An adventure begins when I step off the sidewalk onto the gravel trail. A branch snaps as I tread over its fallen respite. I have no idea where the moss-escorted path will lead. Pine trees accompany me. I hum, mingling in a tune with the sounds of a nearby stream. My scent joins the fresh smell of rain. I don't walk through unknown forest, I walk with it. Everything feels vibrantly green here, including me. Inhale the given abundance. I'm glowing with an appreciation of my new found connection to nature. The land is fertile with life and sharing its energy with me. Feeling giddy with bravery, my tennis shoes pick up a perky pace. I pass a slug, inadvertently disrupting its purpose. My sounds interrupt and the bluebird swishes off to find a different meal. My breath puffs out ahead, as my feet crunch below. Slip on mud, push at an overgrown fern, squish an innocent mushroom, snap, hum, inhale... just by being here, I'm intruding.
I'm an invader on this walk through Oregon Forest Park, though I've no intention of changing the grounds I've come to worship. Like so many transplants from out-of-state, I came striding in along The New Oregon Trail, on a quest for a greener life. We are moving here in droves, changing the area simply by arriving. The New Oregon Trail wasn't a straight path for me. Like the trail I began my walk on this morning, it ends where it begins.
My Grandma Flo tracked a path to Oregon in the 40's and decades later, that path showed itself to be circular. She moved to Albany Oregon with five young children, following her husband's search for a job. They came from the mid-west dust, settling in this lush State to find a sustainable life with more green money. John Deere hired Grandpa, in a wet-fertile land where tractors were well used. The years that followed were storybook recollections my mother told me when I was growing up in Southern California. On a burnt dessert stage, my mom would relay tales of a perfect childhood, traipsing through flooded roads to fetch a Thanksgiving turkey, picking berries during summer breaks, taking boat trips along the Willamette and shopping trips into Portland City Center. At the time, I could hardly imagine a childhood happier than my own and had no desire to move from my comfort-zone of brown hills and dry skin.
Grandma Flo has long since moved on to the higher land of heaven. But her granddaughter traversed the same beckoning trail to Oregon. I circled back around to where my Grandma raised her family. We followed, my husband, young children and I, the path to an enhanced existence.
It's a new kind of Oregon Trail. Not one where people tread to make a better living, finding cold-hard cash- but one where people flock to in order to make a life in and of itself. Sure, we find jobs here with Nike, Intel, and OHSU, enjoy the lower housing prices and find the greenery gorgeous. But we move here now for a different kind of green. A greening of life: seeding, feeding, watering and growing a better reality. Turning one's focus and tuning in. A refreshing of life, where there is time to follow trails out of town, cultivate an enjoyment of the world around us and meet our family.
Our previous life in the Silicon Valley of California, consumed us. Long hours from a competitive workforce and surging companies keep people at work. Then traffic slows their return. Upon return home, the portable office of laptop and cell phone follow you to the couch where you pretend to have a family but never really participate. Work is early, work is late, work is weekends and work is the frenzied purpose. We thought this norm was typical until we found the luring alternative.
The first thing my husband and I noticed when house shopping in Portland wasn't the green belts running through neighborhoods, spacious floor plans or environmentally friendly building codes. What we noticed, with stunning awakening, was that in every home, represented in some way, there was a hobby. There were medals from a half-marathon run, photos of cycling, a rowing oar, a dog's leash, a painting easel, a craft room, running shoes tucked into a well-used corner. People have hobbies here. People make space for life here and seem to be doing a better job at living them.
My husband's first week at work here, we were both shocked to find that people took sunny days off, simply because they were sunny. And when it's not sunny, you're challenged into ignoring it by the masses of runners, bicyclers and even mothers pushing strollers through wet licks of powder gray. Not only are vacations used, they're used well. Until the knee of it is worn through, showing raw skin. At 6:00 p.m. that first week, he called to report that everyone had gone home, the office was empty. We both sat silently on the phone for a while, blinking. People go home... and go out... and go into the green, to breath.
Like the great migration route of the 1800's, The New Oregon Trail is not a solitary road. It's one that we followed and so many of our neighbors and neophyte Oregonians as well. Seems most people I meet at the coffee shop are transplants from somewhere else. A fact, that seems to rile the natives.
Our first weekend out adventuring took us to a little restaurant alongside the Columbia Gorge. I prayed the food quality was not reflective of the carpet quality. The place was run down, 'hole in the wall' as it gets, and busy. We ordered our brunch and gawked out the window at a scene you'd have to pay for in California. Pay for and then get taxed on. The waitress was wrinkled, worn and suspicious of our freshman attitudes toward the scenery.
When she asks where we're from we happily announce "California" with pride, because we knew we were from the best State in the Union. California: the most progressive, the highest Gross National Product, the unsurpassed weather and the fame. If she could have spit in our food, I'm sure she would've, but we'd already been served and she was a bit more subtle than that.
"Now don’t go spreading that around. We don't like Californian's here. You're invading."
It seemed our chosen location for a better life was also a predictable gathering ground for the unwelcome invaders. According to our server, as a Californian, I was unwelcome. What our waitress doesn't know, is that now I love Oregon as much as, if not more, than her. When new subdivisions go up, I grimace - not wanting to lose what I've found, while acknowledging- they come here to find what I did.
We followed the trail to kid-friendly restaurants, lung friendly air and outdoor activities, for green in jobs, environment, and life. Oregon is as beguiling now as it was then for my Grandma Flo. We are chasing a different kind of green though, less money, more time for life outside of work. So, we invade, excuse us please. For we love our new home and like you, detest the new invaders - creating a cycle. A trail that is more circular than straight.
I continue walking the forest paths, feeling more native but yet still trampling the foliage. We followed and achieved a dream... as others will follow and achieve their dreams. The fear is, once all of the trail-travelers have achieved an Oregonian reality, it will have deteriorated. More follow, more change the area and the dream fades as our State is trampled on. Until a new forest is found and new paths on different trails are discovered.