La Grande

On the drive to Boise I stopped in La Grande, Oregon, for gas and a snack—and to see the place where I lived from the age of 11 to 17, and which I hadn’t seen since then. What a strange visit!

The surrounding valley was just as I remembered it, with the unmistakable profile of Mt Emily in the distance.

I drove into town and found the old house…

…the elementary school…

…middle school…

…high school…

…the fairgrounds…

…the little bookstore where I had my first job…

There were glimpses of recognition but no familiarity. It was as if my memories and these physical places had no relation. The buildings were small, foreign, empty. How could it be that I had memories that were so big, intimate, and vibrant? I found myself trying to fill up the buildings and spaces with what came to mind. And interestingly—importantly—I found that what came to mind was not the many negative memories that had made me glad to leave, but rather the many formative experiences that continue to be part of my life today: fountain pens and typing skills; how to write an essay; my first garden patch; cycling, camping, and backpacking; my first years of learning French; music and theatre; deciding to accept as good the many things about myself that others scorned for being too gay.

My favourite moment came when I drove out along the western foothills along the route of the old Oregon Trail in search of the signs I had installed for my Eagle project. I’ve either forgotten where most of them went, or they’ve been taken down, but out at the edge of the valley two remain standing! My time in La Grande has had a lasting impact on me, and it turns out I had a little, lasting inspect in the town as well.

I doubt I’ll ever go back to La Grande, at least not intentionally or for more than a pit stop. But as I merged back onto the freeway I felt gratitude for the good things that remain from that era, and for the blessing of time, opportunity, and perspective that have enabled me to leave the town and the less good things behind.

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