Spare Change

His words came out strung together like they were separated by dashes instead of spaces. Spare-any-change-thank-you. Spare-any-change-thank-you. Spare-any-change-thank-you.

It took me a block’s walk to decipher what he was saying. The hurried rhythm of his chant tap-danced in my ears as I turned the corner toward Pioneer Square in downtown Portland.

A young man in a tan leather jacket leaned against the black iron gate of the Pioneer Courthouse and casually thumbed through his phone. A few feet away, a woman wearing an oversized pink sweatshirt rummaged through a shiny, silver garbage can.

Was it the moodiness of a gray, winter day luring me to further analyze, or were the man’s words about more than just pocket money? Instead of asking for coins, what if he were asking for real change? As in: Can you spare to make a change? Thank you.

Three blocks later, while waiting for the crosswalk to turn, a man sitting in a wheelchair suddenly burst into song.

“I’m so tired of this world, I feel like I could bust!” he crooned to a surprisingly cheerful melody. His weathered, tan skin stood out beneath a white baseball cap.

We made eye contact and his lips parted into a sheepish smile; a beige, unlit cigarette hung from his bottom lip. It was like a confession, and I was his witness. I returned his smile, and then crossed the street, feeling both humbled by this tiny moment of connection and weighed down by my own sadness about the way things are.

And so on my bus ride home, I wondered what it would take to shift our culture of  individualism to one that truly cared about the well-being of the collective. As long as we keep failing to recognize how simply another’s position could have been ours, we deny our shared vulnerability in an uncertain world. (A flurry of bad luck and our lot could be quite different.)

Maybe things will change in 2019, maybe they won’t; but today I was reminded how a simple walk through the city can prompt us to consider whether or not we can, collectively, spare any change.

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The Art of Traveling In My Own Neighborhood

My olive-green stocking cap hugged wet curls. I was showered, fed, and ready for the day. I pulled on my jacket and slipped my camera into my purse. My hands found my pockets as I stepped outside my door to see what I could find. It’s Sunday and I don’t have any other plans, so why not be a traveler in my own neighborhood?

As a new transplant in Portland, OR, I’m determined to connect with this new place I’m living in. The rain had let up and it was the perfect timing for a stroll. I walked with eyes attuned to small details and opened my mind to a state of wonder.

Before my walk, I was thinking of backpacking through Europe and the way things – people, synchronicities, purposes – seemed to find their way to me ease-fully. It was affirming to feel the spirit of adventure still well and alive in me as I set out in my own neighborhood, and to realize that the world provides endless discoveries for those who want to discover, regardless of how far – or how close – you travel.

In a tree just a block away from my front door, I was thrilled to find a bird’s nest and nearby that, an unpaved alley with large puddles, currently doubling as a local bird spa. A few blocks further, I found an adorable Patisserie and was brought back to Belgium when I took a bite of a chocolate macaroon that melted as soon as it touched my tongue. Mmmm, I closed my eyes and savored the rich, smooth texture of one of my favorite European treats. Past the bicycle shop and several bars, I stumbled into a coffee/pie shop, curious to try their espresso, clueless that I was about to make a new friend in a very special way.

As I stood waiting for my latte, leaning against a lacquered wooden bar and breathing in sweet scents of berry baked goods, a wrinkled New York Times next to me caught my eye. Then two large hands picked it up. I glanced up and saw a tiny blue spiral tattooed on his left earlobe. That’s interesting. As his face came into focus, my gaze was met with two green eyes, smiling at me. “Hello,” the stranger said. “Hi,” I said with a shy nod. We started chatting about the crossword puzzle and then about the status of the world. I sat down next to him and sipped my hot drink as we moved from topic to topic, eventually landing on travel.

It turns out he has also traveled through Europe and he commiserated with me over the less-than-comfortable transition from backpacking freely to working and having a steady routine again. Berlin came up, and then Spain, and we laughed at the fact that we had been to many of the same places, equally impacted in a profound way through our experiences there. I learned other things too, like he has an eight-year-old who he describes as the anchor in his life. The same swirl on his left earlobe is also tattooed on his right one. When his fancy drink came, he offered me a sip, and it didn’t feel strange at all to take him up on it.

What was meant to be a quick stop at the coffee shop had turned into a nice conversation, and unknowingly, I had stayed until my cup was empty. Then it was time to go. He opened his arms and hugged me like an old friend. We didn’t exchange numbers, but decided we’d run into each other again. After all, we live in the same neighborhood.

I walked off, smiling, headed to explore the cooperative grocery store up the street. I grabbed a planner that caught my eye in the section where calendars and candles were on display. By chance, I flipped to a page with a very fitting poem on it. Huh! Life never ceases to amaze me…

Here are some of my favorite shots from my wanderings today:

Bird's nest

Bird’s nest

IMG_0017

Bird Spa

Bird Spa

IMG_0034

Free stuff

Free stuff

Keep Your Chin Up

Keep Your Chin Up

Water Tower

Water Tower

Dreamy dresses

Dreamy dresses

Puddle portrait

Puddle portrait

The Poem I found that was very fitting

The Poem I found that was very fitting

Mural

Mural

Movies are all the rage

Movies are all the rage

Random pretty tile

Random pretty tile

Empty lot

Empty lot

For the love of God

For the love of God

Graffiti

Graffiti

It's true

It’s true

Art

Art

Skater dude

Skater dude

Interesting trash sculpture

Interesting trash sculpture

Neat tree

Neat tree

Money box

Money box

A new view

A new view

Reflection

Reflection

Skeleton dancer

Skeleton dancer

Broken

Broken wall

Latin Grocery store

Latin Grocery store

Front view

Front view

Glittery puddle in tree root

Glittery puddle in tree root

Water tower

Water tower

Community Supported Everything

Community Supported Everything

Bunny

Bunny

Moss

Moss

The Know

The Know

Bike Shop

Bike Shop

Corner space

Corner space

Co-op grocery abundance

Co-op grocery abundance

Railing art

Railing art

Texture

Texture

Take a Walk with Me

It’s a clear morning and the sun is already casting glittery shadows on the surface of the sea. We are going on a walk to Anstruther, Scotland. Will you join me?

The wind is whipping through your hair as you make your way to the cobblestone entrance of the Fife Coastal Path. It isn’t a menacing wind, but more playful, tangling and untangling your curls, kissing your forehead as you stare out at the indigo blue expanse over your right shoulder. The path leads you through the backyard of a handful of homes perched peacefully at the sea cliff’s edge. The only sounds are the wind ruffling through the day’s wash on the clothesline and an occasional seagull’s cry to its mate. In the distance, you see a great rectangle of emerald-green – a field or a crop, perhaps. As the little trail winds up and down the rocky lip of the cliff, you are amazed to discover the expanse of green is a field of broccoli. The vegetables are the size of your head and perfectly uniform in color. Following the length of the field, the path winds downhill in a few short switchbacks and a tall bunch of yellow wildflowers nearly bonk you in the face as they dangle over the trail. You pause to admire the sapphire blue of the ocean as a backdrop to this perfectly cheerful yellow bloom. What colors! Even the green of the grass appears to glow under the bright sunlight.

Up ahead, you see a golf course. Walking along the outer edge of the green, you pause to cover your eyes and watch the golf ball soaring, thankfully, far above your head. Might as well hurry through this part, as you don’t want to get accidentally hit by a stray ball. Anyways, you will need your head intact to enjoy the rest of the walk.

A few hikers in boots and folded down wool socks pass you, smiling. ‘Ello!’  you both call into the wind. The view is gradually getting more incredible as you are coming closer to the island offshore, the green, craggy monolith of The Isle of May. The Isle is home to one of the area’s most diverse populations of birds and you can only imagine how loud the cacophony of all those voices would be.

You round a bend and come to a horseshoe beach with golden sand and algae-covered rocks decorating the shoreline. Now you are to the edge of the town, walking along a narrow neighborhood street on a sidewalk that is just over a foot wide. You reach out your right hand and let your fingers gently drag along the stone wall separating the sidewalk from the yard, just to feel its cool roughness against your soft skin. Winding through the neighborhood, where nearly every block is spilling lipstick-pink wild roses and purple butterfly bushes over the wall, just far enough over the sidewalk so you can smell the sweet fragrance, you spot a building decorated in sea shells. You cross the street to get a closer look. Different shaped white seashells have been inlaid into the concrete wall in spiral patterns that remind you of the doodles you drew on every homework assignment in high school. Huh, that’s interesting.

One more block and you’ve made it to the village just north of Pittenweem. It’s a little larger, but similar in architecture with whitewashed homes and red tile roofs. At least there’s a bookstore! That’s where you’ll head first.

Thanks for coming along on my walk!