When I was in 4th grade, my best friend and I would ride our bikes to school in the spring. If you're from Western Washington, you'll understand the struggle of having an extremely limited number of sunny days. Drivers would smile at us as we crossed the street, we never had to worry about our bikes being stolen, and we felt very grown up not riding the bus.
On Fridays, we would go to Scott's Dairy Freeze and get a strawberry malt with fries. If we lucked out and had an entire day of sun, we would go to the river. It was too cold to go swimming, but feeling the mountain water run over our feet was enough.
I have a million other memories of adventures we had, but I haven't realized how much I loved living in a small town until it became a big town. Traffic was minimal, the community felt more close-knit, and there were always kids to play with at the park. If you didn't know the people you were surrounded by, chances are you had a mutual friend. I grew up surrounded by mountains. Hiking trails were 10 minutes away, and the air always smelled like pine. Rivers and lakes were cold because they were mountain run off. Growing up, I didn't like living in a small town. Who would want to live somewhere so secluded?
After my first semester at WSU when I went home for winter break, I was shocked. Trees had been cut down to build more houses. Scott's served quality beef in their burgers. The tiny one-screen movie theater had nice velvet chairs. Why was everything nice?
Every time I go back, something new is being built. My small town is fleeting. It's not a surprise that a place 30 minutes from Seattle is expanding (you have to be a different kind of rich to live there), but it makes my heart sad. Hiking trails are overcrowded, my favorite restaurants have been able to up their prices because of the increased demand. Neighborhoods are filled with kids who play video games instead of making their own fun outside.
I wouldn't move home permanently and raise kids there, but if I did, they couldn't have the childhood I did. They'd get mowed over by angry drivers who are late to their downtown Seattle job. Hiking would be full of frustration with people stopping every 2 minutes to take a picture; not to mention parking. $5 can't get you a cheap afternoon treat anymore.
I'm grateful for what I had growing up. I'll always love my hometown no matter how much it changes. But I feel bad for the kids that won't grow up in the same North Bend I did.