Ellie basks in the warmth of the rare winter sun in Oregon, taken in December 2017 at her turnaround point that morning, the dragon statue at Irvington School. My team had been laid off a month earlier, and though that threw us into a period of uncertainty and stress that at times it feels like I haven’t fully recovered from, I so loved getting to walk her every morning that I sometimes have to catch myself from remembering this period overly fondly. We always started our walks at the nearby dog park but after that I let her choose her path and thankfully since I started saving the GPS tracks of every walk that fall, I can look back now at the routes she chose, depending on what she smelled with that amazing nose and what her body felt capable of that day.
Sixteen years ago it was time to move.
My wife had changed jobs and we needed to find a home with a reasonable commute both to her job in Portland and to mine in Beaverton to the west. We found a wonderful realtor who knew the old neighborhoods and patiently showed us our options as we tried to get a grasp on life in the city. When our home in Salem sold, there was one house that stood in a neighborhood called Irvington, a name which meant nothing to me then yet so much to me now.
I had never lived in a city before so I was nervous about our new life but I need not have been. At first I loved being able to walk to Portland’s light rail system, MAX, as there was a stop near work and I no longer had to deal with the stress of driving every day. But I also fell in love with the old trees, the unique old houses, the old garages, the variety of people, the variety of landscaping, the ability to walk to shops and restaurants.
I fell in love so deeply it became hard to imagine living in the suburbs again.
Then nine years ago we got a dog. The neighborhood I thought I knew opened up to me in new ways. There was the dog park at Irving Park, and Irving Park in general, as back then the pup was up for wandering around the park as a whole. What a beautiful little gem just a few blocks from our house. But it was the walks after we left Irving Park, where I let Ellie wander wherever she wanted through the neighborhood, where I began walking down streets I had never walked down before and fell in love with the art with which people had decorated their homes and yards. There was an artist a block south of here that created a little dragon out of tile and concrete in front of his house, that I had seen on my way to the train, but it was only after Ellie started taking me farther afield that I saw the much larger dragon he had created at Irvington School.
I started taking a camera with me on all our long morning walks and began documenting some of my favorite pieces of art near the sidewalk, the urban wildlife, the urban flora, the paintings, the murals, the poetry, the fleeting chalk drawings, the Jedi, the bird van, the tree art, the stepping stones, the totems, the wishing tree, the desire for peace. And of course the dragons. This is not a community of artists, though there are artists here, it’s a community of families who feel free to express themselves.
Like the damaged eye of the dragon at the school, time takes its toll on all things, neighborhoods included. It was getting pricey when we bought in but it’s much more expensive now. A while back it was designated a historic neighborhood to try to keep the old homes from being demolished and replaced with large modern homes, but that can also keep out the higher density housing that provides more affordable options. Irvington has been wonderful to us, but it has excluded people in its past, and I want it to be as good a home to as many as possible as it has been to us, for it to embrace the strength of diversity.
Thank you Irvington for changing my misconceptions about urban neighborhoods, for giving me a safe place not just to live but to explore. Goodbye, I love you.
These pictures may look the same but the top one is from Saturday, the bottom Sunday. We’ve had a spate of sunny and cold weather and Ellie was up for unusually long walks both days, slightly over an hour and a half on Saturday and slightly under on Sunday. She wanted to go past Irvington School on the way home, normally we don’t go that far south and east, she likes it because people walk their dogs in the grass field and I like it because I can photograph her beside the dragon statue. She wanted to go Friday as well, trying several times to get me to go past, but school was in session.
This pup is the best.
I took the top picture of Ellie by the dragon statue at Irvington School this January after an unusually heavy snow, the bottom picture this morning in a more typical gentle rain shower. I’m deeply thankful for the year we’ve spent together and that she has been in good health (for her age). Longer walks have returned with cooler weather and new medicines, even if not quite as long as before. She walks more slowly and stiffly, gets out-of-breath much faster too, but still charms everyone she meets. You are my heart and my joy, pup, my heart and my joy.