Sometimes I think about moving to a new town. I mean, leaving behind my old life and opening up shop in some new place, if not for the rest of my life then at least for a long time and in earnest. Big cities make this daydream easier to imagine and small towns harder — because, just as all happy families are alike but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, Tolstoy might agree that all big cities are alike, but every small town is strange in its own way.
Here in Sisters (and since it's happy hour), this particular town's strange cocktail seems to be a mix up of one part cowboy, one part Jesus, and one part yuppie, on the lava rocks with a dash of escapism and a twist of self-reliance. It's a new recipe (the town was founded in 1946), and the "Ye-olde Western" aesthetic of its three-street downtown was put in place in one fell swoop, propelled by free building supplies, architectural guidance, and seed money provided in the 1980s by the nearby Black Butte Resort (motto: "We Put The Awe In Autumn"), which wanted its neighboring town to be quaint and carefully calibrated to satiate the nostalgic tastes of its wealthy vagabond visitors from Portland and Seattle and other more distant richer places. The local coffee shop is decorated with a pithily Sisterly combination of bear skin rugs, hunting mementos, bible quotes, and one very large oil painting of the crucifixion. I am told that at Christmas, the owners erect a life-size wooden cross in the back yard, outfitted with a small step-ladder, which visitors can climb and hang from as an exercise in empathy-building. However, having not yet been here to witness a Sisters Christmas, I cannot verify this claim. The mostly Christian clientele pump and pay for their coffee on the honor system, depositing coins like alms into an open bucket on the counter. The coffee is very good, and so is the conversation — today I overheard a group of old and friendly-looking local men debate whether Barack Obama was, in fact, our first black president, or whether he was not our first mulatto president. The men were Catholic, Christian, and Mormon, and one of them commented that the church was not so much a religious institution as a social one, which sounded about right to me.
I wondered what it would be like to move here, for the people in that coffee shop suddenly to become my friends, my potential future spouses, my future kids' teachers, my drinking buddies, my neighbors. Until you commit to a place, you can inhabit the anonymous nether-regions of ghostliness, floating into and out of coffee shops and communities without any compulsion to talk, tell stories, charm, make nice, or make friends. Taking advantage of my ghostliness, I left quietly, wandered the streets, and stepped out into a field, where a stormy sky was clearing over the mountains, and thought about what it would be like for these streets to become my streets, to gaze across this field every afternoon for the rest of my life, to get to know the feeling of this particular light on my face, and to make it feel like mine. But I probably won't make Sisters my home for much longer, and I will move on to some other fields, mountains, and light. I wonder how you finally learn to settle, and what that takes.