In the Midwest, the world is flat. As far as the eye can see, there’s only horizon, distance, the eventual place beyond that is impossible to reach. Here in the Northwest, the horizon is short, 20-30 feet ahead, where the path twists around the side of a mountain or drops into a gorge. There’s no telling what comes next around here; you have to pay attention every minute or you might miss something.
My life has changed fundamentally since I moved out here. I severed connections, eliminated the accumulated unnecessary possessions from our previous life, moved only essentials into a tiny apartment. I exited the immersive world of parenting and entered the realm of adult relationships with my children. I stopped teaching piano lessons and temporarily gave up my piano. My erstwhile career in proofreading ended.
Things happen on a shorter timeline here. I make plans in terms of days instead of months. My vision–both physically and metaphorically–has shortened, but my focus has sharpened. My interest in becoming a naturalist led me to the Audubon, where I’ve been learning native plants and their care and feeding, and to the Hoyt Arboretum, where I discover species that can’t live in pots in the vale on the side of the steep slope. Over the past year, I’ve learned to differentiate firs from cedars, redwoods from sequoias, sword ferns from deer ferns. In lessons provided over time, from several different teachers, I’ve become more familiar with the natural environment here than I ever was in the Midwest. I will continue this education at differing speeds for the rest of my life.
While it’s hard to establish friendships without a natural, regular intersection of activity — like a job — I’ve made some friends here, people I enjoy being around, people I have learned from. I tread slowly and carefully in this area too, perhaps hyper-aware of mistakes I’ve made before, eager to avoid them. It’s easier to avoid falling into bad habits when everything familiar has been stripped away, like we’ve done. It’s also easier to examine your flaws and strengths without the shading comfort of familiar people and surroundings. Outside of my own native habitat, my actions stand out in greater relief.
But the different environment has allowed my strengths to shine, too. There’s a great nimbleness of thought here, playfulness, a general risk-taking willingness that resonates with me powerfully. The options here pop up at a fast clip, from hiking to dance to seminars to readings at Powell’s, a situation that intertwines with the shortened vision; planning a month in advance becomes useless when new activities are planned and executed on a 24-hour timeline. On your way to the long-awaited evening meditation class, you hear that a beloved performer is offering a spur-of-the-moment gathering at the library at 6:30. Change those plans fast! Life resembles the rapid switchbacks of the hiking path instead of the long, arcing prairie path to which I was accustomed. No longer wide and paved smooth, my path is unpredictable, interrupted by tree roots and rocks, sometimes washed out by mountain runoff.
Sometimes, I go swimming in that very runoff.
I have thrived on the variety and speed of this place, learning to step carefully to avoid tripping while I dance along the edge of the ravine. The upside of the challenging environment is that the steep, rocky path affords a view unlike anything I could find in the Midwest. I’m repeatedly filled with such wonder and amazement that I have to remind myself to breathe.
I didn’t fully grasp how much I was influenced by the place I lived, or how much my perspective would change when I moved. There’s more change coming, I am sure. But I can’t look that far ahead. I certainly can’t plan that far out or I’ll lose my footing.
For now, I’m focused on the path directly ahead of me, content in the knowledge that view from the top is going to take my breath away.