I have moved to John Day for three months. Took a temporary job thinking the clear air and mountain skyline would do me good, give me some time to sort out what I want to do with myself after college and relax in solitude studying the inner workings of my mind. To get here meant a treacherous drive through enormous rock formations, which my car very nearly didn’t survive, therefore I probably won’t leave unless the situation is dire.
Every day I go to work, come home, read, relax, walk around and try to figure out what to do with myself. Did I mention I live in a trailer? With my dog? My new lifestyle is just about the furthest thing from urban Seoul, which seems so bizarrely far away now.
For instance, two weeks ago I took the subway across Korea’s capital to attend a beautiful orchestra performance in the city center while chatting with international friends and enjoying ice cream cones. Tonight, in an episode of “Life in John Day,” I got off work, came home to my trailer, blasted country music after waving hello to my trailer camper neighbors and then seriously enjoyed a slice of Tillamook cheese like I haven’t had it in years. The strange part? I don’t know which experience I liked more.
Growing up as an Oregonian with a mother who values well-rounded cultural education means that it is very nearly impossible to be uncomfortable in any situation and that you may just have to follow your trailer instincts the same way you heed the call of Far East Asia. So I did.
My daily morning commute follows a twisting rural highway accented by dusty mountains highlighted with ponderosa pine and the occasional grazing steer. It looks like the opening credits of a movie about a woman moving to the country to regain her independence and maybe it is.
Everyone here drives a truck, the majority of which are enormous, there is one grocery store but multiple hunting and antique stores, and the pace of the town is slower than almost anywhere I’ve ever been. Stayton is New York City compared to John Day.
My best friends here are in their 70s but about 20 years old combined in spirit. They share their stories and suggestions for good places to check out on my weekends and they even cooked me liver and onions for the first time in my life the other night. I must say it was delicious. In addition to the lovely people I’ve met out here there is also a small batch of deer that hangs out in the bushes outside my workplace soaking up the shade and staring blankly at anyone who walks by. They are not quite friends but more like good acquaintances now.
When I leave work in the early evening a good chunk of the radio is regularly devoted to reading the local want ads one – “these folks got a mower for sale, $50 firm” – at a time. The man who reads them has what I would call a “charmingly country” speaking voice and seems to possess infinite patience, and an excellent sense of humor, as he plows his way through the John Day equivalent of the late Roth’s IGA Shopper.
My phone doesn’t work out here and I can’t say I miss the racket of the more “plugged-in” life. Even my family seems like a long way off. Besides a few emails from my father, my main familial encounter is staring at a picture I took of my mother, bathed in early August light while gardening. She looks kind of holy and a little crazed. I look at this a few times a week. It really is a no-fuss lifestyle all the way out here: no drama, no noise, no appointments holding me down, just work, relaxation and the open country byways. And my dog. Every good country story has to have a dog.