Russian woman in Oregon
The Magic Land
By Olga Sapp
I was flying to Oregon to visit a close friend. I felt lucky that we came from Latvia to the same country. Yet we were separated by the country at the same time. I settled down on the Mid Atlantic Coast of the USA and my friend's family much further north on the Pacific side. I can only imagine how hard it is for them. For us, non-Americans, our old Europe was, and probably always will be, the center of the earth. At least I can go to the Atlantic shore, look Northeast, and imagine our Motherland on the other side of the breathing, weaving, expanse. My friends feel their remoteness acutely. They look at their feet and try to pierce the globe with their memories of home. I know the feeling we both have is not the same.
As I flew across America on the diagonal towards the Pacific Northwest I saw this region of the country strewn with the black thread of roads. There are big cities, surrounded by green forest life. It is not such a bad life by the way. While our plane circled Dallas I saw sparkling blue saucers of water in the yards of almost every small, white, square of house. As we flew West, we saw less signs of civilization. Finally all I could see were the brown design of the mountain ranges. There were no houses or obvious vegetation only scattered blue stains of lakes and thin, lost, roads. Then mountain ranges turned verdant, accurate rectangles of Portland houses appeared, and streets came into view in a valley behind the mountains. Our plane was landing.
My friend and I drove the highway from Portland to Corvallis. We were very excited to renew our friendship. I could never imagine Ilana behind the wheel and now she drove her car confidently and dashingly. Holding her cigarette in one hand she blew the smoke out of the open window. Her other hand was constantly grabbing a bottle of Coca-cola to drink and offer. Terrified, I tried to stop her furious manipulations by asking her to put both hands on the wheel.
Night came slowly to Oregon. I saw only the illumination from headlights of passing cars. I felt the smell of this land. It displaced the cigarette smoke in the car and filled my lungs with a clean aromatic, giddy, freshness. I was tired of artificial conditioned air and smell of sultry summers in Florida. I took deep breaths of this cool evening and I could smell the plants, the clean flowing ocean and mountain air.
We inhaled the aroma, digesting the feeling of being at the end of the world, while getting used to the thought that we are so far away from Riga's cramped flats and narrow streets. It was joyful and unusual to be next to each other still intimately joined by our past; tense university exams, deep conversations in our kitchens at home, poetry, songs, and our common present. We are forever immigrants from Latvia and will always have that commonality. We both have traveled different paths since arriving here. We have both felt unique joys and pains in this new life.
After I entered a small rented house and hugged all three of Ilana's men; husband and two sons, I felt like I was again in that old house in Riga. It was cozy, warm, and friendly, with a nice disorder that says life is overflowing here.
After everyone went to bed, my friend and I resumed our endless chat. It was about everything and nothing. We skipped from one subject to another, expressing often opposite opinions, but following our common thoughts on existence.
The weekend morning started slowly. If you were an observer rather than a participant it would seem, at first glance, slightly chaotic. Everything in the house had a sly, hidden, harmony. Ilana was the secret director of this play and began a hundred tasks at once. She started to make breakfast, rushed to put socks on the youngest son's bare feet, than some mysterious power pushed her the electric piano to play a popular Russian song she suddenly remembered. Finishing none of her tasks, she started to tell me a story.
I recalled coming to her house in Riga after another romantic breakup. With my broken heart, I waited for her to finish her business and turn her eyes on me. I warmed myself in her aura and relaxed with the sound of her voice. Now that I have found the happiness I have been searching for I no longer needed her counsel but wanted to watch how she moves through her day . As I watched her perform the mundane acts involved in get things ready for us to go out for a walk I began to see in her every movement the precision of a finely trained actress performing in a brilliant play. Ilana filled every second of the morning with this feeling.
Finally we left the house for our walk and Corvallis appeared before me in all its beauty. It was situated in a valley and crawled at the mountain foot. Corvallis was fused with the luxuriant, fairy tale like, natural, surroundings. Cleanly manicured lawns and flowerbeds harmonized with huge branchy oaks, high pine trees and uninhibited grass. The aroma of a thousand plants overpowered the smell of mint. Every growing thing was painted in bright the saturated colors of fall and even the sky was a unique, shrill, blue.
The whole family went to pick Blueberry's. We passed few gardens and stopped at a local Blueberry farm. We got plastic buckets and went to different bushes to pick our berries. By the way, Blueberry's here, as well Florida, are not the same as in the Latvian forests of home. They don't stain your hands and teeth with their juice. They grow on bushes of almost human height. The berries are bigger and sweeter which makes them less bland than what I am used to yet they still taste like Blueberry. I found out later they have the real Blueberry that grows on short bushes but the name of at that berry is Bilberry.
We picked our berries and went into the shed, weighed our pickings to determine the price, consulted the price list attached to the wall, and put the correct amount of money in a box. We took our change from a plate. No one was there. We tried to imagine how fast all these money boxes, plates with change, buckets, berries, and saplings for sale would disappear in Latvia We laugh as we left to get peaches
In the peach garden the owners were there to sell the fruits but we wanted to pick them ourselves. God, what peaches they were! May be they have the same peaches in Heaven? They were juicy, sweet, and aromatic. We eaten before we arrived so I had only one peach but I will never forget the taste.
Oregon has a unique climate. It rains all winter and temperature never gets lower than 15 C. The ground gets saturated with the rain during the winter. The summers are sunny and mild, with cool nights. That is why everything grows luxuriant, and absorbs the smell of mountains and ocean.
In the evening we had a walk to the marsh. Walking on the wooden pavement that was suspended above the surface of the plant covered marsh Ilana and her husband told me that in winter the pavement is always flooded. Otters swim in water and Deer often jump across the roads fearless of trucks. Few days later we saw a Deer near a house eating leafs from a bush. I quickly focused my camera and clicked the shutter. The startled Deer turned to face me on the click and I took another picture. Deer here delight in eating rose leaves but knowing this habit owners of houses fence their rose bushes in iron cells.
There are also Bobcats in the local woods. There are warning signs at the entrances stating something like this; " A Bobcat lives here. If you see it, don't run and don't act afraid because it may chase you."
Local people are not afraid to go in the woods and like to collect mushrooms and berries for preserves and jams in the winter. They turned this boring, laborious, business into entertainment. Housewives get together in somebody's house, have tea, chat, and make jam by their own recipes. Ilana and I also made jam from Blackberries picked right near the house. The Blackberry, in Corvallis, grows everywhere. It is big, sweet, and aromatic. It is such a pleasure to collect this berry.
Next day we went to the Silver waterfalls. There are 14 of them around here. You can drive the road between the waterfalls or walk, if you have a rucksack. Camping is allowed there and it sounds wonderful. The have places to swim in the river or play ball on a special field. We only managed to see a few of the waterfalls in our brief stay but it was delightful.
On the hilly and precipitous locality wood grows, springs well out and a river flows. The water starts its falls somewhere above me. It flows through the air, spreading its sparkling drops, and lands noisily below. If you look at the waterfall from far away, it must seem like a silver snake slithering down the huge, green, mountain.
The road back to Corvallis is twisty and spectacular. There are farms and fields everywhere, the grass is already baled into hay and stacked like accurate briquettes.
Everything here is accurately, beautifully, stacked and planted in order. There is some inner order and peace in people themselves. Sometimes it seemed like I was in a Scandinavian country. Ilana, who had lived in Denmark for two years and was in love with this country, agreed with my comparison. You can also find Latvian motives in Oregon nature; there are woods, green lawns, fall flowers.
One day walking on the deserted blocks of Corvallis, we came to a street where dahlias were planted on the both sides of the road. So unexpected was this, in an ordinary residential area, to find a hall of flowers. There are a lot of flowers in the center of town, grown in baskets and hung on light posts or in pots on the sidewalks. The Corvallis town park is a full plantation of roses and there is wild tangle of blackberries along the embankment.
Houses situated higher in the mountains look like castles from fairy tales with small balconies, little towers, and porticos. You can find simpler houses, but they are situated so interestingly on curved mountain streets that fairy tale characters could live there too. My friends will soon buy one of those magical houses. They will become a part of this small, intellectual university town, where people live slowly and respectably, distinct from noisy, colorful, Multi-Cultural America.
This is almost the end of my short, wonderful, trip to Oregon but, I had one more bright, thrilling, experience, I have to write about. The very last day of my visit Ilana drove me to the shore of Pacific ocean. The water in this part of the country is always cold. It never rises above 10 C. It is also dangerous because of some insidious waves, that can take the bold spirit that has dared to swim far away from shore. We drove, smoothly rounding the mountains as the beauty of the landscape took our breath away. Newport is situated on the coast. We drove through its center and turned toward the shore. We parked the car and walked along a curvy passage among the bushes. We came to the beach.
Ocean greeted us with its waving in the light breeze. The waves were not big that day and the water was a strange, dark, blue-gray, color. We walked through barefoot and its coldness chilled us. Then we sat on the sand, leaning on the trunk of a fallen ancient tree that was polished by the wind and salty water. We heard a ships horn far away. May be it is a Japanese or even a Kamchatkan ship?
We wanted to talk only about things important and eternal, but wanted to keep silence even more. My soul was light, charmed by the beauty of this land, and warmed by meeting with friends.
"No, we shouldn't get upset because of distance between us." I thought, looking at the night haze through the window of my plane. What is the difference in what part of the world you find the closeness of your native place or dearest people? You just need to close your eyes and beautiful features will appear before you.
Translated by Alla Musshorn
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