Published 2006-05-17

About twenty years ago, my family took a vacation to the Pacific Northwest. This was the first time I had ever seen the ocean (age 14), which happened, to the best of my recollection at Neskowin, Oregon. Certain images from that trip have been burned into my subconscious: banana slugs the size of hot dogs, evergreens silhouetted against the gloaming, sand dollars, snow-capped volcanoes, wet sand. It's hard to overstate how strongly these elements figured in my personal iconography. They joined a row of other icons tied loosely to the west coast: Bigfoot, sunburns, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, UFOs, Rainier beer, hippies with backpacks, fishing lodges, and the smell of rain. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before but somehow familiar.

Some years later (perhaps my senior year of high school), I had a strikingly vivid dream, wherein I rose from my bed, in the late morning, with the sun shining through my window. I look out the window, across a meadow of tall grass and flowers, to a skyline of evergreens, and Mt. Hood in the distance. It was the sort of dream whose realism disorients you when you awake

A little over ten years ago, I moved to Eugene for grad school. I arrived in town perhaps late July, 1995. I had saved up several thousand dollars from my summer work for the Kansas State Historical Society, so I got to live, for about a month, a life of restrained leisure. At the time I called it a "life vacation," but "temporary early retirement" might be more apt. A month spent bumming around Eugene (I didn't have a car), and reading. Every day opened crisp and clear; shivering in my sleeping bag (no bedding either). The cloudless days warmed predictably to about 90 degrees; purple night following golden day, one after the other. You can't see Mt. Hood from Eugene (and all you could see from my apartment was a parking lot), but it held, in protracted form, the essence of that dream.

I've been an Oregonian now (off and on), for almost eleven years. We can round that down to a cool decade. Oregon and the Northwest never fails to disappoint. I've never seen Bigfoot, but I did see Mt. St. Helens venting last year. I can pretty safely say I'm "from" Oregon, at least as much as I'm "from" Nebraska.

Last week (or maybe the week previous?) I walked Bismarck through Spring Garden Park near our apartment. This is a pretty notional park...mostly a large unmown meadow with a Portland City Parks Dept. sign. At the top of the hill along the southern margin of the park, you get a clear view to the south-southeast toward Mt. Hood. The hills between our neighborhood and the river block the intervening distance. As I walked Bismarck through the overgrown grass and weedy wildflowers I looked over the evergreens, standing against the sunrise and Mt. Hood hazy above the horizon.