Sometimes, making a magazine requires getting into character. This issue’s feature on second homes, vacation properties, rental investments, getaway shacks, what have you, sat on our schedule for a year, with my initials attached. Long-suffering colleagues watched me gaze at it. “Second Homes,” I would monologue. “What should it say? What is it supposed to beeeeee?” I am unlikely to acquire any pieds-à-terre soon, barring a spike in the market for complete sentences. I struggled to access the soul of the thing.
Then my sister-in-law moved. For the whole time I’ve known my wife, her sister has lived around Stevenson, Washington, a chill town on the north side of the Columbia Gorge. Over the years (decades, almost) Stevenson became the nearby small town I know best, presenting a compelling alternative to Portland life: it is, according to one local witticism, “a drinking town with a windsurfing problem.” I don’t windsurf, so I had no problems there.
Hundreds of day trips and many overnights provided an outsider’s introductory course to the Gorge. I came to know the landscape’s scenic glories, its occasionally apocalyptic climate. I met a lot of very cool people, hiked many waterfalls, and made accidental references to being “in Oregon” that annoyed the locals. It wasn’t quite my second home—I wasn’t contributing anything, that’s for sure—but it felt close.
Life happens, of course. My sister-in-law felt the call of her native New England. And so one gilded summer evening, we gathered around a packed U-Haul to wish her and her boyfriend safe travels across the nation. I was happy for them. Sad for me. The sunset-bathed Oregon side was aglow, and the fearsome Gorge wind masqueraded as a caressing breeze. Realization settled in: my long-running relationship with Stevenson was at an end.
As a consolation prize, I discovered an angle of attack on my assignment. When I talked to people about the places they bought into away from home, the conversation could dwell briefly on real estate transactions. We could explore the joys and trials of, like, picking out the right curtains. But the real conversation could be about unexpected, kismet immersion into new places, new climates, new people. It could be about a chance to fall in love.
Maybe I should consider windsurfing lessons? I would just need a new place to stay.
Editor in Chief