A hesitant departure

21 December 2011, from To the levee

I’d planned to leave Portland over a month ago. I’d reduced, packed, planned again, reduced further, finalized, packed again, and even maneuvered the housetruck out of my little back-alley parking space on a bright but cold November day, and in the pause to squeeze in a last good-bye hug with my roommate Sara, I heard a sizzling, gurgling sound from underneath my truck. Steaming orange-brown transmission fluid burbled on the asphalt, and I had a certain feeling that the God of Housetrucks had determined that day was not the day to leave.

I’ve relayed the story too many times to make it interesting again, but the time between then & now involved a friendly neighbor, a kind but overworked mechanic, a truck that playfully hid its punchline, and a nearby B&B, a housesit, and a plane flight to the east coast and back. After all this, the truck still was not done. Yet I was done, and so I made an executive decision (from one lobe to another) that said, no, you must leave, you must figure out a way to move on, if only for a little while.

And so, the egg of frustration hatched a plan: to drive south, sans housetruck, to that golden land of sun and freeways: California. A tiny rental car was quickly procured, packed (tightly and overdone, since I am used to packing a housetruck, not an automobile), and, with only a little extra delay, I began the drive south.

I have loved Portland these last ten months or so since I placed myself in the city as a resident. Leaving is like leaving a frustrating but beautiful lover: one needs a break, but one hates to leave. The tearing-away is difficult, maddening, but necessary. I need the fresh air of new places, the happenstance of the road, the feel of movement and motion.

I toddle down the Willamette Valley, an old friend for the last decade, visiting places and people who have been integral parts of that whole. In Brookings, the southernmost town on the Oregon Coast, at a little motel run by a blue-haired lady who might be related to David Lynch, I feel a hesitation in the directional pull of the journey. Directly south of here is the Lost Coast of Northern California, which feels not very lost to me as I’ve driven up and down its length several times in the last year. I seek something a bit different. I study the map, look for other options that will still take me towards California, and preferably away from rain and snow. As I zoom and pan the map, I find the answer: the Delta, the huge reclaimed marshes that lie between the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco.

I’ve visited the Delta only once before, briefly, but I still remember this weird land of flooded fields crossed by levees, blanketed by tule fog, through which glide ghosts of riverboats and dreams of gold. From the map, it looks to be a long day’s drive from the coast.