Place Where You Live:

Sellwood (Portland, Ore.)

It’s easy enough to visualize my home in Southeast Portland as an ecological landscape. After all, we have to center us here the snow fang of Mount Hood, the ruined crown of Mount St. Helens, the dark Fish Creek Divide on the skyline; the half-developed, half-wild Tualatin Mountains; the great Columbia, awash with the spirit of all those interior highlands as it breaks for the ocean. We have the little cinder cones of the Boring Lava Field; the giant ripple marks and alluvial bars of the Missoula Floods (spectrally replaying, always); the outcrop, here and there, of petrified flood basalt. Quiet dry summers alternate with turbulent winters beset with rainy gales out of the North Pacific. The subduction of the Juan de Fuca Plate not far west, deep under the brine, is not some theoretical thing: It has made those fierce, wonderful stratovolcano gods just east, and it promises—we know now—a great and terrible earthquake soon. All this stunning drama places the city building and the strip mall in their proper context: part of the countryside, encompassed by watersheds no less alive for being partly paved over.

As a dutiful hominid, practicing the same kind of landscape engagement that has kept us alive for these hundreds of thousands of years, I daily walk one or another part of my home drainage—communion—and dream into being all the small gods (as Jim Harrison calls them) that further orient me. There is the Black Cottonwood bone-snag along Johnson Creek; there’s the pre-settlement Garry Oak of the Oaks Bottom bluff. Phenologies and ceremonies, too: Winter twilights, the Crows gather a few blocks north of here in raucous pre-roost staging, rendering a quiet residential intersection into unfathomable corvid ritual. Skeins of Gulls, meanwhile, reliably wing northwestward at sunset (their own ritual). Late-winter fish runs draw California Sea Lions up to Willamette Falls, where below a great horseshoe basalt cataract they shred apart Salmon over a hundred miles from the ocean.

All these small and large gods, these wild ceremonies—and these libraries and brewpubs and garages: a ragged and holy patchwork of a world.