My paper anniversary

My partner just reminded me that we moved up her a year ago to the day, so I’m taking a moment to celebrate.   I look out my (uncovered, floor-to-ceiling) windows, and all I can see are the redwoods that loom dangerously overhead, the mosquitoes dancing in the sun and the hummingbirds snapping them up.  There’s not a human to be seen or heard – maybe with the exception of a far-off chainsaw from time to time.

When I first moved up here, I wondered if I would lose my sense of wonder at the intoxicating scent of the air, clean air being somewhat of a novelty.  Not yet.

A year and a day ago, I lived in the nicest spot I could find (and afford) in Southern California, close to the ocean, in a charming apartment surrounded by beautiful gardens, bird-feeders and tall trees – and yet, only inches away from neighbors on both sides, constantly barraged by the noise of leaf-blowers and passing cars, a 45-minute drive from work on perpetually crowded “freeways,” in an ocean of concrete and asphalt and humanity.  Far from the worst place to live, and far from the worst place I’ve lived, but still just a very nice place in a very big city.

I knew I would miss the ethnic diversity.  I knew I would miss the restaurants – the variety, the novelty, the convenience.  I knew I would miss my good neighbors, my interesting colleagues, and the legions of interesting acquaintances I’d come to know in all the places I had to go – my department office, Trader Joe’s, the awesome sushi place right up the street.  I was right about all of that.

I suspected that I would miss teaching, but I hadn’t realized just how much.  It’s a real shame the university up here isn’t hiring.

I didn’t realize I would miss the big, man-made stretches of sandy beach, foot-hot and desolate in the baking week-day sun or crowded with weekend tourists and snow-white mid-westerners.  Oil platforms on the horizon.  Diesel smoke from passing tankers.  The trash-lines and Peligroso signs warning of high bacterial counts following every rain.

I do, though; and I’m pretty surprised about that.  I hadn’t realized there would be something to miss about my long, sweaty runs under an unforgiving sun on an overly-manicured, machine-raked beach.  I don’t miss it all, but there was something comforting about knowing that I could count on the weather to cooperate, or knowing that I could wipe out on a wave without fear of bouncing off submerged boulders, without even a nagging concern that I might get impaled upon the rusty pilings from some long-forgotten 19th century railroad trestle.   On balance, those overcrowded, icky city beaches don’t even begin to compare with the clean water and stark beauty of the rocky, windy, chill beaches of the North coast.  And now that I think about it a little more, I especially do not miss the floating trash in the bathtub-warm water, the unnerving sensation of feeling a plastic grocery bag emerge from the watery depths to wrap itself around an unsuspecting foot, having to paddle furiously to avoid a patch of unidentifiable gunk seemingly on an intercept course.  But floating trash and heat-seeking fecal matter aside, I see the appeal of Southern California’s city beaches in a way I hadn’t before.  So the move was good for that.

Nature stuff aside, the greatest difference I’ve noticed is in my own approach to my neighbors.  I’ve been unhomed for such a long time that I’ve developed a pretty consistent approach to each new place that I inhabit, and that includes mixing it up with the locals.  I’ve known lots of life-long residents or long-termers in Los Angeles (among other cities) who routinely avoided their neighbors and fellow community members, but that’s never been me.  As much as I dislike humanity in general, I’m generally fond of humans at the individual level, and I always make an effort to mix it up.  I knew – and generally, liked – my immediate neighbors, the shop owners and day laborers, the retirees who hung out along the boardwalk, the mommy brigades who would dutifully march along the beach with their progeny, the fire fighters who would regularly “exercise” at the waterfront, etc., etc., etc.  I always spoke to the grocery-store activists and ballot-pushers as though they were real humans.  But for the most part, I just interacted with my city neighbors.  I knew a select few, and a few of those a little better than the rest, but I wasn’t exactly friends with anyone.  Maybe friends of convenience.   I talked shop with colleagues, and I shared meals and weekends (and, okay, some drugs) with a few people that I liked under the circumstances, but that didn’t make us close friends.  I’d long outgrown the impulse to participate in any meaningful way, knowing that I was a short-timer, anticipating the day that I would leave never to look back.

Something about north coasters there is that sucks you in, maybe?  I dunno.  I like my neighbors in a way that I haven’t in the past, even the ones that I’ll leave forever when I go.   In the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve joined organizations, I’ve pot lucked, I’ve played team sports, I’ve hung out in parking lots and joined drum circles, I’ve spent holidays with families and pets not my own.  I run into friends in town, and not just once in a while but every time I’m in town.   It’s both a little unnerving and deeply comforting to live in such close proximity to such a small group of people, all communally isolated by geography and history and choice.

Maybe the most surprising thing is that there’s no separating the strands of humanity up here.  The day-tripper who’s trying to communicate to me through his drumming and the hardware-store shrew giving me the stink-eye even though I’ve been checking out at her register on a weekly basis for a year now all seem to have me pegged for the same person, and it makes me feel like I’m the same person.  I’m more used to being a different person depending upon the clothes I’m wearing, the job I’m doing, the things I’m buying.

I started this blog to document a research project on one aspect of the community, but I’ve come to like my subjects too much to maintain the academic pose that I started out with.  I wanted a professional excuse to indulge my interest in the changing/crumbling weed culture of the Emerald Triangle, but I’ve found that too difficult to keep up.  The people are indistinguishable from the industry, and I don’t think I was prepared for that.  Or maybe because, despite all the money that some people make, its not really an industry.  I haven’t quite figured that out yet.    In fact, I’m not sure I even know what I’m writing about anymore.

Maybe after another year.


5 Responses to “My paper anniversary”

  1. June 14, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Happy Anniversary!

    Keep writing. Be happy. The people up here are fantastic. I knew I was “home” when I first came here to attend HSU in 1977. I’ve seen a lot of changes. But the people remain the same. Most, slightly out of the mainstream of the masses in metropolitian areas, are looking for Peace – in one form or the other.

    Lots of retired folk in Southern and Northern Humboldt. There’s still plenty of locals who go back five generations or more in our lush paradise. There’s always those escaping society and living in the woods, or off the grid. Real characters. I’ve written about some of those characters over the years.


  2. 3 Kym
    June 14, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I started out to write about Humboldt without mentioning the marijuana and found I couldn’t but in writing about marijuana, I find that I feel like somehow I’m missing out on Humboldt.

    • June 14, 2010 at 11:50 pm

      I know what you mean; the focus can seem limiting, and the external fascination with marijuana as a forbidden crop has a magnifying effect on what is really just one aspect of a much more diverse community. The whole insider-outsider dynamic is really interesting. I actually think you do a nice job of representing the community as something more than just some odd sub-culture, using your focus to illuminate rather than to exclude…and probably because you worry over things like that. Every once in a while, you mention something like what your neighbors think of your job, letting the wider world intrude – I love that.

  3. 5 Kym
    June 16, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    My neighbors have as many different opinions of what I do as I have neighbors;> Most though are too polite to hint at any sort of disapproval. once in awhile, when I do find out someone disapproves, it is from a friend who lets something slip accidentally about another friend.

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