First-time visitors from the San Francisco Bay Area don’t seem to “get” where I live. They come from a land where everything is paved and ringed with freeways, where you can find multiples of every kind of chain store and restaurant, where everything you need is within driving distance. It’s a land where nature rarely intrudes on a schedule laced with work, school, driving, and social life, always connected by computers or computer-like telephones.
They get here, and I say no, we don’t have a (fill in the blank). And yes, we get regular visits from garter snakes, deer, racoons and other critters. We don’t have sewer hookup or gas here in South Beach. We heat the house with wood or pellet stoves. Air conditioning? Open a window. Costco is a hundred-mile round trip away–and guess what, we can live without it. Yes, cell phone reception is bad. But look at that sky. Have you ever seen a sky so blue? Or a place so quiet you can hear a gentle wind? Look at the ocean sparkling to the west.
I used to drive to the old port of Alviso or up into the east foothills, desperate to get some taste of nature. It came with sewage smells, rattlesnakes and other people’s loud radios. Here, I just look out my window.
Don’t you miss California, they ask. I miss California the way it used to be, when Santa Clara Valley was not yet called Silicon Valley, and it was full of farms instead of industrial parks. My history is there. I miss my family very much. Sometimes I miss the work opportunities there. But look around. This is better.
Not everyone gets it. My sister-in-law says she’s not coming back. Some of my cousins are baffled because they don’t know any other life. But some folks understand and move here, like we did. And they stay.
[I didn’t plan to plug my book, but this leads to it so nicely. Shoes Full of Sand is about our transformation into Oregonians. Available in print and ebook.]