Lovely, dark and deep.

comments: 271


Last month, when we went to the art museum to see the photography exhibit about the Columbia Gorge, I bought a book in the gift shop called Portland Hill Walks: Twenty Explorations in Parks and Neighborhoods by Laura O. Foster. I started to read it that night, and immediately began conspiring with myself to take Walk #1, Willamette Heights to Balch Creek Canyon Loop.


I got pretty emotional when I was reading the book. I knew that something was changing for me because of it. Before my accident, I had been a walker. Walking defined so much about me. I can't explain to you how much I loved it. I tried one time to explain, but I don't know that I really got it right. In the years since 1998, walking has had to be replaced by other things that don't cause so much pain, or, worse, risk the fragile tissue we've worked so hard to regrow, but the urge to do it never goes away. Lately I have been desperate to get back to the woods, a place I grew up in; I didn't even really know how much I was feeling it until I was in bed one night a few weeks ago, reading the book by the glow of my tiny nightlight, and I started to cry.


That was sort of a clue.


But I think they were really tears of relief, in a way: The book had arrived.


It's a book of walks, joyfully (you can tell) taken, carefully detailed, lovingly described by Ms. Foster. She has a writer's sensibility, and writes like a dream, but she is also herself an editor, and editors have that uncanny ability to focus intensely on the small stuff — there are excellent maps, precise mileage counts and elevations, and very well indicated directions — while never losing sight of the big stuff: Historical information, fascinating anecdotes, and geological descriptions place you squarely in the context of the physical place you're walking through.

But what was different about it for me, as I looked at the maps and calculated the elevations and imagined the terrain based on her descriptions, was that I felt as if I were walking it as I was reading it, or at least I felt confident that I would responsibly know what I was in for if I walked it — if I went off-trail like this — in a way that maybe only the compromised can really appreciate. "Know" in a way that inspires confidence, and makes you think you can just begin. A small, private victory that may be different from most, or not something anyone else can imagine, or, at least, seems like less than they'd expect from you. But you know. You know you've scored the chance to change. And it feels like grace, something suddenly bestowed.


On Saturday, we went. Through neighborhoods we never knew existed (though that's not saying much, since we tend to circle the well-worn paths around our own quite happily, being both homebodies and creatures of habit) and on wooded paths we couldn't have imagined, Andy and Clover and I spent this misty, late-winter afternoon lost in slow steps and shared wonder. We felt very far from home, though, amazingly, we could look down and see the brew pub where we had dinner last week, the gleaming port, the river we cross every day, just below. What smells, of wood and water and hidden things, were these? What light, through this odd, fir-treed filter? Where were we, here on the green-fringed edge of the eleven-mile-long Leif Erickson trail, built in 1915 and planned as a conduit between several yet-unbuilt subdivisions named, optimistically, Maybrook, Ridgewood, Regents Heights? They would be abandoned and later forfeited to the city, since the dramatic, ravine-crossing road was doomed to repeated washout.


Whose house is this, huddled into the hillside?


To what secret place does this mossy-soft stairway lead?


Why has it taken me so long to get here, or is this, in fact, just the right time?


In and out of woods and neighborhoods we wove, shocked to find that the line between the two was blurred and indistinct (and, frequently and unfortunately, covered in invasive ivy). From the stately, enormous old homes and hushed, sleepy streets of Willamette Heights, we made our way down to the Wildwood Trail and into Forest Park, past the site of the old dairy, past mushrooms as big as dinner plates, and further into Balch Creek Canyon, which, according to the book, was named after Danford Balch. He had once owned the surrounding property and was hanged in 1859 for shooting the man who had married his fifteen-year-old daughter, while she (and five hundred other) Portlanders watched. As it turned from afternoon to late afternoon, we wound our way down to the creek.





Around the bend, a witch's house.





At the bottom of the canyon, toward the end of the loop, it was busier, more developed (a bright, new fence lined the path), and colder, and my lens started to fog up, which has never happened before.



Or else, the place is really enchanted.





Makes you wonder.


It is for me, anyway. It was almost 4.5 miles in all, and I made it the entire way.


I'm so glad you took your walk, that you made it and that the walk was so magical! What lovely pictures - almost other worldly. Beautiful. That particular walk is a milestone and such a welcome one. Congratulations. I love walking, too.

These pictures are beautiful. Thanks for sharing...all of it.

Good for you, Alicia! What a beautifully written post with fantastic pictures. I love, especially, the witch's house.

Alicia, your pictures were breathtaking and so alluring. Your words so inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing your emotions and the transformation that your walk has given you.

This trail you took looks like a whole other world! I can't even begin to imagine how enchanting it must have been for you.

Especially the steps leading to that house and the witch's house... so haunting and yet you feel drawn to it. Would be a great setting for a Grimm's Fairy Tale :)

Sweetheart that is fab! More than fab, there aren't really words. I think when your body fails you in ways you never thought possible it is a whole different world that you have to get used to. Where the once possible becomes insurmountable. But I think as you've found that by planning it ahead and "knowing" the steps it can be made so much easier and not at all frightening, so that rather going on an adventure tinged with fear it is instead just apprehension and a good sort at that!

I hope that sort of makes sense! I am so pleased for you that you have your woods back!

Oh my gosh, it's a photographers dream walk! Love love love the pictures! I live up in the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington, but I know next time I come down to Portland, I shall be reading this book first.

Congrats on your walk! I loved the witch house. Very mysterious!

Everything is lovely!

lovely photos...i really felt like i was walking the same path for a minute. congrats on completing your walk! :)

You did it! What a dreamy afternoon. We're moving to Portland from dry, hot Phoenix in better believe I'll be buying this book in the next 5 minutes to read up before we arrive! Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us~LOVE your blog

Well done! I don't know you, but I can't help but be proud of you for taking that walk.

Did you hear me, Butterfly? Miles to go, before you sleep.

Sorry, the title just got me.

The photos look lovely, the witch house one in particular is so vibrant.

Wow. Utterly gorgeous. Now I really, really want to visit that area.

That's wonderful about the walking. Who knows what we can do 'til we do it, yeah?

aw, i am so proud of you! so happy to hear you finally got out and there and had a lovely time. sometimes we all just need that extra nudge of nostalgia!

As somone who was told she would never walk in her beloved mountains again, and who did just that in December, I can empathise with you so much. I longed to walk in the forests, and I started slowly with sticks, and did it!

I am SO happy for you!

holy moly that's beautiful, thank you!

Totally gorgeous photos - and way to go for talking the walk! We're all proud. :)

Your pictures and story are true works of art. I looked for little fairies in every one! It did indeed look enchanted. I love the pick with the fogged lense - it looks magical. And I am glad you're getting out there.

One thing that has stuck with me is a line from "Tuesdays with Morrie" where Morrie is asked what he would do if he could do anything. And he said something to the effect that he would dance with friends. It always makes me think of what I appreciate in my life and remember to live for the day :)

I always visit Portland in the winter (to walk and shop). This book is worth a spring visit by itself! I'll need to look for a similar book for the Tacoma/Seattle area.

I am so happy for you. Congratulations! Sounds like you went home again after almost eleven years. That must have been so beautiful.

Freakin' magical. Amazingly beautiful I felt like I could smell the forest looking at your photos. Jealous ! We just had 30 cms of snow last night so no damp mossy green for us for awhile yet. Merci !

I am crying happy tears for you. Losing my wandering would hurt in a bad way!

Oh Alicia, I am so glad you went for your walk. I walk everyday up river from you and love every second. Your photos are wonderful, I wonder who built the stone house and why they left. Oh the imagination is kicking into high gear now. Thank you for the trip. Cheers.

What an amazing walk that must have been. I felt like I was walking right behind you two. Yay, it's good that you're able to do this once again. Cheers!!!

What a fabulous experience! Your photos turned out so well, capturing this day. I love all the moss everywhere. And that witch's house - wow!

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at