Where is your Place? Your Place is some city or town, maybe a neighborhood, that fits you deep down in your gut. It is a lock and you are the key. The minute you arrive at your Place, you can feel the key turn in the lock and you just know that Place is where you are supposed to be. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones and your Place is your home town. Maybe you spend your entire life looking for your Place and you move from city to city every few years. Maybe you find it on your first try.
I was born in Southern California, in the OC. For the first 38 years of my life, it was my home. I lived and worked a commuter’s lifestyle. I had the two car garage, 5 bedroom home on a postage stamp bit of land in an older section of Irvine. I drove my car to work in Aliso Viejo during the week, and I drove my car everywhere else as well because walking wasn’t a means of transport in Irvine, where destinations were measured in miles and blocks were defined by the size of the strip mall. The car and all of its attendant wants are one of the defining, and dominant, characteristics of living in Southern California.
Southern California is a desert. It’s not a bone dry desert like Death Valley or the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, but it is a desert nonetheless. It was made fertile by the toil and sweat of man. It has beautiful stretches of coastline and gentle beaches, temperate weather throughout the year. It has everything to draw people and just enough of a default setting that living there is easy and can be made better with little or no effort. As my life progressed through all of the usual stages, so too did the OC. I grew and my life expanded and the OC grew and expanded right along with it. When I was a kid, there were great swaths of land my friends and I would explore and play in that disappeared under the hand of development by the time I was in college. Even then, I could drive south on a mostly empty Interstate 5 and there would be rolling hills of grass from Irvine to San Clemente. But by the time I was in my mid-thirties it had all been swallowed up by prefabricated suburban sprawl in made-up towns like Aliso Viejo.
A part of me watched this silent and steady encroachment on my home turf and felt uneasy. The other part just went about my day, silently adapting to the slow increase in traffic on the streets, avoiding the beach because parking is a bitch, not wanting to go to the park because we got up too late on Sunday and the crowds would be insane.
Regardless, I had a good life there, good friends and work colleagues, family. But it wasn’t my Place. I didn’t really know that until I visited Portland and we made the decision to move. Even then, I wasn’t sure, I just knew that I HAD to get the fuck out of The OC. The place of my birth had become intolerable to me and I needed to leave.
My sense of place kicked in within a month of moving to urban Portland. My unease disappeared. We settled in the Pearl, an upscale, trendy area of downtown Portland full of condos, art galleries and restaurants. Blocks are measured in feet here and more people walk or bike than drive. There was a vibrancy and life in this dense population that was lacking in Orange County. The colors are radically different, green and emerald shades replaced brown and salmon (fucking salmon, just call it watered down pink) and towering, majestic pines replaced anemic, soulless palm trees. The air here is clear, from my bedroom window right now, I can see Mount Saint Helens sixty miles away. The light has a crispness to it that takes my breath away at least once a day even now ten years in. The people here are open and friendly. They know the privilege of living where they do and know every day is a blessing.
I feel the life in this Place. I feel it in the vibrant heat of July, the crisp cool of November, the raging rain storm in January, and I see it in the glowing spring rain of May. I feel it walking along a sun-dappled trail deep in Forest Park. It touches me in the deepest parts of my soul. I know this is my Place. Where is yours?