Thank goodness for global warming. The lingering warm days of December saved me from my dreaded pre-holiday slump.

First, a bit of context. It was the catalog from the outdoors store (not the one headquartered in Freeport – the other one) touting a holster appropriate for storing your gun under the mattress that brought me to the edge of the abyss.

I was raised Catholic, and my takeaway from the story of the babe born in a stable and visited by wise men is that armament is not an appropriate substitute for the gold, frankincense and myrrh offered that first Christmas. Stick with fruitcake.

Then consider the bombardment of messages to (over)eat, (over)drink and (over)shop. While I understand that these are merely market forces at work, I doubt that these habits point the way to peace and joy for all mankind. Don’t forget the Sermon on the Mount.

A recent screed about Portland’s brick sidewalks warned me that I was in need of an attitude adjustment. While accurate in its complaints about the dangers of sidewalks in winter, its tone was definitely Grinchy. Add my irritation with the “eat, drink, shop” messages. Stir in disgust with the promotion of weapons under the Christmas tree. Simmer to the point of near boiling.

What to do? An unseasonably warm day beckoned, so I laced up the sneakers and took off, thankful for Portland Trails’ commitment to building a network of paths. With no snow or ice yet, the East End trails beckoned.


My path led past the graffiti wall near the sewage treatment plant. Whenever I see artists there, I stop to ask them questions about their work. How do they select a spot? What constitutes “good” graffiti versus just tagging? Given that the path is only a few feet wide, how do they gain the perspective needed to master a large space? And what if they return in a week or so only to discover that their work has been painted over?

Sometimes we chat about different attitudes regarding graffiti in Europe versus the U.S. Often the artists share their surprise and appreciation for the conversation. I give them a history lesson about former Police Chief Michael Chitwood and his initiative in getting the wall started. They’re usually amazed to learn that a police official was behind this project.

I’ve learned that the wall is embraced because it is the only “legal” space to pursue this art. Everyone is welcome, even the beginners unaware of the elements of skilled graffiti. They expect the art to be temporary; that is its nature. Some artists have even used this wall to springboard into careers in mural painting for private property owners here and elsewhere.

Ultimately, I’ve learned that in the larger scheme it pays to stop, look, reflect. Be willing to engage with people with whom you have nothing in common except a mutual enjoyment of the space and place.

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