Questions to Ask While Un-Mapping the City What does a person say to this cherry blossom inwardness? This slippery moonlight, waxing full of teeth? What do you say to the wild roses, actually wilding now, and the white bluebells, delicately digesting tarmac's edge? To this mountain lion, exiting dream to haunt with you the cracked byway's yellow center line? It was always cracked. You are just now free to notice.
Two springs ago, I moved to the house and the neighborhood I now inhabit. COVID was new, and worrisome (as opposed to old-hat, and worrisome.) Portland had just entered lockdown, so the only going-out was a literal going outside. I walked, a lot.
I would have anyway; I was meeting a new place. But I realized at the time how unusually I was being allowed to meet it. I live in the human-dense hills of southwest Portland, Oregon. During that strange spring, I walked on roads empty of cars, and waved at a distance to the very few other humans out on foot. It felt…well, we’ve said it before. It felt apocalyptic.
And…wakeful. Inhabited. More-than-humanly alive.
My regular urban walking companions were deer and coyotes, and oh-so-many rabbits. (I’ve never seen so many rabbits on street corners—outside of a particular small town in the Puget Sound.) I heard not just the songs of towhee and chickadee and robin, but their subtler contact calls, too, and all of it uninterrupted by what we’ve come to believe is “normal” auto traffic. I never saw a cougar, but I know they’re here, and I wondered if they might venture more boldly into territory so comparatively empty of human competition. I hoped and feared I might catch a glimpse.
All of those non-human folks were better at “sharing the road” than the cars I dodge regularly now. It’s not the drivers’ fault, it’s systemic: created-for-cars, unfriendly-to-walkers, and regardless-of-wildlife is how we currently imagine (and, therefore, build) the human world.
That spring of 2020 was horrific, in ways I have not forgotten and will not sugarcoat. And also, I liked those months when it was possible to imagine a wilder world. I liked the slightly lost, be-wildered, exhilarating feeling, of trying to converse with that shifted baseline, and finding my understanding stretched by the task.
What does a person say to that—now?