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Searching for Town Charming 

And the seductive idea of living somewhere else

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One afternoon while visiting Ashland, Oregon, my husband, Barry, and I strolled through Lithia Park, admiring its dappled trees and winding paths. As we stood on a fairy-tale bridge arching over the creek, I turned to him and said, "Let's move to Ashland." I imagined jogging on the gentle trails and bicycling the leafy streets, turned amber in the fall. Barry rolled his eyes. He's lived with what he calls my "Town Charming" syndrome for more than 30 years. Forget the modern-day Prince Charming George Clooney — I lust after towns. And I'm on the promiscuous end of the spectrum: Any town will do, as long as it's not the one I live in. 

He reminded me that Ashland is deep in wildfire country and that its real estate values are as high as its summer temperatures. That would be tough for me after 18 years of coastal crustacean life. Say what you will about Eureka, I love the weather. I'm the opposite of the seasonal-affective disorder folks — too much sun is hard on my eyes and leaves me a little depressed.

A few days later, we arrived in Portland, Oregon, where I — and seemingly everyone I know — wants to live. Even our Dutch friends in Amsterdam, another hip and storied city, daydream of Portland. Several former Humboldt friends have relocated there in the last few years and, of course, love it. "The libraries are open every day, all day," one gloated. I imagined becoming intimately acquainted with the web of urban bike paths. We'd shop at Powell's and I'd sit by the river for hours, watching the water flowing by and distilling its truths.

We spent two weeks testing Portland by doing a home-exchange in the Alphabet neighborhood. By the end, the fantasy had faded. I had forgotten how tiring it can be to get from point A to point B in a city. And sadly, for a river city, Portland has not taken advantage of its resource. The one mossy bank where I might have sat Siddhartha-like gazing meditatively at the water was filled with sketchy-looking folks sleeping near their dogs and shopping carts. One day we stowed our inflatable kayak and SUP into our van and drove the length of the city to reach the nearest river access to put in. Here, I'm spoiled, carrying my SUP a mere block to Humboldt Bay.

Then there's Bellingham, Washington, where we lived in the '80s, back when it was cheap and funky. Like Eureka today, work was hard to come by and after six years, in my 30s and Barry's 40s, we were ready for something bigger. We didn't want to live in a hippie town all our lives. Never having earned serious money, I wanted to see if I could make it in Silicon Valley.

We left our $265 per month apartment, held our breath and leapt. Within six months I was consulting at Apple. It was a good place for many years, but not for life.

Now, when we visit Bellingham, we see old friends and ride our bikes through the letter streets. "Maybe we should move back," I croon. But Bellingham is no hippie town today: Rents are far from $265 a month and Fairhaven, the once-decaying Old Town-like historic neighborhood, shines with corporate gleam. Our visits are always in the spring or fall, so I conveniently forget how cold and wet it can be in winter.

I've even wondered if we should move to Arcata. "You won't last in Eureka," a new acquaintance told us the first month we were here. "It has bad karma." I wish he hadn't said that; his dark line swirled around my mind for years. What were we doing here, anyway? "I've been trying to leave Eureka for 15 years," I heard someone say in yoga class. I laughed because I've felt the same way.

I've come to realize I may not be a good fit in Arcata. I'm just not groovy enough. Don't tell anyone but I shop at WinCo and Grocery Outlet, not the farmers market. And while there isn't much diversity in Humboldt, I encounter more in Eureka than Arcata, despite the presence of the university.

Barry and I found our loft-like apartment in Old Town in 2001 and, to our surprise, we're still there. "You'll never leave," our landlord joked a couple of years ago. I winced. Please, tell me it's not so.

But our low-maintenance, affordable arrangement in Eureka allows us to accommodate two very different lifestyles. In 2005, we bought an old adobe house in Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage site at 7,000 feet elevation in central Mexico. Now we live a life of extremes — wet and dry, sea-level and high mesa, rented and owned, in English and Spanish.

If we bought a house in Ashland or Portland, life wouldn't be as economical. Not to mention the exhaustion of starting all over again and adding yet more names and email addresses to the long list of friends we already miss.

It's funny. Somehow, without noticing it, I've become more serene about Eureka. Granted, she's no swashbuckling lover but Eureka and I seem to be growing into a calm, steady-state marriage of convenience. I love the waterfront bike trail, the new murals, my close friends and loyal clients. I love that I can paddle in the bay, three minutes from our apartment. And after reading Melody Warner's inspiring book This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, I've put extra effort into getting to know my neighbors better. It all helps.

Yet the lure of other towns never seems to leave me. I've given up trying to understand why I persist in thinking that another town will make me happy. This nagging undercurrent is my koan, the customized question each of us carries within us like DNA, one we are born to grapple with. Knowing I may never have an answer, I try to just live the question lightly.

Recently a couple we knew in Guanajuato moved back to the U.S., to a town I had never heard of: Silver City, New Mexico. "Come visit," they wrote, "It's beautiful here. You'll love it!"

I'm sure I will. I haven't even seen it and I'm already thinking, "Let's move to Silver City."

Louisa Rogers practices serial monogamy with her two partners, Eureka, California, and Guanajuato, Mexico.

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Louisa Rogers

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