SpoiledTen days straight living and working in the city have been a lesson, a reminder, a renewed, visceral understanding that I don't want to live in a city anymore - not a city with a million-plus metropolitan population, no matter how livable when compared to other big or super-big cities. Returning home, I have a fresh perspective ... I remember what it was like to live in the city and vacation at the beach.
Coming across the bridge, I see again how beautiful the estuary is. Light fades in the west, turning the scenery into a mood piece in shades of gray and blue. Driving west through the tunnel under Fort Columbia, I realize how intriguing and almost romantic this would feel to the visitor from afar, from citified places where tunnels are becoming passe. The tunnel is lit more brightly than the fading sky - an entrance. Where we live is almost cloistered - quiet, remote, relatively protected, if not immune, from the vicissitudes of urban life.
When I lived in Portland 20-plus years ago, I delighted in the fact that an hour and half drive east or west would get me onto the slopes of Mount Hood or the sandy beaches of the Pacific Ocean, respectively. Most weekends, I'd go for a hike in the Columbia River Gorge (45 minutes by car to the closest trailhead), the oak and wild rose bordered pathways on Sauvie's Island (about 30 minutes drive), Forest Park - one of the largest urban parks in the country (15 minutes from my former house). Or I'd walk around my Irvington neighborhood's streets, sheltered by giant street trees - horse chestnuts, lindens, maples - creating a canopy whose deep shadows allowed lovers to kiss unseen by passers-by. Those gardens overflowed with azaleas, roses, hyacinths, flowering shrubs of all sorts, and at this time of year, daphne bushes at sidewalk's edge, tempting the flower thief to pluck a fragrant twig.
All those were delightful then, and could be now, except that I'm spoiled. No, there are not gardens in Ilwaco overflowing with colorful annuals or fragrant perennials. The few street trees have often been hacked if not turned into stumpage by our local utility. All the same, I'm spoiled - because a hike in rugged terrain in a native forest doesn't require a 45-minute drive; it's only five minutes in the car to several vigorous trails in Cape Disappointment State Park. A few minutes more puts me on the dikes at the Lewis Unit of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.
Better yet, I can walk out the back door, up the hill past the school and hit the trail around Black Lake, again a vigorous enough walk to get my heart pumping and my mind to clear. Now we have a new addition to our options, the Discovery Trail that swoops steeply up a grade from Second and Main. Climbing above the south side of Holman Lake, the trail leads all the way to Beard's Hollow and the ocean, providing glimpses of the lake, really a wetland now with only patches of clear water. On one midday walk there, we stopped on the wooden bridge that traverses the first side drainage, and watched a family of raccoons swimming from islet to islet, up and over fallen logs, a seemingly endless game.
This is my approach to peace of mind. Yes, it's good for my body and my cardiovascular system, but more than that, my head clears of niggling "to do" lists and sometimes with that clarity, a bit more self-awareness drifts to the surface. Going to a fitness center or running on an indoor track has never provided me with the same release. Maybe it's the poor air quality! Or, maybe it's the boredom of the indoor environment - nothing new to spot along the trail, like a patch of small green leaves pushing through leaf mold, portending early spring. Maybe it's the chatter of my comrades in those indoor environments or the blast of syncopated music that prevents the psychological release that a walk in the woods provides.
At any rate, many of my friends in the city get their exercise by going to a building, an enclosed space, and I can understand why they do. It's convenient, it's easy, the weather can't foil your plans, and it all becomes routine. It's exercise for the body, if not the soul. But me, I want both. I'm spoiled, and our little town has these natural, well, not wonders but delights practically at my doorstep.
Victoria Stoppiello is a freelance writer from Ilwaco, where obviously she enjoys walking a lot.