Low tide on the Kalama River, mere feet from where I sit.
My husband and I have spent the last year looking for a new home in the Pacific Northwest. We were initially lured by a foreclosed farm in Brush Prairie, Washington. It seemed like our chance, and we dared to dream for a few days before it was taken off the market. That possibility was enough for us, and the search began in earnest.
We have had tremendous good fortune in finding a level 1.43 acres in the beautiful, small town of Kalama. The sellers are kind, dear people who have cheered us on and accommodated us in every way possible. The details of our success will spin out in time. Tonight, I want to talk about the journey to our new home.
The stress of packing under a deadline with little sleep wore me down throughout the last week of February. I continued to work and coordinated the closing of the sale of my house in Utah and all of the associated financial chess of that transaction, with the closing of the construction loan for the Kalama property during my breaks. I was fighting a sinus infection, as well. The effort tempered my excitement about the move, but only as much as a wisp of cloud tempers the heat of the sun in summer. I felt moments of giddy elation, even as my body protested my every step.
We pulled the last few items from our house on Friday evening, March 6, just after the sunset. The vinyl flooring made everything echo noisily. The dogs were so confused by all of the commotion; they kept waiting outside the door to my old office. They followed me up and down the back stairs as I carried the odd broom and stepladder from the kitchen to the 5th wheel trailer parked in our driveway. The overhead lights of the trailer were the only illumination in the street by the time we settled in for bed.
We rose just after 5:00, preparing to leave by 6 AM on Saturday. My husband was driving his massive truck, pulling the trailer, while I drove behind in my beloved Juke with our four dogs in the passenger seat. His mother was on her way to meet us and round out the convoy, driving our old Chevy Cavalier.
About 5 minutes before she showed, I missed one of the steps leading away from the sleeping area inside the trailer, and fell about four feet downward over a distance of six feet horizontally. I was clumsy and half-awake, but the fall turned on the juice in an instant. It was one of those truly humiliating, slow-motion trips. The stacked dog kennels and my tucked right arm took most of the weight of the impact, and my forehead hit the edge of the dogs’ water dish on the way to the floor. I was still groaning in pain when my husband barged through the door to find the source of the commotion.
He looked at me, writhing face-down on the narrow linoleum hallway, drenched in water, with four excited Chihuahuas prancing on my back, and managed to keep a straight face when he asked me if he needed to call a doctor.
My arm was swollen in three places with brutal blue and purple bruises for days. All fleshy parts, of course. I told him I was going to post photos and tell my friends that I had “fallen down the stairs”.
I still have a nasty bruise just below my left elbow, but it’s fading fast. There were plenty of little mishaps like that along the way. My biggest dog tried to jump into my lap as I merged onto the interstate and threw the car into neutral when I was accelerating to freeway speed somewhere around Troutdale. My mother-in-law couldn’t figure out how to turn off the hazard lights in the Cavalier, and I neatly snapped the switch in two trying to do it for her. I had to pry it into place with a key. A tractor-trailer came within a foot of broad-siding the trailer in a construction zone near Boise, and honked at my poor husband. The resulting anxiety attack took him off the road for a long while.
On the subject of Idaho: western Idaho is a depressing, gray wasteland of dirt and sagebrush that seems to never end or change–especially when you are driving the third car in a 3-car train moving at 40 MPH. The first 12 hours of our drive were punctuated by listless crows and clumps of faded green brush amongst cloud-shaded gravel. It sucked so bad there, the plants couldn’t even summon the enthusiasm to be fully green. I was so bored, I burned through CDs one after another, just to save my sanity. I never want to make that drive again.
We spent the night in an RV Park in Baker City, Oregon. I escaped the crowded trailer for a few minutes to have a cigarette and wondered at the multitudes of stars that I haven’t been able to see for the past 5 years in the suburbs. In my usual lust for knowledge, I wanted to know the name of every speck of light in the sky.
The next morning, I woke to the song of a Northern Mockingbird just outside the trailer: a good omen, and a delightful buoy to my spirit. I have loved mockingbirds since I was a child, and the clear, loud sing-sing-sing repertoire was a welcome treat.
As we pulled away from Baker City, I found an oldies station on the FM band that came in strong enough to allow me to recognize the old tunes and sing along with whatever fate wanted to spin up for me. I sang to my dogs to keep them calm, but they didn’t need it so much after the first day. I kept singing because I wanted to feel what the mockingbird felt in the predawn anticipation of a beautiful day.
James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind” started playing as we crested a hill west of Baker City. The sun touched my cheek, and I saw the first big, lush slopes of the mountains to my left. The mountains in that part of Oregon are not as grand as the Wasatch Front, nor as tall. I know people in Utah would assert that they are scarcely more than hills, but I insist that they are better. In Oregon, the hills are soft and warm. They don’t stifle the rising sun, they bask in it. They don’t stand with locked shoulders, exposing layers of scarred rock; they fold and bend with evergreen spines and mossy roundness. They are alive and inviting.
I don’t know the words to that James Taylor song. I knew the title in the way that I know many song titles that I have absorbed through snippets in television commercials and pop culture exposure. The words, at the time, seemed to be about being where you feel you really want to be. I was. I was going home to Spring in a place I’ve only visited too briefly in Autumn. Despite fighting the ridiculousness of it, I began to sob.
To be fair, I was choking up a little bit during Huey Lewis and the News singing “Power of Love” before that. It’s not the song, it’s the moment.
I cried again when I told my husband about it in the parking lot of the Flying J later that morning. He choked up this week, a bit, too.
We are home, as yet without a home. We are living in the most beautiful place I have ever seen. For now, that’s enough to keep all the stress of the job ahead at bay.