Have you ever said to someone, “Yeah, I can see you in (insert city)”? When I told people I was moving out to Portland, OR I would always get a reply, “yeah, I can see you in Portland”. What does that mean? That I fit the hipster / hippy / gloomy rainy type? Or if people say they can see me in NYC, does that mean they see I have a ruthless drive and desire to make it in the busiest hardcore city of them all? What does it mean when people say they can picture me in some place over another? Apparently, I have the personality characteristics for: Portland OR, Denver CO, Austin TX, NYC, NY and Ashville NC. And supposedly I do not fit the bill for: San Diego CA. Do cities exude personality? Do they attract a certain type of person? If so, am I totally missing out on someplace that will take me outside of my comfort zone and make the most out of me?
I grew up in Vermont in the romanticized green rolling hills of countryside, dirt roads and distinct seasons. My small town had one of everything except for gas stations – of which there are almost too many. It was common to drive 30 miles north for a movie or a night out at a decent restaurant. It was the norm to drive anywhere from 20-40 minutes to get to your friends house in another part of town (and no, not on public transit). My road had washboard bumps during mud season and we commonly got snowed in waiting for the plowman to free us from our dead-end road during icy winters. Summers were spent jumping off of bridges into frigid rivers and getting ice cream 20 minutes outside of town. Vermont is beautiful and it is romantic. When I was growing up there, I had an appreciation for the seasons, the quietness of the nights, the small town news. Yet now whenever I return home, I am always amazed at two things: how amazingly quiet it is and how little there is to do. This isn’t a knock on rural Vermont – on the contrary – it is rare nowadays to find someplace so quiet where reading is a present-time activity (as well as eating and sitting by the fireplace).
Vermont holds a special place in my heart because it’s where I grew up and where my dear parents live… but I can hardly envision myself there for the long haul. For starters, upon a recent visit home, I had a hard time falling asleep in the muteness of it all. You would think that utter silence would nestle you into a deep sleep but it doesn’t. Instead I lie there looking up at the ceiling straining my ears for the tiniest sound. Secondly, while there is a lot of outdoor stuff to do, the weather is hardly ever conducive and it takes heaps of motivation… which, when it’s so quiet and you haven’t slept all night, motivation hard to muster. During the 9 months of dreary fall / winter, the foods veer towards comfort foods to get you through the depressing 4pm night sky (read: butter and cheese). So now, since I can’t sleep and have no motivation for exercise, I eat in boredome and ipso defacto, hello lovely hip handles! That said, Vermont was just rated the healthiest state of them all. Mirror, mirror…
Despite growing up in Vermont and loving the good and the bad, I can’t quite picture myself there. My parents moved from the then-growning urban sprawl of Maryland – anxious to escape the strip malls, miles of parking lots and fast food franchises. They eventually found a small quaint Vermont town to develop roots and have been there ever since. My mother grows a beautiful garden and harvests cucumbers for pickles, basil for pesto and tomatoes. The house is never want for fresh flowers. My father enjoys the ‘country chores’ that a non-farmer with property must handle to upkeep the land – chipping wood, clearing brush, mowing and house maintenance.
Yet what they moved from – the gritty urban lifestyle of the late 80’s – has changed dramatically. I saw it when I was living in South Carolina (of all places) and Portland seemingly leads the way in the hodge podge of urban / rural living. I know Portland is an exception and not the norm – strip malls do still live and vacant parking lots do well at creating runoff and spaces for kids to do wheelies in the winter. Yet in Portland, there is a beautiful mix of urban and rural living. Within five minutes drive from the city core, you can enter into a number of eclectic neighborhoods. The city has ordinances on the number of chickens and goats a residence can have within city limits. Yes – people do actually raise chickens and goats in their backyards. Composting, urban gardening, alternative transportation, a strongly supported local agricultural business, farmers markets, car sharing and more make this urban dreamland of microbrew pubs, music venues, museums, cafes and theaters also a rural escape. Sure – you can move out to the burbs and have a giant backyard, 2 car garage and cul de sac – but that’s not the way this movement is growing.
More and more I see property lots divided for smaller urban developments. I see urban gardens creeping onto that strip of land between the sidewalk and the road. I stop and lift my dog to peer over the fence at the baaa’ing goats in the morning (I think he would have like farm life). There is a difference to Vermont – in that the muddy roads, open night skies with thousands of shining stars, crickets chirping in the summer, the open road feeling cannot be replicated here in Portland. I’m glad that Vermont hasn’t changed that much from when I was growing up. It makes visiting all that more special. My rural Vermont roots and urban living desires are married beautifully in Portland… which is why for the first time coming back to Portland felt like coming home.