Learning to love my new home

The Cascades Mountain Ranch Retreat Center sits a little bit north of Grants Pass, Oregon. It’s a good sized piece of property tucked away from any cities or freeways just by a couple miles. Throughout the year, it’s used as a retreat center, a reunion location, a boys camp, and a vacation rental. It’s also a non-profit, and my friend Cheri’s dad is on its board.

That’s how I ended up spending my New Years Day in the coziest cabin ever.

Our friends Sal & Cheri are from Santa Barbara, but Cheri grew up in Oregon and we get to see them around a lot when they come up to visit family. They were our first visitors, and a little while ago Cheri invited Deanna and I to spend New Years Day at the Lodge and to go snow tubing the day after. She described all day snacking, resting, nature, and football games, with snow, and it was simply something Deanna and I couldn’t say no to.

So, Deanna and I had a quieter New Years Eve at a bar in Eugene, went to bed shortly after midnight, and I drove down south quickly in the morning. I got to the Retreat Center in two hours. It was a gorgeous drive through a variety of different weather conditions- rain, sun, and snow. I didn’t go to the Lodge seeking a “retreat” per se, but that’s essentially what I got.

This was basically what I needed for the start of my year. It’s a year that doesn’t quite feel real yet. In years past, January 1st would bring along with it a more powerful sense of newness. Now I felt like I had definitely left the past year behind, but I had no idea what I was stepping into.

Feeling this way seemed to make perfect sense. It’s hard to imagine looking at a year that held more changes than this one… or at least one specific change that would rearrange the rest of my life. Getting married.

In each of the past three years, I ended the year in a totally different place from where I started. I began last year in Bakersfield and ended it in Oregon. The year before that started in South Africa, more or less. Before that, Santa Barbara. I moved around a ton in the months in between. I changed job titles more frequently than I changed the oil in my car, and perhaps I should have changed that more often, too. What, with all the state lines crossed, new cities visited, and territory covered.

But now, unless something drastic were to happen, I should be ending this year here in Oregon, where I find myself kicking it off. The fact that I find myself staying still for once seems to be a whirlwind of change in and of itself. And again, getting married.

We’ve been watching a lot of football at this place.

Let me just say that it is a very good time to be a Ducks fan. Watching Oregon put an end to all that Florida State nonsense was the perfect way to begin this year. These days, I take more of a liking to college football and don’t give the NFL a whole lot of attention. Most of the time I hear stories about Ray Rice and the racist mascots, I don’t really miss it. College football, on the other hand, is a blast, especially now that playoffs exist. And I love the way the Ducks play, keeping the game moving at a fast pace, without downtime in between plays. Their games flow like a rugby match, and to me that’s a good thing.

Cheri’s dad was a former ref, so sitting next to him meant I got the best commentary throughout the game. The Ohio State-Alabama game was also a good one, and that set things up nicely for the National Championship.

Oregon’s a football state, which is more than I could have said for California.’

Growing up in California, I always imagined I would live in a different state some day. Now it’s happened. As a high schooler, I thought I would have needed the high energy of a big metro somewhere on the other side of the country. Chicago or Philadelphia or Boston, perhaps. Then sometime around college, I realized that my laid back ways were actually meant for the West Coast. Plus, this half has an unfair share of the country’s natural beauty, and to me that’s a pretty big deal.

It is really easy to say that from the heart of an Oregon forest.

A few years ago, I visited Portland and fell in love. I know that’s a pretty common story. It’s a fun city, it’s got great food, some of the best public transport in the country, and it’s surrounded by natural beauty in every direction. I moved into Oregon fully aware of why it appealed to me so much.

But there’s also a simultaneous feeling of now-what. Now that I’ve made my move, now that I’ve left the nest and the launchpad of California, what’s supposed to happen next?

It wouldn’t be dishonest to say that Oregon at the moment feels a bit too big and empty… like there’s something I’m supposed to build here. A community? A sense of belonging? A family? A recurring theme throughout all of last year was experiencing the fullness of life. I wonder if the theme for this year will be about what to do when life feels empty? In transit? Unsettled?

This is Oregon, after all. It’s been a dream of mine to live in a different state and I’ve long cited the Pacific Northwest as my favorite part of the country. Now it’s all come true and it’s time for me to make good on my dreams.

It’s odd, this combination of feeling like there’s something absent here and feeling like right here is where you’re supposed to be.

Last month, being a visitor to my home was an odd feeling, and having that come during the holiday season of traditions and familiarity made it even more unusual. Add that to the fact that Deanna’s family and my own are both undergoing several transitions that are rewiring some longstanding traditions about who goes where for occasions throughout the year.

It can be tough when things start changing like that. When old traditions give ways for new families and former Christmas mainstays are conspicuously absent at family gatherings. The past few Christmases had already felt a bit odd to me. That was partially due to the fact that so many of my older, married cousins would leave early to join “the other side” of their families, and partially due to the fact that I couldn’t be with Deanna despite having a pretty committed relationship. Turns out, by fixing the latter, I joined the club of the former.

But I also learned that it isn’t all bad. This Christmas vacation was far and away the best one I’ve had in a long time. I got two Christmases, and got to see two great sets of people. Also, there are nephews involved, and as much as I might feel more nostalgia about a Christmas from the early 2000s, I much prefer having them around.

Family changes and personal changes can be challenging, and California made that evident. But being a visitor, and a more observant one at that, helped me to remember, there are many good things that happen alongside such transitions.

The changing of this year, more than any other has been a reminder that we’re all moving through time and getting older bit by bit.

A highlight of this very brief year so far has been hanging out with the llamas here at the camp.

I discovered which one was my favorite as we were walking through their space to get to a pond, and one ran up to us, calling our attention. Once he knew he had it, he ran up to a mound, and on top of it. When he got there he stood tall in the sunlight, striking dramatic poses. Such a diva.

Between being surrounded by trees, creeks, and fresh air, we were in a real beautiful place. We got to disconnect by being out of cell phone service area, and I avoided using the little wi-fi that was there. Cheri and Sal also brought up some California grown avocados and cherimoya, and those were great and made for some awesome guacamole. Getting to be in nature, and eat natural foods was refreshing. One of my emerging goals is to learn skills that allow me to eat more natural things, including fishing and gardening.

Today we spent a few hours sitting in front of this awesome old stove fireplace to stay warm. It was a slow day, and we just chatted and passed the time staying cozy inside the lodge.

That was such a restful experience that I’m super thankful for.

I suspect that this is going to be a year of growing up. If that’s the case, I don’t suspect it’ll be the easiest one, but perhaps one most necessary for making me into the person I’m meant to become.

By the time it ends, I’ll be a married man. I doubt that will be the only big change, but we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll also have hoped to make this state my home. I’ll hope to be living well here.

But that can only happen one day at a time.

In the meantime, I get to breathe.

Philippe Lazaro2015