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Diggin' the valley

My husband, Rick, and I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Ruch in 2004, and after living here a year, I'm sure my friends back home were tired of hearing me rave about the joys of living in the Rogue Valley.

"We have lakes and rivers and mountains and trees! No four-hour drives to go skiing — Mt. Ashland's an hour away! The people here are so friendly! The gas-station attendants not only pump your gas, but they offer your dog a biscuit! And no sales tax!"

"But what about the weather?" they ask. People from California assume the weather in Southern Oregon is always cold and rainy. I regale them with descriptions of our fabulous summers spent out on the lake, the spectacular colors of the trees in the fall, the wonderful, winter wonderlands we have. On and on I go until someone politely changes the conversation.

But I can't seem to get enough of bragging about our life here. The first Monday after our move, we had to take our truck to a mechanic, and as we drove in to Medford that morning, the streets were almost empty. I wondered out loud if we had forgotten it was a holiday. "Where is everybody?" I asked Rick. And although residents here complain about the traffic, it always makes me chuckle. "Traffic" in the Rogue Valley means having to sit through two red lights.

I remember back in California making plans to meet a girlfriend for lunch. We lived on the small, man-made island of Alameda, so I had to drive over to the boat landing, take the ferry across the bay, then walk or take a cab the 10 blocks to the restaurant and, voila! In only and hour and a half, I'm there. But these days, I'll be running around town, and I'll call my friend, Cindi, and say, "Let's meet for lunch," and five minutes later we're at Noho's, McGrath's, Mucho Gusto or one of a dozen different, great places. No lines, no waiting, no parking problems and no digging in the bottom of my purse for change to drop into the parking meter.

But the thing I enjoy most about living in this small valley is the closeness I feel with the people. I can't go anywhere without running into someone I know.

One afternoon, Rick and I spent the day in Ashland, and I ran into a woman I work with at the bookstore. Then we went to Dragonfly for lunch and bumped into our friends, Dan and Lisa, who invited us to join them. As we were leaving, we ran into another couple we know and visited with them for a while. Afterwards, we went to the Varsity Theatre for a matinee, and as we were leaving, we ran into Leeann and Wayne, friends from my writer's group, and we all went for coffee. And later that night, our friend, Florence, called and mentioned that she had honked and waved to us as we were crossing the street earlier that day in Ashland! That never, ever happened when we lived in California.

I love that when I was getting some lab work drawn and the phlebotomist saw on my record that I lived in Ruch, she mentioned a house where her best friend used to live and she used to spend summer days in their swimming pool — the pool where I now spend summer days with my friend, Terri, who is a co-worker, friend and neighbor.

I love that after I recently had back surgery, I pulled the name of a house-cleaning company out of the Yellow Pages, and when the owner showed up at my door, he said, "I was here before, about four years ago."

"No," I answered. "We've never hired a house cleaner before."

"Actually," he countered, "I used to be roommates with your friend, Christie, and I needed a bed. You guys had one you were giving away, so I drove out here to pick it up!"

And I love it when a patient from where I used to work comes up to give me a big hug, right in the middle of Costco. It's that feeling of being connected, being accepted and being a part of a community, something I've never felt before. It's the feeling of joy.

Joy reader Darlene Ensor lives in Ruch.