A rite of passage comes every spring for me when I visit Catherine Creek in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Catherine Creek is, of course, a wildflower mecca, not in a Dog Mountain, show-stopping sort of way, but in the variety of small and beautiful flowers that bloom and fade over a period of several weeks. But I go to Catherine Creek each spring first and foremost for the call of the Western meadowlark. For me, the songs of the meadowlark are songs of hope, renewal and of course spring. When I think of what can release my sometimes tightly-wound mind of anxiety and stress, it is the call of Oregon’s state bird.
With the novel coronavirus pandemic, we are currently in a space where stress is high and certainty is in short supply. We all have very good reason to be concerned but we also owe it to ourselves, our loved ones and our communities to not become completely engulfed by this crisis. The same goes for non-profit organizations. This is a frightening time to be responsible for the livelihood of other people when so much is uncertain. One of the things I am most proud of in my 21-year tenure at Friends of the Columbia Gorge is the amazing people we have assembled to work for this organization. They are incredibly passionate, fun, and wicked-smart people. And together they have accomplished tremendous things to not only protect the Columbia Gorge but bring the beauty and wonder of the Gorge to many people that would otherwise not have the chance to appreciate it. It is those staff members who engage our members, motivate volunteers, and inspire our activists to join us in protecting and enhancing the Columbia Gorge. Together, we shoulder hard times and together we create wondrous change.
It is in times like these that I seek out the call of the meadowlark. I distinctly remember the spring days after 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis and going out to Catherine Creek to listen. It provided me a respite, just as yoga or meditation might to others. These calls were so enchanting that when I returned home I did a little research and learned that many of the meadowlark's songs were actually calls of warning and danger. How could calls of danger be so beautiful? What a radical idea. It reminds me of the people in Italy, quarantined and huddled in fear, who choose to go out on their balconies with violins and tambourines and say to their neighbors, “let me embrace you and hold you in the music.”
We need to heed the call of the meadowlark in the coming weeks and months and lead with hope and renewal. While our very lives may depend on isolation and disconnection, we should not let that be the full story. Physical connection is but one thread of the human story. Gifts of nature, art, music and conversation will be what brings us through this and stronger on the other end.
Through the coming weeks and months, Friends of the Columbia Gorge will press forward, just as we did through 9/11 and just as we did through the financial crisis. In the coming months, Friends will use its digital channels to keep everyone updated but more important, we’ll be connecting you to opportunities to share, talk, explore, and engage. We will be offering gifts of nature and art, reminders of what stirs our souls. We look forward to restarting our hikes and stewardship events but will only do so when it is safe.
Our staff will also be out caring for our land trust properties and we will continue advocating with land managers and decision makers around Gorge protection issues. There is still work to be done and in our “new normal” we will adapt to new ways to do that work. And throughout the challenging days ahead, we will remember the message of the meadowlark.