On the Road, Tourist, Traveling, Uncategorized, United States

Heaven on Earth

I’ve been thinking about heaven a lot lately, driving around the United States and finding myself fully realizing the words to ‘America, the Beautiful,’ as amber waves of grain roll by my car windows. I’ve fallen into describing the awe-inspiring landscape as “heavenly,” meaning it brings peace, visual pleasure, and possibility into my frame of visual reference, and thought. In hotels, I’ve slept on more than one ‘heavenly bed,’ some because they are branded that way, and others because they bring the possibility of sleep and the chance to unbend my frame from it’s too-frequently seated position.  And from airplanes, of course, I’ve looked down at an ocean of puffy white cotton-like clouds outside the window and thought, ‘this is what they say heaven looks like.’ Yet upon my return to Orcas (the island I’ve made home base this fall) after a few weeks away, it occurred to me that if there is a heaven on earth, it is not a place or a vision, but a smell.

Sometimes heaven smells like wet seaweed

Sometimes heaven smells like wet seaweed

Smell transcends time and place. It can carry you from where you are now to where you were when. Think about it: the smell of fresh-baked cookies – anywhere – in a home or a bakery or wafting down a street in any small town or large metropolis – any where  in the world, can pull you from the moment you are in, to another moment, possibly long ago and far away, that is anchored by the smell of warm chocolate chips and dough that sinks back to hug them as they cool on a rack, and defined by the moment of peace or hope that it brought to you back in that time and space. Isn’t that what heaven is? The transcendence of the present to a larger realm of peace and possibility?

Sometimes heaven smells like fall

Sometimes heaven smells like fall

I am a person of place. I always have been.  I engage in a place by falling in love with its landscape. When I lived on the east coast, I often longed for the west coast with its cold ocean and high foothills. I longed for the hilly streets and old Victorians of San Francisco. I longed for the stillness of this island on which I’ve spent much of the last two months, and for the serenity of the view from where I now sit – over the grass, beyond the apple trees to the sound, to Lopez Island, to the sky above it and the Olympic mountains standing guard behind. For most of my life, I have associated this anchoring, this peace, with this place. I believed, for much of  my time living in Dallas, that what made it difficult was that city had no hills, not enough trees, too much strip mall cement.

And then a week ago, I drove off the ferry, cracked my window, and was in my heavenly home. The smell of clean air, laced with sea salt and rained grass, rushed in to welcome me.  In the distance was a top-note of wood-stove burning off fall chill and deep, deep beneath it were undertones reminiscent of the sun warming sugar out of last summer’s blackberries.

Suddenly, all the smells came to me. It wasn’t San Francisco I missed when I was on the East Coast. It was the smell of old book stores filled with history and revolution. It was salt floating on fog on early mornings when I waited for the bus to work. It was eucalyptus  trees carrying their native Australia to Tennessee Valley. Strip malls weren’t the problem with Dallas. The air was. Except when it was raining, and the air was filled with the electricity of a storm, Dallas atmosphere stagnated. There was no news being brought on the wind. You couldn’t tell where the ocean was by inhaling. There was no possibility blowing through.

And so, as I prepare to leave for lands that smell of dewy mornings in thin air, of the dirt road beneath your feet, the slow burn of trash in a neighboring field, the diesel of combis and collectivos that roar by, I’m taking some time to absorb this heaven. Lying in bed last night with a rain pounding wind down through the alder and rushing the scent of leaves and water through the roof eaves to where I lay, I inhaled deeply and held my breath, absorbing just a little bit of heaven on earth to bring with me on the road.

Heaven is the smell of true north

Heaven is the smell of true north

Life Skills, Moving, On the Road, Tourist, Traveling

Leap of Faith

A guy should really buy you a stiff drink before he pulls you onto his lap and straps on a harness.

That’s what I’m thinking a few minutes before jumping out of a perfectly good plane. I don’t say it, because let’s face it, though I may have four points of 1500-pound web and metal connection to Tyler, the instructor,  I don’t really know him well enough to be quite that…forward. Despite the fact that I am also sitting on his lap, and in addition to my ass, my life is in his hands.

Moments later he leans forward, taps the pilot on the shoulder, and hollers into my ear, “you ready?”

Fear has prevented me from changing the expression on my face from the frozen smile I had when we took off, so I nod.  At this point, I’ve made the live-or-die decision to go ahead with this business. Matters are really out of my hands on the whole ‘parachute opening’ thing. Now, I’m worried about puking during the jump, which would be fine for me because I’m wearing goggles, and on the bottom, but I’m sure that wouldn’t work out well for Tyler.

Things you don’t think about in advance: of course the plane door opens upward, like on a DeLorean. Otherwise, in 120 knots-per-hour it would come smashing back on my legs, which are now dangling out the hole in the plane’s hull. I’m trying to rest them, ladylike, on the step above the landing gear, but they are just blowing to the side, so I leave it be.

“Chest out,” Tyler says into my ear. “Lean forward,” almost like he’s teaching me to dive. And just like learning to dive, the anticipation is the worst part. With a little lean and a slight push, we’re gone.

There is a moment of tumble, of inertia and movement, and then there: below me is a postcard of wine country. It’s chilly and windy. My mouth is open; when I gave velocity a smirk, it took a gaping grin and pulled all the moisture from my tongue and teeth. I kick my legs out behind me, trying to hit Tyler in the butt just like I was instructed, and let my arms fly out  at my sides. The fall is free and gleeful, and loud with the rush of sky blowing past my ears. You can’t help but yelp, or yip, or yahoo, and so I do. Freely, and gleefully. The fear is left back on the plane with the pilot, coming in for a safe landing on the little air strip far below us.

Then Tyler taps my shoulder again, and again asks, “you ready?” and with that, there is a tug. I hear a flap of fabric against the wind, the sound of a luffing sail, and then the chute snaps taut above us and things become quiet. The vineyards line up below for inspection, organizing the hills into orderly view. Tuscan mansions, wine valley bungalows, trailers and the makeshift labor camps of early pickers speckle the landscape.

Tyler gives me a choice between being still and doing some loops and turns. “Loops and turns,” I shout back in the wind. “Loops and turns!” After two turns, I shout again, “actually, no loops and turns!” I (or more like Tyler) narrowly escape the puking scenario and we return to our graceful float, featherlike. We watch the earth rise to meet us for a five-minute eternity. And then, “lift your feet in front of you,” and here the ground is, right in front of the hangar from which we took off, landing pad of a lifetime, and we walk right in.

Tyler and I, right after walking right back down to the ground

Tyler and I, right after walking right back down to the ground

Dallas, Goodbye, Life Skills, Moving, On the Road, Preparing, Tourist, Traveling

Dallas in My Rearview Mirror

Tomorrow, I will pack my car and watch Dallas fade in my rearview mirror for the last time as a resident. As excited as I am about the beginnings this end represents, I find myself more mixed than I expected about the ‘no-mores’ and ‘haven’t-yets’ that come with it.

Foggy Day in Dallas

Foggy Day in Dallas

This isn’t an ‘I left my heart in San Francisco,’ kind of moment; Dallas and I have never had that kind of relationship. I came for a job and brought an attitude with me, assuming I’d be here two years, and leave. I never actually checked in, so I’m not sure you could call my approach checked-out. But it definitely was disengaged.

My sweet hundred-year-old home in a rare snowfall

And then a few things happened that kept me here. I liked my job. I could afford to buy a house on my own.I fell in love with the house – and then with the convenience of living in Dallas. I ignored that part of me that wasn’t actually doing any actual ‘living’ – an ignorance that is easy to come by when you do yard work, house work, and burglary prevention, get a dog to play with, and watch too much t.v.

After years of returning to San Francisco and Seattle on vacation and wondering how to respond to questions like, “when are you going to get out of there,” I started getting defensive. “It’s not so bad. It has it’s good points,” I’d respond. And then I’d try to list them, and realize my list was short. ‘No state income tax’ is a weak argument in Seattle, which also has no state income tax, in addition to Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, the San Juan Islands, the Olympic Peninsula, and public transportation that actually gets you somewhere. So I realized I needed to augment my list. I started getting engaged.

I actually liked what I found. Dallas has great music venues, many of them in cool old theaters with no such thing as a bad seat in the house. It has Big Tex, the Texas Star and a handful of good dive bars. In the last couple years, I’ve heard speakers from Junot Diaz to Madeline Albright, watched a taping of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, seen Hair, West Side Story, and Alvin Ailey (among others), and heard bands from Metric to Loretta Lynn. I’ve seen Gordon Parks and Cindy Sherman exhibits. I’ve watched the arts district grow by one theater, then another, then an amazing public park the draws people outside for food trucks and chess games and yoga class. And when I tire of Dallas, when I crave some lefty funk, I head to Fort Worth for an afternoon at the Amon Carter or a night at Billy Bob’s. My time is here is ending, but my opportunities to explore are far from over.

Relentless Reunion Tower

Relentless Reunion Tower

I haven’t yet made it to the Canton flea market, or another Chef DAT dinner. I haven’t learned to love the Cowboys, or even how to talk about football, no matter how good it may be for my social life or career. I haven’t learned to two-step, though I have the boots to do it. I haven’t yet eaten at Nazca, that new place at 75 and Walnut Hill – someone go and let me know how it is.

Despite all I haven’t done, my life here has much familiarity that I will miss: driving by the 1-2-3 Divorce storefront on Fitzhugh, which always makes me smile; brunch at la Duni; morning dog walks on Swiss Ave, watching old, neglected houses come back to life during a loving restoration. I’ll miss Taco Joint migas tacos to start the day. Pizza, wine and writing Wednesdays at Times Ten. Nights at the Granada, or the Kessler, falling in love with music I’ve never heard before, or moving on from music I thought I loved. I’ll miss frontage roads to anywhere, and valets to park you everywhere (actually, I won’t – I HATE valet). And of course, I will miss my friends.
In truth, what I will miss most about Dallas is the one thing so obvious to those who know me here, and so foreign to those who know me elsewhere. Even as a resident Dallas, I am an intellectual tourist. The joy, frustration, challenge, and growth that have come from being unable to assume the people around me, even close friends, agree with my outlook (political, social, economic, artistic, what-have-you), are unlike anything I have experienced in any of the other wonderful cities I’ve been lucky to call home. At home in Dallas, I travel regularly through a place so foreign, I could likely stay forever and never have it feel like home. And there is some benefit to that, as I’m sure I will find on the road.

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