I’ve found that in this great state of perpetually misty weather and outdoorsy PNW culture, my team and I stand out like sore thumbs among the throngs of locals. With the constant flow of Patagonia-wearing, man bun flaunting individuals as far as the eye can see, our combat boots and tucked-in-grey-shirts-with-khaki-cargo-pants look doesn’t allow for much discretion. While in uniform, I’ve come to expect odd glances from others and the occasional, “are you on work release?” from a concerned tax payer as they hand over their social security card and bank account information.
Of course I tell them the truth. That years ago I was charged with murder and placed in juvenile prison, but after a few years of good behavior I was released under the agreement that I would perform mandatory community service for ten months. Truth builds a healthy trust between clients and tax preparers.
Once out of the khaki attire, I didn’t expect to continue standing out. After weeks of living here, I walked across the street without the walking symbol and could bullshit my way through a conversation about the Seahawks lost in the Superbowl that, yes, still comes up during small talk with the occasional client.
Today was one of my few days off that I chose to spend in the city. I woke up early and decided to head downtown alone before meeting up with some teammates later in the morning.
As I sat on the bus waiting for my stop, a woman jumped on in a huge rush, tossing her stuff down on the bus bench before scurrying off to pay her fare. She left behind her a box full of houseware, a bag of clothes, and a stuffed-tiger at least two feet larger then me.
I tend to avoid any external contact with strangers, especially in cities like Seattle where people seem determined to talk to anyone within a half-mile radius of them. I quickly pushed my head into my book (Bill Bryson’s “The Lost Continent- highly recommend it!) and pretended not to notice the rather odd conversational piece sitting across from me. My California roots betrayed me though and within a minute I was engaging in a conversation with this woman about my nails and hair, which apparently are “exceptionally beautiful.”
What made me laugh the most from my interaction with this woman was not her focus on how the whites of my nails told her I must be healthy and from an extraordinarily beautiful place, but more her obsession after hearing I’m from San Diego County that all of my schools must be outdoors.
Growing up with outdoor schools, this isn’t something that particularly stands out to me. Walking outside to get from classroom to classroom or spending free time on a grass field nearby a class is anything but unusual. I grew up in the sun where Christmas could be spent walking on the beach as long as you could find a parking spot in the lot. It’s one of the reasons moving to Iowa was such a shock for me because I had never spent more than a short vacation in a city where the temperature could drop below 60 degrees.
Reflecting on the interaction, I realized that there are subtle things to everyone’s homes that are often taken for granted or unrealized. It has taken me years of visiting with new friends and experiencing Encinitas through the lenses of out-of-towners to become passionately in love with all of the nuances of my beautiful home. Even at a distance, I’m still finding more reasons to appreciate aspects of Encinitas that simply became normal to me throughout my adolescence.
Being in a new community has continued to give me opportunities to find new reasons to fall further in love with my home as I meet people from all over who have experiences vastly different from my own. However, it’s also offered me the chance to engage with other who are also continually finding more reasons to love their own communities as well as we discuss differences between ones homes. It’s a unique experience that I’m constantly learning to love as I travel from community, to town, to city across the regions I’m serving in.
Which brings me to where I am tonight, growing increasingly excited about my round three and four project. Two days ago, I learned that the fire management team that I will be serving on is going to be based out of Crown King, Arizona, a town of 120 people classified as a wilderness project.
According to the project application, “wilderness projects occur in unpopulated or sparsely populated areas where human contact is very limited.”
When embarking on this journey, I set out to live in a small town called Vinton, Iowa. A town so small that it likely would take the shorter half of a morning to walk from one side to the other. When I first landed in Vinton, I thought my new home was the smallest, most remote place I would ever experience. Now I’ll be living in an even smaller area for an even longer period of time.
I quickly learned to love Vinton despite the vast differences between what I was accustomed to and this new land. I loved the small town feel, the neighborly attitude of the community, and the ease in familiarizing myself with the area. So when I found out about Crown King, AZ, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement to learn to love an entirely new and unique community, much different and with many unexpected features then any region I’ve ever experienced.
The next few months will definitely be an entirely new experience for me. Up until a few years ago I was fearful to use a lighter and now I’ll be learning how to fight wildfires. I’ve never worked a job that required more physical activity then using a blending rod to churn chunks of mango and now I’ll be working out five days a week, every week, as a necessity to make work easier. And I never imagined that I would live in a town smaller than Encinitas before embarking on this wild journey yet now I’ll be living with nineteen others in a town smaller than most of our own homes.
How cool, I seriously couldn’t be more excited.