|Zach on our recent hike up Mount Hamilton|
I’m sitting at a desk in front of a triptych of large windows, looking out at golden sun melting into the forest of Douglas firs, English ivy, and bare maple trees across the street. My second-floor room, the guest bedroom, is a good spot to edit papers, or watch birds, or just daydream and watch the last of winter’s snow spiraling down.
I’m supposed to be working right now, but it’s hard to find the focus. I’m just staring at the tiny Anna’s hummingbird perched on the tip of the pine free in the front yard. He’s fluffed out against the cold, and flicks his tongue in the frosty air. In the shadow he’s a dull green with a black head; when he turns, his face catches the sunlight and flashes an iridescent, electric-golden pink.
The past month is a blur. The past several months, in fact. I remember my hands in the dishwater at our house, our home, in St. Charles, so many miles and days away. I was washing, Zach drying. He had to leave for work in five minutes. It was early December.
Zach said, “What if we moved to Portland for six months?”
My mind processed the words slowly.
“I could transfer to the Walmart out there,” he continued. “We could live with my dad and spend the summer there.” His eyes sparkled with a light that I hadn’t seen in months.
I think I murmured something about that being an interesting idea, but I stared at the dishes and dug in my heels. What, uproot everything we had worked so hard to build— give away our chickens— say goodbye to our friends— leave behind the garden and the fruit trees— just to continue living the same normal life, but two thousand miles across the country?
Zach left for work, and I cried.
For two days I was beside myself. If we went to Portland, would we come back? Would moving there truly destroy everything we had built here? Why on earth would I want to pick up my life and haul it across the country, after investing so much here?
For two days I exhausted every possible fret and hiccup and worry, trying frantically to shove it away, but the idea lingered, even apart from the sparkle in Zach’s eyes.
On the third day, something inside me clicked. The whole idea now seemed perfectly reasonable. Exciting, even! What a great way to travel while still making money! Why hadn’t we considered this earlier? I hadn’t felt so sure about something in months, perhaps years.
Zach and I talked about what a six-month trip (temporary move? long-term stay?) might look like. The anxiety melted away as we talked about spending time with the Strader side of the family, visiting friends and grandparents, hiking in the mountains, learning trail skills in volunteer work, growing cool-weather crops in his dad’s backyard, visiting Mount Hood and Forest Park and the Oregon coast. Within the course of a day, the trip felt utterly inevitable.
Huge obstacles tumbled out of our way, one by one. Zach’s dad was excited to have us come stay with him, and the rest of his family in the area welcomed us enthusiastically. A close friend agreed to move into our house while we were gone. We found a wonderful home for our chickens. A successor stepped up to take my place as secretary in my neighborhood group. Zach was able to transfer to the Walmart a mile from his dad’s house, still as a customer service manager.
My certainty didn’t waver. Not when I told our close friends and felt my heart break as they cried. Not when I cuddled Fluffy Buffy one last time before giving her and her sisters away to a friend from church. Not when I was having a nervous breakdown because packing was so stressful. The conviction remained. We wanted out and away, a break from the routine of life, a chance to look at our normal life through binoculars and figure out what the heck we were doing.
Was it running away? It felt an awful lot like running away. Was that okay?
Finally, less than two weeks ago (I had to double check the dates, because I couldn’t believe that it was so recently), we sat on a plane, in the very back in the last two available side-by-side seats. I felt the ache of the stress of the past couple weeks wearing on me. Zach listened to music and I doodled and ate Oreos and drank plastic cups of orange juice even though yesterday I had promised myself to go all zero-waste and not get a beverage. We flew mostly over clouds, although a couple times I glanced down to see snowy wilderness below.
Finally, the plane submerged into the clouds, blotting the windows gray-white. This was always how I had entered the Northwest, and I found myself staring at the window, remembering my first solo trip to Washington: descending through two huge cloud banks and seeing the twinkle of lights below and knowing that I was in a new place, full of adventure, and feeling amazed that I wasn’t terrified.
Now, I found myself staring at the window in desperation. I didn’t want to look away or blink, even though my eyes were hurting from trying to see any pattern in the solid sheet of gray. Falling through a cloud that first solo trip, almost ten years ago, had felt like a new birth— I had known then that my life would never be the same. I wanted to feel that significance. I wanted to feel like this moment counted, like this trip was a kind of starting over, a new birth, a chance to open wide my heart and draw deep breaths of new air and say, “Here, this is my life. It’s an adventure and I will take it as it comes.”
I abruptly realized that I had zoned out; so caught up in trying to tease out the meaningfulness of the moment, I had missed it. Gray fir trees and little arteries of highways slid by under the window. We had broken through the clouds, and within a few minutes our plane roared to a stop. We had made it.