Clouds drifted in to the Oregon Coast this week and established a consistent residence over our heads. There was very little direct sunshine, which made the temperatures in the 50s feel a little cooler than they really were. We had several days with drizzles, but nothing to keep you from going outside. Since rain is so much more present in the Northwest, people don’t let precipitation deter their plans quite so much. I like this mindset. I like moving on with the important work even if the weather isn’t perfect.
Allyson came for her last visit before she makes the move out here in July. On Tuesday, I picked her up at the airport. I spent the morning meeting at the Conference Camp Office in Portland. The office is right next to the MAX, the Portland light rail line, so I decided I would go mass transit and avoid traffic and paying for parking at the airport. I gave myself just enough time to grab the train and beat Allyson’s flight by about 15 minutes. I hopped on my train, sat back and enjoyed beautiful views of Portland, my new close big city en route to the airport. The train slowed at several stops downtown, but there was still plenty of time for me to get to the airport. About 5 stops from the airport, I got a text from Allyson saying she had just touched down. I typed back, “Yay! I’m almost there.” Several stops later, my surroundings did not look very familiar. I had taken this line several times, so I felt like I should recognize the stops. Then I looked at the destination stop on the side of the train. It had a blue background. The one that goes to the airport is red.
I like surprises. I like elaborate plans. I like romantic ideas. But, these little schemes, if not orchestrated properly can end in frustration and confusion. Sometimes when we go all out, we just wear out ourselves or the ones we love. You have to be careful about timing when you call an audible. I knew that Allyson had been flying since very early this morning. I knew she was excited to get to see me after a month. I knew I wanted so bad to see her as she crossed the security line and we’d get to hug on the teal green PDX carpet. And now I knew that I was going to have to backtrack on this train, catch a transfer to another train, and ultimately get there 20-30 minutes after she got her checked bags.
“The best laid schemes of mice and men,” right? My best laid scheme had gone awry, and I was left looking like a dummy, leaving my tired wife waiting for me. Still, I got off the train and jogged around pokey airport travelers, looking for her face, and when I saw her, ran straight for her, cutting people off. I grabbed her and pulled her close to me, and we stood there against each other, feeling each the other’s lungs fill and exhale. Though plans don’t always go perfectly, you have to look at an overall accumulation. We were together again.
Allyson got a taste of camp life in this new place during her stay. I lifeguarded for a group that scheduled to do a “polar plunge,” where they would jump into the cold lake and swim to shore. I don’t know if this is really a full-fledged “polar” activity, because it is May, and it is 50 degrees. Maybe more of an “uncomfortably chilly plunge.” Allyson came out to stand on the dock with me, watching 6th graders waddle up to the edge, jump in, and flail around until their bodies adjust to the temperature. One poor kid lost his only pair of glasses right when he jumped off, where the water was about 6-7 feet deep.
I’ve had glasses fall in lakes before, and it’s basically like dropping a needle in a haystack, only the haystack is at the bottom of a barn that you can’t breathe in and can barely see in. The group leader asked if we had goggles, snorkels, maybe a wet suit. I said we did if they wanted to try it, but I was not very optimistic. Allyson volunteered to suit up, though, and try to find the glasses. The group leader was very gracious, and I was just happy to see Allyson so eager to get involved. On the first day here, Allyson walked around the camp, taking pictures of all the flowers in bloom. She kept telling me how much she loves being here, how beautiful it is.
On Thursday, we went to dinner at Cannon Beach. We ate at Cannon Beach Hardware and went out on the beach as dusk set in. The first time I walked on that huge beach with enormous Haystack Rock towering over the surf, I thought about how I couldn’t wait to bring Allyson to this place for the sunset. Like the rest of Oregon, I hoped she would be as blown away by it as I was. Looking at the mountains on either side, seeing other beach-goers, standing right next to that big, big rock, I wrapped my arms around Allyson and put my chin on her shoulder. She said, “we live 20 minutes from this place.” We both knew it to be true, but could hardly believe it.
After Allyson had been swimming around, looking for the glasses for a little while, I felt pretty sure my inclinations were correct about. They had drifted or had gotten covered with dirt stirred up by other swimmers. Or, it was just too much space to cover while holding your breath. The leader was feeling the same way, and said, “why don’t you try one more time, and we’ll call it a day.” Allyson went under water, and came up holding a pair of glasses. All of us were surprised. Allyson said the glasses (which had brown rims) were partially buried in the sand. It seemed like a miracle she had seen them. Sometimes even the craziest plans work out. Later that night, I was given a card, written on construction paper by the student for “Alison,” in 6th grade boy handwriting. Allyson said, “It’s so good to be back at camp.”
But, she’s not back for good, not for another month and a half. This morning, I dropped her off again at PDX to go back east to finish out some work obligations that were important for her to be true to. We’ve started a custom: on the last night one or both of us is in Portland, we have dinner at a restaurant we discovered our first time in Portland. It’s called the Old Salt Marketplace. During the day, it’s a deli that sources local meat and seasonal produce. In the evenings, it’s a supperhouse that puts together 5 or so meal combinations. The food is cooked in an open-flame hearth. In a city crawling with fantastic restaurants, this is our favorite so far, by a lot.
So, Allyson and I came to another last night together. We sat down in this cosy place that feels like part of our story now. I asked our waiter, “How’s it going?” He said, “So good, man.” We started with an order of buttermilk biscuits, and they very well may have been the best biscuits I’ve ever had in my life. The meal we chose to split was hearth roasted beef, grilled asparagus, fried potatoes (which turned out to be a northwest version of hushpuppies), and bernaise butter. Each one was so good, I just wanted to let each bite sit in my mouth for a while. We sat there in this place we’ve known about as long as we’ve known Oregon, raving about the delicious food, holding hands across the table. We took a huge step together, deciding to make this giant move, living apart for a few months, leaving so much of what we’d known. But, that night, this new place, these new people, this great little place with it’s unbelievable food felt like ours. Like something we fell in love with that wrapped it’s arms around us and loved us back.
I have had a lot of feelings and questions since this move. I’ve felt joy and wonder at this place. I’ve felt the emptiness of being separated from Allyson. I ask the questions anyone asks as they plunge into something new and unknown. Am I cut out for this? What if my plans all fail? But, so many times I step out the door, I remind myself what Allyson also said with joy so many times this week: “We live here. This is our home. This is where we live.” I’m sure the plans won’t work exactly as they were set out. But, I look at what we’ve already seen in this short time and I am more than hopeful. I lean back in my chair and hold it against the roof of my mouth, wanting to keep that taste there as long as I can.