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  Time Off

Marion Berries

Marion berries border the Portland backyard. Photo creadit: Evan Belknap

Evan’s existential saga continued: Portland edition

—Evan Belknap

In previous episodes of “Time Off,” our young hero, a native of Placitas, New Mexico, had set off on a grand journey in pursuit of high places and subsequently, some sort of purpose in this madhouse of a world. He has braved the lightning-prone and wind-whipped cliffs of the Sandias. He has evaded the intrusive, pesky grip of border patrol agents in Cochise Stronghold. And he has witnessed the starry sky melt into morning from a perch above Yosemite Valley. Left alone with his own stubborn nature, his fears and desires have emerged; he has met loneliness and heartbreak (as well as exaltation and glory), and he has tried to become a true cowboy—to let all that loneliness and beauty deep into his heart.

Continuously battling the multiple-headed bureaucratic monster that wants all his money, he has tried to stead off the forthcoming disenchantment that ends all of these coming-of-age stories. We left off with our hero driving towards the ocean on the day of the solar eclipse—on his way to the Redwood forest and then to Portland …

It’s July. Months have miraculously passed since I tasted the ocean and stared at the sun through triple-layered sunglasses. I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Portland wondering what’s next and who cares and how am I going to effectively relate it all to Sandoval County. On the phone, my mom asks what I’m doing with my life: “I’ve been telling people that you’re a machinist, and you’re going to Nepal.” “No,” I say, “I’m a carpenter, and I’m going to Chile.” 

So far, in Portland, my friends and I have set up residence in a lovely little house and, for the time being, stopped being so nomadic. I cleaned out the attic so I could have a room. My bed is infested with tiny black ants, and sometimes, in the middle of the night, I wake up to the sound of a large rodent chewing the walls. In the backyard we’ve planted an extensive garden—in which not one plant has died—that is bordered by endless raspberry, blueberry, and marionberry bushes.

We get odd jobs, I edit the Signpost, and sometimes we peddle our campfire songs to city folk for spare change. The first month or so that I was here, it rained, and not being able to climb five days a week almost ended me, but now that sun is out, pretty girls in sundresses flock to the parks and streets, and my climbing life has started up again. 

Further east in Oregon, where we’ve gone a few times to climb—both at Smith Rocks and Trout Creek—things resemble New Mexico, and I get nostalgic. The air is dry, the sky blue, and one can see for a hundred miles in every direction. Mount Hood and Mount Washington are breathtaking to behold. We camp on the edge of the Deschutes River, surrounded by sagebrush forest, and I forget that I’m in Oregon, and feel rather that I’m floating the Chama river once again.

I’ve heard Portland called a haven for the post-graduate wanderer, and in many ways that is true—though my “desert rat” soul sometimes feels trapped and neglected, and I wonder if I’m forcing something by staying here. Highlights include having my pants stolen while participating in the world’s largest naked bike ride with, literally, around ten thousand other people, going to Oregon Country Fair, and exploiting the abundance of city life—thousands of bars, rickety movie theaters, great food, live music, and an unsettling number of beautiful baristas.

I’m not good at this staying in one place thing, though, and I’ve been antsy—certain people have told me that I constantly run away from things, though I don’t like to think of it like that. Maps of the world tantalize my imagination, and I always seem to want something else, something new and brilliant. I wonder when this fleeing will end and where I’ll be when it does. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep at night, I wonder if this insanity of growing up is not something that can be fixed with another plane ticket, another barista, or another climb. Maybe it’s about coming to terms with the idea that life is torture, and well, just being okay with that. Maybe, in the end, everyone’s great expectations, by necessity, must dull to the working grain of society.

On that salty note, once I make enough dough, I’m running away to Chile to write a book in which our young hero finds the worldly resplendence he’s looking for—Hurrah! I’m going climb thousand-foot walls that have never been touched, speak Spanish, and write this book that flies in the face of every other coming-of-age novel before it (the book might be terrible, just truly awful, but I’m going to write it anyway) and then, and only then, maybe I’ll come back and do what I’m supposed to be doing—give up on my dreams of grandeur and become a full-time dishwasher.

I get glimpses of it—that certain something else—here and there. It’s in the way sunlight plays on things, or watching tiny black ants explore the contours of a white sheet, or waking up to the rain coming horizontal through a window, or remembering how much you can love someone, or feeling how scary the ocean is. I see it a lot actually, that magic of the world. It’s like there are these little green monsters hiding from me, laughing as I chase them around the world, and every once in a while I think I see one, though it jumps away, into a bush, just in time. It’s not really something you tell your friends—that you see creatures in the bushes—but you do anyway because you know they’re real, and you’re after them, and one day, you hope to catch one and triumphantly hold one up to your friends—be like: “I told you so,” and then let it go.

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