Readers write about Green

Searching for Zelený

An exhibit by the Czech photographer Josef Koudelka at a gallery on the verdant hilltop near the ninth-century Prague Castle inspired a drive to the north of the country an hour away. The black and white austerity of Koudelka’s images of the vast “open cast” coal mines in the northern Czech Republic invited exploration. I had to see the landscape of people once recently at the bullseye of war and irreversible damage.

The mines had been in operation for centuries but had expanded after World War II into Poland and East Germany, creating what later became known worldwide as the Black Triangle. It seemed impossible that such a destroyed place could be a short drive from Prague. The region was infamous during the Cold War for its acid rain, a transboundary cloud that killed trees wherever the wind blew, across the continent and into Germany, Poland, and Ukraine. The acid rain killed crops, sunsets and sunrises, and forests of conifer trees that stand as dead, gray-striped ghosts after deciduous trees had long disappeared. The mines themselves were a destruction of a landscape that one can see still today from space. Some things are most evident in their absence: a deceased family member or empathy, often love.

In the towns of Most and Teplice, which have been moved and moved again in the last century to accommodate the horizontal mining of brown coal, the color zelený is nonexistent but for plants in boxes on balconies. If green existed here, it was in the interior places of aspiration, change, and possibility. Yet the green of good soil was so close between Prague and the Black Triangle: in the hops, strung high on vertical wires; the grapevines on low trellises; and the tall, bright, wavering green of rapeseed, looking wild in fields. The physical distance between Prague and the Black Triangle was an hour; the long distance in recovery and green is measured in short growth for generations.

Koudelka documented visually, an act and a life that pushed him in 1968, after the Prague Spring, to France, as it had for other artists and writers. He came back, as people who care do, as artists do. He was no overt activist, but his images framed actions by others. He said: “I have never had any hero in my life or in photography. I just travel, I look and everything influences me.”

John W. Haines, Portland


Going Green

When I bought my house in The Dalles four years ago, the disheveled yard was overgrown with weeds. I no longer owned a mower. I wanted to go green. No more useless grass. I decided to turn the whole place into
a garden.

I laid cardboard and black plastic everywhere and held it down from the wind by boards and bricks I found lying around. People say you shouldn’t cover the ground with plastic because it kills worms and other living organisms in the soil. But I was desperate. I wanted those weeds dead. I left it for a year. Then the fun started: planting. Everywhere I dug, I unearthed shards of glass and rocks. I persevered, and transformed an ugly plot of dirt into a garden of abundant life and audacious color.

Who plants kale in the space between the sidewalk and street? Growing kale and zucchini in the verge (the strip of land between the road and the sidewalk) has been rewarding beyond measure. I put up a little sign that says, “Free veggies.” A cache of plastic bags and scissors encourages people passing by to help themselves. Sweet thank you notes appear in my mailbox, putting a smile on my face for the rest of the day. If I’m lucky, I’ll be in the garden when someone walks by. Over the picket fence, we engage in conversation. We share tidbits about our lives. Mr. Rogers would be proud of our friendly neighborhood.

Is there any greater gift from a plant than giving us food to keep us alive, or flowers to nourish our souls? My garden grew into a special sanctuary for me. It’s a place where I appreciate my abiding ties to the natural world. I’m reminded of my dependence on the sun, and rain, and plant wisdom. When the bigger world is grim with human violence, the garden provides a peaceful salve against despair. To pull weeds, quench the thirst of new sprouts, and transplant a daisy longing for more sunlight is happiness. My garden and my dog bring me great contentment. And I have four happy cats. They know where the catnip grows.

Nancy Turner, The Dalles


A Way of Seeing

Green was the color of my childhood. I was born in Oregon, and much of Oregon is conspicuously lush and verdant. While green wasn’t the only color around me, it was the dominant one. Green was the color that greeted me when I ran out the back door of our house on Cornell Road and into the woods. Once there, green was everywhere. It transported me into a world that was flourishing, allowing my imagination to wander and explore.

I was bathed in hues of green from an early age—Douglas fir green, cedar green, fern green, moss green. Walking into my Cedar Mill Creek playground in the 1960s was a transcendent experience that has remained with me ever since. You can’t tell on the outside, but inside I am a bit green.

Perhaps this is what helps those of us who call ourselves Oregonians survive all the overcast days. Somehow we know instinctively that without the gray, there is no rain, and without the rain, there is no green. And without the green, Oregon wouldn’t be the same.

Living in Oregon, it is hard not to have some green running through your veins. Somehow, once green makes its way into your heart, it occupies a part of your soul. There it grows, becoming vital and vibrant, while changing who you are. It’s what nurtures your spirit when the outside world tilts toward crazy. It’s what sustains you in the dark days, when negativity and despair knock at the door.

Without green, there is no Native Ouragan, Oorigan, or Wauregan to describe this special place before the settlers’ migration west, nor an Oregon state of mind pointing toward a different way to experience the world. When things go wrong somewhere out there, I bleed a bit of green. When Oregon leads the way with something new and different, it resonates with something green inside.

In an age of black and white, we need more green to remind us that life is alive and that something good is always growing around us, even if at first we don’t notice it. Green isn’t just a color in our world; it is a way of seeing and knowing that it is rich with possibility.

Lowell Greathouse, Forest Grove


Being Green  
with thanks to Joe Raposo

I am a longtime fan of the Muppets. Kermit has always been my favorite, but it was only when I heard a group of schoolchildren sing “It’s Not Easy Being Green” that I was moved to tears. It made me think of my young son, living at the time with the pain and loneliness of Tourette Syndrome: the uncontrollable tics, the inadvertent outbursts, the constant struggles to repress unwanted urges. To me, being green meant being different.

Then years later, I listened again and realized that the song was not about him, but about me. And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out, like flashy sparkles on the water or stars in the sky. Like Kermit, I blend in: nothing special to look at, not colorful or brilliant, a person that nobody looks at twice, plain, kind of boring, disappearing into the background.

But green can be cool and friendly-like, and green can be big like a mountain, or important like a river, or tall like a tree. As I have pondered these words, I’ve realized that I, like Kermit, can be satisfied with being myself, and it’ll do fine.

Kathleen Joy Anderson, Portland


An Observation at Tryon Creek

This morning, the gravel path absorbs the thumps of my steps, only releasing a slight crunch when my foot connects to the ground. Walking off the paved blacktop, one can venture into the park far away from the cyclists and the runners with their dogs. You may have to move for a trail runner, engaging in some serious uphill exertion, but it’s the middle of the week at one o’clock in the afternoon, so
they stick to the pavement. If you’re lucky, a horse will cross the trail. If there’s one thing that persists through Tryon, it’s the culverts, which line the trails so the recreationists’ feet don’t get soaked, though the smell of wet dirt always remains. The Douglas firs and red cedars protect the soil from erosion, a threat the ever-present rains pose. English ivy, an awful gift from the Europeans that traveled to the western part of this continent, covers the roots of this forest’s protectors and tries to edge out any other plant cover. It has persisted for over 250 years, yet little shrubs and salmonberries still make themselves known.

I turn my gaze up toward the canopy, away from the ground. The canopy reveals the crown shyness I revel in each time I walk in this park. The phenomenon occurs in many forests in the Pacific Northwest, and today, the gaps between the branches are dulled by the dark gray clouds. Hearing the rush of the creek partially drowns the birds seeking shelter in the trees, but I can just make out the whistles and tweets of nuthatches and jays. Come spring, the forest caters to a symphony of birds, especially migrating species. They take refuge in this part of the forest, like myself and many other lone walkers, looking for the comfort of the woods. Walking across one of many bridges, one can feel the creek’s mist saturating the air. When you’re that close to the water, patience becomes your first instinct, as you wait to see what you can find—a fish, a tadpole, a family of water spiders.

Annabelle Rousseau, Portland



Dad’s eyes were green, a rare color for peepers. Grass green, like the suburban lawn he cut weekly during New Jersey’s warmer months. He steered the red Toro across half an acre in a white Hanes T-shirt and plaid Bermuda shorts. No hat, no sunglasses; no one talked about skin cancer in the 1970s.

He pushed that mower and made the lawn nice for playing badminton and turning cartwheels or just rolling around in the soft blades. When he pushed that mower on those humid Saturdays, did he think about his life pre-kids? His baseball-filled childhood in Appalachia and on Staten Island? Did he imagine the freedom of his annual two-week vacation at August’s end? When he drank, Dad’s eyes looked blue. When he drank, it was usually from a glass filled with Rolling Rock beer, slowly poured from a jade-green bottle. A seven ouncer embossed with a pony. My dad was a dead ringer for his father, a man I never met. He died of Pall Malls and Jameson before I was born. I can’t know from the sepia-steeped photos whether my grandfather’s eyes were green or not. I do know my grandfather wrote poems for his wife and that he often hit her. I do know my dad spent a notable part of his youth hiding in a closet. My sister and I once took a road trip to western Maryland, where Dad’s life started, and found a church parking lot where his grandmother’s house had stood. The house that provided refuge for a boy who became our father. Maryland’s hills were as green as New Jersey’s that summer. As green as the grass Dad cut faithfully when he could have been sleeping in or catching the Red Sox on television. As green as the lawn that carpets his grave. Those hills were green like Dad’s eyes, and his eyes were green unless he drank beer. He drank beer, but he always stopped after one.

Tess Kelly, Portland



Off a winding, forested road, three green A-frames built around a small lawn and church comprise St. Benedict’s lodge on the McKenzie River. Each structure has a common area on the ground floor and on the top floor, a long hallway lined with doors to small, individual rooms. Each room has a simple desk and chair, a single bed, and a wall of windows facing fir trees that slowly sway. Tinted the same dark green as these towering trees, the steep angular stature of the A-frames themselves lead me to believe this lodge intends to live in harmony with the forest.

There is a special scent here, a mixture of old and fresh and always soothing. Cobwebs adorn the dusty wooden stairwells. Shouts of children playing are dimmed as I make my way to the deck overlooking the rushing river. There the presence of past generations, loved ones who have died, gently greet me as I sit where my family has been gathering every July for over fifty years. Cool breeze and whitewater, chattering pine needles punctuated by a falling cone—all are music to me as I deeply inhale, sweeping up memories mixed with this moment, and exhale.

Near the lodge is a path that winds through what my children used to affectionately call the Leprechaun Forest. The understory is thick with salal, sword ferns and sourgrass, mimicking large shamrocks. Lichen hangs from moss-covered branches of big-leaf maples, and old growth evergreens tower overhead. The light is lime green, dappled with shadows and sunbeams. The roar of the McKenzie fades as I venture deeper into the Leprechaun Forest. Maybe a deer is watching, silent, in the thicket. My soul is refreshed.

In August, the Lookout Fire caused the keepers of this lodge to evacuate. The flames got within just a few, short miles as I marked its threatening progress through the screen of my phone, longing for St. Benedict’s to be spared. Now, in mid September, the Lookout Fire is 50 percent contained, and no structures have been burned. Twice in a few short years has fire gotten dangerously near this location. Is it just a matter of time before increasingly predictable annual wildfires destroy this place, rich with peace? The threat of its loss surely makes its existence more precious.

Laura Herrmann, Salem


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Also in this Issue

From the Director: Seeing Green

Editor's Note: Green

Pantoum for an Uncertain Future

Tonalidades de la Vida / Shades of Life

Buying In

Portrait of My Mother in Mint Green

Losing the Forest for the Trees

Memoria Ancestral

Merciful Debt


People, Places, Things: The Dalles, Oregon, 1988

Discussion Questions and Further Reading for "Green"