Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Top ten things I'll miss about Oregon

Crater Lake, one of my favorite places in Oregon.
10) Oregon's stratified and interesting geography. Oregon is one of few places on Earth where the ocean and the mountains are within driving distance of one another. In the winters, I could throw my snowboard in the car, leave my apartment in the early morning, and make it to the slopes by 9. I loved knowing the names of the rivers I crossed over as I drove north, seeing the landscape transition as I headed east. Oregon is a very beautiful state.

9) All the random weirdos. Oregon has a reputation for being a weird place, and if you're wondering what I mean, just watch a few episodes of Portlandia. Sure, the eclectic state has its drawbacks. When self-expression is elevated to the highest possible good, the resulting communities are superficial - people spend so much time finding themselves that they fail to bond with anyone else. But there are also good sides. I am much more open-minded than when I arrived here in 2012, and I've learned to let people tell me who they are, rather than making assumptions about their lives. Oregon has taught me that there is no scaffold for a human life, that each person must build their very own experience from the ground up. It has shown me that you can live any sort of life that you want to, as long as you are honest about it.

8) Good live music. Most people wouldn't expect a small fishing town on the southern Oregon coast to have a good music scene, but it does. Coos Bay's coastal location means bands regularly come through town on their way to larger gigs in places like Eugene and Portland. Nobody mega-famous, but plenty of bands good enough to tour. My favorites were The Bee Eaters and The Mondegreens.

7) Contra dances. Contra dancing actually originated in Connecticut, but I first encountered it in Oregon. It's like square dancing but in two long lines. Dancers follow directions given by a caller, and you trade partners on average every 3 seconds. It's fast and crazy and folksy and an incredible endorphin high.

A contra dance in 2015. The caller is up on the stage. I'm in the floral yellow dress with orange boots, but obviously my outfit was not the coolest one there! Photo by Laurel Hiebert.
6) 7 Devils Brewery. I'm not actually a fan of beer, but I will miss 7 Devils because of its relaxed atmosphere. The connections between OIMB and 7 Devils are numerous and overlapping, and in fact, I affectionately call the brewery the "OIMB extension office." The founder is an OIMB alumna; most of the staff are current or former OIMB students; even some of the musicians that perform at 7 Devils have OIMB connections. The brewery is the go-to hang-out for Coos Bay's young, educated population, and it quickly began to feel like our own Central Perk.

5) My fellow dancers. One of the first things I do whenever I land in a new place is try to find a dance studio. After getting snubbed out of several ballet studios in Coos Bay, I happened on Rhythm Village, a traditional West African drum and dance ensemble. The Village filled my Monday nights with wild beats and athletic routines. It was through Rhythm Village that I met the owner of Spruce Street Studio, where I eventually went to teach a beginning ballet class. I had a smiling class of little ballerinas who thought I was the coolest person alive. On weekends, I would go into the studio and give myself an advanced class. I'm going to miss being part of a network of dancers - and having access to a studio whenever I wanted.

4) Orcoast Music. I only had to play at Orcoast's open mic night a few times before the owner asked me to teach violin lessons at her store. I'd head down there twice a week, set up in the studio at the back of the shop, and teach. My students ranged in age from 6 to 75, and each one presented a new and unique challenge. I can't tell you how good it felt to watch each of them improve and become musicians. If one didn't show up, I'd hang around the store for a bit, tune the violins for sale, and chat with the owner. I'm going to miss that weird little place and the creative outlet it provided me.

3) Christ Lutheran Church. Church attendance is a habit I've held onto from childhood, but Christ Lutheran was more than a habit - it was a place I felt at home. I got involved by playing violin in church services and singing in the choir. I'm going to miss stove-top popcorn and fellowship at the Thursday night women's Bible study. I'm going to miss joking with the other sopranos at choir practice. I'm going to miss coming early on Sundays to practice my violin with the organist. I'm going to miss the family of young girls who looked up to me, and most importantly, I'm going to miss being part of an extended family of people who invest in each other, get involved in each other's lives, and help each other however they can. I'm going to miss my church community.

Caitlin, Luciana, and I in Newport, Oregon, 2015.
2) My labmates. The OIMB grad student population experienced a complete turnover in my time there - which is how it's supposed to be, as people graduate and move on. My experience as part of the OIMB community varied as the grad student population changed, but I can mostly divide it into two parts: before and after Norway. After Norway, I returned to Oregon to find I had an awesome labmate, Caitlin, a post-doc, Luciana, and a new crop of students who genuinely cared about each other. I'm going to miss chatting with Caitlin throughout the day. I'll miss lunch with Luciana and late-night chats with Carly. My post-Norway labmates rocked, and I'm going to miss them.

1) The Hansens. I met Sephra and Lee Hansen when they attended my church in Coos Bay. We bonded instantly because they had just moved to Oregon from Michigan, the state where I grew up. We swapped stories about the state we all missed; we compared notes on how the Northwest differs from the Midwest. The Hansens quickly became my surrogate Oregon family, and I can honestly say they were the best part about my life out west. They took care of my car while I was in Norway; I taught their daughter violin. I would spend Saturdays at their home on the coast and go visit on weekends after they moved 3 hours north. Sephra and Lee treated me immensely well - like family, really. I'm going to miss the violin lessons and the movie nights and throwing their toddler around the living room. I'm going to miss sitting at the kitchen counter and chatting with Sephra while she cooked. I'm going to miss talking science with Lee. I'll miss the squeals and the meals and the standing offer to do my laundry at their house. The Hansens were without question the best part of my life in Oregon.

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