On weekend mornings Jon and I sometimes walk down the hill to the Bayou Kitchen. Enjoying a Huey P. Long and blueberry cornbread at the counter, we chat with the dishwasher as the owner warms our coffee. Paintings of bougainvillea dripping off the balconies of Creole homes, images of gators and swamp scenes fill the space, already brightened by tropically colored decor.

Pablo and Georgie by the pond in Evergreen. Photo courtesy of Nori Gale

Only a few blocks over, on evenings when the timing’s just right, we make our way to the Great Lost Bear, past the Grizzlies growling at us, teeth bared, frothy mugs overflowing, to a booth in the back. We have celebrated here many times – after PTO fundraisers in the past, or, lately, when our kids visit – and we’ve also talked through difficult days, trying to make sense of them. The waitstaff’s familiar, winking banter buoys us just as often as it encourages revelry.

Walking to Evergreen, Pablo and Georgie lead the way, straining their leashes in anticipation as we pass Quality Shop and Pat’s Meat Market to at last arrive at the cemetery gates. Our route inside its walls takes us past the trees at the perimeter where a mama owl and her owlets nest, past the pond where my son, Tate, at Begonia’s Summer Science Camp waded in thigh-deep to catch a turtle he would keep as a summer pet, past the stones that mark loved ones lost over the years.

In colder months, trekking out to commune with friends can help us Northerners when darkness comes too soon in the day. We’ve met in attics and at dining room tables, where we make acorn wreaths, handmade cards and glittery sea urchin paperweights. We see these crafts later in the homes of those who were gifted them and remember all we crafters have weathered together: personal trials, moments of levity, times of both worry and hope.

We couldn’t make crafts, but during last year’s long winter of outside gatherings we did get creative about what to throw on the fires we’ve gathered around for years. Friends bring pallets, broken chairs, a desk and a bureau to our small pit. Jon makes fire bombs out of dried-up Christmas trees, creating an explosion so epic it scares Pablo out of my lap and across the yard, where he will remain for the rest of the night. Our cheeks hurt from laughing.

Sometimes all it takes to feel lucky is opening our door to sea air, brought inland by a shift in the wind. The salty scent grows stronger as we ride our bikes downtown. On the Back Cove we spy white herons pecking at the low-tide marsh, the early morning light hitting our small, proud skyline.

Portland holds a geography of memories for us, marked by openness, community, humor and fun, her guiding compass of goodwill gently shaping our path.



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