I made a twenty-year-old dream come true
Highway 126 runs from Bend into Eugene to the coastline, through what was, up until early September, some of the most gorgeous rain forest in America. So pretty, in fact, that the first time I passed from high desert pine into the fern-scattered, deep damp dark of the beckoning firs last May, I drove off the side of the road to take photos.
This was why I had chosen Eugene.
I clicked a few shots, not knowing- for how could we then- that everything I had just memorialized in my camera would, in a few months, be burnt to the ground.
Still, giddy with excitement, a bloom of blue masks swinging from my rear view mirror, I drove my Honda CRV- another future loss to events- to the small youth hostel I would be calling home for the next five weeks as I searched for a home. It would take a few weeks, but my real estate agent Paula and I would scour properties from Veneta, a small horsey town immediately west, to Springfield, which is effectively the eastern half of Eugene, but separated by I-5 and a vast cultural divide.
On the west side you have the university. To the east, mills, and the McKenzie River, and along that river, some lovely houses. I nearly bought one in particular. Homes with property along the McKenzie are prized. Were prized.
That house, and the magnificent grounds that surrounded it, are now ash. We investigated old farm homes in Brownsville to the north, a place that charmed in photos but failed to convince in person. And settled on a house that failed to charm in photos, but captured my heart in person.
It would take several more months before all the transactions were completed, my house in Lakewood sold, my fifty-year history in Colorado wrapped in a bow and kissed goodbye.
I'm a Floridian, born and raised. Five years active duty Army sent me around the country, and fed my peripatetic nature. I first went to Colorado in 1971, and after my military career, moved there in 1979. Like so many, I loved the high, dry air, the mountains.
Some years back, during a short-lived marriage, my ex- and I had driven from Portland to Gold Beach, where we spent Christmas watching a storm-tossed ocean pound the beach. By the time we had circled north at Grant's Pass I was hopeless in love with Oregon, and falling out of love with my husband.
Endings and beginnings, often when we may not be paying attention. That was twenty years ago.
The massive influx of people to Colorado ultimately drove me out. When I could no longer camp, ride horses safely, or even go for a run around my Lakewood neighborhood without nearly being run over by an irresponsible driver, I began the long, slow process of ending my love affair with Colorado. Like my marriage, it had soured.
By the end of July my house was sold to a young family who couldn't wait to watch the nesting owls whose soft hoots had cradled my sleeping self. I bade good-bye to a beloved garden, the deer who populated my yard every September and were visiting all year due to Covid-reduced traffic, and the dangerous gang of squirrels which had invade my bird feeders and climbed boldly up my deck screen to reach the last supply of sunflower seeds that I had hung out of reach. I would dearly miss the aspen grove, the marching ivy and the proximity to Red Rocks.
This house, that place, were where I had learned to be a wilder, beginning at the ripe old age of sixty.
On the way to Eugene, barely 90 minutes from my regular stop in Boise to spend the night, I flipped my car at 65 mph. Kidney stone. Long story, but the short version was I'd been hospitalized the week prior with infected kidneys and multiple stones. Apparently the doc didn't get all of them. I went airborne, the car got pancaked. To wit:
I bade my car goodbye. Moved in to my new home just a month before the fires began. The forests I came here to hike and ride, decimated. The houses I'd inspected and thought I might buy, razed by flames.
You and I can concentrate on such things. We can choose to look at our losses.
But here is what I gained: a new house in a place I only once dreamed about. Every day I look out into the mossy firs, watch the winter rains drip onto the woodpeckers and the hummingbirds just outside my office window.
A new car, a better one, the same make and model but different year. Any car that can take that kind of impact and allow me to climb out largely unscathed has my undying loyalty for the rest of my life.
A small town, which fits this Florida farm girl, who missed the damp and the rain of her home forests on a lake in Central Florida but who hated the heat. Here, I trade for tracking in mud every day, sweeping the decks of forest detritus, and I can stand outside while the breezes play with my face.
It's quiet here. People are polite, they let you into traffic, folks recycle, and I am slowly but surely settling into the reality that I am living now where I once dreamed, once thought impossible.
This was a year of losses for so many of us. I've had them, too. But as I sit here at barely 5 am, listening to the rain tap on my skylights, sounding for all the world like rain on my tent fly, I breathe in the rich oxygen of sea-level life. The sweet soft humidity of the Pacific Northwest.
It took me years to make this happen. And I did in under quarantine, a year riddled with pain and loss and worry. I made a dream come true.
Last week, the Oregon Department of Transportation effectively finalized my move by sending me my Oregon driver's license. I've aged. That's all right. The last license photo I had taken was just as I was beginning my life as a wilder, doing international adventure travel.
Still am. But now, when I come back to my house, it will be a place of dreams, of warm fireplaces and high ceilings, of ferns and moss and deer peering at me through my kitchen window. They steal from bird feeders here, too.
This year, 2020, was a year of tragedy for all of us, of losses and learning to accept limitations. For me, it was also a year that I gave myself a dream I'd had since 1991.
Yesterday, as I sat in my basement sorting out boxes of diary entries, I found the one for the holidays back then. My great gift to myself this year, the year of the Pandemic, was to realize that dream.
And that was very good news.