It is not my habit to write a whole lot about my personal life and feelings here, but right now they monopolize my mind and world, and it is time to write.
Two more days and I am gone from Washington, for thirty-nine years my state of residence.
The process is difficult mainly due to my personal quirks. I am most comfortable with non-change, and am often ill at ease when relative strangers are in my space. When that space has ceased to really be my own–when everything I own is either being carted away or is already packed up–the impact is greater. Plus, everyone you hire breaks things, and it is always guaranteed to be something problematic to repair or replace. I am not sure I have ever had a service provider not break something that was very annoying or impossible to put right. I do not know why; it is just so.
My preference would be to do as much as possible myself, but my knees simply will not permit that. Even what I have had to do has been painful. Naturally, we are doing this in the hottest part of summer, so that adds its own joy. While it’s okay to smell like sweat at the end of a day where one did honest work, that doesn’t mean it’s an entirely pleasant sensation.
So I sit with my computer all crammed into our breakfast bar, and I write, and I chat in Spanish with the cleaning service. They are friendly and polite. In fact, everyone’s been great, really. It’s just hard for me on any level, and there is nothing for it but to bear up.
Through this process, I wondered at what point this house would cease to be home. While it lost a lot when Deb headed for Idaho, it still had elements of the old life, comforting reminders. When they packed up the library, I just went somewhere else. When I came back, and it was gone, that was the point of fracture. If it has my wife and my books, it’s home on some level. With neither, it is not. Now we know.
It’s almost time to get the hell out of here.
For those of you who have never been to Washington, let’s close this phase of my life with a little education, and countering of misconceptions widely held. That’s always fun and usually entertaining. It should probably be a separate post, but nah.
- Not all of Washington is rainy. Only the western side is rainy, and more so as one approaches the ocean. The southeast, where I will soon no longer live, is bone dry and would be barren but for irrigation.
- Washington’s politics are viewed as left-wing by the nation because the Seattle area, with over half the state’s population, leans that direction. The central and eastern parts lean right.
- Washington is that rare state where some of its Native Americans live on ancestral land. While there are conflicts over treaty rights, the Native Americans here have a sense of their political leverage and aren’t afraid to use it.
- The eastern part of Washington has a significant Hispanic population, in some towns exceeding 90%. The sound of spoken Spanish is unremarkable east of the Cascades. The western part has a significant Asian population as well. As with all minorities, levels of assimilation vary by culture and individual and time their families have been here. I speak better Spanish than some Latinos who live here. There are some who speak English better than I.
- What you have heard about the beauty of Washington is all true; what you have not heard is how diverse that beauty can be. The wheat country rolls and has its own agricultural beauty, as do hills completely girdled with vineyards, hop fields, acres and acres of orchards, and so on. The semi-dormant volcanoes have snow and glaciers year round. Washington has mountain passes that can be problematic to keep clear all winter, and roads that close entirely in winter. Near Bellingham are acres and acres of tulips. Seattle itself mostly looks like a forest with some buildings protruding. The walls of the Columbia Gorge are majestic, as is the view from Vantage looking out across the Columbia. We have rain forests, deserts, ranch country, jagged mountains, beaches, stands of scrub oak, many square miles of pine and fir and spruce.
- Washington is one of the best places in the nation to be working for minimum wage, as ours is among the highest in the nation. It has no state income tax, just a high sales tax (not levied on grocery food). If you live near Oregon, you can go shop without any sales tax. Oregonians can shop in Washington without paying sales tax. It’s a rip for Washington, but the alternative is zero business from Oregonians, so that’s the best solution we could come up with. If you go down to Oregon to buy a car, though, there the Washington State Department of Revenue draws a line–you will have to pay the tax to license it.
- Until last year, Washington had only what I called Soviet liquor stores–owned by the state. Now they are privatized. You could and still can buy beer and wine in any store. In fact, a Washington grocery store with a lousy wine selection is considered a fail. We are winos.
- Washington is maybe the only state where the employer can make employees pay a portion of the premium for industrial (workmen’s comp) insurance. Varies by job type and occupational hazards. Computer jocks barely notice the bite, but ironworkers sure do. So do both our remaining loggers.
- I believe Washington was one of the first states to elect a woman governor. Both Washington’s US senators are women.
- There’s a little piece of Washington sticking out of the Canadian mainland, called Point Roberts. It’s only a few square miles, and is more or less a weekend getaway and gas station community for Vancouverites. Washington also has a Vancouver, which is a suburb of Portland, Oregon.
- Washington has some amazingly odd place names, and I’ll help you pronounce them: Sequim (SKWIM rhyming with ‘swim’), Puyallup (pyu-OWL-up), Enumclaw (EE-num-klaw), Snohomish (snuh-HOE-mish), Humptulips (HUMP-two-lups), Poulsbo (PAULS-boe), Camas (KAMM-us), Washougal (wa-SHOE-gull), Kalama (kah-LAMM-uh), Spokane (spo-CAN), Colville (CALL-vul), Mattawa (MATT-uh-wuh), Wahluke (wa-LUKE), Methow (MET-how), Hoquiam (HO-kwee-um), Wenatchee (wuh-NATCH-ee), Yakima (YACK-uh-muh), Chehalis (sha-HAY-liss), Tulalip (two-LAY-lip), Camano (kuh-MAY-no), Skykomish (sky-KOE-mish), Kittitas (KITT-ih-tass), Husum (HEW-some), Bingen (BINN-jen), Stehekin (sta-HEE-kin), Cle Elum (klee ELL-um), Pe Ell (pee ELL), Naches (nah-CHEESE), Tieton (TY-uh-ton), Selah (SEE-luh), Naselle (NAY-sell), Satus (SAY-tuss), Ephrata (uh-FRAY-tah), Touchet (TOOSH-ee), Kahlotus (ka-LOH-tuss), Washtucna (wash-TUCK-na), Asotin (ah-SO-tin), Palouse (pah-LOOSE), Chewelah (cha-WHEE-lah), Nespelem (ness-PEE-lum), Tonasket (tuh-NASS-ket), Tekoa (TEE-ko). As you can see, the trend is toward the stress on the second syllable, but it’s by no means universal.
- Washington’s highest point is Mt. Rainier, fifth highest peak in the lower 48 states. Only three in Colorado and one in California top it, at least outside Alaska. Its lowest, of course, is where the surf meets the sand.
- It is true that Seattleites can’t drive on snow and ice, because a) they get very little practice at it; b) the city has wholly inadequate means of snow and ice remediation; c) ice can come very suddenly and dangerously when the temp hits freezing in such a wet climate; d) the whole Seattle area is very hilly. Most years we have the annual ritual where the east side laughs at the west’s paralysis, though not at the traffic deaths that are sure to result when idiots in 4x4s think “this is my time, I am master of my environment.”
- Both sides of the state tend to sneer at one another. To the east, the west is full of tree-hugging hippies who jump into their gas-hogging SUVs to drive (when they could bus) to their cruelty-free fair trade vegan lunches. The east sees the west as effete and self-superior. The west in turn mocks the east for growing food, being backward, voting for Republicans, going to church, and surviving in blistering heat and bitter cold. As with all stereotypes, both have bases in fact yet go very wide of the mark for most people. Not all of the west is that wet, nor is most of it urban. The east has good universities and high levels of education in many places. Seattle has a lot of thriving churches. You’ll see plenty of Priuses out east (including my wife’s, until very recently).
- Washington is a very outdoorsy state with lots of water, forests, fishing, hunting, hiking and climbing. Hang gliding, ballooning, kayaking, canoeing and wind surfing are popular. No one goes surfing at the beach, though–too often cold and windy, and there are dangerous riptides in places. There are a limited number of days in the year on which you can see bikinis on Washington beaches.
- Washington provides ready access to all that British Columbia has to offer. Vancouver is larger than Seattle, and might be described as ‘Seattle, only more so.’ The BC interior is inexhaustibly beautiful and wild. Vacations up north are common, though Canadian border control has tightened of late. Likewise, it is unremarkable to meet Canadians all over Washington. The province and the state have much in common on all levels, including a live-and-let-live Western ethic that just doesn’t get in people’s faces without a compelling reason. Oregon is likewise much like Washington with many of the same issues and climates, although I’d say Oregon is slightly more granola overall than Washington.
- The college football rivalry between the University of Oregon and the University of Washington is the most venomous one you haven’t heard about. Objectivity demands that I give Oregon its due: it has some excellent programs, a great college town atmosphere and some of the most rabid fans in college football. That said, there can be no peace in the Northwest until Oregon is crushed. This is not something we have even come close to achieving in recent years. The Washington-Washington State rivalry reflects the internal division of the state, and is hotly contested, but without quite the same deep loathing as Washington-Oregon. There’s no love lost between WSU and Oregon, either.
- Far and away the worst trend in Washington, besides a congenital ability to balance the state budget and a tendency to ignore passed initiatives that the legislature just decides are icky, is the political polarization. It’s divided the state much worse than before, with businesses getting into the act and fishing in conversation with customers for signs of political sympathies. Political incontinence is a plague here. Politics is like bodily waste: when handled in the suitable facilities in sanitary fashion, it’s a bearable and necessary aspect of human civilization. When it’s allowed anywhere, disease and suffering predominate. It’s getting worse.
- If you haven’t visited Washington, there’s a lot ahead for you to discover. Come on out sometime. Most Washingtonians are helpful to tourists, especially if they aren’t littering or holding up traffic.