My house backs up to the commercial side of town, so we generally keep the bathroom curtains drawn so as not to see the parking lot of the McDonald’s that is, thankfully, just far enough away that its greasy odors stay where they belong. Seagulls often visit its parking lot, particularly in the early mornings, before the restaurant wakes up and cars remove their easy access to the Dumpster. On Monday, as I pulled myself out of a deep sleep fog, the calming
sounds of their squacking and bickering actually registered, penetrating my sleepy brain enough for me to really listen to them. We have been in the forests of Oregon for a week, where there are no seagulls, and the auditory break elevated their voices from a background noise into my consciousness.
When I return home from a truly great vacation, I always have a sense of disassociation when I walk back into my familiar setting. Every time, it leaves me wondering why I put so much energy into a place, if a single week away from it can make it unrecognizable? Is home a place, a feeling, a thing? Is the stuff that lives there really relevant? Am I really attached to the little noises associated with my house, if the seagulls can seem unfamiliar and strange?
In any case, we are home again and reacclimating to the sights and smells of the end of summer in a beach town near one of the worlds’ busiest cities. It’s a far cry from the silence of a ski resort in summer, where we had no neighbors. It was remote enough that we kept planning on driving out at night to see the stars, which we thought would be gorgeously unpolluted, but the cloud cover conspired against us. Next time.
This was Baba’s first trip on an airplane. The thought of managing a
baby through the menagerie of the airline experience stressed me every time I even thought of planning for the trip. The actuality was not nearly so bad. This contrast between expectation and reality was such a relief that I arrived in Oregon in the best possible mood. The main event of the trip was a wedding that was particularly meaningful for me, where I watched a dear childhood friend reach out for the happiness that she deserves, surrounded by her community. Then we celebrated with a beautiful party, where I danced with Baba until my arms ached from her increasing weight. A late night, satisfying conversations with strangers, good food, love and joy. It was a beautiful weekend.
When the celebrations were over, we went into the woods, where my Beloved and Baba and I spent our first vacation together, under the watchful gaze of Mount Hood. Oregon is in a drought, so we joined the natives in shaking our head at the atypically brown appearance of the mountain; snow meandered down its face in isolated patches, while every sign we passed warned us that the forest fire danger was extremely high. In Maupin, a woman approached my Beloved and told him that he was risking a ticket from the fire warden if he smoked anywhere other than standing in the Deschutes River.
I considered pushing him in. For his own sake, y’see.
And yet, despite the dryness of the season, the forests were lush and
alive with life. We saw chipmunks and snakes, small ravens, hawks and — as we drove out to the desert country on the other side of the mountain — vultures. Along the Columbia River, the giant waterway that separates Oregon and Washington, we visited waterfall after waterfall, stopping to gawk and take the same picture that millions of tourists have probably taken before us.
I badly needed the respite from New York. As the summer has worn on, I find myself daydreaming more and more often about living on a farm in the woods, where snow blankets the miles of fields that separate you from your neighbors. Upstairs, I have a desk with a giant window, where I can sit and dream and write while looking at a pastoral scene. The house cleans itself. The pets and children are well-behaved. There’s time and peace and quiet and a solitude that is broken at my convenience. It’s a beautiful dream, particularly in the contrast from the crowded subways and harsh interactions of strangers that are cramped for space. Last week, alone with my family, in a quiet place, I pretended for a while that the dream was real.