Saturday, April 22, 2006

Home or Something Like It

We finally came to the end of our road on Wednesday, a day later than we'd planned, and a lot crankier than we'd hoped, but all in one piece. My keen interest in waiting an extra day in Wyoming paid off -- we met a bit of snow, but nothing like the 5 feet that was dumped on South Dakota and Wyoming. In fact, the worst that happened on that part of our drive was arriving in Seattle at rush hour and running into a loooong wait at the ferry to Whidbey. We were only about 90 miles from our new house, but we were exhausted after navigating the Yakima Valley, which incidentally, is gorgeous, and the steep passes of the Cascades, which incidentally, are gorgeous too -- from afar, but depressingly dark when you're driving through them -- even in the brightest sun. And so, faced with the line at the ferry, we decided to find a hotel where we could spend one last night in a real bed (since our furniture wasn't arriving for a few days), and to finish our trip the next morning. That turned out to be more difficult than we expected -- even the otherwise trusty Best Western didn't allow dogs. They were, however, super nice about it and they called all the hotels in the area and found us one that would accept our mini-menagerie.

We drove the last few miles on Wednesday morning -- in the misty gloom that I've dreaded ever since I learned we were moving back to Washington. We picked up kitty, traumatised but healthy, at the kennel where we'd left her two weeks earlier, and finished the trip listening to the sounds of dog and cat anguish. DH had to go in to his new job, so he left us wrapped in a sleeping bag in our new, but empty, bedroom.

The gloom hung around for another day, but it lifted Friday, in time to remind me that there really are reasons to live. This place is funny like that. When the sun shines, it is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world. But although it's still beautiful when it's gloomy, it can press down on you like a weight -- as evidenced by the popularity of the bridge over Deception Pass for committing suicide. Today's paper reports two -- one attempted and another successful. I consider this a cautionary tale. I do not think people always realise that the dark without can join the dark within and lead to desperation. Or, perhaps they know, but deny it for themselves -- thinking it affects only the weak -- until they too follow a bleak path.

I learnt about the power of place when I lived in Washington before, so I don't insist I'm immune to the soul sapping effects of the weather; I recognise that I need to counter it -- forcefully. That means bright colours, lots of light, and soaking up every possible drop of sun when it comes. That's one of the mysteries here; people often seem to go out of their way to increase the gloom, rather than to fight it. For example, it is rare to see houses painted in colours like yellow, white, or blue; most are grey, tan, or mossy green. These blend with the mountains and dark trees to form an unbroken pastiche of dimness. The insides of many houses are the same -- dark floors, tan walls, and brown trim -- colours that leach any remaining light from the grey skies. These preferences are usually described as "natural" -- implying that the deep blue of a June sky, or the pink of a blooming hibiscus isn't. I think that is hogwash. The golden yellow of buttercups is natural, and that's the colour I've already had my new kitchen painted. So is the vanilla and ivory that now graces my living room in place of the tan walls and brown trim that were there before. The bedroom is still brown carpet and trim with tan walls, but that will soon be replaced with the blues, pinks, and greens from the garden. And my new office, which currently sports chocolate walls and darker brown trim, will soon wear the colours of summer -- aqua sky and lime trees.

And who knows? The forest green front door may turn sky blue too someday. All natural!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Head 'em up. Move 'em out.

After several near-disasters like forgotten chests of drawers (full of our best clothes), the doors on the moving van were finally closed on Thursday evening. Since we were completely exhausted and it was already getting dark, we drove 40 miles north and crashed in a Best Western in Pearland, TX. In the past, I would have turned my nose up at Best Western, but I've changed my mind now because unlike most other hotels you can find along the highway, Best Westerns nearly always allows pets. This is hugely important with two dogs on a long trip.

Day 1
On Friday morning, we started our trip in earnest, with plans to stop for the night in Wichita, Kansas. Traffic was noxious in Houston, and even more so in Dallas, and the first leg of the trip was more than two hours longer than we anticipated. We collapsed in another Best Western when we finally arrived in Wichita. Incidentally, southern Oklahoma is oddly beautiful.

Day 2
Our plans for day two were to drive across the plains of Kansas and spend the night in Cheyenne, Wyoming. We accomplished this with no problems, in spite of having to pass through a particularly strange kind of dusty windstorm that the National Weather Service has recently decided to call a "gustnado." I had started out the day driving, but fortunately, by the time we met up with the dusty gusty, DH had taken over -- he deals with such things much better than I do. It's also good he was driving because I came down with a severe headache and my ibuprofen was packed in the trunk somewhere.

When the headache first appeared, I attributed it to stress, the strain of driving in the bright sun with no sunglasses, and later, to the approaching low pressure system that accompanied the dust storm, but then I saw a sign listing the current elevation, nearly 5,000 feet above sea-level, and I realised it could be the beginnings of altitude sickness, which I'm particularly susceptable to. This susceptability is, by the way, quite frustrating -- I seem to get it at lower altitudes than most people; it doesn't go away quickly; and it feels not unlike the worst hangover ever. Still, we made the drive to Cheyenne with no other problems, and I was still able to appreciate the gorgeous scenery as we headed into the Rockies. The Hitchin' Post, our hotel in Cheyenne, boasts a steak house. When we found this out, DH and I had one immediate, collective thought: room service. It was lovely. The warning of a potential problem didn't come until we were nearly finished; a spring snow storm was predicted for the Northern Rockies. Big Problem.

Day 3 - Easter Sunday
When I woke up this morning, I felt like I'd spent the night in a tequila drinking contest. Not a good beginning. I checked the weather and proceeded to freak out. Heavy snow was (and is) predicted for both of the routes we can use to cross the Rockies. I don't enjoy steep mountain passes under the best conditions, but the combination of feeling sick and heavy snow is just plain daunting. Added to that, the movers took our warm coats by accident, so all we have are a couple of sweatshirts, and today is Easter -- a lot of places are closed, so finding a place to stay could be difficult if the weather got too bad. But DH wanted to continue, and I initially agreed; we really need to get to Washington. Still, worry was nagging me and I finally convinced DH that we should stay an extra day in Cheyenne. A few stores are open and the idea was to get chains for the car tires and a couple of cheap ski jackets. DH was nice about it, although he clearly thought I was nuts. However, nuts or not, my foreboding was justified; a couple of hours later, we went out to the car and found a completely flat tire. If that had happened on a deserted road, on Easter, in the middle of a snow storm, we would be campers, but NOT happy ones!

So, we are still in Cheyenne. There were no coats nor tire chains to be found, though we were able to snag a couple of extra sweatshirts from the WalMart. There was also nowhere to get the tire fixed on Easter, so we will have to do that before starting out tomorrow. We hope to make it to either Salt Lake City, Utah or Twin Falls, Idaho tomorrow. Hopefully, without meeting any significant snowfall!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Leaving the Lone Star

Tonight is the last night in our house in Texas, and tomorrow night will probably be our last night as Texas residents -- for a while anyway. I don't want to allow sad feelings to colour the world of my future, but looking back over our ten years on the Gulf Coast, it's impossible not to feel wistful.

The funny thing is ... I had never been to Texas before moving there, and I had every expectation of hating it. I'm not even sure why -- except perhaps because my family is from Arkansas and after we moved to Chicago when I was in high school, I learned to take a dim view of places that reminded me of the backwoods. So, when I moved from Seattle to Houston ten years ago, I pretty much expected a city of faded urban cowboys -- not a place with a lot to offer -- or so I thought.

Of course, my expectations couldn't have been more wrong -- and I am still delighted about that. Lake Charles, Louisiana is the only place I have ever been happier living in than Houston, and without having come to Houston first, I would never have had the opportunity to have lived in Lake Charles, one of the last best places.

Although I'm sad to leave, there is still an upside: my life has been inifinitely richer for having experienced the Gulf Coast beyond the negative stereotypes. And now I know it's there, I can always go back -- to visit, if not to live (and living here again one day is a distinct possibility). Maybe before the end of Kinky Friedman's second term as governor!

Ark-La-Tex - I'm gonna miss ya!