My wife Cory and I were ready for a change after living in Portland for more than a decade. We were entering that phase in our lives where we were wanting to put down permanent roots and start a family, and though we were uncertain about where exactly we wanted to be in terms of locale, we were both on the same page in knowing that we didn’t want to be in the city anymore.
I come from a small town in North Carolina, and Cory from the smaller city of Salem, Oregon. We were both looking to transition into a simpler, less hectic and more harmonic lifestyle, which we were convinced the sirens, strip clubs, and skinny-jeaned hordes of Portland just weren’t going to provide.
So we made a list of what we wanted: smaller town, bigger house we could eventually toss a couple rugrats into, and a workable-sized plot of land that we could develop towards a more sustainable existence. We weren’t trying to eschew society or go off the grid – anyone who knows either one of us knows that we could live without cable television and Netflix about as well as we could without oxygen and clean water. We just wanted to be able to trim the excesses in our lives, hone what it meant to provide for ourselves, and get to look at something besides our neighbor’s front porch when we stepped outside.
List in hand, we started exploring. For a while we were sure we were going to move to Astoria, Oregon, home of The Goonies (which was, for my part at least, a good 90% of the motivation). Then it was going to be McMinnville in the fertile crescent of Oregon wine country. Or somewhere on Washington’s Olympic Penninsula, Gig Harbor maybe, or Port Townsend. We entertained the idea of Anacortes, Washington, on Fidalgo Island in the picturesque Puget Sound. And then, one year ago, Cory took a day trip with her friend Ellen to the Columbia River Gorge. I can still remember the look in those bottomless blue eyes and the excitement in her voice when she returned that night and asked if I had ever been. I hadn’t, not really. I’d driven through the Gorge ten years ago when I moved to Oregon but hadn’t been back since.
Secretly, I wasn’t feeling it. I was looking for that big change, that drastic leap. The Gorge was too close to Portland, I thought. It was inside the same cultural bubble and wouldn’t be like moving away as much as it would be moving to the suburbs. But I’m smart enough to know that when my wife makes a suggestion, it’s not really a suggestion, so the very next weekend we went out to the Gorge.
Any reservation I had, any hesitancy I was feeling, any resistance I was ready to offer, I forgot all about it the second we got outside city limits, where the Columbia River carves between Oregon and Washington leaving in its wake some of the most breathtaking scenery the U.S. has to offer.
Now, Cory and I as a couple are many things, the least among them patient. We moved in together six weeks after we started dating, got married about a year after that, and bought the first house we looked at in Portland, which we loved for five wonderful years. We’re impulsive, to put it politely, ‘rash,’ if you’re feeling cynical, but our impulses have always served us well, so we tend not to question them.
Once we had chosen where we wanted to live, we didn’t hit the ground running, we hit it rolling -- and not entirely in control. That period is a blur, at least to me, of repairmen and realtors and inspectors and more realtors, and – oh yeah – the holidays, and boxes piling up in corners little by little until the piles weren’t so little anymore, and wondering where exactly we were going to move them. Our house in Portland sold – I kid you not – about 10 hours after it went on the market, which was awesome, but which also set a very real and very near deadline. In searching for new homes, we really wanted to stretch our dollar as far as we possibly could.
A few frantic weekends of searching the small communities up and down the river, and we stumbled across a log home in Lyle, a census-designated place of about 500 souls 15 minutes from Cory’s new job in Bingen. The place was really too good to be true, and the entire time we were waiting to close I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it never did. Our luck was compounding, we were on a roll. Another check in the pro category for impulsivity.
We closed on our house in Portland and closed on the log home in Lyle on the same day and then started our new life on two acres overlooking the Klickitat River Valley with Mt. Adams in the distance. Our water comes from a well and our heating comes from a wood stove aptly named the Blaze King. Give us time, and the rest of the electricity will come from roof-mounted solar panels.
Our commutes – I found work in an antiques store right next door to Cory’s office – are the same length they were in Portland, but instead of sitting in stop-and-go traffic taking in the smoggy sights of city life, we’re now zipping along the Columbia River past cliffside waterfalls and picture-perfect lakes beneath sculptures of stone and grassy hills rolling beneath the bright and wide blue sky. There are stars at night and birdsong at dawn, wild turkey and deer in the yard and locally-raised pork in the freezer. We haven’t even seen a fast food restaurant in two months, but we see osprey chicks and bald eagles on a regular basis. We’re going out less and staying in more, enjoying each other and taking care of our lovely new home. The change is more than enormous: it’s all-encompassing and ongoing.
What comes next in our adventure? You can keep up with all that lies ahead on our blog, http://country-ish.blogspot.com.
Editor's note: This article is an excerpt from the first blog post on Perry Horton's personal blog about life in his new country home.
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