Parke Diem

Yesterday, my husband and I participated in a city-wide event called Parke Diem, involving hundreds of volunteers working at sites across the city on different projects. According to the website, projects ranged from repairing playing fields to removing invasive species. There must have been activities within that range, but I don’t know specifically what they were.

Tim signed us up for the event closest to our house, a pond cleanup at the local Audubon Society facility three miles away.

Let me pause for a moment: I have an Audubon Society facility THREE MILES FROM MY HOUSE!

We geared up earlyish Saturday morning and drove to the Audubon Society, a beautiful facility nestled on the side of a mountain on the edges of Forest Park. While we were driving there, we both marveled at the fact that this incredible wildness exists within five minutes of downtown Portland. To get to the facility, we drove steep, winding roads fringed by pines and maples, lush ferns and moss. The entire road is clothed in green, and there’s not even a hint of a nearby city to be seen.

We met the organizers, signed up for our free t-shirts, picked up our Implements of Destruction and hiked down the trail to the pond in need of assistance. The hike was unlike any I went on in the Midwest; steep trails, mud-slicked rocks, overhanging branches wearing sleeves of moss, sky barely visible above the canopy. The pine trees here grow taller than we’re used to even in Canada; the trunk of these behemoths is easily as wide as our car is long. As I found with driving around Portland, I put myself in danger because I was looking up at the trees and foliage and not watching where I was going. I have got to get a handle on that, or I’ll end up at the bottom of a ravine.

Our task was clearing out the agreeably named but pernicious weed Canary Reed Grass. Sounds lovely, right? It grows four to five feet tall, has a root system that creates a tangled mat that chokes out everything around it, and provides zero habitat value. Nothing eats this grass or lives in it or benefits from it in an way. Greg, the native plant specialist, said it might as well be a plastic plant, for all the benefit is provides. It tangles with the native plants and flops over, matting into an ugly, destructive mass. Our small group decided to rename it Donald Trump Grass.

We worked for three hours killing plants. To my great chagrin, I also managed to kill a garter snake with the blade of my shovel. Cut him right in two. I’m still shaken by that.

Our location at the side of the pond was wet and muddy, and we stripped the 40 X 60 area pretty clean. In the process, we revealed some baby red cedar trees still fighting for position. Toward the end of our time, Tim and I discovered we could accomplish quite a bit if we worked in tandem, with me sorting out and holding on to the grass while he dug out the roots. Far less chance to kill snakes that way, too.

We got to know Greg and Tom, another Audubon staffer, and Jill, a frequent volunteer invasive species killer, and another volunteer and his son, Campbell, a 6-7 year old who worked his little butt off right alongside the rest of us. Everyone except Jill came from the east coast, and we swapped stories of winter and snowstorms, and dealing with Portland weather conditions, and how hilarious it is to watch Portlanders try to drive in the “snow”.

Greg patiently answered my questions about the different plant species, and even agreed to allow me to volunteer. I wasn’t sure that was possible after I had killed a native animal in cold blood. Apparently, the Audubon Society is all about forgiveness.

When no one was looking, I hugged a moss-covered tree. It feels just as soft and comforting as you would expect, and smells so good and clean I could have stood there and held it forever. Tim said I couldn’t take it home. I didn’t want to take it home, I wanted to make my home right there in the swamp.

Tim was responsible for finding this event and signing us up. His workplace is very involved in Portland events, and when the email came through announcing their participation in this, he signed us up immediately. I give him a lot of credit for volunteering his early Saturday morning hours to get muddy and sweaty, trudging through a swamp to kill a plant he’s never heard of, and for knowing this would make me so incredibly happy.

After the event, Greg showed me the native plant nursery where I will be volunteering, and answered even more questions about plants that look like plants I’m familiar with but they’re really not. He and Jill also guided me toward an amazing local nursery, Cistus, about which my dear friend at Midwest Groundcovers had already told me.

I have found some fellow plant geeks, and that makes me extraordinarily happy. And I have finally started my long walk into the forests of Oregon, a trek I’ve been impatient to begin.

I am the boy running through the trees to find the only peace I know.

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