The Fond Days of Yesteryear

From left to right: me, Shasta Zielke, and Fionna Fallon at Duniway Track. Photo by Jason Hill

My last days in Portland have been filled up with all of the things I love most here: time spent with friends, running in all my favorite places, visiting all of my local haunts. When I think of the thirteen years I spent here, there are all kinds of ways I’ve grown and evolved, but those core, everyday occurrences are what have been the most sustaining; they’re what I always return to.

Back in the late summer of 2009, not long after arriving, I decided to go for a trail run in Forest Park starting from Lower Macleay Park. My only real experience running on trails to that point had been a short lake loop near my college in Illinois. I stared up in awe at the cathedral of trees and greenery stretching out above me, thinking “Holy cow, I get to run here!” I made a point to run nearly every long run there leading up to my first marathon, the Portland Marathon, that October.

I drifted away from the trails and Forest Park as I got more into road running over the next ten or so years, then found my way back in the spring of 2020 as I prepared to run and hike the entire Appalachian Trail. The forest became more than merely a training ground; it was a sanctuary. Somewhere to spend long hours either in my thoughts or in free flowing conversations with friends in an otherwise tumultuous time.

I have had feelings of no longer belonging in Portland, partly stemming from realizing I might not be as philosophically aligned among the broader community here as I once thought I was. Those differences were exacerbated by the pandemic and from choosing a different path, so to speak, by stepping away and hiking the AT. I might have felt that way anywhere, however, as I was experiencing a personal shift while simultaneously there was a crisis happening around the world.

As the flood of this tidal wave of the past couple years has been receding, it feels as though we’re left picking up the pieces and figuring out how to move forward. As I’ve been engaging with the people and places I love, old and new, Portland has started to feel like Portland again, which makes me consider that my previous feelings of not belonging have less to do with a place itself and more to do with having a deeper sense of self and my own convictions.

It feels strange to be leaving when things seem to be trending up, in terms of reconnecting with and finding healing in the place I have called home for the past thirteen years. The personal loss I experienced this past year has been hard, and there are times I’ve wanted nothing more than to leave with my head down and escape the reminders of what once was. Carrying out my planned time here through this spring, however, has only helped me to appreciate how much I have gained in my time here: the friends I hold dear, the communities I’ve had the privilege to be a part of, and a great deal of personal growth.

If you find yourself in Portland, here are some of the things I will miss and would recommend:

-A walk or run in Forest Park; start from Lower Macleay and either go straight past the Stone House and follow the signs to Pittock Mansion for a spectacular view of the city, or take the sharp right at the Stone House and follow Wildwood Trail for a lush, green nature-filled experience

-The International Rose Test Garden in the summer when the flowers are in full bloom

-The Portland Japanese Garden in the spring for the cherry blossoms and in the fall for the colorful leaves

-Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach; a hot bowl of clam chowder at Mo’s on a cold, blustery day on the coast

-Sink your teeth into a perfect, buttery, flaky croissant at Ken’s Artisan Bakery

-Green machine roll and all of the sashimi/nigiri at Bamboo Sushi

-Council Crest at sunset on a clear evening when all the surrounding mountains are lit up

The list goes on, but that’s a pretty good start. Thanks for some wonderful years, Portland. It’s been real!

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Thanks for reading. If this resonated with you in some way or if you just enjoy these letters, please consider buying me a coffee! Your support keeps this newsletter going, for which I’m so appreciative. Shoutout to my fabulous monthly members, for whom I’m planning something special this summer. You can sign up to become a monthly member too, for the cost of one schmancy coffee a month. As a thank you, you’ll receive some beautiful Mercury on the Run stickers and a handwritten note from me.

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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds the fastest known times for a woman on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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