Thursday, April 24, 2014

Change of Pace, Change of Place

You can change.  You must.  There's always someone who chimes in about how no one ever really changes, but they are just repeating what some other dolt once said.  Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has the capacity to make change happen... and though at times that change is slow going, almost to the point of nonexistence, it IS there, and it IS taking place.

I change a lot.  I have been known to change moods easily.  I often change my opinion, change my mind at the last minute.  There are changes being made within me that I don't even know I am changing.  Sometimes I wake up, and that change is readily apparent, my attitude is improved or my decision has been made.  There are times that change is only noticeable, on a bus or in a grocery aisle, about a year later or something, and I think in some startled way, "That's it!"  Occasionally it is a relief, but often it is just a banal notation.

The weather is constantly changing and it is always changing me.  I am fickle about weather... greatly sensitive to it.  It becomes a personal pressurized affront, adjusting my momentum this way and that.  I let the weather in and it makes me.

Even my eyes are the color of the skies of my hometown.  Portland, Oregon is a grayish-green maritime rain forest, and there are no people who understand the beauty of that more than those who grow up in it.  It takes the persistent mists of winter, the dark days of book reading and coffee drinking, the lack of umbrellas yet continual hat wearing, to make one appreciate the gentleness of a sweetly squeezed Ptown rain cloud.  The change in weather is the usual weather:  partly rainy with a chance of sun.  That's all you ever need to know.  Dress accordingly.  And though some may call this type of weather "moody" I think of it as "tangible."  Repeatedly fluctuating from rain to sun ensures you are not just feeling it... you are living it.

And I lived in quite a few places... places spread out across weather maps and clinical depression.  The balmy Hawaii life made me sad, brought me closer to my hometown than I ever thought my head and heart capable.  It forced me to call home crying, to count the days in exile until my school semester had ended, and I could return to cool, wet Portland, Oregon.  The day I left the shitty island it was 84 degrees.  Portland was a snowy, sleeting wonderland.  I remember quite clearly... standing in a slushy Hawthorne Street flurry that covered my face and reminded me of the 1970's.  This was a change I could embrace.

Japan had humidity and stairs... lots and lots of steep stairs... and upon arrival, I had been sick for a month with Lord knows what... contracted from working in Portland Public Schools in the summertime.  I could only stomach bread and water for weeks, and my Kobe friend Aisa nearly cried when I ate a second small bowl of rice.  Then the western Japan weather changed overnight, skipping over fall and busting into winter with freezing wind at every train station connection.  The only thing keeping me alive were the vending machine cans of hot coffee and never ending bowls of my homemade kimchee soup.  I loved the trains, loved the people, and I loved the culture, but longed still for Portland rain.  Bitter cold cracked through me without an escape.  It was the coldest winter of my life.  And since I could not conceive of another humid Japanese summer, I left Japan just as the cherry blossoms came into view.

North Texas could change 50 to 70 degrees in a few hours.  You had your choice of 100+ degrees or around 20... depending on what time of day it was.  It wasn't unusual to be in shorts on New Year's Day, slapping back mosquitoes on the porch.  It also wasn't unusual to be freezing your backside off in a mid-February ice storm.  The tornadoes were also a big bummer.  Every year I spent afternoons huddled in a closet while a neighboring town was wiped out.  There were flash floods that swept children into storm drains.  Hurricanes decimated cities every few weeks through September and August.  The two months a year of perfect spring weather could never make up for the other ten months of weather-induced torture.

Moving home to Oregon was a delicate surprise, as we settled into the eastern half of the Columbia River Gorge.  It is a part of Oregon where rain is on short supply... a high desert of rimrock and Ponderosa pines.  It wasn't the wet western Oregon weather I was used to, but windy and blue-skied.  It was a much needed change from everything I had experienced until that point.  Everyday was a gift of easy and mild.  If it rained, it was all anyone talked about, as if the drops from the sky had opened the residents' small town third eyes for the first time.  The winter snow could be brutal, but short-lived, and soon the clearest weather you could imagine would come back and set everyone at ease again.  The downside to this way of life was the dry summers that dragged on, pulling at my rain wanting until I felt I would parch into dust.  I would willing drive four hours west to sit on a cool, wet beach.  There were no second thoughts about where we wanted to finally kick back for the rest of our earth time:  The Oregon Coast.

Ready to change up our lives once more, we made trips along the coast to find a town we could all agree on.  A part of me still longed for the country life I had built in the Gorge, and I felt I needed a farmhouse (with a few acres) just outside a beach town.  I was outvoted.  My family wanted a house in town, and as long as I had a yard to grow things in, I would be okay.  So that was agreed upon, but exactly where became the looming question.  When you change your address as much as we did (8 times in 10 years), we had lots of experiences to glean from.  We felt we wanted an old house, one that had already withstood the rough storms of the coast... proven itself worthy of another 50 years of living in.  We leaned towards something like cottage in Lincoln City, where the weather was fairly good and the beaches spectacular.  But the city never felt right to me, and in the trips I made out there, I was less and less enchanted with the green bean shaped string of neighborhoods that made up the whole of Lincoln City.  There was talk of moving to Newport, but the overpriced (and lack of decent) homes began to wear on us.  Our house was for sale in the Gorge, and had we received an offer, we would not know where we were really going or just what we were going to do.  Then came Astoria.

A great migration had begun, and there were a few people I knew who were a part of that directional change.  Portland's housing market was a hard pill to swallow.  Many years of what had been artists with shared living in cheap, gorgeous foursquare homes, or going solo in charming turn of the century downtown apartments, turned into upscale Yuppies in new brownstones and a flood of Green Certified loft construction in just ten years time.  The rents had become so unaffordable that the collective consensus of old school Portlanders was to leave.  There were those who had bought in at a timely moment, and they weren't going anywhere.  But there were others who couldn't afford the better Ptown neighborhoods, and many had gone on to Vancouver or Seattle, Washington, Austin, Texas and even Detroit.   For those who wanted to stay in Oregon, there were a few choices:  St. Helens, Eugene, Bend, Ashland, the Columbia River Gorge, and the Oregon Coast.  We wanted the coastal town of Astoria, who a friend described as "Portland before it became Portlandia."

Astoria sits perched so high on the corner of the state, you can see water on three sides.  The maritime climate forces you to face each day with an agreeably fresh bluster.  The conglomeration of Victorians and old Craftsmen houses is enough to make a historically-minded architect weep.  Astoria has a series of docks and a working waterfront (the stuff Portland legends are made from but rarely seen) and the proximity to the undeveloped ocean beaches gives anyone with a pulse a mildly pleasant heart attack.  There is fresh seafood, craft breweries, co-op businesses, and socialist taverns.  There is theater, opera, poetry, art, and plenty of great coffeehouses.  The people smile at you.  Art is welcomed and encouraged.  Tourism rules the day, but leaves room for the average townie to still live comfortably.  We are pleasantly waiting out that offer on our house, if not a bit anxiously.  The Astoria change is coming and we can't wait.