It’s been six months since our last blog. Because we’ve been quiet for so long, and since we’re in the midst of an enormous life change, we thought it was time to send an update on what we’re up to, what we’re planning, and how we’ve made the shift to living way outside the beltway.
We arrived in Ashland, Oregon, on July 9—wow, was it really just five months ago?—after enjoying nearly eight weeks on the road from DC to Oregon via Canada-Lake Superior-Minneapolis-The Badlands-Boulder-Albuquerque-Boise. It was a fabulous trip, seeing friends and family and exploring new places.
It only took a nanosecond for us to decide to make Ashland our new home. The funny thing is that we later learned from Bob’s mom that his parents thought about moving here after a random stop on their big cross-country trip 30 years ago.
A town of about 21,000 in the southwest corner of Oregon, Ashland is less than 20 miles from the California state line. It’s compact—only about four miles long from end to end—but it really packs a big punch. After 30 years in the DC area (which we really loved!) it’s been great fun to immerse ourselves in a new place in a very different part of the country.
People often ask us how we chose Ashland. In our two years traveling we imagined ourselves living just about everywhere, and helped us envision what kind of place would work best for us. Our 2017 road trip to the western national parks left us longing for more time to explore the wide open spaces and wilderness of the west. We started searching for a bikeable-walkable college/university town with a good growing climate (but not too much rain or snow!); a lower cost of living than DC; access to land- and water-based outdoor adventures; and enough cultural activities to keep us stimulated. Several towns made the short list, but Ashland quickly flew to the top.
Our arrival in Ashland came after a few fun days in Boise, Idaho and Bend, Oregon. We were gripped with anticipation in our final approach. The drive from Bend to Ashland is headlined by volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range, Klamath Lake, and the wilds of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. As you wind down the hills over the final miles, Ashland lies ahead, nestled in a valley, with the nearby Mount Ashland serving as a backdrop. It is a beautiful setting, but we felt anxious about whether this town could possibly live up to the fantasy we had built up around it since committing to a long-term rental last November.
Ah, but how smitten we are! We knew a lot about Ashland before our arrival from following local news and organizations on the internet, and yet there have been many pleasant surprises: finding fresh porcini mushrooms in the growers market; the friendly people and how easy it’s been to get involved in the community; the high quality of the eight-month-long Oregon Shakespeare Festival and how the Festival enriches the community in countless ways—local residents include actors, musicians, set and costume designers, theater aficionados, and other wonderfully creative people. There’s so much talent all around.
We’re really enjoying living in a fertile valley with a long growing season. The twice-weekly Ashland edition of the Rogue Valley Growers Market is only a short bike ride away and has confirmed our hypothesis that fresh local food is delicious. We’ve enjoyed meeting the growers and feasting on local mushrooms, berries, pears, apples, leafy greens, tomatoes, beets, squash and more. We were surprised one day to find pawpaws (not native to Oregon) cultivated from a varietal created by our friend Neal Peterson in West Virginia (“Mahatma Pawpaw”). The growers market moves indoors in a nearby town from December-February, and we’ve joined the Barking Moon winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that will make deliveries over the next 12 weeks so we can continue to have fresh farm goods.
So, in short, we’re quitting our vagabond life for the foreseeable future. We bought a house and we’ll be back in DC for a few weeks in January to prepare to move the things we left behind in May 2017 when we hit the road with our pick-up truck.
How Lorrie Settles Down
There is so much going on in Ashland that it’s easy to overdo it. I’ve had some weeks when I took on way more than I should have and completely wore myself out.
I’m involved with several local climate activist organizations, having fallen in quickly with a sizeable community of people who have made a smaller environmental footprint a personal, community, state, national, and global priority. (Can a motivated and engaged community reduce greenhouse gases while also strengthening our economy and quality of life? We’re trying to find out.) I am finding it exciting to be working with nonprofits again; I’m figuring out how my experience working with national groups can benefit community-based organizations.
I volunteer weekly at a community pollinator garden. After years of gardening solo, it’s rewarding to garden with a group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable people. I’m learning about native plants and soil building, and looking forward to creating permaculture food forest in our new yard.
Getting back into music-making was another of my goals, and I’ve plunged right in. Long ago, in my university days, I often played in five musical ensembles at a time. Then life got complicated, and for years music-making took a back seat. Dabbling on the piano and singing in The Georgetown Chorale were my lifelines. So, I am now having a blast rediscovering the pure joy of making music with other people. I am thankful to have been accepted in The Siskiyou Singers, a 60-voice community choir. Bob and I are also in a small ensemble learning to play the Andean panpipes (“sikuri”), remote-partnering with a group based in Mendoza, Argentina, that will perform in Ashland next summer. I’m also learning to play the accordion (i.e., something like a piano but a lot more portable). I found a top-notch local accordion teacher willing to teach me, and she found me a sexy little 1950s-era Italian accordion. I get my kicks serenading Bob around the house with kitschy tunes, especially when he’s rolling out his own pasta. All great fun, but I’m still counting the days when I’ll finally be reunited with my piano.
We’re still figuring out how best to get out on the water by canoe, kayak, or other silent craft. Oregon has many natural mountain lakes and rampaging rivers that run down the mountains into the sea. In September, we did a four-day guided rafting trip on the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River (about an hour from Ashland), as a benefit for the Rogue Riverkeeper organization. Wow, what a ruggedly amazing river—the backdrop for many a Zane Grey novel. Are we too old to learn to guide our own raft?
How Bob Settles Down
What’s the best way to get to know a new community? When I moved to Santa Cecilia, Paraguay as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1983, I spent the first few months visiting each of the 150 houses and making a crude map of the town. How and how well are families supporting themselves? What do they want for their community? What resources are available locally? How can I help?
To get to know Ashland, I decided to volunteer with a few local organizations, learn about the city’s amazingly forward-thinking government, and participate in local cultural activities. I started volunteering right away at a terrific social services resource center for unhoused and low-income residents of Ashland, and I recently began co-teaching a class in Spanish for long-term residents applying for US citizenship. I am a regular attendee at meetings of the city council and a few of Ashland’s many citizen advisory commissions. You won’t be surprised that I’ve taken advantage of the city’s excellent website to download and read the city’s budget and strategic plan, its climate and energy action plan, and several sectoral master plans, or that I have also visited the city’s reservoir and water treatment plant, its wastewater treatment plant, and our nearby landfill! Fun!!
As for culture, there’s too much to tell. Surprisingly, I wasn’t really thinking about cultural activities when we decided to come to Ashland, but there’s something happening every day! We have attended 18 plays or readings (including 10 full productions by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival), several films at two of Ashland’s three film festivals, many free short music or dance performances sponsored four days each week through the summer by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and a few music concerts. Over the next several months, I’ll read 30-40 plays as part of the selection committee for the Ashland New Plays Festival; the task is to select four plays out of the 450 scripts received. Several weeks ago, I participated in an outing to learn about foraging for mushrooms (my beloved porcini mushrooms grow here!). And…we learned to play PICKLEBALL!
I love doing just about all of our local errands on my bike, including many visits to our terrific coop and growers market. Farther afield, the rolling terrain of the Rogue Valley and the steeper surrounding Siskiyou Mountains are ideal for biking. After being separated from my trusty road bike for 18 months, I’m thankful to be re-united again!
Family and Friends
We’ve had plenty of visitors in our initial months in Ashland: Dylan and Stephanie, Bob’s mom, California cousins, and many friends. These visits gave us much-needed time with loved ones, as well as a chance to show off our town and get out and explore the region. We’ve made several visits to nearby Crater Lake, the coastal redwoods, and the rugged Oregon coast, but their majesty never gets old. We look forward to many return visits in all seasons.
Also nearby is the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. We’ve only visited it once but are looking forward to a second visit this winter when the migratory bird population—including the largest gathering of bald eagles in the lower 48 states—will be at its peak.
Thank you so much to Laura, Dylan, Stephanie, Matt, Josie, Nancy, David, Heide, Jane, Steve, Chris, Madeleine, Mark, and Rae for coming to spend time with us.
We are very far away from the people we love, and we struggle with our decision to move so far away. There are definite pangs of sadness…but for now, this feels like the right decision for us. We hope to stay in close touch with our friends and family despite the miles. We’re sure to be back on the east coast at least once a year, and we welcome visitors to Ashland at any time. Our new house is well-designed for house guest fun! Come see us, and we promise you’ll return home relaxed and refreshed, or energized, depending on what you’re looking for! Come let us shower you with Ashland goodness. Send us a private email, and we’ll reply with our new address.
One last thing: what should we do with our website? We built it so we could share our travels these last two years, and we don’t know what to do with it now that we’re settled again. Any thoughts?
We wish you the best of health and happiness as we prepare to usher in a new year.