When one is new, or relatively new to an area, the most dreaded of all questions inevitably is asked, “And where are you from ?” Oh boy. You just had to ask, didn’t you? The answer is, “pretty much everywhere”, and it never gets any easier to explain how a family could move an average of every two years, and not have been military. But, that was the way of it, so I have gotten pretty good at do-se-doing around the ensuing questions, and redirecting a conversation fathomed only by those who have had a similar experience.
All that moving did provide us the privilege of seeing and living in places many people only dream about visiting. It also gave us the opportunity to clarify just where we were best geographically suited. It’s good to know where one belongs. In the process, I realized beyond any doubt, I am a country mouse. The sophisticated city life and I do not resonate on any level, which is good, because cities already are crowded and noisy, so one less person living there works to their advantage, as well as mine. For this homespun Baby Boomer, peace and belonging have consistently been found in the most rural of communities; not every time, but preferably by the sea, and where the weather makes each day a promise of adventure. All the places we lived are too numerous to mention, but there are three that made lasting impressions, which endure in my memories, and for which I hold the deepest affection.
Boise, Idaho. Hands down, the land of America’s nicest people, where my children grew up, and we all learned how to do just about everything we still find worth doing, today.
Boise is a place where the past exists so near the present, one can hardly separate one from the other. The wagon tracks of the old Oregon Trail crossed through our backyard, and when I gardened, and listened very carefully, I know I could hear wagons creaking, and oxen plodding along through the heat of the day on their journey to Oregon, the fulfillment of a hearty pioneer’s dreams.
In that town, I found the joy of snow; lots and lots of snow that I loved shoveling, but hated driving in. There was nothing quite like applying the brakes, and entering a whirl of meeting oneself repeatedly coming and going in a slip and slide spin. I experienced dust storms that came out of nowhere, an impenetrable wall of dirt that blew through town like a tank, and ended as abruptly as it began. And the grasshoppers. Another wall moving through town, but this wall had legs and wings, and covered every street, lawn, driveway, and sidewalk with their little insect bodies that crunched grotesquely when one tried to walk anywhere outside the house. Hot, hot summers; fragrant, springs where blossoms of brilliant hues and colors exploded throughout every neighborhood; autumns that seriously seemed to embrace with comfort and affection the person fortunate enough to live there. This was the first place with which I felt a kinship since leaving my little valley home in California; its folksy, unpretentious people who loved country, family, and home would have made Norman Rockwell smile.
Juneau, Alaska. A cross between an Old West town and a European mountain village, this most beautiful of all places, is nestled between the base of Mount Juneau and the Gastineau Channel. It is a land where living with danger is commonplace, but survival is something one never takes for granted. And I never felt more alive.
In that wild, pristine, take my breath away landscape, I touched a glacier; fished for salmon, where it took longer to gut them than to catch them; sat on a boulder and watched a pod of Orcas swim by, so close I could hear them exhale, and smell them (whales, by the way, smell really stinky); watched bald eagles soar, feed, nest; and hiked with my kids across a meadow where a momma bear charged out of the forest at us, bent on protecting her cubs. That’s right. Two momma bears in a throw down; I won!
Living in Alaska is not for everyone, and fashion alone is a big deterrent. It does take a certain mindset to find the manner in which one dresses up there lovely, and by that I mean jeans, sweatshirt, and Xtratuf boots. This year-round garb suited me just fine, and when I added my cute little rain hat, I felt quite the fashion plate.
Leaving Alaska was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. But, I always will be grateful for the season I spent there, and will encourage anyone and everyone to visit. There is no other place like it, and we all deserve spectacular at least once in our life journey.
Ocean Shores, Washington. A six mile long sand spit on the central coast of Washington State, bordered on one side by Grays Harbor, and on the other by the Pacific Ocean; a destination resort where one has to mean it to get there. A town which has been in existence since 1960, when lots were sold out of a trailer at the beach access, and roads were not yet completed. A big dream for a former cattle ranch on the sand.
This is a small town that everyone who has lived there says either embraces or rejects the new arrival just about as soon as they drive through the gates. These are two stone pillar sentinels standing at the entrance to Ocean Shores, and always have been known simply as the gates. There are two main roads which run parallel to each other, and a couple stop signs scattered here and there. One grocery store, one gas station, a post office, fire station, library and police station, shops, restaurants, and hotels make up the business of the town. Just about everyone who lives there works in, or has worked in one of these, and all the children attend either the one elementary school or the junior/senior high school. And as in any small town, there is not a person’s activity, secret, or spoken word that does not circulate from one end of Ocean Shores to the other between morning and nightfall.
My kids came of age here, and there always was, as in the other places we lived, an assortment of friends who were at our house, either just visiting, or semi-living with us. It seemed, over the years, there were more and more kids who needed a place to stay for a while, to have a respite from issues beyond their control, or just to be in a safe, secure home until other things settled down. Our house was that place, and I never knew exactly who or how many might be showing up for dinner, or when the counselor from school would call and ask for just one more favor. I never said no. I could not imagine a young person having been displaced already, being told by anyone else there was not room, or they were not welcome. Not in my home. They all were welcome, and could stay as long as needed.
It was several years after those days had ended, and my kids were grown, with families of their own, that I found myself thinking about our home and just what it meant to me to be available and helpful at times when there was not a lot of hope for normal left in those kids lives. And so I wrote this poem to my home, our home, their home..
my rustic, worn,
long buffeted from without,
surely fortressed from within;
hard fought, but well worn path
leads to an open door.
come sojourner, welcome entry
as love bids rest awhile, linger;
peace and quiet are here,
respite, brief or more.
strong rough-hewn walls
bathed in flickering light;
moments of truth established
to nurture, remind and uplift
a tattered soul, weary
but not spent beyond
the raging tempest’s roar.
for as long as hope remains,
so too will shelter;
safe comfort and wisdom’s
patient dwelling, free from fear or harm;
come sojourner to hearthstone’s treasure,
up a well worn path to an open door.