The very first time I set foot in the Pacific Northwest I fell in love. Green as far as the eye could see. Water everywhere - coming from the sky, the inlets the lakes and the Sound. (Puget, that is.) I told everyone I knew that Seattle was one of my favorite cities in the U.S. because it was. And then we went to Tofino and within a day I felt a peace come over me that I hadn't anticipated. I felt at home there. I never wanted to leave. And then I saw Portland and I came home and told Alan how beautiful it was. Again, the greenery. The trees. Miles upon miles of trees. Moss. Ferns. The river. Water and Foliage. I was smitten. And then we returned to Tofino and my heart was once again at home. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I belonged in a land ripe with towering spruces, steel blue water, moss growing on every available surface if left undisturbed. Each place has its own unique characteristics that have them get them added to anyone's favorites list - the food, the people, the vibe.
But for me it was infinitely more than that. I couldn't explain why that was, or even what it was. I simply felt drawn to it.
A couple of weeks ago we were watching an episode of House Hunters International where the family was from my hometown, or rather, the place I consider my hometown. We moved a lot when I was a kid, never staying in any one house for more than a couple of years, but we lived in one town from the time I was nine until I was sixteen. Located an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles, Hesperia was a cow town in the desert when we moved there in the 1980s. Then as the crime in L.A. got worse and worse, families (and the authorities) started shipping their wayward gangster teens there in order to get away from the crime and temptation. Unfortunately that meant that soon we had our own crime and vice, so when I talk about the gang fights at my high school, or the drug problems (meth and pot), or the diversity (mostly black, white & mexican), it's hard to picture "the country."
But really, that's what it is. Except it isn't the beautiful country dotted with grassy fields and idyllic farms most people think of when they hear that word. When someone says, "I want to move out to the country" I'd emphatically argue they are not thinking about Southern California's High Desert. And if they are ... well ... they should have their heads examined. You see, Hesperia isn't located somewhere in the grassy plains or along rolling verdant hills; however, it does have a lot of wide open flat land. Dirt as far as the eye could see. Brown. Everything oh so brown. It does rain in the winter but then you get mud floods. Every once in awhile it will snow, changing the landscape to white for a day or two. When I lived there, there was one golf course and every time I drove past it seemed glaringly out of place. So much brightness in an otherwise dreary and beige landscape.
While watching that episode of House Hunters Alan remarked that Hesperia didn't look at all like what he expected it to. I lived there so long, but have been gone so long as well, that I wanted to refresh my memory about what it looked like. What did my high school look like now? (Incidentally, our mascot was that desert dwelling menace the scorpion - fitting since everyone I knew had encountered them, including myself when I found one in my shoe just before sticking my foot in.) It was as I remembered it in many ways, but even more dreary in others. It was even more brown than I remembered, if that's possible. My elementary school was a brown bunker-like building rising up from dirt. If someone showed you that picture and told you it was in Saudi Arabia or Dubai, you'd have no reason to question them, aside from the English lettering on the front of the building. My high school was a lighter beige and the buildings were bigger, but they were just more big brown boxes rising up from the ground.
And then I looked at two of the houses I used to live in on Google Maps. Now, if you were to classify my family on the economic ladder, there's no debate as to where we fell. We were poor. I always knew we were poor, but it wasn't until I went away to college and I saw my financial aid forms that I knew just how poor - my dad made $37,000 a year, supporting a family with five kids and a mother-in-law. Suffice it to say, our houses weren't fancy. I always knew they weren't fancy, but living there, in the thick of it, I never realized how utterly depressing they could look to an outsider. We couldn't afford landscaping (unless you count the handful of roses that were planted outside my bedroom window) so we didn't have any grass or shrubs or hostas or anything that wasn't a native plant that was already there when we moved in. We had a giant juniper tree in both the front and back yards, but I can't remember much else. One year the entire "landscaping" of our half-acre front yard was tumbleweeds. Yes, like you see blowing across the street in Westerns. They really do roll like that. Just more brown to match our flat, beige, nondescript houses plopped down in large plots of dirt. Dirt. And then more dirt.
And then it hit me.
The reason I love the Pacific Northwest and crave the rain and green is because my life was so devoid of it for so many years. It is the exact opposite of barren and desiccated. It speaks to life and renewal and vitality. Instead of feeling oppressive to me, it feels like freedom. If I didn't know better, astrologically speaking, I'd say I was one of the water signs (instead of falling in the Earth signs).