An Evangelical Pilgrimage
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Welcome to California


Penn Valley, CA :: We are in California and I’m loving it. Although Oregon has become a very special place for me and I can see us settling there when this trip is finished, I am a California girl 100%.

Fall in Nevada County, California is wonderful. The deciduous trees flash bright red, orange and yellow between tall evergreen pines. The air smells wonderful. My sister describes it like, “mushy leaves and pine needles, old brick, rusty iron, cedar, mulled cider, incense, old books.” And I add that it is all warmed to a gentle simmering fragrance by the beautiful sun light that makes it way through the trees. Topped with a little bit of smoke from the wood stoves.

California has sun. Oregon sometimes has sun. California has my kind of sun, consistent. Today we all woke up with leaves stuck to our cars and wet roads thanks to the downpour that started at about 11:00 p.m. last night. But then, by 9:00 a.m. the sun was out and it will most likely remain out for the next few days. Right now my whole family is seated around the dining room table, speckled with sunlight shining warmly through every window. It just feels warm everywhere…even if it’s chilly.

I’m happy here even though I know we won’t stay here.

November 12, 2009   12 Comments

Encouraged by Generosity

Keizer, OR :: I expect to post many stories under this title. Today I’m excited about going home. Home for me is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Nevada City and Grass Valley, California. Although it’s likely that home will mean a lot of different things over the next year.

Since we left our rented home in Portland we have been blessed and cared for by John’s family in Keizer. We are now making our plans to stay in NC/GV for November and our family and friends are offering to be some of the first who house us on our journey. This entire adventure will not be possible without accepting offers of generosity from others. It’s humbling and encouraging.

October 28, 2009   3 Comments

Eight Days and Counting

Portland Sign

Portland, OR :: It’s hard to believe that in just eight days the slug-line for these posts won’t say “Portland, OR.” While we will spend the month of October in Salem, just 45 minutes south of Portland and no further from the Pacific Ocean; and while the bulk of the OTNR project won’t begin until November when we travel down to California (I want the project to end in Oregon, rather than start there) – I am already homesick. I pretend that when we get back next fall we will just jump right back into life, but it can’t be that way.  We’ll be strangers in our own city, at least for a while.

The more practical matter at hand is packing. I’m so busy with grants and my writing projects that Kate gave me just one responsibility – to pack my books – and a firm deadline: the end of August. Into the third week of September and my books are only half-packed. The issue is that I have been hand-entering the ISBN of every one of my estimated 1,000 books into a program called Bookpedia on my computer. “Very monk-like,” Dave says. And it’s true. I told the story in an earlier post about the monk who sold his copy of the Gospels and gave the money to the poor. Books may be my final test of salvation. I think they are an anchor for me, but they may also be dead weight. I have 200 books set aside to bring with me on this trip. Libby jokes that we will need to buy a second trailer just to carry them all.

September 17, 2009   6 Comments

Here Be Dragons

Cape Disappointment Image

Portland, OR :: I spent a few days last week camping with my friends Dave and Andrew in southwest Washington, just across the Columbia River from Astoria, Oregon, and 100 yards from the Pacific Ocean. We made regular trips into the little harbor town of Ilwaco, where we discovered the region’s best clam chowder at Harbor Lights Motel, Restaurant, and Lounge, and the world’s best waitress, Sweet Ann, who moonlights as a stand-up comic.

I hung out on the beach with Dave for a couple hours on Thursday afternoon. Sitting in camping chairs, trying to read but frequently distracted by the magnificence of our surroundings, I decided I wanted to get wet – but not too wet. I rolled up the legs of my jeans and waded out into the water. I hopped over the first few waves, which were higher than I thought, but then I got pummeled. Soon I was completely soaked. I looked back to Dave, warm and dry on the sand. Those days camping were some of the last I’ll be able to spend with Dave before leaving Portland in October. I will be glad to carry that memory with me of my best friend doing exactly what he is supposed to do – reading a book, writing longhand on a legal pad, and laughing at me.

I returned to shore, stopping just beyond the reach of the waves, and I turned southeast. It was a symbolic, if predictable, moment. With nearly the whole country spread out before me, I was reminded of how very far from home my family will be traveling in the next year.

I also realized that since moving to the West Coast in 2001, and especially since we moved from California to Oregon in 2005, I am constantly taking my bearings relative to the Pacific Ocean. I may not be able to calculate precise distance, but I am always aware when I am getting closer, farther away from, or running parallel to it. Most often this is a subconscious awareness, but it is always there: my desk faces south; the ocean is to my right.

This internal GPS is useless for physical navigation, but my realization seemed significant. What does the Pacific Ocean represent for me – hope? home? the end of the line? I can’t say for sure, though it’s worthy of further reflection. What I know with certainty is that for five months, from October through February, the narrow roads my family will travel will run mostly north to south. But in late winter we begin to explore unknown longitudes. Americans instinctively range west. To turn east is to head into the past. Maybe that is where our country – and my family -  are meant to go.

I’m reminded of the notation medieval cartographers used to fill in blank spots on their maps: “Here Be Dragons.” The United States is moving out of adolescence and into adulthood. Kate and I are parents now, thinking a lot about legacy and the world Molly will inherit. And so we look back. Our history is the next frontier. Who knows what we’ll find out there.

September 9, 2009   3 Comments

Bringing Portland With Me


Portland, OR ::
So this is unexpected.

Since moving to Portland in 2005 I have scrupulously avoided adopting certain styles and customs that might imply a desire to follow local conventions. The three characteristics that might identify me as a Portlander I have had since Fresno, which is the anti-Portland: beard, iBook, chunky glasses. While I do occasionally drink Pabst, in the last four years I have just said no to faux hawks, messenger bags, skinny jeans (this was best for everybody), The Smiths t-shirts, chains, sleeve tattoos, fedoras, Chuck Taylors, and mud wrestling. I have nothing against these things on principle – some of my best friends have flesh tunnels, ride fixies, go to pirate-themed parties, and are more likely to listen to Arcade Fire than, say, Willie Nelson. It’s just that I have this one particular neurosis: I can’t be perceived (and it is all about the perception) to be conforming. Accept me or don’t accept me, I’ll still wear my flip-flops and cargo shorts and brown t-shirt from the sushi bar in Chico. I’ll listen to Willie Nelson and ride my 21-gear bike.

It’s gross. I know.

But something interesting is happening. Now that Kate and I are leaving the city for a time, I have a strong desire to be recognized as a Portlander when we travel to Lincoln, Nebraska, and Dallas, Texas, and rural Mississippi, and Portland, Maine and everywhere in between. I want to go out and get t-shirts from all my favorite coffee shops, and plaster bumper stickers that say “People’s Republic of Portland” and “Powell’s Books” and “Support Native Oregon Beer (SNOB)” on my laptop. Tomorrow I am going to pick out new glasses and I am seriously (seriously) considering getting some of those oversized black glasses like Elvis Costello wore on the cover of This Year’s Model – Costello and the guy who used to work at the Belmont Stumptown.

Kate and I have spent a lot of the last 20 months planning ways to get out of the city. Now that we’re leaving, I want to bring it with me. Is that called home?

August 20, 2009   9 Comments