Columns

2010.06.23 One more time: why are you here?

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

Thirty years ago I was doing something different than what I’m doing now. I was looking for someone to take a liking to my new K-8 teaching certificate, for one thing, but teaching jobs were pretty scarce in 1980, much like they are now.

If you go back 30 years to the date, however, I actually was doing what I’m doing now. I was writing a By The Way column for my father who left town and country for a long vacation.

I wasn’t just writing a column, I was doing the entire newspaper for three weeks. Of course I didn’t really know what I was doing, but Mary Clymer did. She’d been working at the Observer office for most of my life and she got us through.

In the column I wrote, I was trying to explain why I left Maine for Oregon and why I left Oregon for Morenci. I wasn’t very convincing.

I noted that eight years had passed since I previously helped get a newspaper out due to my father’s eye surgery. It was during those eight years that I worked in child care centers in Saginaw for two years, lived in Maine for a year while working at a rural hippie school, lived in Portland, Oregon, for two years while working in a classroom for emotionally handicapped kids (I think that’s what they were called in the mid-1970s), and returned to Michigan to earn a teaching degree—something that was preceded by working at Sauder Woodworking to earn college money.

The year in Maine happened by accident. I had no intentions of moving there. I was on a bicycle trip in Canada with my friend, John, and we met some people heading down out of New Brunswick. We were invited to stop by for a visit—a long one. I stayed a year.

The endless woods were beautiful and I wrote in that column:

“The smell of a good cedar woods in Maine is so staggeringly wonderful that I’d be willing to give up a few things in order to have a bottle of it to sniff every morning.”

I didn’t have to give up anything but a little of my ignorance. I received a package from Aletha Correll, who once lived in Maine, containing a small bag of the Maine woods. But it was balsam fir that I recalled smelling, she told me, not cedar. It was a really nice gift. I sniffed that bag dozens and dozens of times, always thinking of hiking through the forest near Pigeon Hill.

 There was the exciting coastline just down the road a few miles, lots of wild blueberries, very interesting people, composting toilets. So why did I leave?

According to my column, the spring wildflowers couldn’t match those found along Bean Creek. Autumn just wasn’t the same with so many trees staying green.

Sounds a little weak. Maybe I just wanted to get back on the road. Maybe I really wanted to see Oregon.

Portland was an amazing place to live. If you were in the right part of the city, you could see Mt. Hood off to the east. An enormous snow-capped mountain, right there in front of you.

Portland has Forest Park, one of the largest urban forests in the world. Miles and miles of trails, all within the city limits.

I suppose it has great restaurants and theatres, but I was a poor fellow living off teacher aide wages—several steps ahead of the Burnside Bridge bums, but by no means affluent.

I traveled by city bus and by bicycle, so I never visited the coast except when my cousin and cousin-out-law were driving that way. What beauty. Breath-taking beauty. The mountains, the city, the river, the forests, the coast—Oregon seemed hard to beat.

So why did I leave?

According to my column, the first thing I always mention when asked is the lack of thunderstorms. Lots of rain, but thunder is a rarity. Can you imagine living without thunderstorms? You can?

I also faulted Oregon for the lack of four seasons. Natives told me each season was present, just not as dramatic as I was accustomed to in the Midwest.

Do you buy that reason? A total of 10 years away and I returned, not just to Michigan, but to Morenci. I guess I’m still puzzled when I think about it.

The old column ended this way: “I had to leave it in order to learn how much I appreciate all these flat, boring stretches of corn and soybeans.”

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