West Linn, Oregon, U.S.A. – On Tuesday mornings, my hometown is quiet. In the spring and summer, colorful hydrangeas, daisies, and zinnias overflow from side gardens at corner houses. On cloudless days, through the tops of trees, mountains intermittently appear over the horizon.
In the winter, it is gray and rainy. The days are short, though the trees are still green.
I sometimes try to think of everything I have learned for certain about the city where I now live.
To the friends I left behind, my hometown is the “suburbs of Oregon.”
The only memories I had of the mainland before moving are the too-tight puffy winter jackets my sister and I quickly outgrew. At seven, I remember reflecting on the absurdity of leaving everything I knew behind.
I did not know what to think about the fact that a state my grandfather pronounced as “O-Le-Gone” would be my new home.
To me, “O-Le-Gone” sounded like a made-up place. If I was asked to find it on a map, I might have pointed to Antarctica.
But now, I have lived here – in the suburbs of “O-Le-Gone” – for nine years. It feels weird to think that over half of my life has been spent in a place I once had no idea existed.
If I was asked what my “hometown” was two years ago, maybe I would have started describing the valleys and sandy walkways of the Hawaiian island I left behind.
After leaving Oahu, where I was born, every winter I missed the double rainbows that emerged over treetops after light rain. I still miss the family we left.
When I felt alone walking down quiet sidewalks on Tuesday mornings, I longed to be reunited with the ducks we would feed in the canal behind our house.
Yet most of the memories I have today were formed in the “suburbs of Oregon.” Despite my worst fears in second grade, I did find friends, challenges, and moments of laughter.
As weeks blurred into months, life here formed the backdrop for hundreds of epiphanies.
Relaying my middle-school summer adventures following small butterflies through grass fields and looking out car windows at what seemed like endless rows of trees, I will always remember Oregon as the place I first touched snow.
It is where, on a lazy summer day, I used a microscope for the first time and realized that there were more dimensions to the world than the ones I was used to seeing.
It is where I first learned about the currents of rivers, and where I realized the breath-taking expansiveness of forests.
It feels familiar in a different way.
Now, I am the one who explains to my cousins how the outline of the continental United States created by Los Angeles and New York City is filled in by thousands of other cities. I explain how there are hundreds of miles of rivers and forests – and deserts, highways, farmland, mountains, plains, beaches and wetlands – that stretch along and across the coasts.
I explain how my hometown, a suburb south of Portland, is one of those places. How “O-Le-Gone” ended up being an entire state filled with interconnected lives.
If I did not live here now, it would blur into the dizzying expanse of the rest of the continent. But in living here, the problems and intricacies of this small sphere in the world feel clear and sharp.
Even if I do not always love it, I can appreciate what it has done for me.
I realize that what is special about being part of a community is that everyone shares a stake in what we do.
What makes everything meaningful stems from the fact that the future is shaped by the actions of us all.
In living here, I learned to examine the problems, inequalities and divisions around me with an eye toward action. I learned to look for new perspectives, like switching through magnification on my childhood microscope.
I can appreciate my hometown and also dream of exploring the world beyond it.
Its beauty can take my breath away, but I still push for the change that my community needs.
I can find solace in the familiarity of living here and also be ambivalent about the quietness of Tuesday mornings.
One day last November, the famously enduring rain of the Willamette Valley, where West Linn is, created a rainbow over the highway. The condensation produced a faint but prismatic array of colors through evergreen trees.
For a moment I stared in disbelief. But yes – it really was there. An Oregon rainbow. That instant of recognition reminded me of the moments that led me here.
Annamika Konkola is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.