On weekend mornings, Jon and I sometimes walk down the hill to the Bayou Kitchen. Enjoying a Huey P. Long and blueberry cornbread at the counter, we chat with the dishwasher while the owner heats up our coffee. Paintings of bougainvillea dripping from the balconies of Creole homes, images of alligators, and swamp scenes fill the space, already enlivened by tropical-hued decor.
Just a few blocks away, on evenings when the time is right, we make our way to the Great Lost Bear, past Grizzlies grunting after us, teeth bared, frothy cups overflowing, to a stand at the ‘back. We’ve celebrated here many times – after PTO fundraisers in the past, or lately when our kids have come – and we’ve also been through tough days, trying to make sense of them. The familiar, winking banter of the waiters sustains us as often as they encourage rejoicing.
Walking towards Evergreen, Pablo and Georgie lead the way, holding out their leashes in anticipation as we pass Quality Shop and Pat’s Meat Market to finally arrive at the gates of the cemetery. Our route inside its walls takes us past the trees at the perimeter where a mother owl and her owls nest, past the pond where my son, Tate, at Begonia Summer Science Camp used to wade thigh-high to catch a turtle he would keep as a summer pet, past the stones that mark lost loved ones over the years.
During the colder months, a hike to commune with friends can help us northerners when night falls too early in the day. We’ve met in attics and at dining room tables, where we make acorn wreaths, handmade cards and glittering sea urchin paperweights. We see these crafts later in the homes of those who were gifted with them and we remember all that we craftsmen have gone through together: personal trials, moments of lightness, moments of worry and hope.
We couldn’t do crafts, but during the long winter of outdoor gatherings last year, we got creative with what to throw at the fires we’ve gathered around for years. Friends bring pallets, broken chairs, a desk and a chest of drawers to our little pit. Jon makes firebombs out of withered Christmas trees, creating an explosion so epic it scares Pablo out of my lap and across the yard, where he will stay for the rest of the night. Our cheeks hurt from laughing.
Sometimes all it takes to feel lucky is to open our door to the sea air, brought inland by a change of wind. The salty smell gets stronger as we cycle downtown. On Back Cove, we spot white herons pecking at the marsh at low tide, the early morning light hitting our small, proud horizon.
Portland holds a geography of memories for us, marked by openness, community, humor and fun, its compass of goodwill gently shaping our path.