Saltus Fidei: a Southwest Portland Pilgrimage

“Splendid to arrive alone in a foreign country and feel the assault of difference.”

—Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

I fall in love with this line every time I read it. Which is four or five times now at least, since the book came out in 1996. I have felt it, too, just a few times, and it is, indeed, invigorating.

Of course, I am not traveling in this Covidtide. So I am never granted the curious eyes of the solitary stranger, eager to see. It’s a loss.

Although.

Everywhere I live, I trail a sense of exile. I have more than one home landscape, which I am learning to see as a gift. But I do not arrive at that sense of home in any place easily, or even necessarily while I am there. I wrote once that “I am looking for home, always, over my shoulder.” 

Alright then. I cannot look elsewhere just now, to fill my need for long walks and wide views and quiet trees and belonging. So let me look straight ahead, and to both sides, and up and down, exactly where I’m standing. 

Let me arrive alone in this familiar country of southwest Portland, Oregon, that feels at once so foreign to who I am, where I wish to be. Let me feel the assault of difference, and know it as a sort of splendor.


Saltus Fidei

I am going to cease looking 
for the perfect place. 

I have known these places: 
soul-mirror, heart's ease. Body's delight 
in weaving sun and song inside the body 
of my river. So many homes, homed 
somehow, in me. 
I have sailed onward—
there are always reasons.
I have named this 
  exile. 

I have known this place, 
that holds my work. That cradles 
my necessity, asks my service. 
This, I understand, is a type of love. 
Does this place love me? Well
it reached out for my coracle. 
Where are you from? you ask
and I'll learn to say 
Here. 

The title of the poem translates as Leap of Faith. It’s a long leap—I’ve been making that leap for a few years now—and there are days when I feel like I’m free-falling. I’m thinking lately about localness, fidelity to place…so here I am with a mini-project I think of as one of fidelitas, of learning to say “Here.”

Since I moved to the southwest metro, I’ve crossed paths daily with multiple small brown signs, each with a number and an arrow and a little stick-figure of a walker. I asked a fellow walker one day back in the weird covid-spring what the numbers meant; she told me they’re the names of the trails, 1 through 7. They make a sort of scraggly tic-tac-toe board across this forested corner of Multnomah County. 

This winter season, they’re also the path of a personal pilgrimage.

I began on Thanksgiving Day 2020, and the goal is to walk every mile of these SW Trails by Christmas Day.

I may or may not make that goal; I have some physical limitations, and some constraints imposed by the sort of profit-worshipping capitalism that America as a concept seems to crave. I’m going to try, though, and I’m mapping my thoughts and writing my routes as I go.

The home and structure for this hybrid photo/essay-map is a strange and wonderful piece of software called The Brain.* An experiment. Come and explore the SW Trails with me!

Update 12.25.20:
I’m not actually sure what I’m going to do with this mapping and writing. It’s currently homed in The Brain still. The experiment is fun, and initially I made it public, with a link in that paragraph I struck through above. I called this whole idea The Southwest Portland Pilgrimage Project, a mini-project, etc, and I planned some updates.

The pilgrimage though, has been communicating its desire to remain, for the present, just that. No output. Private. Not a project, at least not yet. 

My word for this year is listen. Ok. I’m listening.

Where are you from? you ask
and [I’m learning] to say
Here.


*The Brain format is already generating new thoughts—its tree-hierarchy structure has me considering how to expand this pilgrimage once I complete the seven SW Trails. But I’m getting ahead of myself—which is something walking teaches you, very physically, you cannot do. So let me lace up my boots, and start exactly where I am.

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