It's been just over a month since we arrived in Oregon... and it's taken me about that long to figure out how to relax. I'm still new at it. Yesterday, there were a few hours where I even flirted with - gasp! - boredom. As someone who has spent the past decade trying to squeeze maximum living into the few hours between work and sleep, having time to breathe is a new and exciting experience.
The first difference that comes to mind is the beverage in my hand. Cold, clean water - straight from the tap! I lived in New Orleans for thirteen years. There, drinking tap water is not good for your health. Even in Virginia, it was a dubious prospect. I was understandably nervous, but at this point I've even retired my Brita pitcher. We haven't had a chance to dip more than a toe into the lake. (Weeks of forest fire smoke were followed by a week of rain and now we're decidedly in the realm of fall weather.) But we haven't heard of any bodies being pulled out of it and, here, swimming is downright encouraged. This is exciting and new. (Don't get me wrong, I love NOLA. Just... not the water.)
The town where we've settled, Sweet Home, is great. Small, but not too small. The population is just under 9,000. Put in terms more familiar to my brain, we rate two supermarkets, multiple gas stations, a McDonald's, and an A&W. It seems to get bigger on the weekends, with boats and RVs coming in from around the area. We get to live in a mountain vacation town! People are also incredibly friendly. Everyone has been welcoming, wanting to know what we're doing in town, filling us in on handy information (like what time the supermarket drops their bakery items onto the clearance rack). Some have asked what we do and, while I'm quick to mutter about being a remote worker for a bank, Bobby loves to jump in and tell them that we're getting away so I can work on my upcoming novel. He calls it the "small town Stephen King approach" which, admittedly, is my dream life, but we mustn't count those chickens before they've hatched. (Also, no pressure.) Because Oregonians are so keen to strike up conversations, I've gotten business cards, which is a much better reaction than starting at my feet.
Anything more that we need is a fifteen minute drive away to Lebanon, a little further to Albany or Corvallis. Not being able to pump our own gas was weird at first, but we've grown accustomed to keeping cash on-hand for convenience, the cash discount, and tips (which is apparently not necessary, but I can't not do it). Most of the pumpers are really friendly, too. Lots of young people getting paid to hang outside and enjoy some of that legal weed (I smell you). I've only had one creeper who leaned in too close to look at my tits. With gas acquired, it's a gorgeous drive in every direction, following winding roads through mountains and forests and farmland. Plenty of lumber mills close by and I'm fascinated by what appears to be "logging school" at the local junior high. There are always students out there climbing poles on harnesses or practicing with those giant two-person saws. (District 7, FTW!) We've also bought fresh eggs from the side of the road and there are lots of small farms with sheep and cows and horses. (And yes, I do squeal "horsies!" every single time. Bobby is amused.)
Our favorite drive is about 45 minutes of two-lane highway, winding down to Springfield and Eugene. This also happens to be where Bobby's longtime BFF lives. We made some great friends in Virginia, and will always have family in New Orleans, but seeing these two back together was just as wild as I'd imagined. J. left NOLA around the same time that we did, heading to Oregon while we went to Virginia. Before that, he was often a fixture on our couch, one of those friends who is welcome at any hour of the night, in any state of intoxication. He's also brilliantly bitter and sarcastic, a wounded writer just like me. Together he and Bobby are a matched pair of drunken dorks making up for three years of dueling, brotherly mockery. Both lighting up and grinning like idiots. The kind of bromance where J.'s girlfriend and I just sit back and watch. It's great to see Bobby so happy. Long overdue.
We also finally got to see my BFF, and have that burger that we meant to share on the way into the state. (R. and Bobby had been plotting this In-N-Out trip on Facebook for months!) The drive to see her is a bit longer - about three hours - but it's absolutely worth it. We met in high school English. I was new in town, but we were both called out for our awesome wordsmithing skills, and I quickly discovered that her awesomeness didn't stop there. R. is quite possibly the best person I've ever known. Smart, hilarious - honestly, she defies description. Not only did we get a tasty burger, but I finally got to meet her fur-babies, and get a tour of her world. She's my icon of getting-your-shit-together, to be honest. I am so excited to have her back in my life. We shall be plotting something soon and, after years of talking it up, I look forward to her ushering me into the wondrous world that is Powell's Books, Portland.
I will admit to cheating just a bit and visiting the Powell's in Beaverton. But it was for a good cause. I got to go and see fellow Inkshares author, Tal M. Klein, celebrate the release of his novel, The Punch Escrow. It's seriously excellent (I'm still working on penning a proper review) - and Lionsgate agrees, having optioned the movie rights! So happy for him and excited to catch even a breeze from the hype train flying past. Afterwards, we went to dinner with D. and J.H., two more Inkshares authors with books in production. It was great to finally meet these people that I've been talking with online and to compare notes on this exciting and confusing and still-mind-blowing process.
Our whirlwind exploration slowed as the forest fires grew worse. We weren't in an area that was actively under threat, though we were under extreme-fire-danger precautions. Late summer in Oregon is less about checking the weather and more about checking the smoke forecast. It hung around for about two weeks, a thick haze over the mountains and the lake. We pulled back on taking walks and joined the local Facebook communities to keep up with the latest warnings and complaints about careless assholes and their fireworks (which was apparently the cause of the latest nearby fire).
Worst of all, the smoke blocked out the stars. We're city people, or at least suburb people. From the first night, we were spellbound by how many stars are visible here. On clear nights, you can see the haze of distant galaxies. (None of my attempted pictures turned out. My phone is insufficient - hell, my eyes feel insufficient to capture the scope and detail.) We would take the dogs out, take a pipe, and just stand there, hand-in-hand beneath the universe. Bobby's struggled a bit with the feeling of insignificance. Me, I love it. It's freeing. We're nothing more than a speck in the expanse of space and time, so you might as well do you, right? And that's what we're doing, making our own way, taking responsibility for our own happiness. It's scary... and weird... but wow. Just, wow.
Eventually, the rains came and washed away the smoke. The stars are back, though what's beyond has faded from view again. And the rain isn't all that bad. You always hear about the wet Pacific Northwest, but it's not all that different from the summer rains in New Orleans. Same time every afternoon, clearing up quickly so you can go about your day. With the fires, though, the first rains were a cause for celebration. Now that the fall weather's here, I'm sure it will become cold and gross, but right now I'm just loving the reunion with my boots and hoodies. Plus, I work from home. We have groceries, good company, and nowhere in particular to be.
How have the dogs been adjusting? They were relieved to stop moving all day, that's for sure. Cookie loves the exploration, the big yard, all the new smells. Where she used to bolt out the door and run off at the slightest opportunity, we've gotten to the point where we can trust her without a leash in the yard. Maybe it's the new location, the hardcore bonding that we did on the trip, or just the fact that she knows all this nature isn't going anywhere, but she's being such a good dog. We're trying to take her on a walk every evening, keeping her all floppy-tongued and grinning. We're all learning to embrace the chill.
Apollo has been reunited with his couch, and all is right with his world. We had disguised the back seat of the car with his blanket and a couch pillow, but he was so relieved to be free that he flopped across the empty tile and wouldn't move. Luckily, we'd packed the ottoman piece in the very back of the Uhaul and he lit right up on seeing it. It's currently positioned with a couch on either side, forming an epic vortex of attention, where he spends most of the day sleeping. He's even gotten braver adventuring outside, especially at night, perking up his ears in fascination at all the new sounds.
Trevor is still Trevor. Currently in my lap and wondering why the hell his hand-pillow keeps moving. Still a master of pooping up the side of things, as witnessed by most of the trees in the new yard.
That's all I've got, so let's end things on that pleasant note, yes? I'm off to... well, I suppose I could write something else. Or practice my cello. Or my violin. Or my bass. I've finally gotten back to daily Spanish practice. Dual-wielding work laptop and writing laptop like they're both my job. Maybe another walk, or even some afternoon snuggles. The sheer possibility is sometimes overwhelming.
Life is good right now. It's different and strange, but I'm looking forward to figuring out this self-directed happiness thing. Cheers!