My father announced the other day that he will be moving out of the house he has lived in for 22 years in a few short weeks.
It got me thinking about how much that home, where I spent the vast majority of my childhood and teenage years, has affected the person I have become as an adult. Tucked away in rural northeastern Washington, surrounded on all sides by the Little Pend Orielle wildlife refuge, it was a base camp in my childhood for all manner of adventures and discoveries. That place, and my parents’ decision to live there, taught me countless lessons in defining creativity, ambition, discipline, and connectedness with nature. It also made me into an athlete. For all these reasons, I think it is a perfect topic for my introductory blog post.
When we moved into the Moran Creek house, I was five years old. It was located at the end of a three mile dirt road, the last half mile of which was the steep, rocky section that was our driveway. In the winters, the snow would occasionally get bad enough that we had to park at the bottom and walk the last half mile. The house was two stories at the time, with one bedroom in the basement, which my older sister occupied. My parents, my younger sister and I all shared the living room upstairs, where I slept on an oversized toy box that my dad fashioned into a bed. The power was supplied by solar panels and backed up by a generator in the winter. The water was heated via wood stove (which also provided heat for the house) and by a solar water heater that my dad built with some black pipes and a sheet of glass. It would come out of the faucet boiling if it was a sunny day or we had a roaring fire going. The water itself came from a well up on the hill behind the house. As my sister and I grew older, the home came to accommodate a family with more space demands. A third floor was added for my parents’ bedroom. The main floor was expanded and the laundry room in the basement was converted into another bedroom. My dad did all the construction himself while making sure the plumbing, electrical, and heating systems were adequate to keep the family happy. At the time, I never really understood the unique dedication it took to keep all those systems running, but in retrospect, I think it laid a groundwork for my perception of the value of a good work ethic.
As a kid, it was a great place for learning about the world. I remember seeing blue-tailed skinks, and learning that if you grabbed their tails, they would fall off and grow back later. I remember looking up the names of the woodpeckers what would make a ruckus on the larches that grew in front of the house. I remember learning that the snow berries that grew down by the greenhouse were poisonous, but we could make tea out of the rose hips that grew among them. I learned that the fire weed that grew down in the field in front of the house was called that because it was one of the first plants to grow after a fire. When I got my first camera, a 1979 Canon AE-1 that was passed along from my grandfather, I took pictures of all these things, as well as so many pictures of the majestic pine tree that served as a foreground element for every sunset. I wanted to document everything, and I wanted to show the world how beautiful the world could be if you just looked in the right places.
I remember getting my first bike. We would do a family Easter egg hunt every year, and one year, when I was about 8 or 9 years old, my younger sister and I were hunting for eggs when we walked around a row of large boulders gracing the front yard to find two bikes, one for each of us. As I recall, I think we forgot about the eggs for a while and dedicated some time to riding the bikes back and forth across the driveway. As I became more comfortable on my bike, I would ride it down to the neighbors’ house (about a mile and a half down the road) and occasionally out on the trails on the wildlife refuge. Not too much later, though, I realized that my favorite form of locomotion was running.
It started with a route simply called “the loop,” which was a very hilly 2-mile fire road that took off to the west, wrapped around the north side of the house, and came back to the house from the east. We would walk it as a family when I was young, and then I got antsy and started running it. At a certain point, I started keeping track of how long it took me, trying to better my time every time I ran. Sometimes my mom or my dad would run with me. It gave me a certain focus, and it was my first experience with conscious goal-setting. By the time I was in eighth or ninth grade, though, I got bored with The Loop, and I decided to venture onto other trails, and off of them. This is when I really learned what running is all about. In my mind, I was an explorer, discovering unknown territory. I would prance through the woods in whatever direction, basing each turn off what I could see in front of me and where I wanted to go.
By this time, I was running on the cross country and track teams at school, so when I was running with the team, it was about competition. When I was running at home, it was simply about going places. There was so much ground to cover, and I wanted to cover every inch of it. Furthermore, the faster I ran, the more ground I could cover, and the more rewarding it was to finally crest the next ridge and see the seemingly infinite view down into the valley. In this way, I came to associate physical exertion with discovery, not only of one’s own limits, but of the very world around us. Much like discovering little things about skinks and woodpeckers, I was discovering new things by just putting one foot in front of the other. As I have grown to become more competitive, taken up the sport of triathlon, and set ambitious goals for myself, my biggest goal remains not to lose track of that sense of discovery and adventure that I get from any athletic endeavor.
In the summer of 2011, my wife and I held our wedding in the front yard at the Moran Creek house. With about 50 people there, relatively small for wedding standards, it was probably the biggest crowd that had ever graced the property at once. I felt a certain pride in showing off the place where I spent so many of my formative years. It is true that the lifestyle required to live in a place like that isn’t the direction my life is headed, but I will always value the experiences it has given me. As my family’s time living in the house comes to a close, I have come to truly appreciate the person it has helped make me become.