09 March 2013

how do we ever get used to this?

Last weekend in Seattle, I couldn't stop looking at the water.  It's what always happens when I get near the ocean, perhaps because of my landlocked Midwestern sensibilities.  Even though I grew up on the Mississippi {or, more correctly, on the river bluff above it:  I was not Huckleberry Finn, floating down the Muddy Mississippi and hoping for a better life around the bend} and therefore saw water every day, it simply is not the same as seeing so much blue stretch in front of you.

From my parents' house, I could see Illinois and more farmfields...with a ribbon of a brown river in the foreground.  And though I knew that that river fed the farmfields and had inspired stories and songs, it was also just the thing I saw every morning when I ate breakfast.  

But the ocean... 

I drove to my bed & breakfast in the dark and so it wasn't until the next morning on my run that I saw the water.  The town I was staying in, Port Gamble, was tiny and had about four main streets, one of which was called NE Walker St.  Of course I interpreted that as a sign that I was in the right place.

I had to make about seven loops around the town, running up and down every street over and over, in order to get in my 31 minutes.  {Several years ago, I decided that the minimum time I could run would be my age.  This plan will, at some point, backfire, but for right now, it's working well.}

On my fourth lap past the espresso stand {this is the Seattle-area, after all}, the woman working waved at me and laughed.

I stopped by afterwards and said, in that way that lone travelers have, too much too quickly, as if I was concerned that this espresso woman would be the only person I'd talk to all day:  "I live in Illinois, so I'm really excited to be able to run outside and not have to worry about slipping on the snow and ice.  Look at me!  I'm in shorts! I also can't stop looking at the water and smell that!  It smells so fresh and clean here, like industry and inspiration are just waiting for you.  But the water:  Do you ever get used to seeing it?"

More than anything--more than the babbling and the talking of my shorts--that last line betrayed me as a foreigner.  I suppose it would be like someone asking me, "But the Mississippi: Do you ever get used to seeing it?"

And of course I did.  It was just there with barges going up and down it every day.  

Sometimes it smelled like rotting fish.  

The Mississippi mud can hide clams that slice your toe before you even know you've stepped on anything.

When we read Huck Finn our sophomore year of high school, no one once stopped a discussion to say, "But did you ever think that this river that seems so mythical and magical is literally two miles from this classroom with no windows?" 

The Mississippi was just there, just like for that espresso woman in Port Gamble, the Hood Canal is just there.  It's amazing what we can get used to.

But I'm still convinced that I would never get used to seeing so much water every day.  I would never get used to breathing in deeply and feeling like I was taking in life itself, which I suppose I do every day anyway, but it's hard to remember that when you're in the suburbs of Chicago.

Whoever you are and wherever you live, I think we all need a Port Gamble-like place to escape to when our normal lives and normal view start to feel like drudge and sludge.

We need to see something else for a few days, and then, most importantly, come back to where we started and say:  Here is good, too.  

What is it about being away that makes you see the beauty of here?  I don't know, but I'm willing to spend years figuring that out.  It means, after all, more trips to more Port Gambles.


  1. Your post inspired me to reflect upon why it is that I have never spent more than 3 years in one city after high school. I know the life events that directly caused each move, but not the deeper underlying meaning. Am I too afraid of falling victim to the "drudge and sludge" as you call it? Thanks for the perspective.

    1. Never more than 3 years in one town for the last 13 years? Oh my! Where have you lived?

    2. In order: Ames, Iowa City, Columbia SC, Iowa City, Las Vegas, Iowa City, Minneapolis, Iowa City, Omaha, Burlington, and Des Moines. My biography for these years would not be a short one. I've knocked a few bucket list items off already. Since Omaha I've been trying to settle down. Your Vegas stories are hilarious to me.



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