Let there be no question that I live in heaven on earth. I don’t live in Detroit or Houston or a shopping mall. The days in Bend have been getting warmer, and with that the people are starting to come out of their Hobbit holes, lending a glorious flurry of activity to this striking old mill town at the foot of the Cascades.
I live two blocks from downtown Bend, which is overrun by sweet-smelling restaurants and art galleries and bars of varying class. The Barcelona is my hoighty-toighty jazz martini bar. The Bend Brewing Company, based on the shores of the Deschutes River, is my quasi-local watering hole. The Deschutes Brewery pumps out some of the tastiest local brews of any town I have called home, though the bar itself is typically a tourist hang with an hour-long wait for a table.
I live across the street from an abandoned Catholic school, which has supposedly been purchased by McMenamins, a restaurant chain in these parts that buys old churches and insane asylums and other neat digs and turns them into burger joints. A block down the street is the Bend Environmental Center where, among other things, the Mountaineers Club meets on the second Wednesday of every month. Somewhere down the block is the old meth house as well, but my roommate didn’t tell me about that until after I had moved in.
Lava House is a two-story, two bedroom half of a duplex. Our living room and kitchen are upstairs, where two huge windows look out over downtown. We have a small deck out front, in addition to a front porch downstairs and a grillin’ deck out back. The grillin’ deck attracts stray cats who like to sprawl out in the sun, as for whatever reason our backyard is always 20 degrees warmer than anywhere. We also keep the recycle bin back there so I can throw beer bottles at the cats. It keeps me happy.
My roommate regularly consults cigars on our front deck. It’s a great place for contemplation with a gorgeous view, especially at night when they light up the neon spire of the Tower Theater downtown. It reminds me of the Norshor and the sad spire it never got back. If it weren’t for all the huge pines in the neighborhood we would be able to see the Sisters from our deck, too. I mean the Three Sisters, as in the mountains. Not, like, sisters. Though that would be cool, too. Real cool.
The bulk of our frontside horizon is made up of Awbrey Butte. Awbrey Butte is encrusted with million dollar homes with really big windows that look neat when they reflect the golden morning sunlight. Rumor has it that Awbrey is composed of nothing but old California money and if you dug deep enough into the hill you would discover it is completely hollow inside. Rumor has it that despite the overt decadence of the Bendian upper crust, there is no way to earn a living wage while living in Bend. Such are the tired words of people who are as we speak scratching out a living in Bend, while at the same time despairing that they’ll never be able to scratch out a living in Bend. “Poverty with a view,” it is called, a term that has haunted my travels ever since moving West.
To these folk I say “Buck up, yo.” Certainly you can’t eat sunsets, but trying sure beats chewing on smog. There will be spiritual, physical and economic tradeoffs wherever you choose to live, and if you find that one of these facets grates you so fiercely that you cannot even exhale without hissing obscenities, then perhaps I recommend you find a new place. The economics of Bend are something that we will not delve into too deeply at this point, but I mention it to establish some frame of reference.
Anyways. There is a particular section of road, headed north on Century Drive towards Galveston. Whenever I drive this stretch I watch Awbrey Butte loom before me, with its mantle of glass mixed in trees and its crown of radio towers, and I think to myself that I have been here before. On that tree-lined boulevard I feel like I am back in Duluth, headed up Park Point to Canal Park after a nutzoid dip in the Lake.
In moments like these I realize that place can transcend the physical and nestle itself so firmly into the spirit that distance becomes meaningless. Surroundings become meaningless. All that is left is the raw emotion, that screaming desire for the soul to soak up everything around it and disperse those visions within itself. In one brief moment of realization the place and the soul intertwine and mix up their particles with one another. The soul becomes suspended in place, the place in soul, and when the exchange is complete the two become indistinguishable.
But as soon as the wave crashes it begins to recede. The ecstatic realization fades, but it leaves behind a warmth in your heart. In that moment you learned that everything you need is already bottled up inside. Even then, you didn’t so much as learn, as you remembered.