I’ve told the story many times: We arrived in January, 1998 in the thick of El Niño; Bobby drove up in a 15-foot Ryder van, towing our Volkswagen bus; the children and I followed a week later via Amtrak; we stayed 10 nights in what was then the Vagabond Inn at Fourth and R streets before finally finding a little house in Ridgewood Heights. In 2002, we moved into a larger, lighter home in Manila and have been here since, the Pacific at times thunderous, the ocean’s edge just over the dunes. I love it.
From the minute we landed in Humboldt, I grew roots – me, who’d only ever longed to leave her hometown and, prior to here, couldn’t imagine living more than a few years in any one place. But my infatuation with the redwoods, the ocean, the rivers, the wonderful far-away-ness of it all has never worn off. After a few semesters at College of the Redwoods and HSU, I landed work as journalist, as a writer, as a radio personality. All jobs that allowed me to follow, as they say, my passions. Jobs that steadily (if slowly) led from good to better things – in this case, from writing and talking about environmental activism to getting paid to do it.
Sure, for a long time there was a lot of no money and the usual kind of problems people who are married with children face. I’d been a bit clueless as to how pervasive the weed culture would be. When our son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 11, the lack of pediatric specialists in our rural area would mean regular five-hour drives to San Francisco for his health care. Humboldt isn’t perfect – but my heart has never wavered.
And then, a few months ago, I landed my dream job. The call informing me of such surprised me. I knew my then-gig wouldn’t last forever (grant funding being what it is) and had applied for this position figuring the competition would be too stiff, but interviewing would be good practice. And it was good practice – in underestimating myself. The thrill of getting the job had me skipping around so buoyantly that Earth’s gravity might as well have been halved.
The only problem is my dream job isn’t in my dream location. The far-away-ness of Humboldt doesn’t work with the travel I’m required to do, that I love to do. The places I need to be are almost all in Central and SoCal. Hence, relocation a requirement of the position. I knew that going in – and applied anyway.
Choosing between where the heart lies and where the opportunities exist confronts Humboldt’s professionals regularly. I’m far from unique. I know several couples who live separately to pursue careers. They make it work. So I’ll be keeping a room in the City. I’ll be away a lot, whatever “a lot” means. My husband and my home will be here. Sounds hard. Then again, we’ve raised three teenagers, I keep telling people, so while hard, this will not be the hardest thing.
I’m excited about my soon-to-be second home, a cozy spot near the ocean, an excellent pizza joint across the street, a near-perfect location from which to continue fighting the good fight. But forlorn, too – a sadness, a sort of pre-emptive missing, colors my daily appreciation of the beauty and friendship surrounding me. You know when something is so beautiful that it hurts? Sometimes I’ve been in the water at sunset, the ocean liquid glass reflecting the sky all purple, pink, blue, the clouds rimmed orange and gold, pelicans sliding along the curling waves – the scene so exquisite to the eyes that my heart can hardly keep from exploding.
I feel that all the time lately. The blue of the bay is brighter, the sound of the rain on the skylights more lovely, every moment with close friends savored – nothing is taken for granted. I am packing memories in my heart like socks in my suitcase.
And I’m embarrassed by all I haven’t done! I never learned to can, to sew, to hunt mushrooms, to find my way along the Lost Coast. I have not learned all the lessons Humboldt has to offer. I am leaving other things undone. Cigarette butts still carpet parts of Arcata. I wanted to fix that. Ideas for columns, news stories, remain unwritten. I did not start a brilliant podcast. I’ve adventured much in my 18 years here and yet, I am not finished with you, Humboldt.
When I was pregnant with Kaylee, my second kid, I had no idea how I would manage – the love I felt for Chelsea, my oldest, was already all-consuming. And this will sound crazy, maybe, or cheesy, but a few months before I was showing, a woman was reading tarot cards at the salon – precursor of hipsterism or something. While my highlights processed, she did my cards. She didn’t know I was pregnant, but for whatever reason, told me exactly what I needed to hear; in short,”You will have enough love.” For whatever may come.
And I did – of course. And then some.
And as another El Niño gathers, one predicted to be even more powerful that the one we rode in on 18 years ago, nearly to the day, I prepare to depart – sort of. Moving not moving; expanding. It’s scary. But I will have enough love. For whatever may come.
Here we go, 2016.