Judy Todd
Portland Oregon - The Willamette River Watershed in the Pacific NW

Story Info

Story & Experience

REPORT: Radical Joy for Hard Times 12th Annual Global Earth Exchange
Saturday, June 25, 2022 Peninsula Park & Rose Garden


Portland Oregon’s first public rose garden with a historically designated bandstand, community center and outdoor pool.

10:45am: Today the roses are wild in their blooming glory of colors, shapes, scents, and visitors – all kinds of kin abound under blue and sunny skies.  I’m perched on the old cement surround, on the west end in the shade of a century-old linden tree, planted in the beginning of this place in Portland’s earlier history. The roses were originally planted in the reimagined old rock quarry below me. Now, it is filled with thousands and thousands of species of roses, of dazzling colors and scents, and by boxwood hedge in a dated European style. Paths of brick and cement walkways surround the garden, grassy paths cut through and to the center, and the water fountain shoots 40 feet high in a cascade of sparkling water filling a shallow foot wading and cooling off pad. Original brick and wrought iron steps guide me down into the rose garden. The gazebo, or bandstand, sits along the rim at the north end, gets used for community gatherings, events, meetings and today, just for gazing out into the 16-acre park of trees with playgrounds, sport fields and sport courts. Lots of folks are here today.

And yet, this is a reimagined place from historical wounds. First, the wild nature is gone and covered with settlement. Then white settler activity moves in with the quarry, source of rock for roads and buildings in 1889 as it is “developed”. The first land deeds were owner occupancy only. That kept out all but the white, upper-middle class. Eventually ‘Liverpool Liz’, a ‘notorious’ immigrant from Wales in 1890, owned the property, adding a roadhouse, racetrack, auto-park and campground. A woman ahead of her time, she paid for it with her reputation. She sold to the city in 1908 and the park and rose garden opened in 1923. Only after WW II were ‘rental’ homes allowed in the neighborhood and it began to show more diversity.

[Side note: Liz’s story brought up the eeriness of today’s announcement of the Supreme Court’s rollback of legal abortions. After 50 years and a long fight then for a women’s right to choice, it’s gone again. Women are still silenced and their choices still limited by the patriarchy, just like for Liz 100 years ago. I can imagine a national ‘stop work’ action. Who else is seeing something like that?]

Today, this landscape, actual and cultural, drew me. Perhaps a strange stop for RadJoy, yet we need, maybe more than ever, these “made from nature” places now, and to know their history.  While we will never surpass the profound and deeply mysterious beauty of “wild nature” with its own laws and behaviors, places like this remind us that our imagination and vision of the “possible” is timeless. Only by coming, looking, listening, “feeling”, and letting the place show me do I see its relevance to today. I didn’t know until writing this exactly why I was drawn to this landscape for Radical Joy for Hard Times.

Now it’s time to walk the circle of park and garden and go to today’s 2nd landscape.


12:30pm and I’m at Alberta Park & Arboretum. This mix of trees are native and non-natives and all grace the space. Doug Fir dominates. I’m in the midst of a newer section in the middle of the park and trees: a “native” garden in the understory, including remnants of fallen and aged trees and root balls.  The wounds here are also dark and deep. Much generational loss and grief. Now the land is groomed, the trees tended, and of course you cannot actually walk in the native planting. We can quickly destroy the sensitive native growth, and ‘use’ of our shared places in the city seldom include real attention, personal relations with plants, or communal “tending”.  These “created” places are seldom used for community teaching, tending, harvesting, and creating relationships with the earth beings, our kin, all around us.

Instead, the sounds of a community exercise group activity with loud speakers to carry the beat and a microphone for the leader is happening by baseball field. It’s far enough away to not scare off the birds here around me, at least some of them, and butterflies are flying around in twos. I first came here in winter, thanks to Dan, who sent me the story from Portland Parks & Recreation website. This is stolen land from a different community. In 1923, a Chinese man and his family owned the land. The city offered to buy it; he refused to sell.  So, the white male city leaders of the day condemned it and stole it from him through Eminent Domain (a government tool used by fossil fuel development and others in today’s thefts). They paid him a pittance of the value. While Oregon’s Exclusion Era officially ended in 1943, it didn’t guarantee fair treatment. No signage in the park tells that story, yet rightly could be added along with the native plant descriptions.

As I walk in, a scent of warming bark on the tree bodies near me stops me short. The air carries sweetness not unlike butterscotch. It’s a welcome presence and dispels my misgivings about this landscape. I stop and breathe in and out in tandem with these tall beings. What can this place show me just by my presence and attention? I sit on an old tree root rubbed to a high shine from weather and other visitors to quiet and wait, letting my hard feelings find a place to soften.

Sometime later…I fashion a collection of leaves, samaras, young fresh cones, old bits of needles falling to dust – and fashion not a bird, but a nest to hold my heart, my hopes, and my intention for healing in concert with earth’s constancy.

It is done.


Why this Place?

Portland Oregon - The Willamette River Watershed in the Pacific NW

See the story for more background. 


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Radical Joy Revealed is a weekly message of inspiration about finding and making beauty in wounded places.