Impressions of the North
Essays about a Northwest Landscape
Part II: Landscapes of
Finding My Way Home
The Stehekin Valley is tucked away in the North
Cascades at the wild north end of Lake Chelan. No roads run to the
valley from the outside world. The only way to get there is by boat,
plane, or long hikes through the mountains.
Less than a hundred people live in this mountain
valley. It takes planning, effort, and time to leave Stehekin: a full
day's hike, a four-hour boat trip, or an expensive flight in a float
plane. Members of the Stehekin community are committed by isolation to
intimacy with each other and to the place.
Is it possible to be intimate with a mountain valley?
Intimacy seems too human a word to wrap around rock cliffs,
waterfalls, and winter storms. And yet I experienced intimacy with the
Stehekin Valley during the two years I lived there. Intimacy taught me
how to love a place and how to find my way home.
I first visited Stehekin in 1976 on my days off from
my wilderness ranger job in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. I was eager to
see the place I had heard so much about, this isolated and mountainous
valley with just a few, hardy people. So I hiked over Cascade Pass into
the Stehekin Valley, took the Park Service shuttle bus down the Stehekin
Road, and spent one night camped by Lake Chelan.
Journal, August 1976
I'm sitting in front of my tent in the late afternoon
sun. A fresh wind off the lake rustles the branches of pines overhead.
It would be hard to ever tire of this view.
Across the lake, rock fortress mountains rise
vertically from the blue water. To the right, the Stehekin River Valley
yawns green, hemmed in by ragged rock ridges. Far away, at the head of
the valley, I can see the snow capped peaks of the high Cascades. I was
up there this morning.
Cascade Pass! I hiked up the trail at a
see-how-fast-I-can-make-it speed, red-faced and sweating, feeling
strong, exhilaration mounting. A few last strides and I crested the
pass. I dropped my pack and felt like I could fly.
Sweet, heady smells rose from meadows warmed by the
sun. Cool winds bathed my hot face. The glacier-hung crags of
Johannesburg soared above on one side, Sahale Peak's meadowed shoulders
rolled upwards on the other. And below, beckoning me east: the Stehekin
I followed the trail down through the headwaters of
the Stehekin River. The stream trickled through mountain meadows, past
wind-twisted clumps of subalpine trees, and then plummeted into a forest
of hemlock and fir.
I rested for lunch beside a deep pool beneath a
waterfall. The water was a clear lens magnifying pebbles on the bottom of the
pool. I reached in for a speckled egg of granite. But the water was much
deeper than it looked and my hand came up dripping and empty.
Hours later, I stumbled into Cottonwood Camp, the end
of the trail. The river fans out there and flows slowly through the
sunlit flat. I sat on the riverbank, my sore feet in the water, watching
cutthroat trout shimmer in the shallows.
The Park Service shuttle rumbled up in a cloud of
dust. I climbed in and we lurched slowly down the rutted dirt road. Out
the dusty windows I saw Park and Agnes Creeks pour their milky glacier
water into the river. Bridge Creek added clear snowmelt. The river grew
into a raging turmoil of rapids and watetfalls. The roar of the water
was louder than the roar of the old van.
The steep granite walls of the valley opened wider as
we descended. The forest thinned and orange-barked ponderosa pine
replaced fir and cedar. We rounded a curve to a sweeping view of green
fields and grazing horses, with a large log cabin in the background. The
driver told us this was the Courtney Ranch, belonging to one of the
early homesteading families.
As we descended further, the river slowed and
meandered away from the road and then back again. More houses peeked
through the trees. We passed a 1950s car and a pickup truck that looked
as if it had been built before World War II. Residents barge cars and
trucks up the lake so they can drive up and
down the one-lane bumpy road that goes nowhere at
In the last few miles we could see Rainbow Falls,
cascading for 300 feet off a valley wall, and we passed the little log
cabin that houses the one-room school. The sunflowers and vegetable
gardens of the Honey Bear Bakery seemed too orderly in such a wild
place. Finally we glimpsed the blue expanse of Lake Chelan through the
Our bus trip ended at the town of Stehekin which hugs
the shore near where the Stehekin River flows into the lake. It consists
of boat docks, a cluster of houses, a lodge and visitor center for North
Cascades National Park, and some lakeside campsites.
After I made camp, I walked back up the road to the
bakery and then strolled to the school, cinnamon roll in hand. The door
was unlocked. Ten old-fashioned desks and a huge, old woodstove filled
the room. I sat in one of the desks and ate my roll while I looked
through student papers that had been left out for visitors to read.
I'd like to teach in that school someday. I long to
live in a place like Stehekin. It almost seems as if I could go back in
time here, to a simpler, safer era, where I might belong to a real
community and live more in touch with myself and my surroundings.
The next day I asked about the school and found out
that the teacher was well liked and planned to stay there for the rest
of his life. I left my lakeshore campsite, took the shuffle to the Agnes
Creek trailhead, and hiked the forested 20 miles to return to work
patrolling the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
By 1982, five years later, I had acquired a teaching
certificate, a husband, a daughter, and a job at a tribal school in
northwest Washington. When funding was cut at the school, my principal
suggested I start searching for another teaching position. There was
only one job posted at the college placement officeat the Stehekin
So I applied, with my husband Carey, and we were
hired as a teaching team. In August we barged an old pickup full of
household gear up the lake, and moved into a Park Service house with our
two-year-old daughter Erin. A week later we began teaching nine
children, from kindergarten to eighth grade, in the same little log
school I had found so enchanting years before.
Many of my memories of Stehekin have to do with
travelwalking to school each day, biking the 5 miles home at night
from my Park Service evening program, toiling up endless switchbacks to
the valley rim, cross-country skiing with a new baby riding behind,
bundled into a sled. I think I first got to know the place by traveling
through it in the course of my daily living.
The Stehekin River became almost a sentient being for
me. The river ran near our house; it ran near everybody's house. The river
created the valley and we were living in its course. I never felt it
begrudged us a flat spot, but then, I never lived through a flood.
Old-timers told stories of the river pouring through houses, sweeping
away bridges, and tearing up much of the roadbed, carrying it miles
downstream. During my time in Stehekin the river stayed pretty much
in its banks.
But the river talked to us. Day and night we listened
to its voices.
Journal, September 1982
I'm sitting by the woodstove at the school in the
early morning. The students won't be here for over an hour. I built a
fire so the school will be warm by the time they arrive. It felt good to
split wood; now my arms are as awake as my legs.
I walked to school this morning along the one-lane
road wedged between dark rock cliffs and the clear, green river. I
walked before sunrise. In the darkness, the sounds of the river guided
meso many different voices in the moving waterlike watery conversation. I
marvel that I only really seem to hear the river when my eyes aren't
Smells rose from the water, smells with no words to
quite fit themcold, fresh river smells. Morning breezes tossed around
the sweet scent of ponderosa pine. A sudden gust of cold wind down from
the cliffs brought the smell of snow.
I was breathing hard, coming up the hill before the
school. My eyes registered a large, dark shape ahead. It moved. I sucked
in my breath. A beara very large cinnamon black bear was lumbering
across the road in the dawn light. Thick fur bunched and relaxed with
each stride. Small eyes peered in my direction but the bear didn't slow
down, just padded off into the trees, heading for the apple orchard.
I ran the rest of the way to school, adrenaline
pumping. What a way to start the day!
The fire is crackling in the stove. I need to look
over my lesson plans so I will feel centered and ready for the kids when
they come through the door.
The Stehekin Valley changed the way I taught. The log
school building was very different from the modern structures down lake.
The woodstove provided the only heat and outhouses were the only
bathrooms. The school had no bells, telephones, or computers, and the
electricity was erratic. We kept kerosene lanterns on hand so classes
could continue whenever the power went out.
But the changes involved more than adjusting to a
rustic school building. The valley itself influenced the educational
process. Stehekin was safe enough that many children walked or rode
their bikes to school each day. Even first graders walked several miles
to school and back. The kids arrived awake, alert, and often full of
stories about what they had seen on their way to school.
School field trips were easy in Stehekin. We studied
stream ecology right out our back door in Rainbow Creek. We found
inspiration for creative writing and drawing by walking a quarter mile
to sit in the roar and mist of Rainbow Falls. In the fall we hiked up
into the mountains to study timberline ecology and abandoned gold
One sunny October morning, we walked the half mile to
the historic Buckner Orchard and pressed apple cider.
Journal, October 1982
We went to the Buckner Orchard today. The kids played
tag as they ran down the trail along the irrigation ditch. We left the
woods and entered the orchard to see McGregor Mountain rising skyward
behind the rows of apple trees. Its summit was white-tipped with new snow. I
wonder how long before snow falls down here in the valley.
The cold air smelled of wood smoke and rotting
apples. There are windfall apples all over the ground under the trees.
I'd like to come back at night to see bear and deer feeding. An old
horse-drawn plow was leaning against a rusting steam tractor at the edge
of the orchard, as if the farmer just stopped in the middle of a workday
and walked away.
Carey met us in the orchard with our old white pickup
truck. The kids chose a tree laden heavily with red apples gleaming
amidst clusters of green leaves. We backed the truck under the tree and
everyone started shaking the branches. Down thumped the fruit, filling
the bed of the truck.
We drove the apples to the cider press and the
younger kids began washing them and shoving them into the press. The
older ones took turns turning the crank. Amber juice gushed out. What a
tangy smell. We couldn't wait and slurped long drinks from the first
jug. Ahhh! Each of us took home a gallon of cider from school today. I
don't know if I'll ever be able to drink store-bought apple juice
In winter, the kids cross-country skied for physical
education, built snow forts at recess, and produced an elaborate
Christmas play. Half a dozen adults volunteered to help with the play
and every person in the valley came on the snowy night of our
When the snow melted in the spring we hiked along the
lakeshore to study limnology and rattlesnake life cycles. We studied
the history of the valley and created an exhibit for the Park Service
visitor center, with photographs and student writings about the history
of the school. In May, when tourists began to visit the national
park, students gave guided tours through the school each afternoon.
Sometimes I felt the Stehekin Valley did more of
the teaching than I did. The valley certainly amplified, illustrated,
and made memorable many of the lessons.
There were unspoken requirements for staying
year-round in Stehekin. The human community let us know in many
subtle ways that we needed to learn how to take care of ourselves.
I knew it would take a lifetime to really learn to be self-sufficient,
but we began to be aware of what our responsibilities might entail.
Most of our food was delivered by boat, from
the grocery store in Chelan, 50 watery miles away. We tried to
grow food in our garden and gather it from the wild. But gardens
were meager in the rocks and sand of the mountain valley, and
our palates, accustomed to romaine lettuce from California,
had trouble adjusting to steamed stinging nettles.
But each fall we picked as many apples as we
could use from the old Buckner Orchard. This historic site, now managed by the Park
Service, had once been a commercial orchard, the only profitable farming
ever done in the valley. The old trees were still producing common
delicious apples, a tasty ancestor of red and golden delicious. We
stored apples for the winter in a cool shed and made gallons and gallons
Our house was heated by wood, like most houses in the
valley. After we learned early on from friends that getting our own
firewood was one of the requirements for acceptance into the Stehekin
community, we bought a chain saw and learned how to cut down dead,
Firewood was rare and valuable because most of the
valley was within the national park where no woodcutting was allowed. I
soon found myself eyeing any dead tree as potential winter heat, as did
all other valley residents. People applied to the Park Service for
woodcutting permits for particular trees. If you noticed a dead tree,
you rushed to the park office to lay claim to it before someone else
Journal, November 1982
This morning, we picked up the permit for a big, dead
pine next to the road near our house. Then we headed out to cut our
first firewood. Carey fired up our new Stihl chain saw and started
cutting. Erin and I stood behind him at a safe distance and gave silent
He had cut the tree almost all the way through when
the wind blew it back toward us and it started falling in the wrong
direction. We all ran for dear life. The chain saw stalled as the weight
of the tree pinched the cut closed. But the tree didn't fall. It just
stood there, swaying in the wind.
The tree swayed back and forth, held upright only by
a few inches of wood. The stalled saw stuck horizontally out of the tree
trunk, looking like a bow tie. A stray gust from the wrong direction
could have toppled the tree down onto an unsuspecting passing car or
Erin and I stayed with the tree, ready to flag down
any vehicles that tried to drive past. Carey drove to a neighbor's and
sheepishly asked him to come help us free the saw. The neighbor thought
it was hilarious that we greenhorns had gotten ourselves in such a
He showed us how to use a wedge to remove the saw and
stayed to help buck up the tree once it was down. We learned today that
helping your neighbor is also highly prized in this valley. But I
suspect that it will take a long time before we outlive the stalled
chain saw jokes.
The seasons mattered in Stehekin. The weather was
more extreme than down lake, and we were less buffered from it than
people who lived near shopping malls, movie theaters, and bus lines.
When it snowed the drifts piled up enough to bury the picture window in our living room. The electrical
lines from the little valley hydroelectric plant would sag and short
out, leaving us living by candlelight.
When freezing rain fell, we couldn't drive to the
landing for the mail. When it rained the river swelled, the roar of
river growing louder, and sometimes we thought the bridge would wash
out. Sun, heat, and wind all made a difference in our daily patterns. We
had to adjust, adapt, to pay attention.
Weather was unpredictable and powerful, and human
contrivances couldn't always protect us from it. Walking to school
helped me notice the weather and the seasons as they turned. And I
learned that sometimes it is better to let the weather dictate my
actions, to go with it instead of trying to stand up against it.
Journal, January 1983
I woke up today to discover that more than 3 feet of
new snow had fallen in the night. Snow nearly buried our old pickup. The
truck looked organic, as if it grew where it stood. There was no choice
about transportation. The weather had decreed that I would walk to
school. I didn't even consider staying home. The teacher I'm replacing
never missed a day during his seven-year tenure.
It was dark when I walked out the door. There was no
wind. It was very quiet. All I could hear was the muffled hiss of
snowflakes falling through the air. The snow poured down like a powdery
curtain, parting to let me through and then closing, seamless, behind
I plowed my way through the soft, wet snow, leaving a
wide furrow. My legs began to ache. I felt no cold, only the weary heat
of deep, gasping breaths and burning muscles. My feet felt very heavy,
each step lifting clumps of wet snow.
The going was slow. It took me half an hour to travel
the forested half mile from home to the stretch along the base of the
cliffs, usually a ten-minute journey. At the cliffs, I lost track of
time and just focused on short-term destination. "I can rest at the big
boulder up ahead" or "count 150 steps and then stop."
Soon I was floundering in hip-deep snow, oddly
chunked and icy. Forward motion was nearly impossible; my legs felt
imprisoned. The only way to move was to lurch forward, flinging myself
up, bellyflat on the snow, and then crawling over the lumps for fifty
feet until reaching smoother snow.
I stood up as soon as I could and stumbled over to a
tree where I could lean and rest. I looked up in the half-light of dawn
to see that the snow had stopped falling.
After I caught my breath, I looked back at my tracks
and realized, with horror, that I had just crossed the path of a fresh
avalanche. It must have roared down from the cliffs above sometime during the
night. Tons of snow had smashed into the roadbed and spread into a thick
apron of snowy chunks, ice, and broken trees.
An urgent question swept over me: "What if it happens
again?" Without wasting time for thought, I ran clumsily through the
snow toward the school, my legs powered by fear.
Two more fresh avalanche piles blocked the final half
mile. But turning back was just as dangerous as going forward. So I
clambered over the lumpy surface of each, looking upward, listening for
an ominous roar.
When I finally reached the porch of the school, I
fell through the front door and collapsed into a chair with exhaustion.
What a commute to work!
It is now midmorning. The snowblower just came by,
clearing the road. The kids should be able to get here by lunchtime. The
driver slowed down and yelled to me, "Are those your tracks in the snow
up the road?" I shouted back, "Yes!" He bellowed, "Were you trying to
kill yourself? An avalanche came down and covered your tracks."
Experiences like this taught me it is impossible to
ignore geography when you live in a place like Stehekin. Weather and
avalanches and rivers and mountains force themselves into your life.
People make their livings within and because of the place. It has daily,
hourly significance. It is part of the way the valley defines who you
are and how you will live.
It was hard to leave Stehekin for a weekend, so we
rarely went down lake. We committed ourselves to staying in one place
for most of the year. And there was not much room to move around in that
place, at least compared to the 100-mile jaunts to Seattle I had thought
of as day trips. We traveled up and down the 20-mile road, mostly within
the lower 5 miles, and explored a mile or so on either side of the road
before hitting impassable cliffs.
When we did leave to visit family in Seattle I found
it hard to readjust to the frenetic pace and gray walls of the city. The
noise and stimuli were overwhelming. I could not wait to get back home
Journal, April 1983
The Lady of the Lake just passed Moore Point and
the Stehekin Valley came into view. I heaved a great sigh of relief. The
familiar shoreline, trees, and mountains give me a powerful sense of
contentment and safety. I am coming home.
We've changed houses twice since coming to live in
Stehekin, but I find that houses don't matter too much to me here. The
whole river valley is my home, not just the four walls of a house. I have
never felt this way before about a piece of geography.
I wonder if my sense of the whole valley as my home
is similar to how Native Americans used to feel when they returned to a
regular place on their seasonal round. I imagine them paddling up this
lake in their canoes, coming within sight of the valley and knowing that
this place offered food, shelter, and safety, that this place would take
care of them, that they were coming home.
The pace of life slowed during our sojourn in
Stehekin, maybe because we lived close to organic rhythms and there was
not a lot of urban "noise," like freeway traffic, shopping malls, and
television ads, to drown the rhythms out. On some days I spent hours
writing long letters to friends and family or reading books. Other days
were spent wandering the lakeshore, building mud castles with Erin by
the river, or weeding the garden. I do not remember ever being in a
We spent much of our time out-of-doors. There were
fewer distractions than in the outside world. I became more aware and
responsive to subtle meanings and events. I noticed when a tree lost its
leaves in the fall. I woke at night when rock slides clattered off
nearby cliffs. I learned to tell winter temperature by the sound of the
river. When it was warm up high, snow melted, swelling the river and
making it roar more loudly.
Stehekin had no phones and no television during our
time there. Well, that is not quite true. Two families had installed
satellite dishes, but most of us survived quite well without Perry Mason
reruns and Super Bowls. No phones meant messages had to be delivered in
person or by mail. People showed up at each other's doors without
warning, and dropping in on your neighbor was a welcomed and well-practiced
No television meant we had to entertain ourselves. It
was a big event just to go get the mail and it was very exciting to play
bridge on Tuesdays. And . . . wow! What a heart-stopper to see a rented,
16mm movie once a month at the old fish-hatchery building. We held a
square dance once or twice a winter, and even those who hated each other
or were on opposite ends of an argument would do-si-do and allemande
We had a second child during our time in Stehekin
and the place gave us precious time to get to know our newborn son.
I did not work at the school the second year. I stayed home and
enjoyed being a mother animal.
I have felt my animal connections most powerfully
during pregnancy, child-birth, and the first few months of my babies'
lives. Instincts kicked in and overrode all the cerebral chatter
about humans being logical, superior, independent beings.
Journal, November 1983
The cool fall sunshine is filtering through the
tangle of brownish-red maple leaves that are left on the tree in our
yard. I just spent a blissful hour lying in the leaves with
one-month-old Alden sleeping on my stomach. I could look up and see the
rock teeth of Sisi Ridge chewing on an iridescent blue sky.
I felt euphoric and content lying there. I didn't
need to go anywhere, I didn't need to do anything. My task was to let
goto lie there and breathe, to feel my baby's heartbeat, to feel
my breasts swell with milk, and to wrap my arms around my soft, yielding
bundle of baby to protect him from tumbling into the fallen leaves.
I am enough. My animal self is enough. Time stands
still. I am at peace.
Children lived outside much of the time in Stehekin
and were free in a way most children never experience. Parents might not
have even known where their offspring were playing during the day, but
it did not matter. Because if a child was old enough to stay away from
rattlesnakes and out of the river, there was nothing else likely to hurt
them. Kids who lived in Stehekin developed a strong sense of
personal freedom which allowed them to feel
comfortable exploring their place.
Our daughter was two when we moved to
Stehekin. She came to awareness in
a place where she knew everyone by name, where every
truck that went by had a driver who waved. When we attended community
meetings she went too, and played hide-and-seek with the other kids
outside while the adults deliberated. When we had a square dance, the
kids danced too. Children were expected at every community event; they
were welcomed and celebrated.
Journal, June 1984
Erin wanted to walk to her friend Corey's house by
herself today. She is four years old and he lives a quarter mile away
via dirt road. If we lived anywhere else, I wouldn't even consider
letting her go. But what can hurt her here? She has a chance to try out
her fierce new sense of independence. I wonder if kids were physically
independent this early in the olden days?
I watched her heading off down the dusty road wearing
her little backpack. I kept my eyes on her until she turned into the
wooded driveway to Corey's house. I ran to the turn in time to see her
knocking proudly on his front door.
I treasured the friendships we made while living in
Stehekin. It took months, even years, before some people accepted us as
part of the community. But when it happened we felt honored. I had not
experienced a real community before then, at least not at the level of
intensity offered by Stehekin.
Those of us who lived there had chosen to share the
same small, contained piece of the Earth. We had to pay attention to
each other and we could not run away from conflict. Most valley
residents planned to stay for their whole life, so relationships were,
by definition, long-term. But that didn't mean we always got along.
Only eighty people lived in Stehekin year-round while
we were there. It was an explosive mix of varying values: Park Service
employees, resort workers, middle-aged hippies, property-rights
activists, and the descendants of the original homesteaders. Valley
residents rarely agreed on any issue, and tempers flared regularly, with
greater frequency in midwinter when cabin fever made all of us more
Our first winter there erased any illusions I had
held about people living in harmony in this mountain paradise. What I
found instead was a microcosm of the same problems and conflicts played
out in larger scale in the outside world. But problems in Stehekin took
on greater intensity due to the intimacy forced on us by the walls of
Controversy swirled around issues like trapping
animals, hunting, land ownership, and water rights. Most of the
arguments had to do with whether the valley's future should be decided
by the National Park Service or the local residents.
Locals felt they ought to be trusted to develop a
community that would not spoil the character of the place. The Park
Service argued that outside developers could come in and turn the valley
into a commercial nightmare. Neither side trusted the other.
While we were in Stehekin, Park Service wildlife
experts began pointing out that dead trees in the lower valley should be
left standing for wildlife habitat. Environmentalists from outside the
valley demanded that residents in Stehekin barge firewood up the lake
instead of cutting dead trees.
Most people who lived in the valley thought it was
ridiculous to barge wood up to a valley that was covered with forest. A
huge debate raged, and I think still rages, over who has the rights to
dead trees. And this is just a mild example of environmental debates in
Carey and I often were caught in the middle of valley
controversy. At first, since neither of us worked for the Park Service,
locals would talk to us. We were environmentalists and did not own land
and Park Service families invited us to dinner. For awhile, we were
perceived by both sides as being somewhat neutral. As a result we had
friends with widely divergent opinions on valley politics.
By the end of our second year in Stehekin, I had
begun to understand some of what it meant to live there. It was no
Shangri-la, no place to escape the harsh realities of life. The valley
was a home for our small clan of the human species. We were
all very different, but we shared a common bond: we had chosen to live
here. And that was enough of a connection to make community
I discovered community did not mean a group of happy-go-lucky
friends living together in harmony, but rather a group of animals who
shared the same habitat. We all derived our livelihood from the same
place, which also gave us our shelter, food, water, and safety. And we
shared responsibilities toward each other and toward the place, even if
we did not like it.
Journal, July 1984
Intimacy with this mountain valley has taught me how to live close
to the ground, to pay attention to the details, and to respond to natural
rhythms. I am learning to love this place.
Everywhere I've lived has changed me, but Stehekin is working a major
revision on my soul. I'm at peace here in a way I have never been
before. My place defines me and gives me value. I have meaning because
of where I live, not because of anything I have done or will do. This
place has slowed me down, turned up my senses, and helped me to stop
striving. I feel content just to be, to live, and to let events happen
instead of having to control what happens.
I am taken by the giant processes so obviously at work in Stehekin. Rock
slides and avalanches and slow erosion have put me in my place. I am
hungry for experiences that belittle me. I crave the epiphany that comes
with the realization that I don't really matter very much in the big
scheme of things. Why do I find this reassuring? It baffles me, but I
do. Maybe because I am in charge too much and need the balance of being
overwhelmed by things bigger and more powerful than myself.
Like all animals, I am molding myself to the wild habitat in which I
flourish. My body, personality, and soul are adapting to this place. My
children are being poured into this valley while they are still young
enough to be fluid. I know they will wear the imprint of Stehekin for
years to come.
I wonder who we will become if we spend the rest of our lives here?
But we didn't spend the rest of our lives in Stehekin. One July day we
got word that a family was moving away, taking three children out of the
school. The regular teacher had returned from his leave of absence and
had first rights to the head teacher job. There were not enough children
left to justify two teachers.
Carey was ready to leave anyway. He was uncomfortable with valley
politicsespecially when he and I took different sides on an
issueand he wanted to go to graduate school in Seattle. But most
importantly, neither of us was willing or able to make the commitment to
stay without a full-time professional salary. Staying
would have meant earning a meager living doing odd
jobs and seasonal work.
That fall we moved from Stehekin, with eighty people,
to Seattle, with half a million.
Journal, September 1984
We left Stehekin by floatplane today. I had trouble
holding back tears as we climbed from the dock into the plane. The
engine roared and the plane skimmed up the lake, taking off into the
wind. I took one last look up the valley that has been my home. The
plane banked and turned down lake, toward civilization. I felt part of
myself being ripped away. I felt pulled up by the roots. I couldn't bear
to look back. It hurt too much.
That evening we sat in the living room of our new
house in Seattle. Four-year-old Erin looked out the window at a pickup
truck roaring by on the busy street. She asked, innocently, "Who was
WENDY WALKER teaches environmental education at
Western Washington University's Huxley College of Environmental Studies
in Bellingham. She has published two books and numerous articles. She
has lived in the shadow of the North Cascades for over thirty years and
attributes what sanity she retains in midlife to time spent hiking and
camping in these mountains.