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West Linn a greener place thanks to Lisa Clifton

A woman of many lives creates a garden in middle of West Linn


REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Lisa Clifton has a lot to smile about because West Linn is getting greener and greener thanks to the new Robinwood Community Garden.

While viewing the Robinwood Community Garden, Lisa Clifton declared, “It looks terrific.”

Clifton may be prejudiced, but she’s right.

The garden is right smack-dab in the middle of West Linn, near apartments and highways, and it makes for a great breathing spot and an oasis of sustainability. It will be even better this spring once Clifton and her comrades start harvesting all of the vegetables now burgeoning beneath the garden’s soil.

It is a lovely accomplishment, but not unusual for a woman who has a way of making things happen. Despite her natural shyness, Clifton couldn’t avoid being given the Robert Moore Award by the City of West Linn last January for her leadership in making the garden a reality. She was a popular choice, because of the 37 nominations received by the city, 13 of them were for Clifton.

“Creating this garden has been very rewarding,” Clifton said. “I met so many people and made so many connections in the community.”

West Linn is not exactly great gardening country. The many tall trees of the city result in too much shade, and one of those living with too much shade on her property is Clifton. However, many apartment dwellers in her neighborhood were worse off. They could only gaze out their windows and dream about pulling a nice, fresh carrot straight out of the ground.

This all changed one day in 2011 when Clifton dropped by a meeting of the Robinwood Neighborhood Association. The committee was talking about landscaping for the land, which was perfect timing for Clifton’s comments.

“I said, ‘Gosh, it should be native plants!’” said Clifton, who lives just down the street from Robinwood Station. “’We should be growing food here. It has such a nice, sunny exposure.’”

Clifton’s wisdom cut through the red tape like a scythe, and Robinwood Station was well on its way to having a community garden after the neighborhood association received a $7,800 Healthy Eating, Active Living grant from Clackamas County Health, Housing and Human Services Department. Clifton and her fellow and sister gardeners are turning the garden into the fresh salad capital of West Linn. The tomatoes alone will be awesome.

“We’ll have 20 to 30 different varieties of tomatoes,” Clifton said. “I love tomatoes of all kinds.”

Aside from producing tomatoes beyond your wildest dreams, the most pleasing aspect of the garden is that it is truly a community garden. It is no place for the Lone Ranger brand of solitary gardening, but one of folks working the earth together, and that makes it so much more fun.

Pete Herring can now resume the gardening career that he had to give up when he moved into a West Linn apartment.

“I can’t garden where I live,” Herring said. “So I joined this garden club. What I like best about the garden is that it has such nice beds. We work collaboratively and share the harvest among ourselves. This makes us much more of a group.”

Past experience is no requirement to be part of the Robinwood garden.

“I’m one of the newest members,” Nancy Muniz said. “I’m on a learning curve. I dabble. One reason I like working in this garden is that my daughter is a gardening coordinator in San Francisco. It’s fun for us to have something in common.”

“I love being here,” Sara Mihm said. “All of us involved in this garden are interested in sustainability issues and having no waste. We hope to be an example in West Linn. You can get your spices here instead of a store.”

Building a garden is just the latest remarkable thing that Clifton has done in her remarkable life. A life which has been almost as adventurous as that of Indiana Jones, but more fun and also sadder.

She has had exhilarating highs and terrible lows. Tall, slim, rangy and tanned, Clifton looks just like a pioneer woman.

Hopefully, she will write a memoir someday, but a short listing here of her many experiences in Africa, Asia, Australia and Panama will have to suffice for now: patching up the victim of a lion’s mauling; seeing the children of her friends drown in rivers; nearly getting carried away down a river herself, with all of her supplies for a month packed on a Land Rover; making her way down Mount Kilimanjaro despite suffering from malaria; fighting to save the life of a pilot whose plane crashed in the jungle (sadly, he died); and finding time to have two children with her husband.

“I really thrived in that setting,” Clifton said. “I loved connecting with other cultures and interacting with different people. My heart was lost to Africa. When I was there I had a feeling in my body that I was coming home.

“People ask me, ‘How could you take your kids there?’ I ask them, ‘How can you take your kids around the streets?’ Africa has so many snakes and dangerous animals and diseases. But I do believe we have just as many dangers every day in our lives in the USA.”

Along the way, Clifton gained a huge knowledge of the afflictions of Planet Earth and the people who struggle to live on it.

She said, “It is really important to me that we in the developed world realize what we have been and are doing to the people around the world and their qualities of life. Our values are really skewed here. People are so concerned about their ‘stuff’ and getting the latest and the greatest. A lot of that is detrimental to the people of the world.”

The thought of leaving the untamed world and going back to civilization made Clifton shudder. Other than her washing machine, she would rather be in the jungle. But for the past 17 years her volunteer work has improved the quality of life in West Linn.

As for the Robinwood Community Garden, there are nothing but good times ahead.

“By 2020 we should be growing all of the food we need,” Clifton said. “All from this public place.”

When it comes to public speaking, Lisa Clifton is downright shy. When it comes to getting things done she is downright bold.

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or cnewell@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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