Month: October 2022

Sunshine, a beautiful space, and warm human connections


Today we hit a high temperature of 60, with no rain! That is quite an anomaly in this season’s forecast, so I took full advantage.

I visited an incredible “secret garden” that I first learned about probably twenty years ago now: the Elk Rock Garden of the Bishops Close. This place was recommended to me by a man I was dating at the time, who sadly passed away a few years later… on October 27th, in fact, which I didn’t remember until after I had returned from the gardens. This added a layer of poignancy to my visit.

It wasn’t my first time there, but I had visited only twice before, both times in 2020, many years after I had first heard about it and put it on my “to visit someday” list.

This place is privately owned, by the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, but they kindly make it available to the public during daylight hours on weekdays. It is a sacred space (with a cool history) with no amenities such as restrooms. Picnicking and professional/portrait photography are not allowed. It is simply a place to visit and walk through and experience the magic. It reminds me of the Portland Japanese Garden, in the sense that every few steps one is greeted with a new and different breathtaking view.

If you live in the Portland area—or even if you visit—I recommend seeing this place.

In other news, I stopped by my old workplace again today, and finally got to visit with my previous coworker/assistant—now successor—Keith, as well as my old boss, Steve, who was visiting Portland for the Halloween season at the store. It was great to see the two of them, after more than a year, and to catch up on our lives.

And, today I completed my Trusted Housesitters profile (with help from three friends who reviewed my recent cat sits with their furry friends) so I’m excited to see what kinds of house and cat sits this might lead to, in my continued travels.

Tonight I had dinner with my wonderful friends/hosts Meghan and Doug, and tomorrow I’ll be bicycling eight miles (hopefully not in a soaking rain, but it’s entirely possible) to outer NE Portland, to stay a while with my new Servas friend Debbie.

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Struggling with seasonal gloom as the rain returns


I’ve been back here in Portland for the past week. I departed Eugene last Tuesday, in the smoke and fading warmth.

For most of the time since then, I’ve been house/cat sitting for my friend Deanna’s feline companion Mimi, as the rain and cooler temps (highs in the 50s) have returned.

I’m back here to take care of some dental work, which will take a few more weeks.

That presents an emotional challenge for me. I find it quite difficult to be in this weather. A huge part of why I embarked on this journey in the first place was to avoid rain, and any temperatures lower than about 50 overnight and mid-high 60s during the day. I find that my mood has become mildly depressed since this traditional fall weather has set in.

But there are some benefits to the downtime. I have errands to catch up on, such as studying my ballot and preparing to vote. Tonight I even attended a Zoom session led by my friend Albert to help familiarize a few dozen of us with some of the candidates and local ballot measures on the ballot, which was very informative.

I’ve also decided to spend a good chunk of time and effort this coming year on editing the draft of my book about helping my then-partner Johnny to build a Japanese healing garden inside the maximum-security prison in which he remains incarcerated. I began drafting the book more than eight years ago, and I now have nearly 1,000 pages to sift through. It is a daunting task, on multiple levels, but how cool would it be if I could actually complete that this year? What if I could actually publish the book? I think I would feel very proud of myself if I could accomplish such a thing. It is a compelling story that I hope and believe would inspire readers.

I’ve also managed to get outside on a few occasions, for dental visits, a flu shot, and various walks around the neighborhood. October is beautiful around here, and the rain does enhance the magic of the colors, especially during the sun breaks.

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Eugene’s glorious October


Wow, another three days in another wonderful place, surrounded by wonderful people! My time in Eugene has been incredibly beautiful, on every level.

I got to spend time and catch up with my wonderful hosts Mike and Jaimari; meet up for lunch and catching up with my longtime friend Drew; meet in person for the first time with my amazing former Portland neighbor Marcella; and have a delicious dinner and chat with my friend Gordon, as well as meeting his wonderful new partner Karen.

It even turned out that many of these people had met each other before, in various contexts, some of which they could not remember! Seems like my connector magic is working overtime in this place; it was fun to see people being surprised to recognize each other.

Marcella is an incredibly talented and passionate photographer, and I had hired her to do a “forest goddess” themed shoot for my upcoming 50th birthday. I hope to share some photos from the shoot in a later post, but they are not quite ready yet. But we spent the whole day together yesterday, cooking up visual magic while getting to know each other. (And we used props from Karen, who herself is an extremely talented photographer, who also used to do forest-goddess-themed shoots! Again, the “small world” within the vast world of my life fascinates and delights me.)

Meanwhile, while I traveled to and fro to meet up with these various folks, I got to enjoy the perfect weather and autumnal splendor of the riverside bike path here in Eugene. The path is beautiful in all seasons, but these past few days really looked spectacular. I’ll share the highlights in these photos.

Tomorrow I’ll be boarding an Amtrak bus back to the Portland area, for a few more weeks of dental work before I head down toward the redwoods in California.

The adventure continues!

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Salem: Old stomping/new chomping grounds


I spent the last three days in Salem, Oregon. It was a wonderful time, with beautiful weather, lovely fall foliage, and heartfelt get-togethers with several friends.

On Wednesday, I biked from my Portland friend’s house in SE down to Union Station. I had three great conversations on the way: one with an old friend I ran into on the street, one with a former coworker when I popped into the store once more, and one with someone new at the train station who admired my rig and struck up a conversation. (Kalena, if you’re reading this, hi again!)

I loved the aesthetics of the Steel Bridge on my way to the station, and as always, I loved the aesthetics of the station itself.

The train ride was pleasant, and it felt good to step out onto the platform in Salem again. Some of you know that I used to visit Salem twice a week, for seven years, when I was together with my amazing former partner (now close friend) Johnny, who was and is incarcerated at the Oregon State Penitentiary. He and I worked together for five years to build a Japanese healing garden inside the prison—Johnny’s brainchild, a first in the United States, and an unprecedented half-million-dollar project for which the incarcerated men raised all the money, using no public funds to build it—which was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

When I used to visit Johnny, I often traveled by some combination of bicycle and train, so this was a fun reminder. And I’ve always liked Salem’s quaint station.

I stayed in Salem with my friend Kristi, with whom I also stayed last year in my travels. I’m really enjoying how this new year’s loop is giving me new experiences as well as wonderful reconnections with people and places from last year, and from my past. I’ve known Kristi for more than ten years, and I got to meet some of her other friends this time.

I also met up with my friend Robert—whom I’ve also known for probably at least five or six years—to tour the new Chomp! chocolate factory. It was a really fun tour, and I loved visiting a local, all-vegan chocolate company who are committed to using fair-trade and sustainable practices to make their delicious confections.

I also got to support another of my favorite Salem businesses, Infinity Room, where I ordered a to-go wrap for dinner as soon as I arrived in town. The co-owner/kitchen goddess/my longtime friend Summer met me outside to hand-deliver the wrap along with a hug.

I enjoyed some beautiful weather, and a handful of lovely parks in the area, during my short visit.

Probably the highlight of my Salem time, however, was my reconnection with Johnny—two three-hour visits, on back-to-back days—after not having seen him in person for two and a half years. Our last visit had been in March of 2020, right before the prison shut down visiting for the pandemic. Shortly afterward, we ended our romantic relationship, and then the prison kept visiting shut down for most of the rest of the time before I embarked on my travels in September of 2021. Over this past year of my travels, we had been able to keep in touch by phone to some extent, but seeing him in person made my heart happy. He is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. I’m sad that I probably won’t see him again in person for the next year, but who knows?

We took a photo, which I wish I could share here, but unfortunately since the last time I visited, the prison photo process has become much more convoluted and time-consuming, so I probably won’t see the photo for another couple of weeks. Maybe I can share it then.

Johnny shared his excitement about his new “venture,” which involves bringing elements of the healing garden and nature/the outdoors to the patients in the prison’s infirmary, some of whom are in hospice. The infirmary is a very bleak space, and Johnny has ideas for adding outdoor access, plants, art, and various other tools to support a better healing environment. I’m excited to hear how it all unfolds.

Today, after Robert and I visited the chocolate factory, he dropped me off at the train station, where I saw Kevin, the staffer whom I had seen and chatted with many times over the years. It was serendipitous, because he said he will be retiring in 289 days. (But who’s counting? I thought with a chuckle.) So, I might not ever see him again. He was tickled to see me after such a long time, and it was cool to catch up a bit.

The train ride to Eugene was scenic in the afternoon light.

When I disembarked, I made my way over to the iconic all-vegan Cornbread Café for an early dinner, and then wended my way along the beautiful riverfront bike path to reach the house of my friends Mike and Jaimari. I had stayed with these two several times in the past as well, including on last year’s journey.

I love keeping up all these community connections as I travel.

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Last few days in Portland (for now)


What a jam-packed time I have been having in Portland! I’ve now been here for three and a half weeks. And, I learned from my dentist today that I might be able to finish up my needed dental work within about the next month.

This means that although I’ll be leaving Portland for Salem on the train this Wednesday—day after tomorrow—I probably won’t be going all the way to California yet, as I had originally planned. Although I would love to keep this lovely warm weather going for another month by heading for points south, I don’t think it’s worth the expense and effort of train travel beyond Oregon right now, if I would need to come back in a month anyway.

So, I’ll spend a few days in Salem, then a few days in Eugene, and then see what else I’d like to do in Oregon. More time in Eugene? A jog over to Corvallis? Salem again? More Portland time? We’ll see! (And if any of you know of any possible house/cat sitting possibilities in any of these places in the next month, please feel free to pass them along!)

Meanwhile, I’ve been loving caring for another adorable kitty, Killian, for the past four days, just down the street from my condo in southeast Portland.

My social calendar has been packed, and I’ve also made it to many beautiful parks, including the Tsuru Island Japanese Garden in Gresham, and the Milwaukie Bay Park, right along the Willamette.

And I still can’t believe how gorgeous the weather continues to be!

I also enjoyed attending a Servas meetup in my (very) old stomping grounds of Hillsdale yesterday, in southwest Portland. I met a number of local Servas hosts and travelers. I have so enjoyed connecting with Servas people this past year, and I look forward to doing more of it in the coming year.

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Unparalleled: the Portland Japanese Garden


I got to visit there yesterday. The place is so legendary. I make an effort to go at least once a year. It is considered by many to be the best Japanese garden in the world, outside of Japan. Having visited probably three to four dozen other Japanese gardens around the US and Canada, I have to agree with that assessment. It is absolutely mesmerizing, especially at this time of year.

I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.

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Wonderful Portland


Wow. It’s been more than two weeks already that I’ve been back here. It has been a jam-packed time so far, and the next week (my last week here, at least for a bit) promises to be the same. So unfortunately, I don’t have time to write much here—I need my sleep!—but I wanted to check in and share some photos.

I have found it much less surreal than I had imagined to be back. Everywhere I go, places seem so familiar that I feel like I’ve barely been gone at all. It feels like, “oh yeah, this place—I think I was here last week…?”

Surprising, but cool.

The weather has been spectacular. We’ve had two coolish and drizzly days, but all other days so far have had highs in the 70s and 80s, with warm sunshine. (Some people here are freaking out about global warming, but my recollection from my 31 years here is that the first two weeks of October always tends to be warm and dry, albeit usually less than 80. The second half of the month is when it gets much cooler and rainier.) I am racing that western-Oregon clock! After my time here in Portland, I plan to spend a few days each in Salem and Eugene; it will be a miracle for me if it’s not cool and rainy by the time I get there.

I have seen sooooo many people since I’ve returned! I haven’t taken too many photos/selfies with folks, so if I’ve spent time with you and your photo isn’t here, please don’t be hurt. But it’s been wonderful to see so many friends in person, and also to have the downtime (thanks to a wonderful house-/cat-sit for my friend Sandi) to do several Zooms with others all around the world.

The other day, I was sitting at a picnic table in the park across the street from my house-sit, when I saw a woman with a bike helmet out of the corner of my eye. As she approached, I heard her say, “Is that the world-traveling Maren Souders??” It was Jeana!! We had worked together in the OSPIRG canvass office, 30 summers ago! I hadn’t seen her in person in quite a few years.
It was great to catch up with Laurie over brunch!

These kinds of connections—in-person and virtual—are a big part of what I want my life to be about, so although it’s a bit overwhelming, I am loving it.

And there has been so much magic in these connections! Once again—as happened so many times on the road this past year—I have had many connections with people who are only here very briefly, as am I. We are like two ships almost passing in the night… but we do get to connect. This has been the case with several different people these past two weeks.

I’ve also bicycled a lot, in beautiful urban as well as wooded places. I have attended a number of doctor/dentist appointments, in various suburban locales, and doing so has allowed me the opportunity to take some beautiful bike rides.

And I’ve eaten so much delicious food! Many friends have treated me to meals (thank you all!) and I’ve gotten to experience some new-to-me restaurants as well as old favorites. Meanwhile, it’s been a blessing to have access to a kitchen and enough time to buy some healthy groceries and make some simple meals for myself.

Mis Tacones!

On the flip side of that, I will end with yet another example of magic, from today:

I had a dental appointment down south in Oak Grove, on the southern edge of Milwaukie. I took the bus down there (and even went all the way through Oregon City on the way there, going by Google’s transit directions) and then hopped back on a bus to the Milwaukie transit center afterward. From there, I decided to have lunch at Uncle Tsang’s, a vegetarian food cart in Sellwood. (My second visit there since being back!) I decided to bicycle there from Milwaukie, to enjoy the beautiful day.

On the way to the cart pod, I passed Piece of Cake bakery. This is a classic Portland bakery (since 1978!) and they make the most amazing vegan red velvet cake I’ve ever had. I normally get it in cupcake form. It’s rich and dense and sweet, and even contains chocolate chips!

The problem is, both today and the last time I passed it on the way back from the dentist (let’s ignore any irony about eating sweets right after the dentist, shall we?) I was on my way to lunch, and I knew that the lunch at Uncle Tsang’s would be way too filling to allow room for dessert, especially a decadent one like this. And it’s awkward to carry things with me when I’m out on my bike, especially on a hot day when a cupcake might melt.

So in both cases, I very reluctantly decided to forgo the cupcake.

I pedaled over to the cart pod. I surveyed the extensive menu, and made my selection. (Eggplant with black bean sauce, add tofu.) They told me it would be a 30-minute wait. This felt a bit edgy for me, because I had somewhere to be in about an hour and a half, and it would take me at least half an hour to get there. But I decided to go for it.

No sooner had I turned around to find a table where I could sit and wait, than I saw my friend Jarmila! She was there with a friend of hers, and they had just ordered from a different cart. We talked for the next half-hour, catching up on each other’s lives.

Another case of wonderful serendipity.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

I texted my next friend, Chris, that I was running late, and he replied that my timing was perfect.


I finished up my meal, and headed north on another beautiful bike path.

I arrived at Chris’s place just at the right time, and he and his girlfriend showed me the ropes of how I would cat-sit for their kitty Killian in a few days.

Then it was time to meet up with my friend Brad. I had run into Brad at brunch yesterday at local vegan hotspot Fermenter—he had been dining with our mutual friends Vivek and Lynn, and I was sharing the meal with my extreme-cyclist-OMG-I-can’t-believe-the-tours-he-does friend Michael—and Brad had told me then that he’d like to meet up for coffee to help brainstorm some fundraising ideas for me for the next year, since he is a freelance grant writer.


So this afternoon, after getting the key from Chris, I biked down to meet up with Brad at a frozen-yogurt place, Eb & Bean, that has great vegan options. As soon as I pulled up, he told me he had a little gift for me.

As we sat down, he handed over a paper bag containing the treasure, which he cautioned me not to eat all at once, because it was outrageously rich and might make me sick.

Do you know what it was?

That’s right. A slice of Piece of Cake’s vegan red velvet. (He had had no idea of my history with this particular confection.)

If that doesn’t symbolize my life right now, I don’t know what does.

I’m so grateful.

And I’ve ended up writing a novella here again, despite my best intentions.

I’m going to sleep now! I hope you all are thriving!

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