July

Steps for a 15-Minute Nature Break

Photos courtesy OSU Master Naturalist Program

Portland is home to thousands of acres of natural areas with interesting flora, fauna and geology to discover around every corner.  In an effort to get Portlanders out to enjoy their natural areas, we teamed up with an OSU Master Naturalist Program student, Kenneth Cobleigh, to write a series of seasonal blogs about parks through a naturalist's eyes. See the steps below for your 15-minute nature break today!


Ken Cobleigh is a systems engineer and author with a strong passion for the natural world and how humans fit into it.  His favorite park to spend time is Hoyt Arboretum and he is currently enrolled in the OSU Master Naturalist Program to expand the breadth and width of his nature knowledge.

Ken Cobleigh is a systems engineer and author with a strong passion for the natural world and how humans fit into it.  His favorite park to spend time is Hoyt Arboretum and he is currently enrolled in the OSU Master Naturalist Program to expand the breadth and width of his nature knowledge.

Have you ever been 'lost' in the woods?  I have, and it wasn’t because I didn’t know where I was on a map; rather I was lost in the wonderful world of nature that surrounded me.  As I have gotten older, I have had to moderate my pace due to painful arthritis that restricts my movement.  But in addition to the changes in my physical body I have come to realize that I have been missing out on the real beauty and the subtlety of the natural world by rushing through it to reach a destination.  Now I walk slowly and deliberately and with a passion to discover new things.  

I am studying to become an Oregon Master Naturalist, a program offered through OSU extension service, and in doing so have been instructed to increase my observational skills.  This includes using more than my eyes to see, and this process is very enlightening to me.  
To contemplate even a small part of the extreme complexity of the natural world is a daunting task. For example, I am in awe of the numerous interrelationships between species in a given ecosystem that may take decades or even centuries to fully comprehend.  And what drives this life-long adventure? Primarily careful, recorded observations!  A journal for notes, sketches, ideas, questions, etc. is a great tool and is indispensable for the naturalist.

Here is a simple exercise that anyone can do in a short time – say 15-20 minutes.  First, pick a place, maybe one of your favorite parks or natural areas or even your own backyard.  Then find a peaceful spot to settle into.  Your chosen spot should be off the beaten track a little so you are not interrupted.  Sit on the ground or on a log.  Relax and close your eyes.  What immediately happens?  You feel deprived of a very primary sense – your sight!  But don’t fret; in a few minutes you will acclimatize.  

As you do this exercise, do more than just sit and enjoy the peace.  Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is the current microclimate like?  Is it cold, warm, moist, dry? Am I in a field, the woods, on a mountainside? Am I near water? How does the local geography shape this microclimate?

  • How does the ground feel – rocky, soft, sandy?  How does the local geology impact what I feel?

  • What sounds am I hearing?  Which are natural and which are man-made? If in the woods, listen for branches rubbing or the wind whispering through the needles and leaves.  Pay attention to the birdsongs and what direction are they coming from.

  • What direction is the wind coming from; how strong is it; how does it fluctuate?

  • What am I smelling?  Is it floral, pungent, or foul smelling?

  • What can I feel?  How does the bark of the log I am sitting on feel?  Is it deeply furrowed, slightly furrowed, or smooth?

Upon opening your eyes, see how many of your observations make sense from a visual perspective. Begin your walk again.  Move slowly and quietly. Use your eyes to scan the ground for animal tracks. Pay attention to the texture and the color of the foliage and the diversity and activity of the fauna of your chosen spot. Now integrate all of your senses together.  What is the story this place is trying to tell you?  You are on your way to a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the nature that surrounds you.

I encourage you to do this numerous times until all of your senses are working together in harmony to perceive the natural world around you in detail.  I guarantee this to be a very satisfying journey!

 

Parks Instead of Pills

Photo courtesy Portland Parks & Recreation

Parks just make people healthier.  Exercising outside instead of in a gym increases levels of vitamin D, decreases stress and a general feeling of mental ease and revitalization.  In a study of over 21,000 urbanites across many European countries, researchers found that access to green space and recreational areas greatly reduced socioeconomic health inequalities in neighboring communities, while financial services, transport, and cultural facilities had no similar effect. This fun Trust for Public Land video below outlines the top 8 ways that parks benefit our health.

View: 8 Ways Parks Improve Your Health  Video and Image courtesy Trust for Public Land

View: 8 Ways Parks Improve Your Health

Video and Image courtesy Trust for Public Land

Of the many reasons people site for not exercising, time and money are a few of the most quoted. Parks create places for people to recreate and exercise for free and close to home. Instead of stretching on a section of sidewalk or dancing Zumba in your neighbor’s front yard, parks provide us with a comfortable place to exercise together that is safe from traffic or other disturbances. We encourage you this summer to get out and join one of the FREE exercise classes in our parks or simply grab a friend and meet in your favorite park for some much needed exercise this summer.  It will make your mind and body much happier.

Parks - Where Memories are Made

PPF Board Chair Gina Eiben volunteering with one of her children at the 2015 Parke Diem. Photo taken by Stephen Brown in Washington Park

PPF Board Chair Gina Eiben volunteering with one of her children at the 2015 Parke Diem. Photo taken by Stephen Brown in Washington Park

The phrase ‘sense of place’ has become a buzzword for those that work with land conservation for at least a decade.  It is often envisioned as a physical aspect of the landscape itself – a beautiful tree, rich agricultural soil, a field where a historic event took place. As places in Portland come and go with development and time, people’s sense of the places that mark important feelings, memories or values inevitably alter as well.

Often all that is left of a place are the citizens that keep the memories, big and small, that define our city. Thankfully, Portland’s nearly 12,000 acres of parkland have been reserved for generations of these memories to collect and enrich our lives. For our 15th anniversary year we’ll be talking to folks whose big and small memories of Portland’s park spaces shape their lives and the way they view the city itself.

We asked what parks mean to our Board Chair Gina Eiben. A transplant like many Portlanders these days, parks have helped her establish deep roots within our city.

How did you come to Portland?

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I began my legal career in Cleveland, Ohio where I practiced law for two years before relocating to Portland.  I was drawn to Portland long before I moved here - amazed by the abundance of natural beauty and the prevalent use and enjoyment of the outdoors.  When I first visited Portland in November 1998, my sister took me on a walk through Washington Park.  It was a torrential downpour and we were soaked, but that didn’t stop us or the crowd of turkey trotters from enjoying the lush scenery. I, like so many others, fell in love with Portland.  Since moving to Portland in 2007, parks have proven to be a great source of entertainment, relaxation and refuge through the various phases of my life.  

. . .parks have proven to be a great source of entertainment, relaxation and refuge through the various phases of my life.
— Gina Eiben

How have Portland’s parks played a role in your life?

When I finally relocated here in 2007, and didn’t know anyone, I did a lot of hiking by myself in Forest Park.  When my now husband moved here, and we got a dog, the three of us spent numerous weekends hiking and relaxing in Portland parks.  Now that I have two sons, ages 2 and 5, we regularly walk to the many wonderful parks near our neighborhood in NE Portland.

Some of my best memories include my inaugural walk through Washington Park with my sister in 1998.  In 2010, my husband and I were married in the Shakespeare Garden in Washington Park.  I was delighted and proud to welcome my friends and family, most of whom had never been to Portland, to experience the city, but especially the park.  On a sunny afternoon in 2011, I strolled through the Rose Garden in Washington Park experiencing the wonder of labor, and waiting to welcome our first son.

Do you feel parks are important to Portland’s identity?

I believe that Portlanders are especially lucky to have the natural resources that we do. The city is blessed with natural beauty that can’t be recreated or substituted.  Portland’s parks are a real treasure.  Parks have something to offer to every person in this city – nature is a great equalizer.  I love our parks.  I want to maintain what we have and continue to grow the prevalence and accessibility of parks throughout the city.  I don’t want to see our parks be taken for granted.  In our fifteenth year, the Foundation has an energy, sense of stewardship and commitment to equity that is inspiring.  I feel proud to be part of such a capable and focused organization whose work is essential to protecting and promoting park space and programs throughout the City .

Parks are more than just empty places in the city.  They deserve to be preserved with the same care as the memories created within their boundaries.  We hope you will join us to make them even better for generations to come.