Nature in an Urban World (or, finding awesomeness on a bike)

Perhaps you remember that when I accepted this new(ish) job of mine, almost a year ago now, I was a little nervous about the commute up to Vancouver, WA. Not only is it far, but compared to my previous ride along the Springwater path, it’s so… urban. So many surface streets, so many cars, that whole loud stretch directly adjacent to I-5. Coming from a commute with almost 12 miles exclusively on quiet multi-use path, surrounded by trees and plants and rabbits and coyote and deer, it kinda sucks to bike the near-entire length of Portland on roads with rushing cars and stoplights.

BUT! As always, I’ve been finding over this last year that the cracks of the urban environment are full of wildness.

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(Mt Hood from Jantzen Beach, on the way to work)

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As I cross the Columbia River on the ever-so-narrow bike path on the side of the I-5 bridge, I look off to my right and, on a clear day, have a spectacular view of Mt Hood; Mt St Helens in front. Twice now, I’ve looked up almost directly into the eyeballs of a peregrine falcon, seemingly unfazed by the rushing traffic right next to us. When I look down, at the river so far below, sometimes there are Western Grebes with their long, graceful necks (I’m waiting for some day when I see them do their mating thing and then my life will be complete;)

On the way home, on the Vancouver side of the I-5 bridge, I often see rabbits. It doesn’t really seem like they have enough space, but there they are, making do in the little patch of brush that ekes out its living tucked into the undeveloped spaces. Back on the Oregon side, I was shocked one day (shocked, for realz) to see a quail run out at me and then away. (Little known fact of stasiahood: a quail will always make me happy.)

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(there is no way this is great quail habitat, and yet there it was, right by that fence)

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And then there’s the precious .7 miles of bike path along the Columbia River Slough. In the few minutes that I’m on that path (unless I ride the long way home, in which case it’s more;) it truly feels like nature. On one side of the path, there is a huge, mystifying stockpile of heavy machinery and mountains of who-knows-what, some trappings of industry that I don’t know or understand. But on the other side: Bald eagles, hawks, herons, all manner of ducks, sparrows, cormorants, nutria — the other evening, I even saw a sea lion — all inhabit the space and remind me that even in this built-up city, we share the world with many non-human citizens, all doing their own thing as best they can, just like us.

Like weeds springing from the cracks between the sidewalks, nature finds her way into every reach of our urban environment — and finding her evidence everywhere in my urban ride reminds me to remember resilience. To remember that like the quail, like the rabbits, like the peregrine falcon, I can find a way to thrive in whatever circumstances I find myself in. I can make my little part of the world right for me, and, in doing so, maybe make it better, happier, more lovely, more conducive to others too.

I still miss my Springwater commute, but I also love my urban ride, and there are more days than I can count where I get to work (or home) thinking thank god for my bike commute, or I am so happy I was on my bike today, or some other version of heart-exploding happiness at being outside in the world. There are more days than I can count where I see something like the sea lion that totally blows my mind, or makes me smile, or reminds me of how amazing the world around me is. The commute doesn’t have to be pristine; if I remember to stop to look, I still find beauty everywhere.

2 Comments:

  1. STASIA. I need to call you back. Your comments here remind me (in interesting ways) of this book that I just finished, Deep Creek, by Pam Houston. You might enjoy it. There’s one chapter in particular (that’s actually premised on saying goodbye to her dog), where she talks about how to love the world despite all the doom, gloom, and foreboding that comes when you listen to the news. “Even if the jig is up, even if it is really game over, what better time to sing about the earth than what it is critically, even fatally wounded at our hands. Aren’t we more complex, more interesting, more multifaceted people if we do?” <– this is darker than you were going for, but I think the "Wow! Nature in the urban jungle! Things doing the best they can despite their crazy circumstances!" aspect of your post made me think of this. It's not just in noticing the brain-bending spectacular places that we travel -to- in order to experience nature, it's celebrating the natural world in the hawk snagging a songbird in the back yard. Or, in my case, the chukkar overnighting under my car on a chilly morning (funny story, that) in built-up, suburban Boise… or the avocets that stop over in the shallow stormwater pond in the business park that houses my office on their migration through. Still nature, still amazing. Much love to you, friend. :)

    • Ariel!!!! :)

      I suspect I would enjoy just about any book that you also enjoyed. We’re pretty good at that;) (Also, ha! I forgot that chukkars were a thing, but now that I remember them they make me smile, and I want to hear your story:)

      But yeah. I think there’s a lot of wonder to be had basically everywhere if you stop to notice — my goal in life is to notice:) Thanks for writing, long-lost, Boise-ward friend! :)

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