A young friend of mine went to the east coast this fall to attend college. A couple thousand years ago I, too, chose to leave Eastern Oregon for a college on the east coast.
My friend and I both hail from long lines of pre-Revolutionary War settlers — we are Westerners who have reached out to the land of our grandmothers as a home away from home.
Leaving Wallowa County can feel like that day I stepped out of my grandmother’s car at St. Mary’s. I looked around and for the first time in my life I knew no one. Of course, that lasted about an hour. It still strikes me odd when I walk into a restaurant and don’t know a soul.
Last week I retraced my steps of the nine years I spent in Maryland, both as a student and as a Washington, D.C., nonprofit worker bee. I did surprisingly well navigating the highways and metro light rail system with a little help from the nameless woman who lives in my phone.
I spent a few hours in Washington with a writer friend touring the Newseum and talking about the events that are stymieing the nation. After lunch he went home to work and I headed toward an immigration reform rally on the Capitol Mall. Eh? When in Rome. Before I knew it, I was passing the rally and heading to the congressional office buildings to visit our representatives from Oregon.
Grass needed cutting
The museums were closed, of course, and the grass needed cutting, I thought. Soon, the trees would shed their leaves and there was no one to clean them up. That night a stroll through town revealed not the occasional rat that is a part of big city living, but a horde of them. I appropriately shrieked.
A walk by the National Zoo revealed three cops keeping visitors from coming in. I hoped that those who feed the animals were also deemed “essential” during the government shutdown.
Sting’s song, “An Englishman in New York” came to mind as I sipped a cup of coffee, walking down Connecticut Avenue — singing my version, “A Lostinian in Washington.” I went back to Capitol Hill for an interview with Congressman Greg Walden. In his office, I felt like I was on Oregon soil, like an embassy in a foreign country is considered American turf. We talked about people we know in common and of course issues that affect Northeast Oregon, but are controlled by people in a city far, far away.
A long, rainy drive the next day through the villages of northern Maryland gave me time to reflect — back in a rural setting I could collect my thoughts. I drove by 200-year-old mills and homes, through windy roads that dropped into old American small cities with cobblestone streets lined with 18th and 19th century buildings.
I stopped to see my grandmother’s property, overgrown with vines so thick and impenetrable I couldn’t find the holly tree or where the house and barn once stood. Wet to the skin, I got back in the car and headed to the warmth and familiarity of old friends. It’s the people I love, my friends and family, that make me