Francis Tallarico 1959

Thirteen years ago, on July 1st, I moved into my house in Oak Grove. I've lived here longer than any other house. I guess you can say I've settled in and have become intimately attuned to this little spot of land as the seasons and neighborhood changed.

I chose Oak Grove because it was near enough to Portland , Oregon but had a distinct rural, rather than suburban, look and feel to it. When looking for a home I fell in love with the picture on the MLS listing, not for the house, but the trees. When I visited the property I thought the house was fine, but for me it was the oak and holly trees on a quarter acre that won my heart.

Over the years I've observed beautiful celestial events from my porch, from gorgeous sunsets to the appearance of the evening stars, and lunar phases. My first Christmas morning here I was going to get the newspaper. When I opened the door there before me was the full moon hanging in the sky like a Christmas ornament. It took my breath away. I took a picture of it, but it looks like a dot in the darkness. One of my greatest wishes is to learn how to photograph the night sky. I think proper equipment is part of the answer.

Having come from the land of eternal summer where seasonal change is subtle, it was quite an adjustment dealing with the extremes that the seasons bring here. Winter is most difficult, not merely for the cold and the rain, but also for the darkness from the shorter days and the perpetual cloud cover.

Twilights that last and linger are the best part of summer. After the vibrant golds, roses, and purples of sunset fade, the sky deepens into beautiful twilight blue that surrenders gently to the star studded night.

Autumn was my favorite season, with warm days, cool evenings, and vivid colors as earth yields her last harvest before resting for the winter. Now spring has earned a place in my heart, not only as a relief from winter, but also for her festive attire as she celebrates new life. Crocuses are the first harbingers of spring, usually in February, a bright spot of color just when I think I can't take the gloom another minute. And then the violets bloom. I love their delicate flowers and sweet fragrance. I was shocked recently when a horticulturist told me that violets are weeds! This weed is welcome in my garden. Here spring is fanciful from beginning to end with forsythia, flowering fruit trees, tulips, blue bells, azaleas, rhododendron, magnolia, dogwood, and more...

But the best part of living here is touching the earth and caring for the garden. I consider myself a haphazard gardener, nurturing whatever happens to appear—gifts from the squirrels and birds-- or plants I've found in free boxes, or received from friends. Most of the time I spend in the yard is fighting invasive plants. The biggest mistake I made was

not to heed the words of my dear friend Janice Brown who warned me when I first moved in to not allow blackberries in the yard.

The first year they appeared they looked so cute with their cheery little white flowers. They even bore a good amount of tasty berries. I love blackberries. What's not to like? If I let them they'd take over the yard, grow over the house, and consume it. Between the blackberries and the ivy, oy, the ivy, I'm fighting a losing battle to keep them at bay. I can almost hear them laugh at me when I spend an afternoon uprooting a section of them, knowing they'll be back, if not next week, then next season.

There were surprises along the way, such as finding wild Oregon Iris in the yard the second spring I was here. Their colors are subtle and if you don't look closely you wouldn't know they were there until autumn when their stalks produce bright red berries.

One year I was going through a difficult time and tiny pansy like flowers volunteered. A friend said they were heartsease. I looked forward to seeing these cheery little flowers in my garden. One spring they didn't return. I realized that my difficulties had passed and they had uplifted me when I needed comfort.

Two years ago I cleared away a hidden corner of the yard and grew tomatoes. They were delicious. I no longer enjoy tomatoes from the grocery store. I've saved seeds and started new plants from them. This year I added peppers, zucchini, and butternut squash. The sun gold has already given one ripe tomato that I let my granddaughter, Lauren, pick and eat. She loves tomatoes.

When I first moved in, there was a park like lot next door with pine trees, a walnut and fig tree. It felt like an oasis of peace. About a year or so later there was a housing boom, the lot was sold, split, and built on. The trees were knocked down in favor of four houses and a triplex. The day the bulldozers came in I sat on my porch and wept for the trees as they fought the bumping and pulling of the machinery. Their roots were deep and they didn't give way easily. The real estate market bottomed out quickly after that, but a few years ago, it amped up again, and with it another building frenzy. All over Oak Grove, lots were being split and trees, oak trees, the very name sake of the area, were bullied out of the ground for cookie cutter houses on zero lot lines.

But the trees on my property thrive: an Oregon white oak, which is one of the three in the triangle around which Oak Grove was built, the holly, a Norwegian red leaf maple, an apple tree, and a cherry tree that acts as a screen for the development next door.

These trees have brought me great pleasure over the years: shade in the summer, color and fruit in the fall. They have also been a source of viewing pleasure. In the morning when I have my first sips of coffee, I watch the birds in the apple tree from the kitchen window. In winter it's 'little finches that flit from limb to limb. In the evening when I wash the dishes, it's the blue jays who rule the tree top. Over the years I've seen the occasional robin red breast in the cherry tree.

And then there are the rascally squirrels. They are quite entertaining, scampering up and down and all around the oak tree. They run across the roof, hop on the electric line, across to another tree all day long. Do they ever tire? I have tried to feed the birds, but they steal whatever offerings I leave. They also dig up bulbs that I plant in order to stash the peanuts and walnuts kind neighbors leave for them. Rascals.

There have always been crows around, two or three, usually in the fall, but recently a murder of crows has overtaken the oak tree, and with their occupation I haven't seen the squirrels, jays, or any other bird. When they first arrived they dive bombed any bird that came near the property. Now they squabble amongst themselves I've come to the conclusion that crows are bullies.

I was spoiled all the years I lived in Santa Barbara having the beach nearby, ready to walk on any time, sending its cool breezes and fresh sea air. It is difficult being hours away from the ocean in Oregon . I was thrilled when I realized that I am walking distance to the Willamette River . It doesn't have the power of the ocean, but it is running water that creates a soothing energy that my soul needs to thrive.

The trees and river create a pleasant micro climate of cooler summers and warmer winters than other areas. Locals refer to it as the banana belt. With the destruction of trees, increased asphalt for roads, more traffic, and climate change in general, I've seen
changes in the weather patterns here. We used to have gentle breezes, now there are winds that are as fierce as any in the Gorge, winters are longer and colder, summer hotter, and spring and autumn are brief.

The passage of time has seemed imperceptible, one day after another, season after season, until it is thirteen years later and my oldest grandchildren are teenagers beginning to take their first steps into the adult world, and the younger ones have left their baby days behind, Life has been full of changes. Some just happened, like my haphazard garden, and like that garden. I've come to love and live with them. They've helped me grow in unexpected ways. I still have dreams that I pursue, and know that if I am as steadfast as that oak in my front yard they will come to fruition.