Going Back in Time

Have you ever been to a place that felt like your soulmate? A place where you felt you belonged, sure as if someone had scooped up a handful of the soil and formed your body from it? For me that place is Eugene, Oregon, the town where I spent my early twenties. The city where my books take place. Last month, during that mid-August hot spell, I went back for four glorious, bittersweet days. These are some thoughts I collected during that time.

According to Wikipedia, Eugene is an urban forest. This shot of downtown, taken from Skinner Butte, shows you why.

As I drive through the Willamette Valley I can sense the years peeling away, feel time flipping back like calendar pages in an old time movie. I buzz by small towns I’ve driven past many times without stopping—Dever, Conner, Scio. The father south I go, the more my soul settles in. I’m happy with the journey, not just the destination. I begin to enjoy the drive. Cruising south of Salem, south of Albany, through that flat gold and blue expanse of Willamette Valley. The sun, hot and blaring, soaking into my bones. The Coast Range to the west with its rugged bluffs. The dry and dusty fields on either side of the interstate. Plumes of brown trailing a tractor as it rumbles through the fields. Each overpass, each creek, is a familiar name. Each knoll, covered with oaks, an image burned into my memory.

The first thing I do when I get to Eugene is drive under the bridge that leads to Springfield and park in its shade. The temperature gauge on the dash reads 99 degrees. The air is hot and sultry on my skin, the wind thick with the sweet smell of cottonwood.  Balm of Gilead. Just drawing it into your lungs heals you of all your spiritual ills. I get out of my car, go down to the river, and cry. I cry for lost youth, for the ache of being reunited with the place that is my geographical soulmate. I cry with envy toward the people who never had to leave, and with confliction because I have two homes now.

Then after a few minutes I can see it’s just a river running under a bridge.

As I drive through the streets of Eugene, I cruise though my history. I feel like I’m living in my characters’ world. Sometimes I drive these streets in my dreams. Sometimes they’re an odd mishmash of roads from Eugene, Portland, Spokane and Hickory.

I remember coming down here almost exactly 25 years ago on a hot summer day much like this, preparing to begin my sophomore year at the U of O. I’d transferred from Whitworth in Spokane, so it was all new to me. This valley with its golden fields, its blue-green buttes, drew me in, welcoming me to my new life.

I clicked right into place when I moved to Eugene—like a puzzle piece recovered after being misplaced for 19 years. I knew the value of what I had while I was here, and I didn’t want to leave. But the need to try my hand at racing was stronger than the need to stay. When I moved to Portland after five years in North Carolina, it was a near fit. A little sanding, a little pounding, and the puzzle piece managed to fall into place. Not quite perfectly, but close enough. Something in me longs to move back to Eugene. The problem is, I’m connected to the other Portland pieces now. They’ve formed a bond with me, and it’s not so easy to let go.

I left Eugene before the technological revolution, and now I come back with a car full of electronic equipment. Digital camera to record my memories, digital recorder to catalog my thoughts. Why can’t they build a digital device to capture the heady scent of those cottonwoods? Technology isn’t quite as perfect as we’d like to think. I go to Skinner Butte Park and see a woman with her feet in the Willamette and an iPhone in her hands and I think, that’s something that wouldn’t have happened 25 years ago. How can the world change so much so quickly?



I’m not sure if this is killing me or making me stronger. I marvel both at the way things have changed and the way they’ve stayed the same. The question is, will I leave here feeling filled up, or aching with the need for more?

Sometimes I think I never should’ve left Eugene, but then I realize, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t. Would I even have learned to weld and fabricate? Studied mechanical engineering and horticulture? Would I have learned how to be compassionate? Would I have written four books? I know one thing for sure. I wouldn’t have married my husband or met the friends I have now. That makes it worth the loss, but still that busy part of my brain boggles contemplating who I might have met, what I might have done, instead.

Someday I’ll go back. I’d like to complete that elusive bachelor’s degree. I’ve got enough credits for a couple of them, they’re just not the right credits. And psychology sounds intriguing. It would be nice to walk the U of O campus again, taking classes in old buildings whose history now intrigues me. For the most part, I think the college experience is wasted on people who are too young to appreciate it. But then, that obliviousness of youth is one of those things that makes it so magical when you’re looking at it in the rear-view mirror.

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16 Responses to Going Back in Time

  1. Elisabeth Miles says:

    I’m weeping for your loss. And that we of your present aren’t enough. And maybe a little because I’ve never felt that way about a place.

    Four days may be like half a bite of an appetizer. Perhaps a retreat of a couple weeks or months would be a more satisfying banquet that would feed your soul enough to either be happy to continue on with the simpler fare where you are now, or convince you to make that reservation for a full sumptuous cruise. With that bachelor’s as your trip souvenir.


  2. rose lefebvre says:

    My soulmate place is Oregon. I was born in Missouri and spent most of my life in S. Calif., but ever since my first visit to Oregon as a young girl with my family, I had yearned to someday live here. I “evolved” so much here. I sacrificed being near my family-my parents, siblings, cousins, etc-to live here in Oregon. I miss them so.
    And besides, I want to watch the Chrysalis group grow old together!!


  3. jone says:

    I like the idea of a soulmate place. I think for me it’s actually living where I do today, certainly the Pacific Northwest. I remember when I returned to live in Portland in 2001 I felt like I had returned home ( and the move was just from Vancouver, WA).
    This is a very moving piece of writing. I was with you on the journey.


  4. Helen Wand says:

    Great writing! I know just how you feel! Sometimes I have to go back where I was raised to get a “soul fix”. I hope you follow your dream and go get that bachelor’s degree. Don’t wait until your my age…go for it now. Even if you don’t do anything with it, it will enrich your writing even more (I can’t imagine that is possible) You go Girl!


  5. Alice Lynn says:

    Your writing evokes the longing for other days and other times. Every time I take the back road to Salem via Woodburn, I revisit my past; it can be the revamped high school that still reminds me of vanished friends and teen-age dreams. Sometimes it’s a once familiar neighborhood,unrecognizable except for one house or one landmark; or when I pass the road that led to the welcoming home of a dear friend. You’ve posted a lovely piece.


  6. Karen C. says:

    I’m glad you had the experience of going back, and have been able to sort through some of your feelings. Your second sentence is great…I love the analogy. Big hugs and best wishes as you continue to sort through your feelings!


  7. This is beautiful, Lisa. I love the idea of a soulmate place. I long to find mine. I really don’t think it’s here, where I’ve grown up. I adored Oregon the one time I visited. Maybe I can convince hubby it’s worth a try… : )


  8. Marla says:

    I don’t have a soulmate place either. Reading this makes me wish I had one…


  9. Gorgeous essay, Lisa. I’ll be heading to my college for a reunion soon…I spent 9 years there, I wonder if I’ll feel the same (although I don’t think Davis is my soulmate, alas.)


  10. Who says you can’t go back to college? 😉


  11. My soulmate place is in Finland, but I don’t get to go there anymore. Maybe one day–with the kids.


  12. This is gorgeous, Lisa! Thank you for taking us on this journey with you.


  13. Barb says:

    I didn’t realize that other people had soulmate places. I do the same things as you did when I return to Oklahoma. Thanks for sharing the secret part of you.


  14. Ann Herrick says:

    I’m lucky, I get to live in Eugene, though it’s not *quite* my soulplace. 🙂


  15. This is awesome! I yearn and miss places of my youth too! And would love to return and cry over its loss!


  16. cindy hogan says:

    I loved Oregon, too. I lived in Roseburg for 3 years as a teen. Nice connection. I moved a lot while growing up and I wasn’t an Army brat, my dad just worked for the government, so I learned to cherish every moment I spent somewhere and I learned to hold on to the good. It’s never easy to lose what you love, but if you hang onto memories through writing, it never disappears.


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