Monday, May 4, 2015

Healing the Wounds of Abuse Through Nature Meditations: A Walk By Smith and Bybee Lakes

by Virginia Pickles Jones

I find metaphors for healing all around me.  Walking in nature slows me down and gives me time to contemplate and meditate.  The beauty of the place and the moment soothe me and uplift me.  One of the most inspiring places I love to walk near Portland, Oregon, is Smith and Bybee Lakes.

More than two hundred years ago when Lewis and Clark and the Corp of Discovery paddled canoes by here on the Columbia River, there were no levies, no roads, no warehouses, no electrical lines -- just acres and acres of wetland.  The Columbia River flooded the seasonal lakes in winter.  By September, sun and summer drought left behind swaths of cracked mud along their edges.  Fish and Tree Frogs and the Western Painted Pond Turtles thrived in the virgin landscape.  Native grasses grew around the shores.  Rushes and sedges grew in the shallows.  Mule Deer and Pronghorn Antelope came to browse the grasses and brush and to sip water along the shore.  Bushtits, Brown Creepers, Robins, Tanagers and many other song birds made homes and raised babies in the branches of the cottonwood and alder trees.  Swallows swooped low over the lakes and grasslands.  Ducks and geese, Great Blue Herons, egrets and avocets found refuge and fish and frogs and insects to eat in the shallow waters.  Bald Eagles and Osprey flapped and flew high above, also watching for fish or frogs to feast on.

Life teemed in this pristine landscape.  But everything lived in balance.  The Bald Eagles never took too many fish.  The fish thrived despite the occasional depredations of eagles and herons.  Deer and antelope browsed but never enough to denude the shrubs and grasses...

And then the white settlers came.  First one family and then another .... building a house here, a house there....and filling in lakes with dirt for farm fields.  They brought cattle which devoured the tender native grasses.  Weeds from the Old World that evolved tough stems from generations of grazing by cattle, thrived, crowding out native grasses.  Still the landscaped teemed with life, even if there were small changes.

As the 20th century loomed, people built houses and roads and burned coal and drove cars that burped fumes from gasoline engines.  They shot the deer and antelope and built too many houses, too many fences, and too many roads with too many motor cars for the antelope to survive.  They built dams upriver that changed the seasonal ebbs and flows of river water through the wetlands.

As humans thrived and built and consumed, they began to dump their 20th century refuse at Smith and Bybee Lakes: Old automobiles leaking oil, leftover pesticides, plastics, household debris....

The poisons leaked into the water and sickened the fish, the frogs, the turtles, the ducks and the herons.  Invasive European grasses and blackberries and starlings choked out the native grasses, shrubs and birds.  English Ivy climbed trees, tapping them and sapping life from them.

Smith and Bybee Lakes became a damaged landscaped, barely surviving.

Fortunately some people realized the damage that we humans imposed on the land.  They closed the dump and removed the garbage and the toxins.  They built water control mechanisms to mimic the pre-dam ebbs and flows of water.  Other people came and removed the invasive grasses and ivy and blackberries, and planted native grasses and native blackberries.  But these people, volunteers mostly, have to keep coming back to Smith and Bybee Lakes and coming back and coming back to remove the persistent invasive foreign plants.  Many native shrubs thrive, but some native grasses are not able to re-establish themselves. They can only survive when carefully tended season after season.  The Western Painted Pond Turtle survives, but Smith and Bybee Lakes is one of the few places they survive.

Some damage is permanent.  Some losses can never be repaired, but, despite generations of abuse, Smith and Bybee Lakes once again teems with life, and the park provides a place of beauty and peace for ducks and geese and eagles and osprey and songbirds and for us humans too.

Questions for meditation:

How did Smith and Bybee Lakes heal?

What can a victim of abuse learn from the history of Smith and Bybee Lakes?

Which wounds can you heal fully or in part?

Which losses are impossible to restore?

How do you feel when you are out walking in nature?

Journey alone; journey with friends.

Follow the path through challenges.

Find space for beauty.

Cultivate a sense of wonder.

Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area is located at 5300 North Marine Drive, Portland, OR
Take the exit to Marine Drive West from I-5.

© 2015 Virginia Pickles Jones

See my Facebook at Compassionate Gathering