NSP Correspondent / Matthew Sproul / Cross Current

(NSP Meditations features regular contributions from Correspondents. If you are interested in becoming one, contact Matt Love through the NSP web site for more details.)

In late spring I am out walking in my Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood in southeast Portland near 21st Avenue. Heading west one mile from the Willamette River. The hills beyond it rise so quickly; so close; so clear. I look towards the circular appearing cluster of modernist houses in Portland Heights, above Broadway, with their cherished vista of Mount Hood; the Jewel of Oregon, still gloriously encased in icy white.

I’m fine here, with my short range perspective. Those hills (properly Tualatin Mountain) are reassuring to me, a protective wall in three dimensions.

I’ve reached my first turn, to the right, due north. In short order, moving beneath a slender maple tree, for the first time this year I catch the sound of a breeze through the leaves. I feel soothed and a little taken aback, as though having been told a secret. The leafy months have arrived and I may be, it seems, among the first to know.

Though the sound is new, for some time now I’ve been alert to today’s telltale blow from the north. Each year around April 15th, Portland’s prevailing winds shift from southeast to northwest; and around October 15th, vice versa. In each instance making a 180 degree about face; hewing always to a single diagonal axis relative to the local east-west street grid.  It is a 45 degree cross current, winter and summer. By way of example, if on a June day of northwest winds I travel west towards downtown, say along Clinton Street, I feel direct wind only on the right front area of my face.  Heading home, airflow only lands squarely on the left rear of my coconut. It’s bracing going in, a nudge coming back. Cool. Western Oregon’s northwesterly flow defines our summer. Turn to it; feel that enlivening, faithful gift direct to you from the mighty Gulf of Alaska.

Going, as it were, beneath this newly leaved maple, I’ve caught the season’s opening act. Yet already, amidst my revelry, my thoughts shift to the inevitable selfsame airflow through the older leaves of nearby 100 foot treetops—an unmistakable signal of the approach of summer’s end.  It marks not only the close of a course of time, but also the end of a several months long sonic interlude. One that moves from the quiet flutter through the bright green leaves of May to the brittle, clicking high notes emitted from the papery, pale foliage of Labor Day. In the northwest, our imperturbably dry and typically breezy summers accelerate the desiccation of leaves. So that relatively quickly they become light and sharp. Consequently, there is a steady elevation to the pitch in the sound of our trees.

An experienced listener of this shifting soundscape acquires the ability to discern, in a general sense, the passage of periods of time in summer. In this way, one may distinguish the months of May to September.  It’s hot for sure, but don’t be anxious, it’s fleeting. Summer always eludes our grasp because it’s always receding.

I heard this show’s clarion call, and so want to be in this same theater for the final act.  Its mournful accompanying tune carries an undertone of grace.  For as we delight in the fair season’s warm, soft air and gently waxing or waning light, so too we endure its taxing heat, rising dust, and fierce glare. We come through it. As we do, may we try and catch the wind.

Matthew Sproul was born in 1960 in Barnstable (founded 1639), Massachusetts. He went to high school in Newport OR. Sproul studied at OSU and the U of O, and worked as a waiter and tree planter, prior to moving to Portland in 1988. He loves 19th century American painting, hockey and the Washington State Cougars.