One year ago today my family began the adventure of a lifetime.
We left the arms of our comfortable home that literally enveloped us in love (I highly recommend living in Colorado’s “Land of Love,” by the way) and leapt into the unknown.
Without recounting every memory of that and the intervening 364 days, I marvel at how far our family has come. I am astounded at how far I have come. I mean, in our third week here, I literally ran a mile from this house screaming “What am I even doing here?!” (and the link for the accompanying song might give you some clues as to why I found some solidly morbid tunes to accompany my depression as an adolescent).
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live “out in the country?” Well, if you only ever take family vacations there, you will still have almost no idea what it is like to live fifteen minutes from anywhere. I don’t know what kind of vacations you take, but mine have plenty of time to get to wherever I’m going. Not so when you need to buy groceries, drive kids to school (the bus is too dang early), take people to scores of appointments, attend church meetings, and squeeze in some soccer practices or piano lessons while you’re at it.
And before you suggest that our current home is perhaps “out in the boonies,” we are actually ideally located. We are literally situated between the freeway and a cutoff to the most inclusive highway you have ever seen. It winds around so many medium-sized towns that you begin almost to view it as a friend to all who drops by to see her scattered friends regularly because she was “in the area.”
You could suggest that we do live on a road less traveled, and that must make all the difference. Well, if you know my address and look up that road, you will find dozens of matches on a map for this area. Imagine that someone named a giant spaghetti noodle after a former ferry line, cut it it into a dozen or two pieces, boiled those to the ideal stickiness and threw them randomly on a giant wall map of the two nearest counties to you, then you would understand how bizarre it is to see my street name scattered along my way to “anywhere.”
Finally, [oh no! I forgot my final point. I will just have to insert it here if I remember post-publication. In the meantime, I recalled a less persuasive point].
You may wonder if the feeling of seclusion comes from missing the forest for the trees. Indeed we do have trees growing in quantity and height formerly incomprehensible to me. In my previous thirty six years, I had only known trees growing in the wild because a) they were in the montane climate zone of the Rocky Mountains, or b) they were cottonwoods growing along a tiny river. Otherwise, if you found a bunch of trees, it meant you had found civilization. Those trees proved human hands had placed and cared for trees probably not ideally suited for their environment but ideal for shade, privacy, and snapping in half during a storm.
So when I would go driving down my narrow country roads at 55 mph (88 kph for my international readers and time-machine speed for poor readers), my foot would cover the brake as I neared civilization in case a child or dog should run out into the road. Except that my cue for human settlement instead proved that few, if any, people lived in the immediate vicinity. It was, in reality, the cleared out, open areas that correlated with domestication and a need to increase caution. What was tamed on the Western frontier by forcing trees to grow was, instead, corralled by the trailblazing pioneers who arrived at a temperate rainforest that is the Pacific Northwest. This rich land provided farmland only if you were expert in cultivating grain in tree moss.
[Hooray! I remembered my point.] You may say, “Well, at least you get to drive at highway speeds everywhere you go and have almost no traffic!”
Traffic is a debatable term. Finding yourself behind a sprawling tractor or a tourist is convenient only in a handful of areas I would deem safe for passing. But traffic really is awful on the freeways and at most highway intersections during “rush hour.” In my previous locales, I could just use a collateral circulation approach. Whereas most places I had lived previously used a grid system for streets, which allowed for myriad alternate routes, the routes to my destinations are now singular.
The larger point here is speed. Awareness is so much more vital at highway speeds. In my second week as a country bumpkin, I decided to take a drive through St. Paul (home of the 4th of July rodeo) so that my two youngest kids could nap while my older daughter had her first piano lesson with a new teacher. The lesson was thirty minutes. I ran out of darling bungalows and farmhouses to look at in less than seven.
As I made a Y-turn in order to get back into town, I saw a rumbling dump truck as my oncoming traffic and decided not to yield because it was only going 20 mph, the speed posted for Main Street. Minor detail–I was no longer in town. I had forfeited that comfort a short distance ago. That cement truck was barreling down on me and my sleeping children–heading downhill as I struggled with my gutless wonder to go uphill–at around 45 mph, assuming he was preparing to slow to 20 mph. That guy hit every brake he had. I saw clouds of exhaust billowing in my rearview mirror against a clear sky as I crested that little hill where I almost extinguished half my family. I drove home that day wiser and wide-eyed.
My point about speed is that you always look. You always act like there is a high-speed vehicle owning that ribbon of highway. No matter how empty that roadway usually is, no matter how peaceful the surroundings, no matter how tranquil the chirping of birds and the hum of freeway traffic in the distance, you always treat that road like a lane in the Indianapolis 500. I spent 20 minutes one day waiting for my kids’ late bus where all I did was reinforce the sense of danger for my toddler every time a car sped past us. (I will use this road advice as a metaphor about personal boundaries someday in a more philosophical post. Or not, since my intrepid readers may have already pieced the concept together).
Alright. Now that I have terrified my mother and re-traumatized anyone who was ever been in an auto-pedestrian collision (I personally know at least six plus the countless kids I saw as a nurse), I have a new topic.
My sense of place.
We moved out here, into someone else’s home, on the outskirts of a town that shares its name with a Denver, Colorado suburb. Oddly enough, another suburb that begins with the same letter and is also just six letters long was home to some of my dearest cousins (I have over 150 first cousins) when I was in high school. I could not keep those two city names straight for anything.
And now I live in a place where towns and settlements and hamlets dot the agricultural landscape like ties on a communally-tied quilt. When first attempting to plan my journeys to Anywhere, USA, I frequently got the town names wrong. Follow this list and you may begin to see where some of my confusion stemmed from:
Sherwood and Sheridan; Tualatin, Tigard, and Terwilliger; McMinnville and McMenamin’s (a fancy restaurant that my in-laws went to but I wondered why in the world they were excited to go spend an evening in a cow town); Amity and Sublimity; Nyberg, Newberg, and Newport; Champoeg (shampoo-ey) and Charbonneau (SHARba-no); St. Paul and Mt. Angel; Woodburn and Wilsonville.
I used to live in a town with a few nominal tiny towns skirting it, but basically, there were three cities nearby that sounded nothing alike. Now if someone asked me where I was going, I literally had no idea. Not only did I have no idea where my family would be living in a year, I had no idea which town my doctor’s appointment was in. Try google mapping that.
My sense of place has also been long tied to the sense of community I feel. The sudden loss of connection due to having no neighbors still rattles me. I don’t miss the door-to-door solicitors and being able to overhear other families’ business. I don’t even mind that my village for helping with kids is missing since family has mostly filled that function. I just miss the over-the-fence talks and the reassurances that my kids are doing exactly what kids their age should be doing. At least I used to miss it when I thought others needed to tell me I was OK. Now I just miss laughing and finding out that we have so much more in common than a fence.
I am now down to ten minutes (before I am needed for watching children while their mom goes to work) to finish this idea baby. Nope. Real baby (toddler) just woke up. I might get a two-minute grace period.
When my family and I left last year, I wanted to prove by our outward arrival at some idyllic setting that we had made a worthwhile sacrifice of comfort, convenience, and connection. I wanted everyone left behind to be able to say, “Wow, well I guess if you get to land in a home like that with land that beautiful and … (time is up, more later).
(Bought a few minutes with yogurt and a high chair)
…opportunities everywhere to pursue your dreams of a…(an hour later after distracting six kids with chocolate chip pancakes didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped)…
What was I saying?
So I wanted to prove to everyone–naysayers and fans alike–that we had (ah crap, one child just bit another…I should never have pulled my laptop back out).
(Deep breath. New rule: if you bite, be prepared to be bitten back. Also, the consequence for biting is that you get one minute in time out for every tooth in your mouth. I now have twenty one minutes to cool my mother bear down.)
What I am trying to say is that if I wanted to use our new digs as proof that we landed on our feet in this whole leap of faith and sense of adventure pursuit, we would have very sorry results indeed. No deed, in fact. No land, in fact. No house, no anything. Unless you count our chicken coop and the power tools my husband is suddenly buying up like we’re going to become Chip and Johanna Gaines.
I want to have control over how long this land-buying process will take. And then the home building process (if we stay on this track). But finally over the last few weeks, I have let go of that desire.
Because here I am. With my family. We are whole. We are working together. We are learning and discovering and finding strength in holding to what we know is true. I let go of what I thought was keeping us safe and see now that I had been living in fear.
(I am down to five minutes.)
(Another deep breath to help crowd out that fear of scarcity that suffocates my inner voice.)
I am enough. I have more than enough. I continue to see how I can give out of whatever I have to help others. I understand now that a leap of faith is not about the visible results, the landing. It is about who I find along the way. Last time my family took this leap of faith, we found the truest of neighbors. This time we have found ourselves. I look after God’s children, starting now with myself. I used to fear having neighbors who truly knew me, truly saw the frailties and foolishness I couldn’t seem to shake. I have lost all of my neighbors, but I have learned to live with myself, and now I can live wherever life takes me.