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Miniature garden sinks deep Roots

The gardening bug bit me early this year. We were still splashing in April showers when I began assessing the railings that edge a small balcony on the condominium we settled into nine months ago.

We’d managed to tuck a table and two chairs into this outdoor space, along with a small gas barbecue. Two pots of miniature evergreen shrubs offered the only hint of garden between us and the cityscape that now shapes our view.

One day, when the pull of spring overpowered good sense, I drove slowly past the house we left behind and gazed at a profusion of daffodils and blue muscari in bloom. I didn’t want to go back; I wanted to bring it with me.

That longing begat a project. I shopped around, scrolled gardening websites, eyed the balconies of neighbors. Eventually I came upon metal window boxes that I thought could hang on balcony railings, leaving floor space free for feet.

A garden began to grow in my mind. Not a vegetable patch. This space was much too small. Just seasonal flowers and a few favorite herbs to enliven the menu and the view.

I was giddy as my spouse and I clipped three boxes in place. My joy ballooned beyond scale of these modest planters. It challenged claims of contentment at leaving the burden of yard work behind.

Much too early in the growing season, I headed to garden centers and carried home tender plants. In a drizzle of rain, I tucked orange calabrocha and white geraniums between trailing vines of white bacopa into the fresh soil of three window boxes.

Planting Flowers, Planting Myself

In the felicity of all this planning and planting, a new awareness grew. After nine months of eager explorations and transitioning into a new environment, I wanted to slow the momentum down a bit. I wanted to putter in the soil.

This transition, I realized, has been akin to cultural immersion travel—it is introducing me to fresh opportunities, new neighbors, new paths to walk. After almost 40 years of life in the south hills, I am discovering a stimulating new country.

After we unpacked our belongings here and emptied the temporary storage unit we’d rented for overflow, I hurled myself into a heady assessment of life at the center of the city – a small city, admittedly, but still, an environment much different from the wooded neighborhoods that had been my home.

Early on I encountered an intriguing transition project at the Eugene Public Library media center where patrons can digitalize old photos and slides into files that fit a thumb drive. Marvelous, I thought. The move had left us with two plastic bins containing a lifetime of photos, plus some from generations past. Now, I had a plan. I’d start with photos from my life with Dean, digitalizing selective shots to create a photo book for each decade of our 50-plus years together.

But autumn days brought sunny skies and the urge to sightsee. So many attractions so close at hand! I set the photo project aside for rainy days to come.

Through the months ahead, downtown walkability propelled me out for almost daily explorations and influenced wardrobe changes. I swapped my purse for a small backpack that frees my step as I set out for batteries at Hirons or milk at The Kiva.

Exploring my home with a Tourist's Curiosity

I walk to the bank, to 5th Street Public Market. I walk to the public library for author lectures and to productions at the Hult Center and the Shedd, racking up commendable step counts on my sport watch.

I walk, as well, to the building that housed The Register Guard newspaper when I worked there as a staff writer. Today, the Baker Center is a University of Oregon facility and home to the Osher Life Long Learning Institute, an academic and social program for active, curious adults.

With the center just a brisk 12-minute walk from my new home, didn’t I owe it to my brain to keep the circuits active?

I invested in an OLLI membership and began showing up for creative writing on Monday, followed by a weekly meditation circle. I started risking the embarrassment of verb and gender gaffs in the Thursday Spanish chat.

That should have been enough, but somehow the fever of discovery prodded me into volunteering for an annual cleaning project at the Jazz Station, just a 15-minute walk from my door.

In my college days, I headed a Jazz Appreciation Committee at the University of Oregon’s Erb Memorial Union. Now, I pondered signing up for evening greeter stints at the downtown club’s front door.

Then, something shifted this spring. I started looking for flower planters and realized that I was reeling, unbalanced and slightly off center, amid the stimulation of all this exploration.

Like a traveler at the end of a journey, I’m feeling ready to go home. Not “home” to a residence left behind but “home” to the settled-in comfort of familiarity. Home to patterns and routines.

The significance of “putting down roots” has not gone unnoticed in the quiet contentment that rose from spilling potting soil into window boxes. Amid the plants in this miniature garden a readiness grows for settling in and settling down. For being at home.

Carolyn Scott Kortge of Eugene is a former Register-Guard editor and writer, and author of The Spirited Walker. Contact at

Not the Retiring Type

by Carolyn Kortge

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