, but that was not entirely true. The originals, the classic red laces I prefer, snapped while I was tying them in the midst of a long road trip. We were at my brother’s house in southeastern Wisconsin, a one-night stop on our trip, and I asked whether he had replacements for me. He thought about my question a while and then took me into his walk-in closet, where he unlaced boots he had in the back, adding that there was an outdoors store in town where he could get some new laces for himself. The laces were robin-egg colored and perfect matches for the blue eyelets and blue lace hooks that I love in my boots. Are you sure, I asked. We stood in the closet longer than we would have if he hadn’t been reconsidering his generosity, the time it would take him to find these same laces again in the outdoors store, the future moment we could both imagine when he would need to tie his boots but had not yet replaced the laces.
This morning, we started, then stopped. Our son was in the other half of the apartment, using the computer to make a birthday gif for the dog, it turned out, and he’d just emailed it to both of us. He might walk in and say we should check our email.
Sundays I try for long walks with the dog—five, six miles or so. The mornings are more free, and usually I don’t sleep in. But we’ve had guests this week, first hosting my spirited father-in-law, and then on Saturday we welcomed two Tennessee friends over for dinner, and all this has meant later nights, more to drink.
So today, on his birthday, I got up, looked at the celebratory gif, warmed the coffee. Then the dog and I walked to the trailhead of Leif Erickson Drive, up past Ursula’s house. A friend of mine here was close with Le Guin, and since this friend refers to the great visionary and ethicist simply as Ursula, often so will I. When we arrived, the trail seemed busy with mountain bikes and runners, so the dog and I turned around to seek something more peaceful.
The Balch Gulch Bridge and Balch Creek are named for Danford Balch, an early white Portlander, who arrived from back east in 1847 with his large family. There’s a marker along the walk I took this morning. In 1859, it says,
Balch was convicted and hanged for shooting his son-in-law. His hanging, the first legal one in Portland, and the subsequent disposal of his land made news well into the 20th century.
On this walk, I began to think of myself as a savior of squirrels, which are always darting across streets and paths here, and up trees, bickering with us and the crows from a branch or a powerline. I always hold the leash, stopping the dog.
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