Geographically, I’ve always been a serial monogamist. I loved where I lived, never wanting to reside elsewhere. I do love travel, with new perspectives in strange places with unknown people, but never wanted to uproot, never felt the urge to spend most of time other than home. Moving to Oregon was a difficult decision because of how tied I felt to my town.
Four years ago the moving van arrived and took everything from our house to a Portland storage facility. The house echoed with nothing left but memories, and quickly became just a house, not our home. The detachment process moved swiftly as we stepped into a nerve-wracking and exciting future. Since then, every year marks a new level of feeling at home in Portland and in Oregon. With every visit I see California through a new filter, and every time I return to Oregon I experience it from a new angle, and with a growing sense of belonging and comfortableness.
I’ve bounced back and forth between Oregon and California over the past 15 years, but was always glad to get home, whichever place that was. But recently, driving 1900 miles through California and back, feeling the pull in both directions, I realize that I’ve become polyamorous, very much a two state woman.
Entering California from the north my heart swells, and I feast my eyes on wide open layers of endless sere golden hills and fields, a lone oak on a gentle slope, a profusion of orchards, fields, and farms, clear blue skies, all so familiar, redolent with memories, visual comfort food. When the ocean reveals itself to me as we pass Pismo Beach I catch my breath in wonder, as if for the first time.
Returning to Oregon from the south I’m relieved to see verdant steep mountains, snowy peaks in the distance, winding roads, compactly blossomed trees, dense towering forests, delicious rushing rivers, and lush grandeur gathering me back up into an embrace, welcoming me home.
My bipolar social life consists of a distinct lack of Portland social outlets. Meeting new people consists of repetitive getting-to-know-you conversations with strangers. These are interspersed with recharging silences and meditative aloneness, and occasional visits from far-flung house guests. Then we travel back to our old southern haunts, hitting up the friend groups, and our time is intensely social, submerged in connection, filling all the holes, diving deep into what constitutes a life.
Before our recent trip I had repeated dreams of being rejected by friends who wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t see me, and even told me they didn’t want to be friends anymore. Losing my connections without in-person reminders of our friendship is worrisome, and I’m all the more thrilled when we do re-connect.
I’ve written before about connections that deepen when friends come to Portland. In reverse, I see as many people as I can when I’m the visitor and get an extended dose of many conversations. The forgiving people I left behind welcome me, and to my relief we pick up where we left off. The paucity of ongoing contact paired with a bolus of social time brings an intensity and intentionality to our meetings that make them all the sweeter and more compelling. It underlines my belonging there, even while living here. I’ve moved on to Love the One You’re With.
Driving north past the Oregon border I look at the Siskiyou Pass with astonishment, a still growing appreciation spiced with attachment and belonging. The greens are greener, the water wetter, the flowers more abundant, the smell is fecund and rich. It’s a relief, like taking a long drink. For a long while I felt like I didn’t belong in either state, and now I know I belong in both.
The redtail hawk writes songs across the sky
There’s music in the waters flowing by
And you can hear a song each time the wind sighs
In the golden rolling hills of California
Oregon is an inspiration. Whether you come to it, or are born to it, you become entranced by our state’s beauty, the opportunity she affords, and the independent spirit of her citizens.