Sunday, November 10, 2013

Smoke and rain: dreaming and adapting on the Western slope

My life is the story of water. My cells, my mitochondria and nuclei and DNA swim in pools of water. It drives me forward, pulls my feet toward its source: a waterfall in the jungle, a crystal pool high in the mountains. I drink it in deeply, let it fall over me, into me, around me, and still I lust for more.
Perhaps it’s because I grew up in New England, among trees and gardens fed by a generous sky, but for whatever reason I am drawn to the wet places of this world. After college I spent a year in the equatorial Pacific, and in a country of parched white beaches where nothing grows but palm trees, I was assigned to the one island with swampy taro patches and thick creeping jungle. While other islands suffered from drought, the seams of my clothing rotted in the humidity.

Since then, I’ve moved like clockwork. Every six to 12 months I go looking for a new job, a new adventure, and until now, I’ve always gone to places with heavy rainfall — the eastern shore of Hawai’i; the temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska. Last year I surpassed even my own standards, finding myself in one of the wettest places in the world: Fiordland, New Zealand, which receives an average of 22 feet of rain a year. After  six months there, though, I felt waterlogged and weary, ready for a chance to stay in one place for a while. I’d moved 15 times in nine years.

So when learned I’d gotten a writing job in Paonia, I didn’t hesitate to fly across the world and pack up the car that I’d left at my mom’s house in New England. I headed West to chase my dreams, to find my own Big Rock Candy Mountain, following the tracks of others who’d made this migration before. The morning I left New England, tendrils of fog snaked through valleys and around barns, softening the dawn light. Then the rolling hills of the East gave way to the stubby fields and industrial cities of the plains, and I considered for the first time of how I’d adapt to life in an arid country. I knew almost nothing about Paonia except that one former editor had described it as “very nearly perfect.” But perfection, of course, is a matter of opinion.
IMG_1461The journey West was once a journey of no return, an exchange of the known for the unknown, the tame for the wild, cities for open spaces. But as the West changes, these truths become less and less so until only one remains: moving from East to West means moving from wet to dry. It means leaving a world of abundant water — water so pervasive you can feel it on your skin, see it beaded on every blade of grass — to a place where you cannot legally cache your own rainwater because it’s such a precious commodity. ...

 ... Read the rest of the essay in North Fork Scrapbook, on online record of life in the North Fork valley that began as a response to the proposed leasing of public lands here for oil and gas drilling:

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