Land of Broken Eggs (Hometown Abecedarian)

by Catalina Monteiro


As Lewis and Clark arrived the Wapato valley, Portland

Basin was 25 villages strong with

Chinook speaking people, who traded firs and beads until

Decimated by smallpox and measles brought by missionaries and settlers.

Each soul killed was born by South Wind’s salmon knife slipping to create Thunderbird, whose eggs

Fathered the first Indians, when the old

Giantess broke them down Saddleback mountain and was

Hunted north in revenge each year for her

Injustice. Thus the city’s Columbia and Willamette rivers were the birth of creation, history

Justified by thunderegg geodes and petrified wood and timber resources

Karma for clear-cutting in the yearly fires and ten-month rain but

Labors of love in acres of parks and conservation zones.

Most neighborhoods are blackberry and Douglass fir, but the canopy

Never turns brown and the huckleberry are always fresh and the leaves of the

Oregon grape are soft when they’re young. The water holds

Painted turtles and orange bellied newts who sun when the rain takes a breath, whose

Qualms about grabby human hands last only a moment until

Rapturous at a sacrificial fly. South wind birthing Thunderbird from

Salmon must have felt the same way about nature as I do, awe at creation and

Terror at the ease at which it rewrites itself. I am

Unstable in the food web and uncertain in my place in the Portland Basin.

Verily the slap of a beaver tail or hoot of a spotted owl is worth it. But

When I am old I want to be returned to the newts and the huckleberry, until then I shall

Exalt the stone and the river and find my place in the fields of

Yarrow and field mustard and knapweed, my

Zenith when the city is miles away and an orange newt glares from my palm. But — I am the


Youngest in my family, if you don’t count the cats, and also a

Xenolith rock transplanted into Portland but still born here, like the

Worn cobblestones in Oldtown and the invasive

Virginia possum. If I am South Wind’s awe at nature I am also a Giantess, an

Unwelcome trespasser into native land, like the whole city

Transplanting dense fir, cedar, hemlock, and maple

Stumptown built on unwilling graves of bark. The Portland Basin cuts

Right through an active volcanic arc, and the “Big One” is coming, but we don’t know when; a

Quake that could reach 9.2, 13,000 deaths projected, Portland wiped out by the Cascadia subduction zone. Still,

People still move in, housing prices rise and the number of trees falls, even though the Big

One has a 33% chance within 50 years. If we are the old Giantess smashing Thunderbird’s eggs, then the Big One is our punishment.

No tests have been done on how the orange-bellied newts will be affected, there are no statistics on where the coyotes will hide, if the beavers will

Move their homes or if they will need to. Our greed and presumption in creating a City of Roses, a city of microbreweries and weed and bridges, will flood and

Leave us at the base of the mountain, the animal’s safe in Noah’s arks of their own making. They will be

Kindred to the Willamette and Columbia rivers, and when the forests flood I hope that the animals will be saved, and live without the

Jarring people-nature divide so common in our cities. But that is in the future and we are in the now, and to speak so callously of the foreboding end to the pacific northwest seems

Indelicate. Listen instead: Portland is beautiful, lovely parks and fountains and roses in every yard, graffiti

Heaped on each wall, traffic from dawn to dusk. If adventuring a bit further down

Gravel lined coastal roads there are giant redwoods and sequoias, and the largest known living organism (a honey mushroom!) dwells in one of our forests. Know that Oregon is beautiful for its nature and its unnatural

Foes called humans. Multnomah falls grows stronger every year, Mount Hood still stands tall if a little less white, and the hills are still covered in

Evergreens despite the crack of yearly clear-cutting. It feels all too big and all too small when you think of how easily it could be gone, dust and dirt and

Decay. I would like to keep it all in a glass prison over my heart,

Crack open the earth’s crust and stop an earthquake (or speed it up)

But instead I will rescue the garden spiders and catch the 5-footed-newts

And accept that Thunderbird’s eggs have already been cracked.


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