Oregon. It’s more than just the place where I got sober. — It’s the place I invented.
Five years ago, I was so sure I knew the road I was traversing. I was sure of everything. I thought I had defined who I was. And, when I headed West from New York City to Portland, with my love, my ambition, and my idealistic dreams, it all seemed so — written. Today, I know that those first steps were only the prologue in a much longer story.
I always thought it would be the place that changed me. Oregon. But, that wasn’t so. This place wasn’t my savior or my curse. Though, at different points in time, I’ve thought it was both. And, I think that’s what I find most interesting about our sense of place. — We think it will define us, but, it’s us who will define it.
No, it never was the Wild West, or the wide and winding rivers, or the deep and twisted gorge. It was the maps I’ve etched onto my own heart. — Maps I could not have penned until I was already in motion. It was sobriety. Something unexpected. Someone unexpected. And, after many falls, I learned — I’d just been fighting to stand in my own place. — Trying, a little too desperately, to forge a trail that had existed inside me all along.
Re-writing your own concept of place is painful. It’s unpredictable and the trajectory is constantly changing. You’ll want to stay still, but, eventually, you’ll give in to the motion. You’ll succumb to your location. And, you’ll laugh at yourself for thinking that you’d stay in this one place — and that, here, you’d know yourself, with surety, forever. So many of the promises we make to ourselves in our youth are truly fool’s gold.
Our true place is un-seeable. Un-knowable. Somewhere we can never truly visit. Its location is our heart’s guess work. We walk through uncharted lands. We look for our place. And, all of us, with our small semblances of pragmatism, find it a challenge to navigate terrain that’s daunting and foreign. We resist. We trip over the Earth we thought was secure beneath our boots.
But, in time, we’ll all discover that we can never locate our true place. There are no coordinates to enter into a GPS. — Only the long steps it took us getting there. The dirt between our toes. The love that pulls us in one direction, then, the explosion in our heart that blows us off the course, landing us somewhere we’d never intended to go.
Yet, here, in this place, we stand. And, just by having made it here, we have done something worthy. We’ve arrived at a destination. Our place. We can put down roots, or, just as easily, we can pull them up and walk onward. We draw one map while we read another.
So, maybe it’s true. Place can define us — but only if we write our own maps.
Here, in Oregon — I recognize the land. I know when the weather is going to turn. I can feel the change in the atmosphere. And, even on the days when it smells like New York, and the sky behind Mt. Hood mirrors one I saw floating above the Brooklyn Bridge years ago — I know where I am — I know where I stand.
It’s here, in this place, I have put down my roots.
And, at the base of a mountain, amongst Oregon pine, amidst all this rain — I’ve grown.