Return to Salem


Self-portrait by Antonia Decker, pictured with her belongings at her home in Salem.


Salemites are notorious for having an inferiority complex in relation to the metropolises to our north. We feel the need to justify ourselves or apologize for not being on par with Portland or Seattle, believing that Salem’s casual way of life and small size can’t possibly match those cities’ level of sophistication and activity.

But sometimes, as I’ve found in the past few years, taking time away from our home helps us truly appreciate it — and makes us realize that the things we like to idealize from the “big city” are not always advantages.

Aside from my first six months of life, which were spent in San Diego (mostly eating and sleeping), my entire upbringing took place in Salem. I went to a Montessori preschool here, then on to my first (of many) soccer teams and, afterward, the Heritage School for my elementary education. I dipped my toes in a series of dance classes, enrolled in the Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School, played the violin and celebrated my Bat Mitzvah at our local synagogue. By the time I was a student at South Salem High School, I felt like I had extracted all that Salem could offer; I was struck by that thought so familiar to the minds of our city’s youth: “There’s nothing to do in Salem.” Consequently, this was always followed by, “I want to get out of here!”

Engulfed in a “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality, I decided to spend my junior year of high school in Argentina as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Though this experience developed my sense of wanderlust and adventure, and increased my openness to new cultures and languages, it also served as a point of reference to appreciate the communities I had back home. Today, as a sophomore at Seattle University — constantly moving from dorm to dorm (and soon back to Argentina for a semester!) — my affinity toward Salem has only expanded.

While awaiting the beginning of my next study abroad adventure, I’ve been spending the past few months living with my parents here in Salem, and growing fonder of the city every day. I have realized that everyone can find their niche within this city and join like-minded communities. This is where the casualness and modest size of Salem end up being great advantages. Connecting to and networking within communities on a more personal level can be done with ease, allowing you to explore or develop interests.

Finding “my place” in a bigger city like Seattle, especially within a short period of time, would be incredibly more difficult and stressful. With Seattle’s imposing size and high degree of “sophistication,” the ability to communicate interpersonally diminishes. At the same time, the number of barriers you need to cross multiplies.

The following photographs illustrate “my niche” in Salem. May these images remind you to reflect on and appreciate what Salem has to offer, those characteristics that make it a wonderful place to call home.



Waking up in my old bedroom always brings me comfort. No matter where I have been or what new experiences have come my way, this familiar sunrise and view into the backyard keep me grounded.



The Governor’s Cup Coffee Roasters: My go-to place to create, work, collaborate or share ideas. Pictured from left to right are Joseph and Jonathan Polivka, Western Mennonite School students whom I met briefly on a recent day.



A lone tree at Minto Brown Island Park, one of my favorite spots to connect with the outdoors. I relish the vast, open fields — something you can’t always find in bigger cities.



Yoga and meditation are developing interests of mine, essential to my sense of balance and well-being. Pictured: Instructor Michael Steinke playing the didgeridoo during a yoga practice at the Indigo Wellness Center.



Exploring Salem’s creative scene while channeling my own passion for the arts. Pictured: A wooden piece from Diane Jacobs’s “Wig” series, a part of her exhibit, (ex)change, at the Bush Barn Art Center.



My own vegetarianism and interest in well-balanced eating are complemented year-round by our healthy markets. In summer and fall, our farmers markets reap an abundance of local produce, while in winter and spring, places like Natural Grocers (pictured above) also provide fresh, organic food options.



And, of course, my niche in Salem is not complete without my wonderful family. Clockwise from lower left: Olivia Hovenden (niece), Connor Hovenden (nephew), Adriana Martinez (sister), Sofia Martinez (niece), Melanie Martinez (niece) and Rubi Hovenden (sister) enjoy dessert together at my parents’ kitchen table.

Antonia Decker, a sophomore at Seattle University, is currently back in Salem while awaiting her study abroad to Argentina in March. She enjoys creating photo essays, practicing yoga and exploring the wild outdoors of Oregon.