Settling in is always one of my favorite things to do when I arrive at a new place. What are the local stories? Where are the local hot spots? What lies undiscovered? What begs for interpretation? It’s been a full week here in Wallowa County and while I could have been pulled multiple directions, I kept my focus pretty hard on fast on the lake.
This week I started Craig Lesley’s novel Winterkill, which I’d been saving for a time when I knew I’d end up back in this part of the country. I read photographic histories of Wallowa Lake, Chief Joseph, and the Nez Perces—all from books found at the local library. I drove the main roads on both sides of the lake and walked, every so carefully (my broken foot is still mending), along the west moraine.
In town—Joseph is a two-mile drive from the lake house—I walked both sides of the main drag, met a few local shop owners, and found the U.S. Forest Service office where I bought topos, a county road map, and a bike route map. Everywhere I go I seem to turn heads and I understand this has a lot to do with the lobster claw on the roof of my car, but even when I’m on the street I stick out. It’s party of being “new” in a small community and it’s not a role I’m unfamiliar with.
What is unfamiliar is feeling like an outsider in my own home state. Folks don’t know me here, I’ve got out of state plates, and I’m only staying for three months. On the surface, all of that makes me look pretty temporary. But I’m an Oregonian and have spent the majority of my life in the Pacific Northwest. It’s really strange to know I’m perceived as “from away” when, in my heart, nothing could be further from the truth. As the settling in settles down, experience has shown me that none of this will matter. By next week I’ll be in a few of the schools and my college writing class will start up. The week after that (I think), I’ll have a public reading. Before I know it, the feeling of sticking out will be a distant memory.
Meantime, there’s been plenty of time to read and write. I’ve kept my promise to do the 4-15 five times per week and am really enjoying it. I wrote an arts essay this week, drafted a new piece of short nonfiction about a moment on the shores of Wallowa Lake, and submitted to a short fiction contest. I’ve even had time to read a few books. What remains to be seen is not only how deep and how quickly the Wallowas will make their impression on my writing, but what on earth—now that the war stories are done—I am actually going to write. It’s a new horizon for me, and it’s still fuzzy. I’m grateful though, to be back in this place that I loved as a teenager and never forgot.