Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Feet on the Ground

The shift of time zones creates a marvelous suspension for this unaccustomed traveler to better see this place both strange and familiar. Having known it once so well, I catch glimpses of what I knew, but the adrenalized weariness forces me to witness all that is new.

After so long a time away, some corners are faintly recognizable and so much is lustrous with change. I had been warned, but not really imagined, how Portland had grown from a comfortable little city to a bustling metropolis, sprawling and vital. Quickly, it is clear that the more I look for what I knew, the more I miss of what is right in front of me.

Naturally, my impressions expose my personal prejudice: a kid of the suburbs who ventured to the city for special events, traveled a particular route and scurried safely home again. New York City overwhelms me with a stimulation I have trouble absorbing. Especially after so many years in tiny Burlington, my comfort level has been our main street and the numerous restaurants on the side. This trip shakes me out of that routine.

When I first came to Portland thirty years ago, with guitar and sleeping bag and a job paying room and board, I had few options but to walk around town, exploring the streets and parks. For a day a week, we returned from our Cliffside campsite for my bosses’ business and I twiddled aimlessly getting to know the city and some musicians who gave it life.

As my summer turned into a decade, we crossed regularly the fifty miles from coast to town, driving in and staying with friends for events, workshops and celebrations. The city life created a vital balance to the coastal meditations and I felt I knew it well.

On the final leg of the trip yesterday, I reminded myself of my know-it-all grandfather who could strain the patience of strangers with his insistence upon offering information. I love to gaze from the window and map the world below, identify the towns and rivers I can recognize. Also, like my father, I have the obnoxious tendency to speak with such confidence that people willingly believe me. Unlike my forbears, however, I am often completely wrong and scramble to right my embarrassment with a good-natured shrug and laughter.

True to form, a seat away from the window, after confessing much of the shape of my midlife crisis in answer to the probing questions from the woman next to me, descending out of the clouds, I began pointing out mountains and valleys, and a large body that could only be Crater Lake. I recommended two days of adventure down the coast to my old town and state parks, a little further off the beaten tourist path.

A hundred miles northwards, the pilot announced a magnificent view of the real Crater Lake now below us, negating all that I had said. When my good-natured new friend checked her coastal reservations, we had a good laugh that she had already, in fact, made plans to stay in the very same village, and her googled print-out listed all the same sights to see.

This lesson of modesty was a perfect set-up for me to approach the city I had once known so well. Arrogantly confident and full of expectation, it is important to remember the isolation in which I have lived these many years, the focused attention paid to one aspect making me miss so much more that has gone on around me. It is so very obvious, but still worth acknowledging that the world has changed probably even more than I.

As I sat over dinner, my Oregon daughters and their half-brother re-united and dissolved in laughter, in my state of waning adrenaline, suspended by the time change and surrounded by blossoms in full-bloom instead of nascent buds, I could remain open to absorb the wonder of how much is different and how much still stays the same, and especially how wonderful it all truly is.

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laughingirl said...

How exciting for you to be returning to such a special place with your heart and eyes wide open.

Hayden Tompkins said...

You look very happy. I love that you look so happy now!

Laurie said...

Going "home" is always wonderful. Seeing those faces you missed for so long, wondering how the years have passed by so quickly. Enjoy your time with you family Kip. Treasure every moment!