On another day of my visit with my brother in Oregon, we drove to Astoria which is at the northwest corner of the state where the Columbia River – five miles wide there – flows into the Pacific Ocean.
Like Multnomah Falls, the Astor Column – named for John Jacob Astor – was a regular stop on family forays around Oregon when I was a kid. My mother made us stop to read every historical marker we passed (“hysterical marker” to Mom) and who knows; I probably learned a lot of the history that way.
But the high point of the day was visiting my brother’s sailboat, Ingenue, for the first time. He has sent photos over the years, but it’s not the same thing as being there. I’m pretty sure he spends more time working on her than sailing, but she is a beauty.
I have no knowledge of sailing, but I like boats. God knows I’m no neat freak, but the necessity of order on a boat pleases my sense of tidiness and I am always intrigued at the ingenuity in the use of small spaces on boats.
After an hour or so at the Ingenue, we stopped into the Cannery Café for lunch which had been, in the past – obviously – a fish cannery. The Dungeness crab cakes were excellent, the weather was glorious and it was good to be in an old haunt from my childhood.
Yes, I understand they are just rats with wings but seagulls are, I suppose, my favorite bird. I never tire of the perfection of their proportions when they are soaring – wings set just so and just the right size for their bodies. This one was resting and isn’t it amazing that west coast seagulls look like east coast seagulls.
Back in Portland a day or two later, we had lunch at the Dan and Louis Oyster Bar. The clam chowder (New England variety; I don’t believe in the red, Manhattan clam chowder) was excellent.
So excellent, in fact, that we returned that night for dinner. The fried oysters were not as good as the chowder had been, but everything else was good and the important part was being with my brother.
The sun had almost set as we drove through downtown Portland after dinner. I have no photos to show, but it was as lively, busy and colorful on a weekday evening, as Manhattan is without the crush of the crowds and the never-ending noise.
Restaurant tables spilled out onto sidewalks, neon lit the streets without being garish, people were out and about laughing and talking with one another and there was a sense of place as strong as in New York City. The emotional pull to be there for more than a visit was enormous.
Have I told you how I chose Portland, Maine, when I needed to sell my apartment in New York and move to a less expensive town? Probably, but I’m going to do it again anyway to explain this…
It broke my heart to leave New York. I’d been there for 37 years. It was home. My town. I know every inch, every building, all the history of Greenwich Village where I lived for most of that time. I wept for three days when I finally made the financially-necessary decision to sell and leave my beloved city.
I may moan and wail for awhile when confronted with hard choices but it doesn’t last long and once finished, I get down to business.
Where to go was the question. My choices were limitless, so I did it by elimination.
- I don’t like hot weather – humid or dry - and for that reason, dismissed the entire southern half of the U.S.
- I do like oceans, so that took care of every place in the northern middle of the country
- I’m a city girl leaving the choices of Seattle, Boston and the two Portlands, Maine and Oregon
- After all those years in New York and visiting Boston and Seattle from time to time, those two towns seem to have all the disadvantages of big cities and none of the advantages
Either Portland, then, would work and in the end I chose Maine because I thought I had a better chance of New York friends visiting me here than in Oregon. And there have been a goodly number of house guests who have made the trek north.
But now, after these past days in Oregon, I know: poor decision made for a frivolous reason.
I felt it while I was in Oregon, but wanted some time at home before taking it seriously. Back in Maine now for several days, I don’t need to think about it more.
Some people love the desert. Others like mountains. Some prefer suburbia or even rural areas. There are even those who need no place, who are wanderers. Most of us, I think, have affinities for certain weather, geology, flora and fauna and mine, I know now, is for northwest Oregon where I grew up. And who can say how much of that is, in old age, about the emotional draw of one’s beginnings. Perhaps, in my case, it is partly a need to round out a life, to complete the circle.
I love the weather in Maine, particularly living on the ocean side of a hill where no matter how hot a day is, I know there will be a breeze by late afternoon and the temperature will fall to the 60s or so. I like four definitive seasons; Portland, Oregon, has about three - it rarely snows there.
After 37 years in cramped apartments in New York, I relish this large apartment, newly renovated with its deck to sit on and read of an afternoon or think in an evening in the fresh air. I finally have the real library I have wanted since childhood. And I like my neighbors. I don't know what I could afford in Oregon.
But Oregon is deeply etched in my soul. And I didn’t know that until this trip. The lush greenness, the mountains always in sight and the abundance of trees – big, magnificent trees. What they call a woods or forest in the east is a giggle to anyone who grew up in the west. You can wrap your arms around the oldest trees here in Maine or Connecticut or New York. Not so with Douglas fir in Oregon. Those trees have majesty.
When I was a kid, we lived in a house where I could see Mt. Hood – more than 11,000 feet high – outside my window each morning, snow-capped year 'round. Mt. St. Helens out the other window too. Someday, there will be no one left on earth who has seen that beautiful peak before it blew up. But I did, almost every day of my childhood.
And then there is my brother. We hardly know each other really, having been split up when I was 14 and he was nine.
I felt a comfortableness, an easiness with myself in Oregon on this visit and I want to live there again.
The trick now is: can I make it happen.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz tells of her son's literal and triumphant awakening from the dark in Steve and the May Procession.]