View from the top

The assignment for Writing 101:

Today, choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

I’ve always been drawn to lights and high places. Sometimes I find a combination of the two.

When Rob and I moved to Colorado, we first lived on the Western Slope. Grand Junction, Colorado was our first real home away from home. We moved there in 1987 with our three-year and and our three-week old. Rob started residency in Family Practice at the local hospital, St. Mary’s, we bought a little starter house, and settled in. Grand Junction was good to us. He had a great training experience and we grew some good friends there. It was a beautiful western community with a perfect high desert climate and scenery to spare. The town had a small feel to it, the local peaches were legendary, and for five years we thought we had found a home forever.

But opportunities beckoned, and eventually lead us across the country, to a new home in Michigan. Midland, Michigan was another wonderful community. As the corporate headquarters of Dow Chemical, Midland had amenities that you wouldn’t typically find in small towns. Our kids had friends all over our neighborhood. I was an event planner for the local Chamber of Commerce, Rob had his first experience with corporate work.

But the winters there were hard, and long, and gray. And while there was a lot about Michigan that charmed us…Mackinac Island, summer cherries and fall apple orchards, Polish pierogi, the beautiful lake shores and the small, colorful towns…ultimately, we missed the Colorado sun, and the mountains, and we began to talk about next…next jobs, next home, next stop.

Once you start having those conversations, it’s only a matter of time.

We looked at a couple of practice options, but it was an easy decision to accept a job in Denver, taking us back to the mountains and the sunshine.

When you drive cross-country, heading toward the Rockies, if you approach from the east on I-70, you reach a point when you can just faintly, ever so faintly, see the outline of the peaks in the distance. That was the moment I always anticipated.

We drove it many times, and in fact, those drives had started in our childhoods, both families drawn to the Colorado mountains, though in different seasons. My parents were summer visitors, heading west on summer vacations, packing the iconic station wagon with four kids, bags, food, books, games, and more books. And music. My dad always had music with him, and by the time we were making those trips, it was cassette tapes, boxes and boxes of tapes.

Rob’s family went to Colorado to find snow, and they found skiing. In the 70s, driving out over spring break to experience winter and the mountains, they created a family tradition, returning year after year to satisfy a love of exploring, and beauty, and escape from routine.

Those trips were the beginnings of our love affair with the West, summer and winter, and the Colorado mountains.

After we got married, when Rob and I talked about where we wanted to live, the mountains of Colorado became our destination of choice. In 1995, that dream came true. We moved to the foothills of the Front Range, Genesee, nestled between Evergreen and Golden. At night we had a view of the lights of Denver to the east, and we had soaring peaks to the west. Perfect!

It was perfect, and from the day we moved to the mountains, I promised myself I wouldn’t take the views for granted, wouldn’t let it get old.

Even good things in your life become insignificant if you can’t see them anymore. 

I used to drive around, running my errands, and even after we’d lived there for years, I’d catch myself just staring at the scenery. I never got tired of it, never looked past it. Living with the views made me grateful, kept me humble, fueled my joy.

Our view to the west

Our view to the west

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

The river bank

Snow frosted

 

I’ve never been a city girl, but there is one city that completely charmed me, makes me want to know it better and better. Paris, the City of Light, is beautiful and timeless.

It’s romantic and iconic.

It seems familiar from all the movies and photos that have made it famous; but it’s unknown too..when you’re walking around, seeing the landmarks with your own eyes,  there’s a quality of déjà vu, and surreality. You can’t understand the aura from photos, or movies. You have to see it for yourself to absorb the little shops, the cafés, the traffic and the people, the Frenchness. I guess that’s true of most places…you have to experience in person. But somehow it’s more true there. There’s magic in Paris, that’s the only way to explain it.

View seat

View seat

The Paris Icon

The Paris Icon

Paris wandering

Paris wandering

Riverside in Paris, 2009

Riverside afternoon

The funny thing about that trip was how meaningful it was to both of us. We’ve done a lot of traveling together, and sometimes a place that speaks to one of us doesn’t  impact the other. But this was different. We were in sync with each other and with the city. And to this day, it is a touchstone for us, an experience that caught us by surprise, filled us with delight.

We thought we were just doing the tourist thing. Turns out, we carved out memories for life. And you never know when life is going to hand you those moments. So it’s important to pay attention.

The good stuff can only be planned so far. I’ve learned to leave room for the joy of the unplanned, the surprise of the unexpected.

At the end of our exploring, tired and footsore, we headed to our hotel in the heart of the city to recover and get ready to leave the next day. But late that night, I think it was a little before midnight, Rob insisted we go back out for a last look at the city, and the lights. I was so tired, I almost didn’t do it.

But how can you say no to Paris?

We walked a few blocks, and this was our reward:

DSC00881

Paris night-light

It was worth putting on my shoes again.

I’m so glad I said yes. If I’d said no, I would have missed one of the perfect moments of my life, of our lives together. 

Seeing the lights of the Eiffel Tower, sharing a midnight dessert at a quaint little café within sight of that stunning monument, was the perfect end to our trip, the perfect date with my best friend.

Saying yes to life has served me better than saying no.

It has caused me to take some wrong turns, true enough. But even those wrong turns have lead to good things, and make up the mosaic of life. So when I find myself hesitating, I remember the lights, and a midnight walk through Paris. And I know that I’ll choose yes, because there might be a night-light worth seeing, and I’ll miss it if I say no.

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Riley’s table

Riley, two-year-old princess and budding dictator, came to visit at Thanksgiving, bringing her parents along. Believe me, a two-year-old is always the star of the show, whatever the personality or parenting style may be. This is not to say that she is intentionally allowed to run wild, or take over…there’s a lot of effort going into training, molding, shaping, squashing, and occasionally silencing the little angel. I say all of this with a smile on my face and a wealth of love in my heart. She is a joy, and a bundle of energy, and a two-year-old. I know, I already said that…but it bears repeating.

So on her visit to Gram and PB’s house…she had been to Alaska once before, when she was about eight months, but she wasn’t really mobile yet, so that hardly counts…she explored a bit…got comfy with all the rooms and beds and spaces under the breakfast bench in the kitchen, and craftily hid small toys in places that would take me months to discover. I like to think that we’ll be fully recovered before her next trip.

Her most lasting gift, other than the photos we took, was a small inscription on my pine coffee table. Now, I’ve had this table and some matching pieces since the early 90s…these are classic, traditional Southern-Living-look pieces that have served me well, and migrated about the country from Michigan to Colorado to Alaska with scarcely a mark. But now, the coffee table has met Riley.

On the afternoon of Thanksgiving, I was doing something in the kitchen (my native habitat), when I heard an outburst of “NO RILEY, DON’T DO THAT!” coming from the living room. I rushed in to see if she was ok…not really concerned about anything but her…and saw that she had very thoughtfully been signing the coffee table with a blue ball point pen. This is her handiwork:

Riley’s signature

And although I immediately (truly!) recognized that it was her toddler attempt to leave a memento of her stay, and I also (immediately!) realized that the table just grew in value to me…after all, it was only valuable to me anyway…I must admit, I did give it a good polishing with a variety of products, hoping to at least remove the blue from the marks…I knew those were carved to last.

Well, I didn’t get the blue out, and now, as I look across the surface, that’s pretty much all I see anymore. But it’s growing on me. I’ve already decided that Riley will inherit this piece…whatever else I have to leave to her, she’s getting this table. It’s solid, and it’s hers. She put her stamp on it. And I’m ok with that.

Joking aside, it’s really a great metaphor for the experience of parenting (and now grand-parenting) in general…These little people mark on your heart, little knowing or understanding that they’re leaving a permanent imprint of themselves in your life. Some marks are more on the order of medals, others are definitely scars. But the surface and the marks are unique to the parent and child. (Or grandparent…I keep forgetting I’m in the second category now.) I’ll never look at my coffee table without a reminder of the little girl who signed it. And truly, even though the marks are blue, and don’t really belong in my color scheme, because she put them there, they’re right at home in my space, and in my heart.

If you had an essentially happy childhood, that tends to dwell with you. Tracy Kidder

The view from my window

As the morning mist rises, I look out from the windows in my sunroom to the Tongass Narrows, part of Alaska’s Inside Passage. The small community of Ketchikan, AK, is built along this stretch of coast. There are low mountains all around, covered with the evergreen trees that blanket the Southeast of Alaska in forest. This time of year, early December, the tops of the mountains have a frosting of snow. Although this is Alaska, the Southeast’s climate is temperate, and rain is the most significant weather feature. The view is beautiful, a combination of nature’s serenity and the human traffic of the region: fishing boats, both recreational and commercial, barges, all types of marine vessels. And float planes, the ever-present air transporation so vital to this area. In the summer season huge cruise ships are the most prominent traffic on the water.

I have had many views from my windows in the past thirty years. I have been fortunate to live in some pristine and scenic places. Colorado was home for almost twenty years, and from the Western Slope view of the Grand Mesa and the Redlands to the majestic alpine mountains from the foothills outside of Denver, I had a front row seat to enjoy the beauty of the changing seasons. For a few years in Michigan my view was a suburban neighborhood, filled with children playing street hockey and riding bikes, a kind of ideal Americana image magically preserved from some earlier and more innocent era.

My view will be changing soon. I’m listing the house for sale in January. I don’t know what the new scenery will be, but I’m hoping that it will be beautiful. I’ll admit, I’m spoiled. Maybe this is the opportunity to have a beach view and see amazing sunsets on a daily basis. Or it might be a changing view from the windows of an RV. Whatever is in the future, I’m looking forward to the adventure and the joy of experiencing what’s next.