On August 3rd, Jason, Junie and I started our 3600-mile drive south to Flagstaff, Arizona. For me, the final few weeks in Fairbanks were the very definition of bittersweet: a growing excitement to leave and start fresh combined with many meaningful goodbyes from the community we had developed over the past three years.
Since 2006, when I first left home to ride the college experience, I have been practicing forming communities. At the University of Puget Sound, it was incredibly easy: I was placed in the Schiff dormitory, a outdoorsy-themed building, and became almost instant, inseparable friends with the people in adjacent rooms. I see now what a gift that was, to gain such wonderful friends and to build a web of support as I started to build my life away from my first home and my family. A rich community was also found in the music department, with symphony, small ensembles, and my violin studio. My years in college brought another strong community experience, one that I landed in while studying abroad in Costa Rica in 2009. All 28 of us formed, again, a near-instant bond, and a few friends from that experience still feel close to me.
In 2010, the fall after I graduated from college, I moved to Mount Shasta in very northern California. This tiny mountain town of about 3300 people provided a very special, unique community for me. After I ended the relationship that brought me there, I was utterly alone, not knowing a single person besides the one who was now gone. Great fortune and good timing gave me a job at the local ski shop, so I was able to support myself there for a year before moving on to Ashland. Work was a great way to meet people, but the heart of my community in Mount Shasta rested at 310 East Lake Street, where Geri Metz and her dog Gracie lived. A colleague at work suggested that I contact Geri about renting her upstairs. I will never, ever forget walking the snowy street up towards the mountain and knocking on Geri’s door. Inside was the coziest living room imaginable, with a fire going, Gracie snuggled on her special chair, and Geri’s beautiful art hanging lovingly on all walls. I felt safe and grounded for the first time since arriving in Mount Shasta. Geri and I spent the next several months living happily together. In that home, I found a nest to begin healing from the heartbreak of a significant relationship’s end.
On to Ashland, one of the most interesting and meaningful chapters of my life. My first community there was the Rogue Valley Symphony. A symphony is a most special type of community: you might not be close with everyone there, but everyone involved regularly puts his or her mind together to achieve one focused, common goal: that of making music together to share with others. Ashland provided many other communities for me: SunStone bakery, Ashland Outdoor Store, Elizabeth and her family, and, of course, Patchy Sanders, my incredible music project that carried me to the end of my time in Ashland. Ashland was also the place where I learned how to be a strong, independent, proud, and expressive woman. Ashland was the place where my anxiety and depression came to a major peak, and it was the women I met there that helped carry me through. Although Ashland became a very special place to me, I eventually discovered I couldn’t be completely happy there, an understanding that was fully realized once I moved back to Fairbanks in 2016.
I like to say that I never felt an incredible drive to make friends while in Fairbanks. I had my family, I adopted my dog Junie, I was back in the land and environment where I grew up, and I had grad school to keep me well occupied. But friends slowly trickled in: Sophie, Kelsey, Cody, Duncan, Coley, Claire, Cassie, Julie, Julia, Julia, Julia, Wendy, Emily, Anusha, Ryan…I had another symphony community, the very one I grew up with. I had my neighborhood community, with its potlucks and helping hands. I had my yoga community. I had my lab community. I had Jeanette. And, of course, I had (still have!) Jason. Jason + Coley + Junie, my chosen family that I looked forward to being with every day. Grad school encouraged another incredible peak in anxiety and depression, but a special, small community caught me yet again: Lorraine and her cozy couch with Junie nestled by my side. We three came together to bring me up to where I am now, gazing out on a future without anxiety and near-consistent darkness.
So now, I’m here, in a hot, high desert. So far, I have the ponderosas, the bright sun, and the new noise of night crickets to keep me company. I have Jason, I have Junie, and we are starting to weave our lives together with Patrick and his dog Penny, our new housemates. I now know, deep in my heart, that community will find me, that it will come easily, that it will be better than I can now imagine. Could I have ever imagined meeting KC, Ryan, and Amory before starting college? What about Wynne in Costa Rica? Geri came in like an angel, as did Elizabeth. Dani, Dan, Jacqui, Ian, and Eric are unforgettable. And what about Sophie and Jason? And life before Junie?
So now I patiently wait, heart open, for what and who’s to come.