Where I Belong
Every first of the month, City Daily Photo bloggers around the world post one photo based on a single theme. Despite not posting to my blog on a "daily" basis as the name suggests, I have tried to post to all of the Theme Days. That said, there have been a few theme days in the past 20 months that I missed because I was traveling and could not access my blog. The theme from last March 2016, "Where I belong," is one of those. So I chose this for my end-of-the-year/Photo of the Year.
I have lived in the Walla Walla Valley since 1987 when I moved here with my husband and two young sons. It was a nostalgic return for my husband since his great grandparents homesteaded here in the mid 1800s, and he was born in Walla Walla in 1930. For me, it was moving to what I would soon refer to as a quintessential small town with good schools, a quaint downtown, and nice homes on tree-lined streets. In short, it was a good place to raise a family.
Nearly 30 years later, it is still a quintessential small town, although both the town and I have undergone significant changes. I divorced after 20 years of marriage, and my children have grown to be thirty-somethings now. As for the Walla Walla Valley, miles and miles of wheat fields interspersed with commercial pea, onion, and asparagus fields have given way to wheat fields and vineyards. . . lots of vineyards. With that change, old-time mom and pop stores in the downtown corridor went out of business and have been replaced with tasting rooms, upscale restaurants, and a variety of retail shops geared more for the new wine tourist than the local customer. But that's not all bad because overall the town and valley have been revitalized with an aesthetically pleasing, low impact wine industry while keeping the charm of a small rural town in Eastern Washington.
The schools are still good, the downtown is quaint, and the streets remain tree-lined.
So it's a win-win.
This photo epitomizes "where I belong" for a number of reasons. First, it's been my home for 30 years, longer than I lived in any one place including my childhood home in Birmingham, Michigan. However, it hasn't always been my favorite place. On my first visit to Walla Walla in 1977 while on my honeymoon, I wasn't so enamored. The drive here from Seattle through miles and miles of seemingly lifeless and dry high desert blinded me to the beauty of this tree-filled oasis nestled in the Blue Mountains. To me it was the armpit of the world. It took 10 years along with a new perspective on life as a parent with two school-aged children, that on a second visit to Walla Walla in 1987 I saw its charms. And they captivated me.
Second, it's an aesthetically beautiful setting. The Blue Mountains in the distance hold the valley in a cradle and change visually with the season, the light, and time of day. Likewise, the wheat fields that undulate north into the heart of the Palouse are ever-changing. The curves and folds of the hills are sensuous embodiments of Mother Earth herself--whether under plow, under snow, under combine, or under sunlight. I have had the pleasure of traveling to many beautiful places in this country and the world, but no single place is any more beautiful than the Walla Walla Valley.
And the open road is an important metaphor in my life. I bicycled up and down this very road for years when I was a passionate and younger road cyclist in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The ride toward the mountains reminded me that life is always going uphill even if it appears flat, so it's best to keep my head down and pedal, pedal, pedal. And while the trip away from the mountains was much easier, it was still best to keep pedaling to maintain my momentum. Then in the summer of 1998 this life lesson that I learned by riding on Walla Walla's roads was repeated for 47 days and 3,254 miles on my 1998 Big Ride Across America:
Roads go up and roads go down, so it's best to just keep pedaling.
Finally, the open road symbolizes my love of traveling. I don't travel on the seat of a bike anymore after a stupid bike accident in 2010 left me with a shattered wrist and shattered confidence. So now I travel in the air, on the sea, in a bus, or on the back of a camel to see the world. But no matter how far I travel or what I see, I always love coming home to the Walla Walla Valley and to this sight.
It is where I belong.
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