Everybody has a story: Woman’s tumultuous odyssey leads her to ‘paradise’ in Salmon Creek



My window ledge overlooks a wooded valley. Mossy green velvet clothes the trunks and branches of deciduous trees, while the lush evergreens always retain their emerald beauty through each season. From my window seat I watch Salmon Creek below turn and trail through the vale. Ferns sprout along the ground to the edge of the stream. The frequent rain has formed a heart-shaped pond just below my vantage. In the evening, croaking frogs celebrate their watery dwelling. In the early morning, I see the mist hugging the forest with arms of soft gray. It is then I meditate on my great fortune to arrive here in my odyssey of life.

It wasn’t so long ago I lived in Venezuela during the time often referred to as “the golden years.” It was a time of prosperity and great opportunity. Venezuela was a place people flocked to in order to realize their dreams. People who had lived on the fringe of U.S. society were able to thrive, start businesses and make a lot of money there.

I too, relished the fruits of the booming economy. I married a Venezuelan, and was looking forward to the perks that came with being the wife of an executive in a tropical Caribbean land: country clubs, maids, partying and world traveling.

An oil boom fed the bloated economy. Greed, corruption, poor policies and mismanagement made the country ripe for disaster. Venezuela was woefully unprepared when, in 1982, an oil crisis changed the balance of economic world power. Countries with economies based on oil were stunned to lose most of their income overnight. Banks were closed and accounts were frozen. When the banks reopened, it was discovered the currency, which had remained stable from1935 to 1982, plummeted in value. Investments, life savings and anything of monetary value became almost worthless.

The dream life ended in Venezuela. Millionaires became paupers, the middle class disappeared and the poor became desperate. Many had to reinvent their lives and find a different reality. Brain drain sapped the country of effective leaders. As the years passed, we realized there would be no recovery in our lifetime.

The turning point came when my husband was forced to carry a gun for protection. We had to hire a watchman who lived in our house. Kidnappers started closing in on our children. We made the hard decision to leave so our children would have a better life. We left in 1990 and came to Ohio to lead a more modest life.

I look back with nostalgia at the fun and excitement of those earlier years, but that grand style of living is a “once upon a time” story, a tale to regale my grandchildren with.

Our life in the U.S. was safe and stable. Separation from family, the familiar life of Latin America, its customs and traditions were difficult for all of us but proved overwhelming for my husband. He became despondent over the economic, social and moral disintegration of his beloved homeland. For many years, he struggled to overcome his feeling of loss, but eventually he slipped into a deep depression and took his life.

In the years that followed, I wrote a book of poetry to assuage my grief. I grappled with my choices. Should I stay in the large, beautiful home we had shared? Should I keep the many fine trappings we collected through the years, possessions that gave us a sense of luxury, of security, of belonging to a certain society? Do these things define my value? Do they reflect who I really am? For some time I pondered what things meant to me.

Retirement from teaching corresponded with the departure of my last child from home. I began to contemplate leaving the Midwest with its brutally harsh winters. I loved the tropics, the South Sea Islands, and other beautiful places I had visited during our many travels. Ultimately, I decided that even an idyllic land would be lonely without family. I am from a huge family with fourteen siblings. I had many options to live near other family members.

In addition to writing poetry, I began designing and selling jewelry. One of my sisters in Vancouver shared my enthusiasm for jewelry design. I had visited the Pacific Northwest on various occasions and was enchanted with its climate and natural beauty.

After much soul searching, I divided up, sold and donated all but my most necessary possessions. I packed my most treasured belongings into a trailer and made the long trek from Ohio to Washington. I chose a tiny cottage nestled in a forested haven where deer and an occasional coyote wander about.

I started a jewelry business, Salmon Creek Studios, with my very creative sister. These days I find great pleasure designing jewelry and showing it at many venues around Washington and Oregon.

Some mornings find me nestled in the wide window ledge, cozy with cushions and pillows, where I read and meditate. Occasionally I catch a glimpse of a heron or a pair of mallard ducks enjoying the ponds below. I gaze out over my woodsy dell and am struck by how fortunate I am to have found this fertile valley of pines and evergreens and a crooked creek to feed the abundant wildlife.

I don’t need the South Sea Islands. I have found my version of paradise on Earth. I call this perfect little place Paradise Edge.

Everybody has a story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. E-mail is the best way to send materials so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.