My First year in Ashland

by Asifa Kanji

Kaboom! We landed in Ashland, on our feet, a little breathless, having little idea of what our new life had in store for us. That was just ten months ago. Were we nuts to leave our cozy Hawaiian cradle and arrive here dead smack in the middle of winter’s iciest time? Looking back, we have no regrets. However, as I put on layer after layer of clothes, thermal underwear, flannel shirts, fleeces and overcoats, topped with hats and scarves, I found myself longingly looking at the little Hawaiian floral cotton shift hanging in my closet, and questioned my sanity.

Ashland is a town where it is easy to amuse oneself to death in a classy way. There is theater, music, free concerts in the park and shows on the green, lectures, classes, art and an amazing restaurant scene for a town of 20,000. If that is not enough, there are brewpubs with 47 gut-expanding beers on taps, hiking trails to lift the soul and tighten those thighs, and wineries romantic enough to rekindle tired relationships. But I was having none of it, at least for the first few months. I didn’t do the usual Asifa comes into a new town routine – which is to sign up for every class, join every club, check out the “Y”, the meditation centers, and invite to dinner anyone I thought interesting. Just as well, because then we would be entertaining every night; Ashland is a ghetto of type A, highly accomplished, widely travelled, exciting folks who love to share their often mind-blowing life experiences. Oh my, we have some competition.

At first, it was simply delicious not running into anybody I knew at the Coop or in Lithia Park. I loved the anonymity, the aloneness and a total lack of commitment to anything except to my husband and writing. Write and rewrite is what both of us did, each in our own office; yes indeed, we have graduated to a two-office household. What luxury!  For the first time in all of my 62 years, I finally have a room I can call my own and David has his. No more using the dining table as my desk and having to clear it all away, should we, Lord forbid, actually need to use it to dine at.

I treasured the solitude, which lasted long enough to get our book published – a side-by-side memoir about riding the Peace corps roller coaster In Mali, West Africa, called 300 Cups of tea and The Toughest Job you’ll ever love.

With the book done, I discovered yet again that, wherever I go, there I am. Before I knew it, I was signing up for Tai Chi and Spanish and writing classes. In addition to making our house into a home, involving numerous construction projects, we volunteered to teach a five week course called “Beyond Tourism” at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in the Fall. We bought season tickets for the Oregon Shakespeare festival. l had morphed into an Ashlander. If you have to ask, an Ashlander is a person who is way too busy to live simply or simply live because they are take charge and fix-it kinds of people whose days are overflowing with enough activities to warrant a personal secretary. Thank goodness for smart phones that beep mercilessly, nagging us to move on to the next scheduled event.

I was dizzy and on a high, living life in the fast lane, but I beat myself up because I was not having that recluse writing life I had dreamed of. The thing is, I simply cannot bear to miss out on anything. Having new experiences is an addiction: the more I have, the more I want and crave, even if it is at the expense of leaving me feeling like an unaccomplished overcooked noodle.

Promoting the book stole a king’s share of our precious supply of time and energy. We did an hour long radio interview on Jefferson Public Radio; we gave a book reading at Bloomsbury Books and were interviewed for the local paper. All that happened over three days, by which time I was so done with promoting our book. To think of writers who go on extensive book tours, doing week after week what we did for one weekend, made me want to crawl under a duvet and hibernate until the thought went away. Whatever happened to magically becoming discovered?

Nature slowed down our heady lives enough to smell the flowers. Spring came in so gently at first, kissing one naked tree at a time, making it bloom, and then went totally out of control, transforming the entire hamlet into a massive flower show. The birds were back, and endorphins had me floating on an ocean of elation. Then came the summer’s heat, so soft and inviting. Off came the winter layers and out came the tees and shorts and the little Hawaiian dress. The flowers withered and gave birth to baby fruits. This year the rain forgot to come. The sun became angrier, setting forests alight. The stifling smoke had us under house arrest. Couldn’t go out, couldn’t breathe. Thank god for air conditioning.

Summer rolled into the Fall. The forest fires chilled, the days shortened, and the wind made the rusty leaves dance and swing and fly. This was an award winning Fall. No painting, no photograph, no choreographer, no musical composition alone could gave captured the pallet, the movement and the sheer exuberance of the trees and their leaves. All these made my soul sing with such joy that had I died in that moment, I would have ridden on a rainbow, and had the opportunity to kiss the stars. That is how jaw droppingly beautiful it was.

Now that we are back in the chilly season in Ashland.…..this time I don’t have my Hawaiian dress hanging in a spot where it can laugh out loud as I begin the 20 minute process of dressing, beginning  with thoroughly unsexy thermal underwear. However, even as I bask in the warm glow of candle lights, fire lights and fairy lights, I am plotting and planning our winter getaway. From the bowels of the basement storage space, my aloha dress begs to be liberated. In my opinion, winter should be just two weeks of big snowflakes that make you want to go outside and dance and catch them in your mouth. Two weeks of building snowmen, throwing snow balls and making snow angels. By the time I pack away the last of the ornaments and sweep away the pine needles, Spring should be waiting at the doorstep in all its glory. But it doesn’t work that way, so — poor me — I am forced to run away from home and the leaden grey skies until the trees and flowers wake up again.

One thought on “My First year in Ashland

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Loved reading your story about your touch down here in Ashland. Everyone has such great stories about how they got here. Look foward to reading more!

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