Updated: Sep 14, 2022
Late summer. Wildfire smoke.
During the last, edgy days of August, it’s easy to forget that we live in an amazing place. In fact, I entirely forget. On the blank slate of the ash-filled air, I begin to imagine other places, other lives.
Should I move to the coast? I wonder, as I shut the windows, turn on the air filters.
I begin to calculate the exchange rate of such a move:
I tally 30 years of roots in a place, versus the effort starting anew.
And then I remember to line-item reality:
But, alas, it’s too late for pragmatics. I’ve already made a plan:
I’ll find a beach shack (I don't need anything big). It’ll have a crooked porch filled with battered boat ropes, old ocean buoys, and artistic
pieces of driftwood. There'll be an old anchor in the front yard, and signs everywhere reading Gone Fishin’, Life’s a Beach, and No Bad Dayz. I’ll decorate my bathroom counter with dried starfish and jars of seashells. I’ll wear a shark tooth necklace.
On weekends, I visit used book shops, and antique stores, lunch on calamari and fish-n-chips. I’ll keep company with trawlers,
crabbers and fisherman. With barking seals and beach-happy dogs. I’ll have sea-salt hair, and ocean-plumped skin, and will regularly accept rides on sailboats named with clever nautical puns.
Fantasies aside, each August, we invariably escape to Brookings, car loaded with camping gear. The first feel of cold air is a rush-I haven’t felt that for months! And for the initial days of our exile, we hike the redwoods, marvel at lobster mushrooms, and enjoy soft footfalls on forest floor duff. We don’t even care if it’s overcast: Anything but smoke!
But after a few days of waking up in an unbudgeable fog bank, my mind starts to recalibrate: that damp cold--once glorious—is now deep in my bones. We're huddling around campfires, both
morning and evening. And in the cool humidity, sticky things feel stickier, grimy things grimier, smelly things get smellier. The seaside town's streets feel bleak, the buildings look worn, and I recall the depression that is sun deprivation.
I’m also nagged by a small unease. Scientists say the Cascadia earthquake is long overdue. The scale of the cataclysm is unthinkable: It threatens to sink the entire coastline? A ridiculous worry, I know, but too statistically significant to ignore. I hope it’s not tonight! I fret as I bed down in my sleeping bag. Surely, if the ocean were to rush into my tent, and I found myself suddenly breast-stroking into the night, I’d think: Maybe a little smoke isn’t so bad...
Would I be dogged by this low-grade worry if I moved to the coast?
By the last day of our coastal getaway, I miss home. I’m
ready again for sun-sharp mornings, dry air, my ripening raspberry bush, for swimming holes surrounded by sunbaked rocks, and for the heat of wine country. When we stop to fuel up in Cave Junction, the climate transition begins and my still sea-cold nose begins to thaw. Warm enters by bones again.
I’m reminded in this moment of a coastal friend who visits my house in The Applegate each spring. After pulling into my
driveway, he emerges from his car like a damp, crumpled towel. Within seconds, he opens like a sunflower, face turned toward the warmth.
Back home, I debate with friends the idea of moving. We go round and round and round.
“The grass is always greener…” someone begins.
“The grass is greener where you water it,” another interrupts.
“Yeah, but what if there is no water?” another friend quips.
“Or what if there’s too much?” I wonder.
Fortunately, wildfire season never lasts long enough for me to find
a real estate agent and actually list my house. The fall rains come, and I forget about smoke season as if it were long-ago illness. And then I enjoy eleven months of paradise before I resume the debate again.
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