At The Grotto: A retreat in the city

The Monestary at The Grotto

T  h  e     G  r  o  t  t  o

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”  

                             ***Henry David Thoreau***

One of my most favorite places in the world is The Grotto.  It is a magical place where spirituality and nature meet in a tranquil atmosphere of well-tended gardens, natural areas and man-made splendor.

The Grotto is the popular name of The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother. It is a spectacular 62-acre Catholic shrine and botanical garden located in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.

 “The Grotto strives to provide a welcoming presence and a

beautiful environment conducive to peace, quiet, and spiritual inspiration. The Grotto offers understanding, compassion, support and hope through a variety of ministries including counseling, education, spiritual direction and liturgical celebrations. The Grotto endeavors to serve all people.” ( Grotto website)

Although The Grotto is an internationally renowned Catholic shrine, it provides a spiritual and peaceful retreat for people of all faiths and for those that have none at all.  It truly is a hidden gem in the city, just minutes from downtown. To walk these grounds one would be hard-pressed to notice this fact.  The Grotto is also a stunning botanical garden filled with fir trees, rhododendrons and other native plants.

The Lower level

The lower level contains 20 acres of natural woodland. There is a solemn peacefulness here. A certain quietness that evokes a sense that you are in quite another world. Here I feel safe and protected by the tall pines, their spicy scent filling my senses; bringing back forgotten childhood memories and putting a spring in my step.

I have walked here often in this wild and untamed section of The Grotto.  I admire the way the land is cared for. The way some would say God intended, certainly the way Mother nature intended.  Fallen trees overgrown with brush and leaf litter are sure signs of natural land stewardship.

Happy Jesus

Our Lady’s Grotto

At the center of it all is the shrine Our Lady’s Grotto, a rock cave carved into the base of a 110-foot cliff.  A life-size marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà has been carefully placed at its center.
The church at The Grotto
The elevator
The  elevator amongst the treetops is definitely a surreal experience. As we climb the 110 feet up the imposing cliff walls, a reassuring voice of soft muted tones speaks of what awaits us at the top.
The Upper Level Gardens are simply lovely. It is a whole other world that  seems pure and untouched by the modern world below.  There is a sense of serenity that prevails. I feel closer to nature; a certain connectedness that I can only feel outside amongst the living earth. A visit does good for my soul and it is truly a tonic for the heart as well.
 The manicured gardens and walking paths wind around the magnificent grounds.  There are chapels, statues, native plants and a wide variety of trees.   They say the upper level gardens are possibly the best kept secret in Portland as well as one of its largest green spaces. It is easy to forget you are in the middle of the city.
The Labyrinth
The Statues
St. Jude
Saint Francis
Angel in the sun
The Meditation Chapel

One of the highlights of a trip to the upper gardens includes one of the most spectacular views in town, The cliff side Meditation Chapel is truly something to see. Made of polished granite and glass walls it certainly makes quite an impression.

This beautiful building showcases an amazing view of the Columbia River Valley, the Cascades and Mt. St. Helens. It is no wonder that this building has received both national and international architectural awards.

St. Anne’s Chapel

This charming little red house once served as a chapel and it honors Saint Anne, the mother of Mary.  Built in 1934 it now houses numerous Madonna paintings from many countries.
The View
Spectacular views are just one of the reasons why this place is so special. On a clear day you can almost see tomorrow or at least a mountain or two.
Thanks for accompanying me on this tour of one of my most favorite spots in the world. There is much to see and what I have shown here is but just a sampling of what this hidden gem in the city has to offer.
The Grotto is a place for everyone, of all faiths and beliefs. The atmosphere is gentle and accepting. I find solace here. Its quiet natural beauty is a perfect spot for reflection and meditation or a tranquil walkabout.
If you ever happen to find yourself in Portland stop and visit, you’ll
 be glad you did.  
Wishing You Peace and Happiness,

Strawberryindigo.

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Sweet Daydreams

 I have always sought to create another world.  A fantastic place of harmony and enchantment where dreams come alive.

Time stands still in the multiverse of my imagination.  Colors deepen and take on a vivid hue.  All is one and right and the atmosphere is steeped in loving peace and understanding. A wondrous a place comes into view.  I have been here before and every time I visit it becomes more beautiful.

It is a place where

 vines of crimson and gold grow over ancient  walls.  Ruins of stone spires shoot crazily out of a dense forest of deep green.   The sun is bright and warm and has just begun to fill the sky.  I take in a deep breath of the cool breeze coming from the west. The air holds the promise of the day.  It is a bright spring morning filled with fresh wonder.     

Rolling hills of emerald, soft and mossy give way to sweet-smelling apple orchards sprinkled with tiny white blossoms.  The warm spring rain tickles my eyelids and caresses my face.

I walk down a slate path into a soft misty velvet wood..  Sunbeams dance and play with shadows in the whispering breeze. Scarlet tipped hummingbirds dart through the leaves of the trees drinking in the honeysuckle nectar of the tall pineapple sage.

 I delight in the riotous songs of a forest full of life.  Flowers of a million hues dot the landscape.  Tiny white butterflies flutter and frolic among them. Visiting each one in a true perfection of form.  

The sun rises high in the sky of deep cerulean and cotton white.  I lie in the grass and gaze up in wonderment, not a care in the world….My mind begins to wander and the hours drift away…in senseless abandon… and dream a dream inside a dream….

Sweet Dreams    Strawberryindigo.

 

Behind the Tide

Earlier this summer, M.M. and I packed up the two teenagers and headed to the beach, to one of our favorite coastal towns.

We had been there before.  It’s the perfect place for family fun in the day and other kinds at night.  There prevails an old school carny atmosphere and brassy charm.   This town reminds me of a big-mouthed quickly aging carnival queen with a great right-hook and a heart of gold.

Needless to say, I love it there and my family does too.  The last time we went there, it rained the entire time.  We had a good time, but not a great one and this time, we vowed would be the best time ever.

I like to play travel agent so I did some research and found us a nice place with two extra bedrooms, an indoor pool, room service, and all the extras (free coffee!) at a price that we could afford; in other words, I did the impossible for that town at that time. And while I’m patting myself on the back for being so utterly brilliant,( save your applause for the end)   Take a look-see at the beauty which is part of our Great United States

Those are some of the reasons why we like it here so much.  I have a fondness for the Ocean that is almost instinctive.   The sound of the surf is like no other sound, it feels so comforting..so natural..the sound pulls me in and embraces me in tranquility.  The warm sand below my feet, the cerulean sky above and the yellow sun shining down .. I could almost stay there forever….. 

We have just arrived and I am eager to get to the sand.  Our suite is just what we expected and I hastily unpack and then, with my 16-year-old in tow…head to the sand and surf.

My need to be in the center of everything left us with a three block walk to the beach, this I did not mind since we passed by several shops and the cutest little mall…..There I taught my son a valuable lesson in patience and bought myself a new hat!  

Topped with my new hat we headed to the beach proper where we were greeted with a wall of humanity 10 feet thick.  I had never seen so many bodies pushed up together in one area, they reminded of seals or walrus packed up together like that.

There was music playing, little girls with fat stomachs in tiny bikinis gyrated to a Gaga tune, old furry men sat and drank beer while their too brown wives tanned their hides in the sun, the sweet smells of marijuana and coco butter mixed with the late afternoon heat, producing a pungent but intriguing aroma.

I had to get to that sand!  I ran ahead and ditched my shoes on the way, soon I’d be there… and then I was there,, I almost cut myself on brown beer bottle glass!  What? My eyes scanned the sand; It looked all used up.. a million footprints, cigarette butts and trash all over.  I almost felt like crying……..

We had been to this very same spot 18 months earlier and now it seemed so different, it was loud and raunchy, the aging carnival queen with the heart of gold, had been replaced by a mean old barfly with bad teeth and even worse breath. 

And then I saw “The Bitch”, she was new on the scene but I could tell that she would be a major player soon.  She wore the name of a famous chain hotel, utilitarian looking and gigantic, it was like Nazi’s had designed her.  What a monstrosity.  

She dwarfed the other hotels. They looked old and cheap in her shadow, I had no trouble imaging what would happen to these old gals in the near future..The fact that one already sported a “for sale” sign was just more handwriting on the wall.

The older I get, the more history in the making I get to witness, some of it is exciting, some of it is sad or scary, some of it is quiet and slow and steady and before you know it has already happened. 

No matter what happens, something is always happening and change is inevitable, especially with us humans.  Building bigger and higher and newer. In our race to keep up, do we ever notice if this race is one we should be running?  

I watch the poor patrons of this hotel trying to make the best of their vacation by swimming in a pool while construction workers with power tools hammer and drill above them, I can’t believe this…one drops his tool; he yells down to us, asking if we can see it in the tall beach grass.   We shake our heads “no”  and get the hell out of there.

The sun is setting as we start walking back and I can’t help but feeling that this will be our last time here… and I am reminded of a quote

“The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future”

**Marya Mannes (1904-1990)

Happy Labor Day–Strawberryindigo.

Moonlight Write

I was restless in the wee hours so I decided it would be the perfect time for some night writing.  I stepped out into the darkness.  There is a certain quietness at night that I like to curl up with.  The night is solemn, it’s still and penetrating.  I can do much pondering at night. It is empty enough for me to feel the oneness of everything and I feel connected to it.  I walked down the long sidewalk and into the studio.

The usual suspects, Mario, Jacky and Sunny, were already on the scene.  Mario sat atop his perch on the desk, Sunny planted herself in the night garden and Jacky was sleeping in my chair.

I write in a converted garage that’s quite nice.  It has cherry paneling and two skylights.  It’s located at the south end of the garden under a tall pine tree.  It’s really more of an office but we call it the studio.  This is where all the magic begins. Ha Ha. Well, I like it.  It is the perfect place to write.

Jacky
The famous Mario

The cats think it is the perfect place to nap and Jacky has taken a liking to my chair.  We have to arm-wrestle for it daily and he usually wins.  He’s very muscular.  Mario likes to sit atop the desk. Sunny; she’s her own cat and wildly independent.  She likes to spend most of her nights in the cool air outside.

Sunny at night

Jacky is a recent addition to our family.  It can be difficult introducing a new pet to the household.  Adding to that the fact that Jacky is almost full-grown and a male.  Mario was the ruler of the roost before Jacky came and there has been some tense moments.  Mario feels a little put out and perhaps jealous, as well.  Jacky is trying to find his place.  I know he wants to fit in and as time goes on, he’s doing just that.

“The Boys” ( Mario and Jacky) have been spending time together and I can just tell that someday they’ll be the best of buddies.  Sunny on the other hand, still hisses at Jacky once in a while.  I hate to say this but Sunny can be a little testy.  We love her but she doesn’t have the best of temperaments.  M.M. has nicknamed her “The Rat Mole”,  A name that has stuck.  She also is known by Santino or Sunny two-tones because she is a Calico.

I have just come the strange realization that all three cats have gangster names.  Mario, Jacky and Santino. This may mean something, I will have to ponder this…

Just as I am pondering, I hear a sound of rustling in the bushes.  It is loud and I and the cats freeze.  The two boys and I slowly creep out of the studio to investigate.

We see them and they see us.  It takes me a minute before I realise that there are six of them.  They are raccoons and they are so cute.  I know they are wild but they seem so cuddly.  The closest raccoon looked at me right in the eyes.  It seemed to be asking me for something.  I began to speak to the raccoon in the soft sing-song voice I reserve for animals and babies.

The raccoon inched closer, I think I could have lured it in the house.  It seemed so tame. It seemed to be fascinated with me talking to it.  It inched even closer,  all of a sudden I get tense, I back up right into a potted plant. I let out a small sound of surprise and the raccoons scatter into the night.  I curse my clumsiness and gaze into the darkness.  It’s just as well.

I laugh as I think of the look M.M. would give me If I brought a raccoon into the house.  He already thinks I’m crazy, but it just might be a lunatic he’s looking for.

Hoping you find what you’re looking for….Strawberryindigo.

Blue eyed Handsome Cat 2

Now for epic conclusion to Blue eyed Handsome Cat..

Jacky was counting on me, I couldn’t let him down.   I couldn’t just sit there and allow these crazy people to take Jacky.  I didn’t want to start a neighborhood war over this, especially from the loud crazy neighbors with the totally ironic last name.  Over the years these neighbors had created quite the reputation for themselves. (THAT is quite another story I must share with you in the future).  Lets say for now that I feared for Jacky’s well-being.

I considered keeping Jacky in the house forever but I knew that wasn’t the way.  Jacky’s a free spirit and locking him up would be impractical and frankly, I think a bit cruel. Jacky mewed at the door, I let him out.  I hoped he would return.

M.M, seeing how bothered I was, went over to the ironically named neighbors and spoke the most level-headed one.  We call her Marilyn after Marilyn Munster. (From the old T.V show)  She seems so normal but I know better.  No one could be normal and live there. Well, M.M. is a diplomat to say the least… he found out that Sally was the only one who wanted the cat.  Marilyn, her mother and the matriarch of the family, did not.  She said; “Have the cat, we don’t want it.”

I was ecstatic at the news, it was so much easier than I thought….or so I thought.

Jacky didn’t return.  Five days passed.  I asked around the neighborhood, Marilyn had not seen Jacky, no one had.  I feared that Jacky’s friendly and trusting nature had gotten him into trouble. I looked and looked for him, to no avail.  I  wished that I hadn’t let myself get so attached so fast.  I kept up appearances though.  I told my family that Jacky was fine and that he was having an adventure somewhere and he would be back any day.

I had a bad feeling, I was convinced that I’d never see that white cat again.  I looked out the window, as I had been doing a lot of lately, this time I didn’t expect to see him, I was giving up hope and then there he was.. he was in the street, he looked confused and out of it.  He was sniffing the ground like animals do when lost.  I could tell from a lifetime of experience with cats that he had been in a car and had just been deposited there in the street.

He saw me and ran to the front door, I let him in.  A flurry of meows escaped his little cat mouth.  He was a bit skinnier and he looked dirty but there he was in all his cat glory.  He also was sporting a cheap plastic collar with gaudy glitter all over it, attached was a metal tag:  Hastily scratched into the metal was the word Lucky, underneath was an address..The address was  familiar.. very familiar.

I knew right away what had happened.  I thought back and remembered that I had not seen Sally or her old green van for a while, about the same length of time I hadn’t seen Jacky…

Sally.. of course it was her, she had taken poor Jacky somewhere in her stupid van, And stupid me had believed them.  I am so naive sometimes. The problem remained, We both wanted Jacky.  I believed that I should have him since  he would be so much happier at my house… I also thought that Jacky agreed…he did somewhat.

Jacky also had built quite the reputation in the neighborhood: He was a friendly sort. The cute little girls next door called him snowball, the blonde teenager across the street called him princess.  The people around the block knew him as buttercup and I suppose Sally had named him Lucky.  Everyone thought he was a girl cat, I guess because he is so pretty, they just assumed.  I know enough to look…and what to look for…..enough said on that.

I took off the collar and the metal tag and put them on the mantle, that wasn’t the best idea, looking back on it… Sometimes I get so bull-headed thinking I ‘m right when sometimes….

Jacky had eaten his fill and slept for a couple of days and he was ready to go out.  I let him out the back door and into the garden.  He like all the other cats in the area, instantly fell in love with the place. It’s a cat’s paradise back there… he explored and then found a nice cool spot in the back..behind a tall fern.  He settled in for a nap.   Jacky stuck around for a couple more days, hanging out in the garden, sleeping and hunting moths under the back porch light.

Jacky's off on another adventure.

And then, he was gone. He went out the side gate. I was sure he would come back, He’s so happy here, I thought, he even grins at me when I pet him.  I walked through the side myself, past the multitudes of potted plants in a long long driveway,  I could see a shock of white, running..”Here we go again.”  I said out loud to myself… this time though, it was different.  Instead of Jacky, my Jacky, running toward me.. he was running over to HER?!

This cannot be. What is going on?  Why is he going over to her? I was to say the very least, flabbergasted, I was beside myself.  Then when I saw the boy, the little boy, the crazy neighbor’s kid and I guess, Sally’s son, he was calling the cat and running around.  Sally was beside him and she was actually smiling… Jacky went up to them and started rolling around on the ground, in that adorable way he does.  She, Sally, the one I had watched for years, go into red-faced rages and screaming fits in the street at night, this Sally who let her kids run wild and swore like a sailor.  She stroked his white fur with a gentleness I had never seen in her before.

The boy ran around and then in an instant, Jacky was up on his feet and running.. with the boy, back and forth across the tall weeds that make up their front yard.  The boy was laughing and so was Sally.  Jacky, I think he was smiling too.

I learned much that day.  About Sally, about boys and cats.  I learned the most about me….

 Some time has passed and Sally and I and of course Jacky have made some compromises.  The gaudy collar stays on but the tag stays off.  Jacky goes wherever Jacky wants to go.  Which has turned out to be nights with her, days with me.

Everyone seems a little happier since Jacky’s arrival, now that the dust has settled and I am just beginning to learn about Jacky.  He is a special one.  He has been going on walks with me as of late, he follows me like a dog.  Trotting along, never minding the noises of humans, their machines or their dogs. He is quite the brave traveler.   We’ve been gaining some notice around the neighborhood for our walks, maybe I’m creating a bit of a reputation myself.

Strawberryindigo.

Off we go!

Scary Birds

Scary Birds

Here I am in this cage with these birds, these colorful winged monsters flying around and over my head, chirping with their angry little greedy beaks.  One particularly aggressive bird swoops down and steals a tiny white cup of nectar of a chubby fisted toddler, who starts to cry.  I become even more nervous…

I am at the zoo with my daughter, I did my best at hiding my horror when she mentioned wanting to visit the lorikeet’s.  She called them cute little birds, I call them flying demons from hell.  Not wanting to disappoint her and most importantly, not to look like a big chicken in front of my kid, I agreed and came here of my own free will.  I even shelled out a dollar for a cup of nectar.

Once inside the cage, I told myself lies to calm myself.  Lies that rationalized the whole thing.  Why would the zoo people put us in danger?  I look around, lots of families and children.  Everyone else seems O.K. with it.

After all I am an animal lover… And then the carnage begins.

Did I mention the sounds these birds make?  Horrible screeching, their noise echoes throughout the enclosure.  I am going into sensory overload which brings on a panic attack.  My heart races, I start to sweat and all of a sudden, I feel dizzy and sick.  I look around, everyone is having fun, no one notices my white knuckled fear.  It is all I can do to keep up appearances as a calm rational adult human being.  It soon becomes too much as a have to duck incoming artillery.  I don’t want to be stuck walking around with bird shit on my head.

As I said , I am an animal lover.  I have pets. I talk to squirrels and raccoons.  I have even contributed to Greenpeace.  But honestly, this is too much…I have to get out…Right now…

So we leave the nest of the wretched and to my amazement, my daughter never noticed how scared I was in that cage with those scary birds, a big chicken like me.  I smile.

We proceed to the polar bears.  One of my favorites, They seem so soft and cuddily…they would probably maul me if I tried to hug one though.  I know I must keep my affections at a save distance and I admire their awesome strength and grace.

Come on in, the water's fine.

As the day goes on and we see more and more of what the zoo has to offer, the hellish images of what transpired earlier have vanished from my mind. 

We see the silly penguins march around and watch the playful otters swim to and fro. The tall giraffes seem so lofty and majestic, the elephants look like wrinkled old wise men and the big cats nap in the afternoon sun.  Except one, she paces.

What a striking animal.  Full of beauty and grace but also full of raw animal power.  Watch out!

We visit the apes and the monkey’s too.  I look for my wee buddy, the Pygmy Marmoset, he is nowhere to be found.  And where are the Sun Bears and the Tigers and the Black Rhino?

“They are all sleeping” volunteers the zoo keeper, who amazingly can hear my thoughts.  Sounds like a good idea,  A nice relaxing late afternoon nap.  I could use that after this long but fruitful day.

sunset stripe
A beautiful end to a long day

 Strawberryindigo.