Point of View

You would think a sixth-generation Oregonian would know something about the place. And I did. But there’s nothing like leaving to make you realize how little you know about the place you know best.

After growing up in Oregon my whole life, I up and decided to go to college as far away from Oregon as I could get while still remaining within the continental United States. Not because I didn’t like Oregon, mind you. It seemed like an adventure. So off I flew to northern Virginia.

Three years closer to my degree, I’ve learned a thing or two not only about Virginia, but about my own state. And it’s this:

It’s weirder than I thought.

It started as a very innocent (and dumb) question after a particularly spirited discussion on the Civil War in U.S. History I.

“Wait … people still argue about that? The war kind of ended a long time ago.”

Oops. Maybe not the best way to make friends south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Blame it on the fact that I’d never been to a battlefield and, to my knowledge, have no relatives who were involved. That in itself makes me an anomaly outside of, well, here.

My other mistakes and consequent revelations were thankfully less cringe-worthy.

I think my Georgia boyfriend’s mother was genuinely concerned about her son’s choice when I walked up with a water bottle asking where their recycling bins were. Apparently “mountain” doesn’t mean the same thing in the Carolinas as it means here. It took me a while to get used to shopping at “Food Lion” and “Giant” instead of “Fred Meyer” and “Safeway.”

I went to a wedding in South Carolina, and I’m pretty sure I had sweet tea flowing through my veins instead of blood by the end. People look at me like I’m speaking Swahili when I call a hazelnut a filbert or describe the location of something as “kitty-corner” to something else. And nothing pegs you as a northwesterner faster than describing a building built in the 30s as “historic.”

One professor was kind enough to gently remind me, “Rachel, you can’t look at Portland and generalize to the rest of the country.”

But what goes around comes around, they say, and I’ve gotten a chance to watch someone else stumble through my same mistakes when that same Georgia boyfriend came here for the summer.

Coming home and looking at it through the eyes of a foreigner has been an enlightening experience. Whether it was introducing him to his first overgrown Christmas tree farm (“Why are the trees in this forest lined up?”) or his first visit to a real hipster, Portland coffee shop (those beards, though), it’s almost as if, instead of coming home, I’ve hopped through a wardrobe and landed in Narnia.

In all my growing up years I had never noticed that Mount Hood in the distance looks like it was painted on the sky on a hazy day, or that our local campground looks like Jurassic Park.

For the first time I realized our “spikey” tree line was different from anyone else’s. And we didn’t name those nasty nutria ROUSes (Rodents of Unusual Size for you non-‘Princess Bride’ people) for nothing.

Some say the purpose of travel is to learn about new places and new things. And it may be true, but not the whole truth.

Perhaps the purpose of leaving is far less glamorous but far more important.

Maybe it’s like T.S. Eliot said:

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

Rachel Lynn Aldrich is a former intern for the Canby Herald who has returned to work part time for the paper until leaving this fall for her senior year in college

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