U-Wood Holiday Letter, 2020

The Squeaver

Hi Friends,

The preposterous decoration above was a present from Ron and Janet Lunde some years ago. We call it the Squeaver, part squirrel and part beaver. Illuminated at night by an internal light string, it is part of our Christmas cheer in the outdoor space, The Pad, that we created in the spring in response to Covid-19 limitations. The Pad, a flowerbox-dominated garden space on the driveway in front of June’s art studio, is where we meet friends and relatives, two at a time, masked and distanced.

On February 1, long before Covid-19 flourished in the U.S., we headed south to Arizona via Highway 101 along the Pacific Coast and then southeast and east via secondary roads and freeways to Tucson. We spent about a week there in a small house and then three weeks in a charming cottage in nearby Oro Valley before the escalating coronavirus threat sent us scampering home on March 10.

California Redwoods with Jer for scale
Sunset along I-5 in Woodlands, Calif.
Desert near Oro Valley, Ariz.
More desert near Oro Valley
Biosphere near Oracle, Ariz
FLowering Quince as it greeted us on our return to Portland

After returning to Portland, we revised our habits, stayed home, and focused on our gardens, including construction of The Pad.

The Pad before garden additions
The Pad after garden additions
Rick and Jan visiting The Pad
Autumn view of The Pad from the house

Our habits changed drastically after we returned from Arizona. Nobody except the two of us and two others (one time each) have been in our house since January. Our food comes mainly via Blue Apron and Instacart, delivered to the front porch by people in masks. We have not eaten in a restaurant since March, though we occasionally order take-out from Monti’s Cafe, a sandwich shop near our house, or Pastini’s, a chain with a larger menu than Monti’s.

Outdoor tables at Monti’s
Daylilies in our back yard

Our book group, the Prousties, no longer assembles monthly at our house but instead meets by Zoom. We also Zoom with friends from British Columbia and California as well as with family. We mask and distance for medical appointments and get our prescriptions delivered. Our cooking skills have expanded, and we have modified our exercise routines to suit the times.

Tulips in our front yard
Persimmon leaves on The Pad

Our closest relatives cope with the pandemic’s effects on work, maintenance, and shopping as best they can. Jan, our daughter, is teaching Spanish at Portland Community College via Zoom; Rick, our son-law, has arranged for low-risk freelance work; Sam, our grandson, visits his office when necessary but otherwise works from home.

Tulip from our spring display
Wire art by June

Jer still does a bit of editing for Wikipedia, and June is busy as ever with art and writing projects, of which the latest involved digitizing her award-winning 1980 documentary, Blessed Blessed Mama, and uploading it to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16pu9kvm3e8&feature=youtu.be  

Spiderwort, beside the hedge

For more Underwood news, visit  https://southeastmain.wordpress.com/

Happy holidays to one and all.

– J & J

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The Pad, or How I Am Spending My Pandemic


Tulip Season from inside our living room, where we were marooned during the rains of March.

The post prior to this one was written on March 6, 2020, from the middle of a cactus forest near Tucson,  Arizona. It was about then that things for us changed.

We had been watching the new virus spread rapidly around the US. It was in Seattle, our territory. It had moved into northern California. It was ramping up in New York.

March 6, when we took our photos at Catalina State Park, was a Friday. On Saturday, we talked about heading north, getting home before things got worse — and decided that, nah, we had a week or so left on our rental, and we’d stick it out in our warm dry sunny cactus land.

Sunday morning we both woke up early, anxious, — and decided to go home.

And so, no posts about the biosphere in Oracle Valley, Arizona, or photos of our glimpses of the Colorado River and the teasel and ponderosa pines as we zoomed our way to Portland. We got into town on Thursday, the 12th; on Friday the 13th, Jer did a huge grocery shopping, and that was the last day either of us were free to move around in a non-pandemic world. We are officially old and officially vulnerable and unofficially cautious. So we are staying home.

Clearly, it was time for a project — a pandemic project, a project that would take on the challenge, as it were. No in-person shopping  possible, no lingering in plant nurseries and mooning over outdoor furniture. Nope, a project that could be carried out using on-line deliveries and websites — that was what we needed. But it also had to be something to get me (June) outside.

The paved space outside the studio.

So I returned to a problem I’d been circling for six years.

Outside my studio (on the left in the photo above and the right in the photo below) is a wide paved driveway. The driveway has a pleasant entry sitting between two stone walls and going up a gentle slope. But once on top the slope, the driveway turns into a wide, paved, hot, and unprepossessing space. We have seldom used the driveway; friends sometimes leave their cars in it when they fly out of town. But mostly it just sits there, empty and dirty gray, looking ugly.

Over the last six years I have surrounded it with potted plants and let the Japanese maple (top left in the above photo) flow down over the entryway. I grew vines up the garage doors. I had a wooden planter box built out from a triangular bit of soil which holds a persimmon tree. All this, and the concrete still reigned.

This is the driveway from 85th Ave. Our property sits between two streets. It fronts 86th with an old-fashioned narrow driveway and small garage. The big garage-turned-studio is in the back of the house, with a driveway that comes up the slope off 85th Ave.

The front of the studio as it faces the driveway and 85th Ave. The photo is looking out from the house. We managed to plant a lot wherever there was soil, but alas, the pavement remained stubbornly un-plantable.

After looking at that concrete out the back window for a month, I was itching to do something, anything, to relieve its ugliness. In early April we had a warm spell, and I pulled a couple of chairs from storage to sit in the warmer space of the driveway.

Ah, an idea begins to form.

And seeing those chairs and red umbrella on the concrete pad, I found my project. The photos below show how it developed — with lots of on-line searching for materials that would be lightweight, easily assembled, and able to be moved around after delivery. I like my potted plants to sit on rollers so I can “move the furniture” when the spirit moves me. And, the tipping point for me was to realize that the space might be just right for socializing while fulfilling the physical distancing requirements.

I found perfect planter boxes at Wayfair — plastic, meaning lightweight and easy to put together, and not likely to rot in Portland’s rain. They had trellises, which I didn’t think I would use, but which we liked after we saw them. And we ordered a bunch of new rolling pot stands so the boxes can be moved about as we spaced them correctly. We can also move them to the side if we ever need to use the driveway.

The planter boxes right after they were assembled. I was sooo proud.

These two photos look out toward 85th Avenue, which helped turn the ugly space into the feel of a circular room.

Kerri, next door, agreed to shop for annuals (mostly) to fill the boxes with flowers. The local nurseries were deemed essential services and were monitored for safe practices, but we are not yet ready to shop there. So Kerri, much younger, did the work for us, assuring us she shopped safely. Her plant picking skills are marvelous.

More to do, but it’s starting to look like a place to hang out in.

The new round table replaces an older folding table that was not exactly stable. The new table has a glass top which is a bit startlingly red, but will do anyway.


I added the smaller brass planters to make tiers and to hide the black space under the gray planters. I filled them with bits of ground cover from around our grounds. They are still a little ragged looking, but are starting to take hold.


Kerri’s plantings.


On the wall, along the steps leading to the studio door, I put a couple of brass pots that I bought without checking their sizes. I wanted ones at least a foot high; these are 4 inches. Never mind, they are fun sitting on the persimmon tree surround.

The last addition to the space was a couple of golden sword yuccas. Again, ordered online, with a whole set of interfaces between my notion (one golden sword yucca for on the back deck) and what we got (two enormous yuccas, with pots too big for the back deck). Never mind — the yuccas made the final end-stops, door-frames for the Pad, our physical distancing, socializing space.

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Catalina State Park

Bobcat Amphitheater

We’ve made two trips recently to Catalina State Park, which is only about 10 miles from our rental casita. The Bobcat Amphiteater, where park rangers give talks, faces the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Wet feet

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The Redwood of the Desert

OK, so tree huggers might be a bit dismayed to think of the saguaro cactus as a beloved tree. Hugging them seems contraindicated. And of course, they are not trees, even if they are the tallest, most formidable things in the landscape. But, still, the saguaro is my kind of being.

Saguaros are irrefutably the commanders of the Sonoran Desert landscape. They are eerily prescient — they seem to be silently summing up your goods and bads, your deeds and doings. Keeping watch.

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Our Cactus Forest

We are currently residing in a cactus forest. But, of course, it’s cacti, not cactus.

There are barrel cacti, which are used everywhere for landscaping because they are, well, seemingly tamer, and generally smaller, than other forms of the species.

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