When your life is the road, you don't have time to get used to anything. Everything is always new, exciting, not tinged with repetition or the insidious curtain of boredom. I spent most of my life as a seasonal worker and even in the last two places I alighted, five and seven years each, I spent much of that time on the hunt for new places, in jobs that involved frequent floatplane travel, camping and kayak trips. I was rarely home, and when I was, I chafed at the reasons that kept me there. Surely I was wasting those hours, I thought.
Now that I have decided to stay in Wallowa County, perhaps forever, it is a struggle to break out of the current I am used to swimming through. Often I run the same trails. I paddle the same lake. I see the same people. It is taking me time to appreciate familiarity, a view that rarely changes. The excitement of something new is gone but something else is slowly taking its place: layers and layers of experience, the kind that you need to really know it. In the past, I passed through places at a gallop, sure that I had seen them. Now I know it takes forever.
I pulled my kayak out onto the grass yesterday. "I have to kayak the same old lake," I complained. After the ocean, it seemed small, hardly worth the effort.
J, who has lived here 24 years, looked worried. "The same old lake," he said. "Are you going to get tired of me, because I'm the same old person?"
But he's not, of course, and neither is this place. It is more subtle change, the drawing of snow across the face of Ruby Peak, the waterfall I had never noticed before on this morning's trail run. And just like with people, it takes years to discover everything. On Friday Dana and I hiked Cougar Ridge, a sprawling, open spine of land that drops precipitously down to the wild Minam River. Snow was just giving up here and flowers taking its place. Unseen, a river gurgled below us. Beyond us many more unexplored ridges stretched lazily.
In my travels, I always wondered about the locals who were dug in happily near the parks. Naively I felt sorry for them. Didn't they ever want to just pack up and go? Didn't they see that their lives were passing them by?
Now I am beginning to appreciate those who stay. I won't ever be completely one of them--I have plenty of traveling plans, and I'm not one to broadly proclaim that where I live is the best place in the Universe. I also have moments where I have to go somewhere, anywhere, just to get out of this valley. But it is a rich life when you plant yourself. The same old thing isn't really that at all. It is a friend, changing slowly with the passage of time but still capable of surprise.