projects and writings of T.A. Burkholder
Last year, when I walked to and/or up Mt. Tabor every day, I got a lesson in discipline as well as a lesson in finding the new in the familiar. How many different routes could I find that led to the same place? If I climbed a path one day and descended it the next, what did the trees look like from the opposite direction? What small patch of woods had I failed to explore, what angle had I failed to observe?
This time, it’s a steady stream of new and new and new. The map expands out from a park to a neighborhood to a quadrant of the city to the whole city to the hazy blue stretches between one snowy mountain and another. The questions are not all that different, though. What haven’t I seen? What haven’t I heard? Where do I look, or lean my ear, or curl my tongue to find that gentle thrill?
Sometimes, even the smallest deviation can satisfy and I came across plenty of them yesterday. My destination was Rocky Butte, like my beloved Mt. Tabor, one of several volcanic cinder cones within the city. I resisted the urge to put on my headphones and drown out the sound of the freeway and the sound of the birds as I started the climb by passing though Portland Bible College’s campus. Many of the buildings here date back to the Hill Military Academy built in the early nineteen hundreds. The fort-like architecture of the school is found at the park as well with its high stone walls.
The panorama from the top is impressive: Mt. Hood, the Columbia, Mt. St. Helen’s, planes nearly at eye level, a hazy peak at downtown Portland. Only three other people shared the sunny space with me–two men quoting bible verse at each other, and another man looping around the low stone wall the same way I was. Filled with beauty and awe.
I took the longer, loopier road down which lead me through a neighborhood of once luxurious but now slightly shabby homes, a short, curving tunnel that spiked my nerves with some long-forgotten childhood fear and emptied me out into a neighborhood I’d never been in. I walked the 6 miles home past a complex of ivy-covered apartments that run parallel to the the Rose City Golf Course, just old and odd enough to be charming. Down streets of dappled light and crunching leaves. Back through more familiar neighborhoods that felt fresh as I approached them from a new direction with a soft, satisfying ache in my legs.
And now that I’ve been to Rocky Butte, I’ll have the pleasure of going back. Maybe at sunset or sunrise or twilight or on another brilliant, sunny day or maybe on my bike or in the company of friends or family. And I’ll say, “Look, isn’t it pretty up here?” as if I were familiar, as if I’d been there every day.