The Art of Transplanting Roses

This is a repost of my inaugural blog entry from Rose City Transplants.
It was originally posted on January 15, 2015.

It was sometime late October when she had something to say.  She’s reserved, so much so that she likely will dislike my sharing that fact, but her reservation is never more present when she thinks confrontation looms.  She is to be forgiven for fear, however, because what she was about to say would start one of the most important conversations of our lives.

She was testing the waters of a move to Singapore.

Seconds before she told me of her workplace’s desire to send her overseas, I was unhappy with my career, but hopeful.  I was facing displeasure with my chosen field, but interviewing with a company I had some hope for.  10 years as an IT manager with little change had led me to a choice I’d hoped would sidestep into a role with more analytical & management opportunities.  That step had yet to occur.  So I had begun the process of covertly sending out resumes and cover letters, rethinking what it was I searching for.

The conversation was tenuous.  She is cautious, never one to count chickens, and again, I can’t fault her for this.  It was an idea, a maybe, something in development, a thing that for discussion.  But she needed to know if I was on board.

I think this blog’s existence can answer that question quite well, thank you.

We moved to Portland over 6 years ago in a whirlwind.  We, in this order, house-hunted, bought a house, got married and moved to another state 700 miles away from the place we had called home for a majority of our lives – the San Francisco Bay Area.  When we made the decision to do so, it was late 2007 and housing prices were, as we all know, generously stated as ‘inflated’.  Frustrated with out of control prices and the cost of living in the area of our births, we sought greener pastures and agreed on Portland, Oregon, the most unlikely of choices.

I could transfer within work, so could she.  At the time, she was with a nation-wide accounting firm (one of the so-called ‘Big Four’.)  I was working for the company where we met, guiding it (technologically speaking) through a transition period from a 10-person operation in Marin to a larger e-commerce company in Portland.  We didn’t know much about the city we’d soon call home.  We had heard about the weather, the lack of sun for the fallwinterspring months, the burgeoning counter-culture best summed up with the catch-phrase “Keep Portland Weird.”  We knew that basketball was big there, the Trail Blazers being the (then1In 2011, Portland’s professional soccer team, the Portland Timbers, would join the MLS and the following year saw the birth of their sister-club, the Thorns, who play in the NWSL. ) only top-tier professional team in town.  Beyond that, we might as well have jumped into a black hole for all our knowledge of the city amounted to.

That, of course, has changed.  While it was a rough landing at times, we’ve both come to adore our adopted city.  She fell in love with the outdoor-focused attitude that the Pacific Northwest is famous for.  I began to volunteer with Basic Rights Oregon, a LGBTQ-rights organization and was quickly subsumed into the liberal activism Portland is known for.  We discovered the joy of hiking in the Columbia Gorge, the thrill of struggling up hikes like Dog Mountain, and the pleasure of rewarding ourselves with a cold beer & food at Full Sail in Hood River.  Portland’s renowned food cart & beer culture has become a staple in our weekly lives.  We became Blazer fans, Timber fans, Thorns fans.  Our love for football started to include watching the rise of the Oregon Ducks and their all-too-exciting offensive innovations.  That opened to us the entire world of college football, something that, until Stanford started winning under Jim Harbaugh, is largely ignored within the Bay Area.  We biked, we’d go to the mountain for day trips, we bought a Subaru, for christsakes; we became Oregonians.

We had, in every sense, found our place.  And now, her work was asking us if we wanted to pull up roots and move to the other side of the globe to a city that has so very little in common with the one we’d adopted.

Of course we were going to say yes, but not without giving serious consideration to what brought us to this moment.  Which, is the point of this blog you’re reading.

Portland is known as “The City of Roses”, a nod to its climate and land which is nearly as perfectly suited as you will find on this earth for growing the namesake flower.  The rose has long been a symbol of Portland, a curious beauty; a thorny, ungainly bush for the cold months but vibrant and alive during the summer.

Much like the period of dormancy that the flower faces, so too was our time in the Rose City.  We moved to this city a month before it had its worst snowstorm in 50 years, the so-dubbed “Storm of the Century.”  For two kids who grew up in the Bay Area, who only saw the snow on trips to Tahoe, this was a new experience to say the least.   Learning the city’s west side proved a challenge for her, finding the motivation to get outside in the constant cold rain was a challenge for me.  We didn’t know a lot of people in town, work friends mostly.  Work was a growing alarm for her, a slow decline from a major victory for me.  We were, for lack of better phrase, in a rut.

There was no major turn around.  There’s no point that stands out in clarity as the clichéd moment it all clicked, but rather it became a life that we carved out.  That it happened that way I think became why we’ve grown so attached to the city, it grew on us, we grew with it.  The spring and summer of our time in the City of Roses was marked by slow change; our individual pushes into running and our time running races together led to her pushing herself to run her first half-marathon nearly two years ago.  My indignation at missing out on making a difference within my home state, and inspiration at the hands of a friend in Washington state led to my involvement as an activist and our circle of friends broadening in meaningful ways.  Most of all, her growing frustration with public accounting led to something amazing, her employment by the small shoe company in Beaverton and this adventure we’re about to set off on.

My frustration has come from the time spent in IT working towards maintaining or growing something existing, rarely creating; never making anything.  For her, it’s a huge step forward in her career, for me, this move signifies the end of mine and a step into the unknown as I pursue my original dreams of writing.  That kind of change won’t happen overnight or as soon as I step on to foreign soil; it’s a change that will take much introspection and the courage to be honest with my dreams and desires.  In that sense, not only are we being transplanted in location, but we both are surely going to see our lives rearranged in fundamental ways.

This is what I am setting out to chronicle within this space; not just the travel logs of two incredibly fortunate West Coast kids seeing the world, but the act of change by stripping away the familiarities of the life we’ve built.  Making note of the paring down of our loves and the forces that continue to move us, even after all these years.

I am aware that when moving a rose bush from one location to another, one should take great care.  I have read that it’s an activity best done in the late winter/early spring, before the growing season starts.  I’ve come to understand that the bush should be pruned considerably, so that it may grow renewed and unhindered by past comforts.   So too then it goes, for two roses being uprooted from the life that they have come to know in a place that is perfect for growing them, where the seasons nurture their cycle until they bloom, expectant, for another glorious summer.

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