Oregon: Things Look Different Here

Linda Donahue

written by Julia Clark Salmon illustration by Linda Donahue 


My husband and I moved to Portland from Washington, D.C., in 1987. We quit our jobs, said goodbye to our families, packed our little blue Honda and took the longest road trip of our lives to a state I had just learned how to pronounce. “Ore-e-gun,” not “Are-uh-gone.”

No one wanted us to go. My family, ordinarily so supportive, turned a deaf ear on all our reasons for moving. To our claim that we could finally afford to buy a house if we moved, they responded, “Sure, but what’s the problem with renting?” When we said my husband’s job opportunity was too good to pass up, they replied, “What’s the matter with D.C.? Plenty of jobs here!” When we said Oregon’s lower cost of living would allow us to start a family, they shot back with, “Yeah, but who cares if no one’s around to see them?” That last jibe especially hurt.

Despite repeated phone conversations (ending in tears), several long walks (ending in tears), and a couple of emergency visits to my parent’s house (ending in tears) we started packing our boxes.

Packing was a nightmare I hope never to repeat. We argued over every box and every item that went in it. “You don’t like this pot?” I’d hiss at my husband. “I made it in third grade. You couldn’t even buy something like this! I’m moving it no matter what!” By the time of the move, we were barely speaking to each other.

Talking or not, the day after Christmas we loaded our car with everything that didn’t fit into boxes and started our long journey west. When we got to Portland, we moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the west side, paying a third of the rent we paid in D.C. The rain, which had been steadily pouring upon our arrival, began to taper. Flowers—camellias, flame-colored azaleas and primrose and a hundred other varieties of shrubbery we Easterners had never seen before started to blossom. My husband claimed he could smell fir trees from downtown. I believed him. He started his new job, and I explored my new city.

One day I stood at a MAX stop and my husband’s coworker nudged me and said excitedly,  “Look! There’s Mt. Hood!” I looked up and saw the top of Mt. Hood gleaming like a melting ice cream cone in the sun. I’d never seen it from downtown before.  “Wow!” I responded. “That’s a real mountain! It even has snow!”

“Yup,” the woman said. “Hood is pretty special. Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I said.

“What do you like to do?”

I paused to think. Didn’t she know what I did? “I’m a writer. I worked for a newspaper in D.C.”

“Oh, I know that!” she replied. “But I mean what do you like to do? Recreationally.”

I paused. No one had ever asked me that question before. In D.C., it had always been “What do you do?” not “What do you like to do?”  I didn’t know how to answer.

“Well, ummm,” I stammered. “I like to read.”

She laughed.

The fact is, I do like to read. But since that conversation almost thirty years ago, I have also learned to hike, kayak, float rivers, camp, backpack, paddleboard and ski. I have learned to enjoy all that Oregon has to offer—the beaches, ocean, rivers, mountains, desert and city. We did buy a house, we did start a family—and we learned how to balance work and family with recreation.  When I call my family on the East Coast (and I call them often), they complain that I have too much fun.




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