The Smell of Cedar

In Newfoundlinseyland, which is just southwest of Newfoundland, the FAQ are a bit like this:

  1. You moved from San Diego to HERE? Why?
  2. How’d you find out about this little place?
  3. Do you own any Carhartt’s?
  4. …from San Diego? WHY?

I guess the move does necessitate a bit of explanation. Insert anecdote.

Last week I left school about five p.m. There, sitting on the open tailgate of his truck, was one of my AP students with a friend. They hunkered over papers with raised eyebrows and hovering pencils. “It’s Friday,” I called. “No homework.”

They groaned. “AP Stats.”

“I’d toss it in with those boards and light a fire.” Student and friend turned around to see what I referenced.

“I can’t burn those. I’m supposed to take them to the dump.”

I walked closer to take a look. Bits of 2×4 lay piled in the bed of his truck.

“We built a fence at my house last weekend and I was supposed to take them on Tuesday.” He looked up from the scrap lumber at me with doe eyes. “It’s just, I love the smell of cedar and I can’t bear to throw them away.”

He wasn’t just a doe, he was Bambi. Was I really just privy to a sixteen-year-old male—albeit one who worked at the GAP—just say he loved the smell of cedar? Be still, my heart.

And, just this weekend, my car’s back tire was making a funny grrrrr-grrr-grrrate noise. My handsome mechanic/fiancé was, of course, in sunny Southern Cali. Trying to get car advice from a know-it-all to a know-nothing-at-all on a phone is like fighting a polar bear with a flyswatter, or better yet, a bear with a zucchini: only effective once every few years. Fiance had me kick the tires, poke my hands around in the wheel well (is there such a thing?) and attempt some general diagnostics on Great White.

While I was busy kicking my tires like a scene out of Thelma and Louise, a waitress beginning her shift walked past me into the restaurant where I’d stopped. She gave me a sorrowful look and a little “Owww.”

I went inside to eat, my hunger more desperate than the uncertainty of whether or not I’d make it the 30 miles back home with all four tires intact. Beside, it was Sunday afternoon and I was in Smalltownsville; it was unlikely that any service station would be open.

While I ordered my huckleberry shake (priorities) I explained my woes to the waitress. She had silver tinsel hanging from her hair. Or maybe it was her earrings. Maybe she just had a general glittering glow about her. Yeah, maybe that was it…a general glow. Her name was LauraDawn, after the LD in Little House on the Prairie, and her double braids and “my pleasures” helped her fit the part, though I do reckon she was a bit more Woodstock than the original LD.

“I have a friend who’s a mechanic. He’s on his way over to do a diagnostic and he’ll take it around the block and you can order and it will all be just fine,” LauraDawn said, all before I could call the Sears automotive back in town.

It happened just like that. I sipped on my huckleberry shake while LauraDawn’s friend (and his father) took my car around the block. They’d left peach cobbler and a family picnic to assist a random girl in distress. Halfway through my salmon burger, I found out I had a broken shock, but that I was safe to drive home.

Despite my self-consciousness about the noises Great White made all thirty miles home, I couldn’t stop pinching myself. Had someone really just left their family BBQ to help out a complete stranger? Had I, earlier that week, heard someone call out, “Linsey Kitchens?” (I’ve only lived here two weeks and already people know me by name—this is a frightening prospect!) And, I have a student who adores the smell of cedar so much that he refuses to toss scrap 2x4s.

Of course, there is the occasional glitch. Like the woman with whom I share a wall, who, despite her 40+ age, listens to Dave Matthews Crash and Pink Floyd’s The Wall as though the KGB were going to take them away. She listens to them so loud that the dishes on my shelf rattle. This is no exaggeration. She claimed she had “TOWER” speakers. I’m imagining castle towers.

There are the moments when I stop all the madness of unpacking, setting up a grade book and learning a whole new community and I remember the friends and lover I left. There’s not been much time to be sad for such losses, but when they burn, they sure do sting. A circle of friends such as I have in San Diego is not something to be missed lightly.

But every morning the Cascade sunrise warms me on the drive to school. Just yesterday, I could see Mount Rainer, Mount Baker, the Olympics and the San Juan Islands from a trail five minutes east of my casita. One of my student’s families owns an organic, pasture-fed cattle/poultry/pig farm on which Michael Pollan–yes, the Michael Pollan–has written accolades. Cows, bison, sheep, goats and ponies dot the landscape. There are trail heads and vegetable stands and mountain passes to discover. Random roadside mechanics. Fresh huckleberry shakes so thick you have to use the straw like a spoon.

And of course, the smell of fresh cedar.