The distant lights of Portland appear ahead of me. Interstate 84 is glistening with the wet of that evening’s mist. As I approach my exit, my heart beats with excitement. There is that part of me that wants to stop my car so I can touch the earth beneath me. I want to open my arms and wrap them around this place and hold it tightly. I am back. That is the vision I carry in my head these days. This picture propels me forward as I prepare for my journey home.
In the year of 2011, I made a decision to retire from my education job in Portland, Oregon. I realized that retiring at my age (56 at the time) was a bit of a risk. The money wouldn’t really be enough to live the lifestyle I was use to. In addition to the financial side of it, I didn’t know how I would cope with not working. My job had been my identity for so many years that I was not sure who I would be when I was no longer in that role. But as my sister always says, when you are done, you are done, so I “cut the cord” and retired.
The biggest hurdle I faced was my own restless spirit. Where should I live? I struggled through the process of compiling lists of pros and cons. I sought out websites describing inexpensive places to retire. I spoke with friends and family. I knew that I wanted to travel, but I needed an affordable base station. I had endless options available to me (really not such a good thing in my case).
My heart belongs in Oregon — there has never been any doubt about that. Upon departing a plane at the age of 18 and viewing the majesty of Mt. Hood, I knew I had arrived where I belonged. Most of my adult life was spent there, working, marrying, raising a family and ultimately becoming single again. My son and grandchildren still live there. They are hunkered down and are true Oregonians. My friends that live there will never leave. They are dug in. Some of them truly enjoy everything about it. Others accept the cold and gray, the rain, and the dreary darkness of winter as merely a price they have to pay to be blessed with the spring and summer. The sunshine, the green, the mountains, the free-spiritedness. These are all gifts anxiously awaited for and deeply appreciated by those who love this special place. I share their love and enthusiasm. But I reject the winters, the dark, the cold. These things sink my spirit, they weigh on me like a lead vest and drive me inside and alone. I long for the sun on my face and the warmth of the air.
And I long for something else, I admit it, I long for variety, diversity and adventure. I used to think that there might be something wrong with me. It seemed that I was never satisfied and would never be content. But I believe I’ve figured it out. It’s not that I’m discontented. It’s that I’m fabulously curious. I love change — actually, I adore it. I crave new experiences in a way that some people crave the adrenaline rush of risk. It’s a challenge to seek it out, explore it and conquer it. And then to move on to the next experience. It seems that I am destined to ramble and wander the world even if it’s in a limited way.
So I enthusiastically embarked on this lifestyle. Snowbirds we are called, derisively at times. Although in my case I guess I would be called a “rainbird.” I decided to divide my time between two places, hoping that each in it’s own way could be my home.
My truest and closest friends are my seven siblings and most of them live in Texas. So in 2011 I made the decision to spend part of the year near them. With this goal in mind I moved body and soul to Houston, found an apartment and settled in (kind of). Now I don’t love it here, nor do I hate it. But this place is not home, and I don’t seem to be able to give it a place in my heart. It is merely a place to live to be near people I love. Living near my brothers and sisters has been splendid, and it has fed a part of my soul that has been empty for a while. We travel, we get together frequently and we have a lot of fun. But the time has now come for me to return to Oregon for “that part” of my life. Spring is here, the sun is out, and even though I’m sure the rain has not completely stopped, it is time for me to journey forward to the home of my heart.
In just a few days I will pack up my car and head for the Pacific Northwest. I will get to travel through some of the most beautiful land in the world. Canyons, mountains, deserts, coastlines, prairies — these will be my world over the next four or five days. Music and snack foods, hotels, and audiobooks will fill my days. Endless hours on the road will entertain and bore me.
But in the end it is home that most beckons me. The voices of my grandkids and their smiles draw me. The mountains call me, the memories of the oceans deep voice enchants me. I envision myself camping on a lake with the mirror reflection of my beloved Mt. Hood glistening on its surface, or hiking on a green forest trail on my way to a waterfall deep in the woods. I picture myself walking through the beautiful city of Portland, jogging downtown along the river, riding the street car, exploring Powells Books, seeing a concert by the roses in Washington Park, sitting on the grass at the zoo and listening to my favorite bands.
Soon I will see you again Oregon, and I will love you and cherish you for a while until I’m once again pulled away by that overwhelming tug. I keep a picture on my refrigerator that shows a dog walking down a winding road, and written above that scene are the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “All who wander are not lost.” I am no longer confused. I realize now that I am not lost. I just have many places to go.
Well, I’ll be on my way. Sweet life and good travels to you all.