The Irony of an Ice Valentine

Ice. On Facebook this morning, I posted a screen shot of the NOAA weather app showing how Albany, Oregon missed the ice bullet. Just a few miles north of us, in the capital, Salem, trees fell, transformers exploded and roadways iced up. Ice storms happens a lot along the Willamette and Columbia River corridors. The Columbia Gorge, with Portland a few miles to the west, shovels up ice like a gardener applies compost—in large quantities over and over.

It’s cold, yeah; a big Pacific storm cooled by arctic air has rolled through, distributing snow in Seattle and Portland. Southward, where Salem is, the temperature was just warm enough to eschew plain tap water and ask for ice instead. Here in Albany, over night we had some ice—enough to bring down a heavy limb of a rambling wild plum in the park just behind us, tossing a useless tangled branch into our yard. Luckily the fence is still standing.

This introduction brings me to the meat, so to speak, of my blog today. Last week I wrote about the park behind us, the graceful, tall oak copse, the catchment swale below the power lines. As irony would, with wiggling fingers in ears and tongue sticking out, it blurt out the news that the City of Albany has decided to divest itself of this tiny rural landscape on the city limits.

I learned this in the local newspaper that sends me news updates via email. A group called the Creating Housing Coalition (CHC), associated with Habitat for Humanity, is hoping to acquire the property for the purpose of a tiny house village for homeless and impoverished people and families.

My first reaction was a sickening sadness. Not the park, I said to myself, not our park. I felt as if my favorite cat had just died, or I’d learned I had a terminal disease. Utter grief.

That said, my first resort to feeling better was to get online and find out what the hell was going on.

The Albany City Council needs money, like every city council in the world. Also we, our little rural town, are suffering mightily from the lack of affordable housing. So, the Council looked at everything and adopted a draft Comprehensive Plan. In it, among other things, the Parks and Recreation Department presented their budget data. Two parks, ours and another north of the river, got the big red X. Both parks are undeveloped, that is, no play areas, soccer fields, or Frisbee golf courses. The city is tired of having to come out here to mow, which is all they’ve done about it since we first bought our property. Blackberries and English Ivy aren’t worth their time, apparently.

Back to the article about the Creating Housing Coalition. The online paper offers the reader the opportunity to react with an emoji. I saw three angries and one like. I shared an angry, because of how much I care about open space. Then it occurred to me that the “angries” could have come from locals who hate homeless people.

I’m not saying the “property value” argument didn’t leap to top of mind. Our neighborhood has its issues, more pros than cons in my opinion, but we have benefitted greatly from skyrocketing home values. I wouldn’t want to lose what has been gained, but even that’s not a sure thing. Someone could stick a pin in the housing shortage bubble any day.

Mostly, after seeing that our park divestment has a five year plan, I began to relax. I entered the City Council meeting schedule in my calendar. My neighbor ran for City Council, he’s as blue as they come, an Albany native, he knows city politics inside and out. He can help me figure out if there is anything the husband and I can do. Also I might be able to engage the interest of local environmental orgs.

Me, I wouldn’t mind a tiny house village nearby. I want people to have a place to live, dammit. What the CHC wants to do is commendable. Who can’t love Habitat for Humanity? It’s the trees I want to save, those noble oaks, pillars touching the sky, pines, cedars, Doug firs.

Me, I want to know what environmental impacts such a place would have. The village plan calls for garden space—hopefully a community garden could spring up there. Albany has only one. Where will they park their cars? Albany has a bus line a few blocks away, but there are no pharmacies or grocery stores within walking distance. To say our little neighborhood is a bit isolated from these amenities might sound funny, but for our shopping, we must drive. The city does supply bike-lanes—a good option for one person but maybe not for a family, and not helpful for people with disabilities.

At the risk of sounding “NIMBY-ish”, there is a significantly large vacant lot in north east Albany—walking distance to Costco and Fred Meyer, CVS, the Heritage Mall. It appears to be zoned half-commercial and half-residential. Why not there?

All this needs to be discovered.

Meanwhile, enjoy more winter photos, taken in my back yard. At least here is one small oasis for the wild things.

Check out my website for a short video from this morning–the rustling and cracking of ice melting from trees, with a special bonus Mastiff.

Below, first the swamp rose coated in ice. Below that the bright carmine leaves of winter radicchio.

The color radicchio turns in winter



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


The Irony of an Ice Valentine — 4 Comments

  1. It would be apity if the little bit of nature were desyroyed, but maybe small homes and communal gardens could be realised without taking out too many trees?
    I would guess that a lot of homeowners concerned for their property values would like to keep a screening green buffer between their homes and gardens and the homeless housing project. From what I’ve seen reported on a similar project, some distance and greenery helps to screen out the noise disturbance some of the formerly-homeless alcoholics can sometimes cause. Their formerly equally homeless neighbors in the tiny-homes community tend to be a bit more understanding of such foibles than the settled middleclass neighborhoods on their borders, so the little ‘green border’ around was very helpful in keeping relations amicable.
    Sorry, I can’t link the report I saw, as it was on the Dutch news.

    If what you say about there being good bike lanes holds true across the intersections and all the way to the shops, one way to avoid paving a lot of extra parking spaces and creating extra traffic noise and danger might be if the CHC could be convinced to create a cargo-bike rental option for their inhabitants, to go with the tiny homes.
    Those can be used to transport kids as well as a lot of cargo – certainly equivalent to the usual SUV-load of shopping.
    A new cargo bike can cost a lot, especially the electric-assisted ones you’d need if it’s hilly. Those can cost as much as $3000 new, but they don’t require a monthly expenditure on gas, so are far cheaper to run in the longer term. In a lot of places where traffic infrastructure isn’t safe enough yet to let 8-year-olds bike to school on their own, parents use these to ferry their kids to school and then go on to their own jobs, or do the weekly shopping in them.

    The investment would be too large for a homeless person to start off with on their own, but if the CHC could buy the first few and rent them out to their re-homed clients at need, for a small fee, then the used ones could be sold on to the ones who want one; maybe a hire-purchase system could be set up for them.
    It would give their clients sustainable mobility at a much lower ongoing cost, even if the primary investment is comparable to buying a used car.

    It could even be the start of a new business for some of their clients, with a lot lower startup costs than getting a professional van: people make a living out of using a cargobike as a mobile salespoint for coffee or icecream or pretzels or churros stall, or to transport their tools, providing things like bike repair, window cleaning, gardening or plumbing services at home. I’ve seen examples of all those, even from the US and Canada.
    If you look at what Pedalmeapp is doing in London England, you’ll see them transporting vanloads of cargo as well as riding people to appointments or kids to school in a Covid-19 safe manner.

    As for people with disabilities, if there are safe bike lanes, with safe intersections (importantly but cheap to implement, no right on red! Makes life much safer for pedestrians too, if your town is promoting anything like Vision Zero), many more people with disabilities can use (adapted) bikes to get around. For many, a handcycle or a trike works very well, allowing them to go a lot further than they can on foot, with less pain, and without being dependent on someone to drive them around.
    Wheels for Wellbeing (Isabelle Clements is their spokesperson, IIRC) is doing a lot of good on spreading awareness of these possibilities in England.

    • This is wonderful information and thank you! I’ve been in Amsterdam several times, and I love the bike culture there, moms cycling their two little kids in a seat in the front of the bike–the van idea is fabulous, too. And yes, I would think a tiny home community, built with sustainability in mind, could preserve as many trees as they can.

  2. Jill, I feel for you! We all need green spaces, and it’s crazy to chop down those beautiful trees when the suitable lot next to amenities you mention might be available. Our small city of Bellingham is in the midst of turmoil over homelessness, as is most everywhere. Also outside protestors coming in to stir things up. There has been violence and a lot of property damage. Many advocate don’t seem to realize that this long-building problem can’t be solved overnight by sticking tiny home settlements in every neighborhood, appropriate or not. There are a lot of mental health/addiction/legal issues among the homeless (not all, of course), and a lot of facilities that used to provide mental health treatment have been closed. We need a big picture solution, and I hope it doesn’t involve losing more vital green space and trees! Best wishes to you.

    • Yes, Sara. You are so right. Albany non-profits are doing their best in this homelessness crisis, but how well the city supports them is a thing I need to discover.