The most remarkable element of this latest birthday (on the summer solstice) is how new and different so much of my life is.
One year ago I had just returned to Arlington sooner than expected, truncating a two-month driving loop to the west coast to mark my 60th solar return, having resolved to move to Portland after a lifetime on the east coast. Other than a few weeks there to prep the old house and a three-week trip in September to drive Laurie’s car back here (and complete my intended loop), I’ve now been in Oregon for a year.
New governments to watch (and roll my eyes over). New neighborhoods to explore. An entirely different vibe. I don’t think it’s the weed, which is not only legal but actively promoted as an industry (it is not my cup of tea). I moved from a city that’s all about career to one about biking and hiking and breathing. And food. And coffee. And beer.
Our daily needs are in walking distance. The grocery store is two blocks, though I prefer to bike to my co-op, less than two miles. I still haven’t tried many of the breweries within a mile, because three of them I really like. The restaurants are varied and generally very inexpensive – dinner for 9 or 10 bucks. Occasionally we stray – we might even drive to one. Most importantly, the Rebuilding Center, a non-profit dedicated to keeping stuff out of the waste stream, is a five-minute walk. I go there several days a week.
Because, frankly, building is how I’ve spent most of my time since September 29, when I moved in to our 1915 bungalow, a week before Laurie flew in from India. I did the usual paint-the-rooms thing, which I’ve done with nearly every house I’ve ever lived in. But this place needed infrastructure. Sewer lateral. Asbestos removal. Duct work. Fireplace insert. New furnace and gas-line repair. Electrical rewiring. Lighting. Garden engineering. Sidewalk replacement. My obsession for six months has been creating a guest suite in the otherwise unfinished basement. I suppose I could write a book, but I’ll spare us, save to say it’s been rewarding to create something out of nothing, the combination of vision and art and math. It isn’t finished because I skipped some steps in the city approval process and now I get to figure out how to solve issues of my own making. But from appearances, we can host people (illegally).
Because of my projects, I’ve barely left town (except for my one-hour drives to Salem a few times in the winter/spring): a Christmas excursion to the ocean, another this month to St. Helens and Seattle. Maybe in our second year we’ll start to stretch out. Laurie’s spending the summer doing weekend hikes with a women’s group, and I’m aiming to bike the Columbia Gorge (repeating part of the hundred-mile day I did nine years ago). Meantime I can do training rides up the Tualatin Range that hugs the west side of the Willamette, or ride east to Mt. Tabor, a butte that I rode up with my Warmshowers host, Darren, the day I arrived here Memorial Day a year ago.
The state government is utterly different. In Virginia, localities can’t do anything without permission from the all-powerful legislature. In Oregon, the legislature can’t do anything without permission from “the people.” Ballot initiatives, always manipulated by the 1 percent, leave leaders weak, unable to address pressing crises, like a school system on par with Mississippi’s and a tax system that is utterly irrational because of voter notions piled one on another in the state constitution. My energy not devoted to the house has gone, as is my wont, into politics. I’ve been to a bunch of town halls, organized for the 2018 elections with Indivisible Oregon, and worked with the fantastic Tax Fairness Oregon (people whose idea of a good time is reading bills). TFO has been my platform for testifying before the legislature and penning a couple op-eds for the state’s biggest (and rather feeble) newspaper.
The most remarkable difference is the climate and latitude. Winter is very dark, and summer is very light. At the 45th parallel, it’s an hour between sunset and dark (and dawn and sunrise). I wake up when it starts to get light, making for a long day in these months. In the dark period, we kinda hibernate, have a fire, read. The summer will eventually get hot, but in my experience not till afternoon. Because humidity is low, it cools off quickly in the evening, and cloud cover most mornings, like today, keeps me in long sleeves. I love the contrast.
As Laurie writes me this morning: “I know you’ll worry today about the basement, but maybe for today enjoy this city you chose and welcoming home and your loving wife, knowing you have created all of this.”