Thursday, September 27, 2012

This week at Holden

"What we have in common is a love for the world so fierce it makes us edgy."
-Pam Houston, Contents May Have Shifted

Camping sans tent, Miner's Ridge, September 15, 2012

This week at Holden, smoke from the Wenatchee forest fire enveloped the mountains. During the afternoon smoke made Buckskin Mountain and Martin Ridge look hazy, like a poorly developed picture.  At night, smoke made the moon seem foreboding, a glimmer of yellow light in a cloud-streaked sky.   Smoke made our throats scratchy and our sunsets spectacular.  Those who work outside all day wore masks, like dental hygienists, filtering the air through a thin layer of white paper. 

Last weekend, because of smoke and trail closures, I stayed in Holden Village instead of hiking.  I went to both early breakfast and regular breakfast, conversing with friends over coffee in the dining hall.  I went to Saturday text study.  I logged work hours at the school—wiping windows and desks and planning PE activities.  I read a fourth grade science text book and started designing ecology lessons for the upcoming weeks.  I listened to David James Duncan’s novel The River Why on audiobook while I did laundry, mopped my bedroom floor, and cleaned my bathroom.  I went to a “sexy Christmas” costume party for Holden staff’s September birthdays (think nine months prior to September and the theme makes sense) where I ate stuffed mushrooms and drank Fat Tire on the front porch of Chalet Three then danced till almost one am, spinning in circles in a tinsel-strung room where someone’s Macbook played songs spanning from Old Crow Medicine show’s “Wagon Wheel” to Rhianna’s “Umbrella.”
Fall is my favorite time of year.   Particularly at night.  The air seems dense, not humid-dense, but thick with change.  Cold winds follow warm winds and in between the air stills.  This is the time of year when I learned to love running, the time of year when I went on Chicago trips in college, the time of year when I fell in love with a blonde bearded boy on a camping trip in graduate school.  The trees begin to yellow in the first splinters of cold.  The air feels electric with the changing weather.   

In his memoir The Necessity of Empty Places, Paul Gruchow writes about birds and “migratory restlessness.”  Even in captivity, birds choose the south side of their cage in autumn and the north side in spring.  They eat more, molt, and pace more.  Without ever having migrated, domestic bird bodies know that the changing season means it’s time to move.

I believe in the progression and spontaneity but I also love the idea that we know and need ritual—that even the most transient human’s impulses root back to our bodies, our own version of “migratory restlessness.”  I like to imagine myself evolving every autumn.  I can trace back the person I was from year to year by the way I felt when the leaves first started to change.  

I think of a night spent dancing in the YMCA dining hall with my friend Amy to the Garden State soundtrack last October and my first drive to the Pacific coast last November.  I think of my trip to Warren Dunes two years ago and a drive I did during the earliest moments of autumn the same year, a Labor Day trek back to Michigan where I danced with strangers on Belle Isle in Detroit, ate perogies in Hamtramck, and stayed up all night talking with a writer I liked in Ann Arbor.  I think of sitting on my brother's porch in Valparaiso, bundled in blankets, listening to Sea Wolf while our breath froze in the November night air.  I think of my first fall in graduate school:  going to workshop and then out to the bar with friends who, like me, had just decided to commit three years of their life to writing.  I think of us drinking beer and talking about craft, writing, the West, Cormac McCarthy, Rick Bass, and Sherman Alexi during our first autumn together.

Autumn feels as grafted on my body as any instinct. For me, the compulsion to travel, the yearning to sleep outside, and the habit of sitting on the porch talking or reading late into the night, signify the shifting of seasons as much as pumpkin-spiced baked goods, bonfires, sweaters, or the start of school. My own "migratory restlessness" feels most focused in fall and I’ve learned to ritualize this restlessness with camping trips and road-trips, long walks, trail runs, and conversations with strangers. 
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ritual.  I live in a place steeped in habit.  At Holden, tradition dictates our day:  breakfast at 8:30, coffee break at 10:00, lunch at noon, dinner at 5:00, vespers at 7:30.  We eat hard boiled eggs and sweet bread Sunday morning, pancakes on Tuesday morning, eggs on Thursday morning, and hot cereal every other day.  There's "Hunger Awareness" rice Thursday afternoon, fish and kale on Friday, and dessert on Sunday nights.  Before the Holden Mine remediation started the Village only served meat at Saturday dinner but now it's become a part of some of our daily soups, and a feature of the early breakfast served for the remediation workers every morning at 6:30. 

My two favorite Holden services are the same every week: “Vespers ‘86” and “Prayer around the Cross”, our Friday and Saturday services.  During “Prayer around the Cross” we gather in darkness, chant (hymns from Taize, a religious community in France), light candles, lay hands, sing, pray, and mediate.  During Vespers ’86, we sing a service written at Holden in the winter of ’86 when Marty Haugan served as village musician.  Despite the fact Haugan wrote Vespers ’86 only twenty-six years ago, the music and lyrics feel old, rooted in a liturgical tradition that valued simplicity and reflection.  There’s nothing flashy about the music but each week when I sing Haugan’s line, “Make us shine with gentle justice,” I feel the weight of each word, the way I savor my favorite novels and poems. 

I love the structure of my days here in Holden Village.  It leaves me with manageable spaces that I tend to fill with things like reading and writing, running and conversation because they’re time periods which lend themselves to short bursts of personal fulfillment and productivity—the two hours between when I wake and the start of school (when I often run or linger over long breakfast conversations), the thirty minutes between the end of my work day and dinner (when I read), the hour and a half between dinner and vespers, the three hours between vespers and bed.  Routine gives my day shape but I also appreciate the breaks in structure.  I loved backpacking to Miner’s Ridge two weekends ago and dancing till late into the night last Saturday.  I love conversations that expand beyond the expected small talk.  A week ago, when I got to dinner, instead of asking me about my day, someone at my table asked me: What's the most interesting thing you've ever done?, starting a table-wide conversation that lasted almost two hours.  We shared the best book we’d read in the past three months and the summer movies we’d seen.  We listed our top five films and talked about our favorite non-fiction texts.  We discussed about Junot Diaz and Jhumpa Lahiri, Naomi Klein and Malcom Gladwell, The Departed and Aladdin.  We lingered around our coffee cups and empty plates while the tables around us cleared.  I hated leaving the table that night, because I have no place built into my week for those kind of conversations, they spring up spontaneously and I don’t ever know when I’ll get to have another one.
That's how autumn is.  The changing of seasons catches me off guard, giving weight to things I might otherwise find ordinary.  In fall, I find myself not only going on camping trips at Warren Dunes or hiking five mile sand spits on the coast or driving to Michigan to meet a man whose writing I admire for a beer, but lingering in normal moments while they happen, taking the time to appreciate the conversations I have and the letters I receive and the way the sun streaks the mountains when I go running in the morning.  This week I find myself thinking: What details will I want to recall when I think back on the last week of my first month in Holden?

I'll want to remember the way the sun was last night: red against the smoke and the mountains, making the whole valley look volcanic.  I'll want to remember a conversation I had with my friend Ben during a run that became a walk and then a sit as we continued to talk about life and love and death and the inevitability of sorrow while dangling our feet above Railroad Creek.  I'll want to remember a care package I received from a family that I love which contained a poem written by their two children titled, "Orange things will take you far" and I'll want to remember watching three elementary school students I teach tromping around Chalet Hill barefoot, dressed in vests and rolled up jeans, holding sticks, playing "hobbits."  I'll want to remember breakfast discussion I had with a three year-old about who was more curious: me or him.  You can't be more curious than me, he kept saying, it's not possible.  I'll want to remember sitting on the porch of the Village Center, eating chocolate peanut butter ice cream and listening to a man with a guitar and long blonde hair singing "Garden Party" and "Christ for President."  

I'll want to remember that a friend of a friend called "Prayer Around the Cross," my favorite service at Holden, "Cry Around the T" and that when I heard him say it the ritual felt, not trivialized, but more important.  Sometimes we need to gather together in darkness with candles and song.  Sometimes we need to come forward, in sadness or happiness, regret or release, or even in joy and gratitude, to cry around the "t."  We need that kind of weight in our weeks.

My friend Sally, on an early fall hike to Upper Lyman Lake, September 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Miner's Ridge

“I have spent my life trying to understand why this rock and this ache go together, why a granite peak is more dramatic half dressed in clouds…why sunlight under fog is better than the sum of its parts, why my best days and my worst days are always the same day, why (often) leaving seems like the only solution to loving.”-Pam Houston, Contents May Have Shifted

Miner's Ridge lookout with Glacier Peak in the background, September 2012

In 2003 my family went skiing in Winter Park, Colorado.  I don’t remember the names of any of the runs where we skied.  I don’t remember a single meal we ate.  I couldn’t give you details about our accommodations.  What I remember is taking the lift up to the top of the mountain with my friend Eric and skiing off the lift to a place where nothing but the thick cover of clouds crested above us.  Instead of skiing down, Eric and I collapsed into a heap of powder, which felt soft around our bundled-up bodies.  Snow cradled my legs and shoulders.  Cold reddened my cheeks.  I spread my arms wide, snow-angel style.  Eric and I lay there for minutes, watching our breath swirl in clouds around our bodies before I leaned to look at him.  “Can’t we just live here?” I asked.  We silenced.  I tried to hold onto that moment.  That moment: of being buried in powder on the top of the mountain--wanting to stay--even as I knew that within the next five minutes we would start skiing down toward lower lifts, our families, and hot chocolate at the mountain’s base.

In one of my favorite Stuart Dybek stories, “Paper Lantern,” a man and a woman watch a building burn along a river in Chicago.  The man snaps a photo of the woman at the exact moment the flames burst forward, capturing the glow of the blaze on her face.  Later, when the woman remembers the photo, she says to the man, “[Most] of the moments in our lives go out of existence before we’re conscious of having lived them.  It’s only a relatively few moments that we get to keep and carry with us for the rest of our lives.  Those moments are our lives.  Or maybe it’s more like those moments are the dots in what we call our lives of the lines we draw between them, connecting them into imaginary pictures of ourselves.”  She tells the man if she hadn’t met him, she wouldn’t have been on a bridge watching a fire and notes, “Maybe that’s what falling in love means: the power to create for each other the moments by which we define ourselves.”

For me, the moment on the mountain with Eric was not a moment of falling in love with a person but a moment of falling in love with a landscape, one of many moments scattered throughout my childhood and adolescence when I knew I wanted to move west.  I grew up in Metro-Detroit and didn’t see my first mountain at until age ten in Missoula, Montana.  On the flight to Missoula I saw silhouettes of the Rockies but it wasn’t until morning when Dad opened the hotel mini-blinds that I first saw a mountain in full form: rising from the earth cloaked in prairie grass and fir trees, less pointy and snow-covered than the peaks I’d seen in pictures.  The same day, hiking up to the “M” shaped out of gravel in the foothills above the University of Missoula, I tripped and fell.  My parents had to ask the hotel we’d already check out of to let us use the pool shower to wash my scraped up arms and legs, and my skinned back, knees, and palms with soap and warm water.  Mom sprayed canned peroxide on the places on my back where rocks pocked the skin raw.  Even bloodied and battered, I knew I wanted to move back to a place like Missoula.  I pictured myself serving coffee in the diner where we ate breakfast or gardening in the bungalows that lined the neighborhoods near the university.  Later, when we drove north to stay at a ranch in the Mission Mountains, I imagined doing farm-work or baking bread for tourists.  I wanted to be a University of Missoula college student, a ranch hand, a cook, or a cowboy.

In August of 2011, during my first move to Washington, I stopped in Missoula.  I stayed at Hutchins Hostel: a backpackers’ boardinghouse owned by a man who studied environmental science at University of Missoula with a vegetable garden in front and chickens in back.  I placed my duffel on the bottom bunk of a cedar bed, slipped on sandals and a backpack and hiked toward the same “M”-marked foothill I’d fallen on as a child.  I hiked switchbacks in the August heat, sun beating down on my un-shaded body as I moved high above the city.  I crouched in the thistles and looked out at the river and the stadium, the library, and the city center.  I felt myself growing surer of my steps as I moved up and then down the trail.  When I reached the trail’s bottom, I picnicked on the university campus, eating tomatoes and goat cheese on whole wheat pita bread I’d made back in Michigan.  There I was: a foot taller and fifteen years older than I’d been my first trip to Missoula, my car packed with clothes and backpacking gear, mason jars, prayer flags, and paperback books, ready to move to a state cut by mountains, streaked by rivers, and bordered by Pacific Coast.
Missoula, Montana, Summer 2011
I saw Glacier Peak for the first time in June of 2011, on a hike to Cloudy Pass.  I was traveling with friends who knew Railroad Creek Valley well enough to find a path through snow which started at the Lyman Lake Switchbacks, four miles from the top of the trail.  We skidded out onto an ice-covered Lyman Lake and passed fir trees blanketed by ten foot snowdrifts.  At first we moved uphill in a line, testing the slipperiness of the snow, but as we neared the top, we scurried and slid, sledding on our snowshoes when the trail sloped down.  We picnicked at the pass, angling our bodies so we could see Glacier Peak, sprawling above the rest of the Cascades.  Unlike the other Cascade composite volcanoes you can’t see Glacier Peak from any major metropolitan area.  Despite the fact Glacier Peak lies only seventy miles northeast of Seattle, its smaller summit (at 10, 541 it’s still 4,000 feet shorter than Rainier) and its place in the center of the Cascades make it a mountain best seen from trails and valleys you can only hike to.  I’d never seen a mountain so sprawling and remote, and after I finished my sandwich I strapped my snowshoes back on to scramble up the trails above the pass for a better view.  Despite my wet socks and the glare of the sun beating on the mountain snow, I couldn’t sit still in the presence of that peak. 

Until this past weekend, I’d never hiked past the point in Cloudy Pass where we’d scrambled that day.  I’d never taken the hiker’s cutoff down the steep slopes behind Cloudy, crossing the county line into the Darrington ranger district.  I’d stuck to hikes I could do in a day and stayed in or above Railroad Creek Valley. 
Miner's Ridge fire watch tower, shortly after sunrise
We started our 38-mile (roundtrip) trek to Miner's Ridge last Saturday at 8:30 am.  Sally, Scott, Seth, and I met in front of the Holden Village Hike Haus and started on the trail toward Hart Lake, Lyman Lake, Cloudy Pass, and Image Lake.  We wrestled our packs onto our backs and re-adjusted our waist straps.  We joked about camping in the village or at the ball field right next to the wilderness area to spare our backs, shoulders, and hamstrings the (almost) forty miles of hiking with a pack.  It took us till lunch to reach Cloudy Pass where we ate sandwiches and oranges on boulders that overlooked Lyman Lake.  We whistled at marmots.  We chatted with hunters when they passed us dressed in blaze orange, hauling their backpacks and rifles. 

We descended down the hiker’s cut-off after eating, dropping hundreds of feet on a rocky trail which snaked between boulders square enough to roll your ankle or bruise your foot if you stepped wrong. We caught glimpses of new mountains, mountains whose names I didn't yet know, as we walked through sub-alpine forests which smelled crisper than lowland woods. After miles of curving through trees and moving up and down slopes, we came out in a field with full view of Glacier Peak. The openness of of the grassland punctuated the craggy cliffs and glacial fields above us.

"It’s so pretty,” I said, then stopped, “that’s not the right word.” 

Scott called it “sublime”--the kind of pretty that makes you terrified, a beauty which takes your breath away then makes you laugh.

When we hiked toward Image Lake and Miners Ridge, Sally, Scott, Seth, and I sometimes silenced.  Sometimes we laughed or swore or jumped up-and-down.  Once or twice, I sank to my knees, stooping to take in the land all around me.  I imagined how glaciers scraped the mountains into chiseled rock and snow rising above fields lush with late summer flowers.

As we pressed forward, we got nuzzled by horses that grazed in mountain grass.  We laughed as their noses brushed our cheeks and their necks jostled our backpacks.  Every corner I turned, I wanted to stay.  Sally and I wanted to sit, to roll down the hillside with our arms spread wide, to linger for photos and conversation and dinner but Scott, who had hiked to Miner’s Ridge before, pushed us forward, “It gets better.”

We picnicked by Image Lake, a small pool of clear water surrounded by mountain summits, eating homemade granola and peanut butter sandwiches and dark chocolate my friend Liz sent from Ashland, Oregon.  We watched the early evening sun streak the foothills gold and saw the first reflections of nightfall in the lake-water.

Miner’s Ridge is almost exactly a mile from Image Lake.  We hiked switchbacks that ended on a thin strip of land surrounded by mountains.  We dropped our backpacks and unrolled our sleeping bags below a historic fire lookout tower.  From where we set up camp we could see Glacier Peak’s snow-covered summit looming above the rest of the Cascades.  We could point out trails and lakes and landmarks as if we were standing on the top of a topography map. 

Sally, Scott, Seth, and I climbed the fire watch tower where we met a volunteer ranger named George, who slept in a room at the top of the tower with windowed walls and a wood-burning stove.  We took pictures from the tower’s balcony.  We made small talk with George about hiking and conservation and fire-watching while we stared at Glacier’s Peak’s glacial fields.  Later, we climbed the tower again to see the sun set.  We watched the sky go from blue to gold to pink as the sun dipped below the mountain.  The colors beamed off the rock and snow.  The winnowing light shadowed the valley.  I thought of a line from Pam Houston's memoir Contents May Have Shifted:  “If I die tonight it will be with every single thing unfinished (like, I suppose, any other night), and yet, what a gift to die on the verge of tears.”  That is what I thought, sitting on the Miner’s Ridge fire lookout watching the sun set on Glacier Peak.  That is what I thought, lying in my sleeping bag with scrubby mountain vegetation below me and stars blanketing the sky above me.  That is what I thought, the next morning when I woke at 5:15 to the first rays of sun kissing the cliff-tops.  What a gift.  What a gift. What a gift.
Miner's Ridge, September 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Holden Village

“This counting of steps. This counting of scars
in the bark: the warty burl bulging low
on the trunk, the black-scratchings left
by the bear learning to climb. This counting
 of sleeps between this country & the next country
we call home.”
-“Bell”, Cecily Parks (read in Orion magazine my first afternoon in Holden Village)


I live in a village you cannot drive to--a village with no cell phone reception and one satellite phone used only for emergencies. A village with no grocery stores, no hospitals, no shopping malls, no restaurants, no liquor stores, no drug stores. A village that produces its own power using a hydroelectric plant. A village that receives its mail by boat. A village with one church, one school, one dining hall, one ice cream shop, one coffee cart, and one gift shop. A village edged by Cascade cliffs and wilderness areas so remote and well-preserved that the forestry service requires crews to clear trails using long saws rather than chain saws.

In Holden Village, you arrive by water. It’s a ritual: parking at Field’s Point landing, buying a ticket, boarding the boat. The first time I made the trip I camped in the parking lot with friends. We set up our tent on the asphalt and slept side-by-side on the pavement. We woke with oily skin and stiff backs and drove to the closest gas station we could find to buy donuts, granola bars, and individually packed bowls of cereal for breakfast. We washed our faces and brushed our teeth in the public restroom then funneled down to the dock with packs on our backs, duffels on our shoulders, and wheeled bags rolling behind us. We bought tickets at a booth set up beside the dock, tucking our ticket stubs into the safest pockets of our wallets. We snapped photos when we boarded the boat, climbed the ramp from the dock and then the stairs to the top deck. We sat in the open air, bundled in mittens and jackets and watched as the mountains went from sparse and scrappy to craggy and lush.

I arrived in Holden Village twelve days ago. I took a yellow school bus with the name “Honey” painted across the front up switchbacks for eleven miles from the boat landing at Lucerne. I sat next to a boy from Gabon who was headed to Holden Village as a guest singer in the gospel choir. We watched Lake Chelan disappear beneath switchbacks. We sat on green leather bus seats reading our respective novels until the bus stopped short of the village and the driver turned to give us details about the village.

Holden consists of a collection of lodges and chalets, a dining hall, a school, a library, and church. Some of the lodges serve dual purposes. For example: housing and laundry, housing and hike house, housing and nurse’s office. Each chalet has a flower box full of marigolds, a porch swing, and a flag.  From the place where the bus stopped I could see Chalet One’s Canadian flag, slumped in the still air.  My friend Ben sat on the Chalet One porch swing playing guitar with a pink-haired girl stooped beside him. The sun beamed off the mountain peaks behind Chalet Hill.  Villagers sat on the sloped grass near the Village Center waving.  Ron, a friend from last summer, greeted me with a button-shaped sign painted with the words “Rachael TA.” Later, when I arrived in my room I found a white card with the words “Welcome Back to Holden” written inside, propped on the desk beside my bed.


 Last year during my first few weeks in Washington, I kayaked the Puget Sound every night. I splashed through salt water, provoking the cove’s bio-luminescent phytoplankton to sparkle around the wake of my paddle. I paddled toward the mouth of Henderson Bay where moonlight-dappled Mount Rainier dominated the horizon. I waited for the water to still with my legs propped up on my kayak. I sat beneath the stars until my damp jeans sent me back shivering toward the dock. I climbed into my bed each night smelling of saltwater.

The view of Lower Lyman Lake, hiking down from Upper Lyman
Lake, 9/8/12

My first day in Holden Village I hiked twenty miles by myself. I woke at six, ate oatmeal in the dining hall, and bagged two sandwiches from the hiker bar. I carried a backpack with water, food, and field guides, and checked out at the village’s Hike House. I moved fast, covering the first five miles in less than an hour and a half.  I felt the swell of lactic acid rising in my calves. Sweat dampened my t-shirt. When I started up the switchbacks toward Lyman Lake and saw the shape and snow of Dumbbell Mountain come into clear view, I set down my pack and stopped to photograph the cliffs combing the blue sky. When I arrived at Lyman, I sat for a full twenty minutes, staring at the mountain lake’s Disney-blue water, before mounting the final miles to Cloudy Pass, switch-backing through wildflowers toward mountain ridges which traverse the Pacific Crest Trail at some of its prettiest points.  I listened to the screech of marmots, scrambled up rocky crests for views of Glacier Peak, and dropped to my stomach to photograph flowers recently sprung from the melt of high-country snow.

As my body tired, my mind cleared.  Mountain ridges rose on either side of the trail where I trekked. I thought, one day I will ache for this landscape¬Ache. The thought felt as defined as something I’d read in the book.

I’ve hiked over sixty miles during my first twelve days in Holden Village. That doesn’t count the miles I run in the morning before breakfast or the two mile jogs to the Glacier Peak Wilderness area my friend Ben and I (sometimes) do at night after he gets off work. It doesn’t count the miles I trek back and forth across the village when I run errands or the short nature hikes I take with children at the school where I work. Those sixty miles are weekend hiking miles, covered over three long treks--all-day trips which tested my legs and back. Next weekend, when I backpack to Image Lake with friends, I’ll add forty more miles onto my mountain tally. I like to think I’m getting stronger--that by the end of my year here, I’ll move through the Cascades with the mountain-goat ease some of my co-workers exhibit.

Martin Ridge, 9/1/12
“I don’t know why I like hiking so much,” a friend said, during a hike on my third day in Holden, as we stood with our palms on our knees, breathing thin air, downing gulps of water from the bottles we carried on our backs. “It’s something masochistic. It can’t be just the views; we live in an age where I could stream this stuff on Youtube.”

We hiked Martin Ridge that day, bush-whacking and scrambling over 7,000 feet above the valley.  We felt the hardness of the landscape in our weathered hands and aching muscles.  We walked narrow paths bordered by scree slides.  Rocks skittered beneath our feet, highlighting our height above the valley.  We arrived back at Holden Village thirteen hours after we began our hike with sore backs, swollen knees, and cotton-dry mouths.  When we got within a half mile of Holden we flicked off our headlamps and let the lights from the lodges light our way into the village, leading us back to glasses of orange juice and leftover pie in the dining hall.


I’ve worked in the Holden Village School for five days. The entire village celebrated the first day of school with a parade that lasted most of the morning. A school bus with “La Paz” painted across the front picked up the school’s eleven students from their chalet homes that dot the hill less than a quarter mile from the building where they attend school. Villagers in costumes interrupted the bus with mock emergencies: A fire drill which required the students to exit the bus, a leaky toilet rigged to shoot water in the air while operations workers (men in their early twenties wearing jean shorts and tie-die) danced in circles around the road, and an ice cream shop blockade where employees in medieval costumes demanded students dance for milkshakes and free desert coupons. Our school staff—John, the high school teacher, Jeanne, the elementary school teacher, and me--blocked the bus with a “staff breakfast” of peanut butter sandwiches, coffee, and apples on a card table decorated with lavender in a vase and a checkered cloth. We feigned ignorance about school’s start before hitchhiking our way onto the school bus for a ride up to the second level of the Holden Mine. 

Operations workers (Tim and Taylor) interrupt the school bus
 with a plumbing disaster, tie-dye, and dance. 
I work with seven elementary school students and four high school students. I teach physical education and lead nature hikes. I organize writing activities (check out: my students' writing) and facilitate games. I teach first graders to write their numbers, lead songs, answer math questions and read out loud.  I see my students at meals and Vespers.  I nod at them from my porch swing and wave at them during my morning runs. Yesterday in the dining hall, a parent approached me, and asked about my weekend, “I haven’t seen you in a couple days,” she said. When I said I’d been camping and hiking, she shook her head, “I hear you run every morning before school, work all day, and every weekend you hike. I want your energy.”

I explain to her what my housemates already know: that the urge to hike and walk the valley comes not from a compulsion to move, exercise, or explore, but from the knowledge that soon the weather will make mountain travel impossible.  Two mornings ago, sparkles of snow sent my students barreling from their desks to the window, palming the pane glass while the first flakes fell. “One morning,” my housemate Jericho says, “You’ll wake up, and it’ll look like someone powdered the mountains with sugar.” Snow will cover the trails, making it difficult to move or navigate. We’ll trade our hiking boots for cross country skis and snowshoes, stoke our wood burning stoves and begin winter in the village.


My housemates and I “warmed” our house two days ago.  Kari made pastries, Cecilia swept the floor, Jericho cleaned the downstairs, I made lemonade and a playlist and brought a tray of glasses from the dining hall.  We moved into our chalet two Saturdays ago, and figured it was high time we had a party. Our chalet, (Chalet Four) came with yellow and orange marigolds in our flower box and a rainbow flag on our porch. We have four bedrooms, a basement, a sunny kitchen, a laundry room, two bathrooms, and a living room with a wood burning stove and a window bench with a heater beneath it. My room has wood floors and wood paneling. My ceiling slants with the slope of the roof and bookshelves and storage hooks line two of my walls. My scarves hang in the hallway leading to my room; my frame backpack hangs on the hook beside my bed. I brought only a couple boxes, so everything decorating my dresser and hanging on my wall has significance and a story: The postcard my former housemate Anna sent me from a writers’ conference in Chicago last year, the picture of Teddy Roosevelt my brother gave me, the prayer flags I purchased at the Ten Thousand Villages store in Ames, Iowa before moving out of the apartment I shared with Anna to go west for the first time, the earring rack my mother made for me when I went to college, the colored-pen etching of a big cedar tree my friend Lauren drew after our first trip to the Hoh Rainforest, and the calendar my father designed out of photos he’d taken on family vacation (September=Bryce Canyon, my high school senior spring break trip.)

At our housewarming party, people from Holden Village and Stehekin gathered in our living room, perching on our couches and chairs and benches with baked goods and drinks. Friends took shifts touring bedrooms.  They admired our bookshelves, our wall hangings, and the quilts we’d chosen from the Village laundry. Unlike a “normal” house-warming where someone might notice the structure of the house, our Holden guests noted how we’d changed a chalet they already knew, how we’d made the space our own: different from the Richardson family who lived in our chalet last year and the visiting teaching staff who’d occupied the house during the summer.

Here we know the names of the mountains—Buckskin, Copper, Dumbbell, Bonanza. Here every staff member has a Polaroid posted in the dining hall with his or her name and job written in pen underneath.  Here we hold parties: weather-themed dances, pool tournaments, karaoke nights, and housewarmings.  Here we break for meals, for morning cake and coffee, for bus arrivals and bus departures.  Here we watch the sun set and rise on Cascade cliffs, sit out on sunny afternoons, and wake to mountain frost.

Last weekend, my housemates and I joked about how difficult it is to explain Holden Village—recounting conversations we’d all had trying to explain the strange place where we live. “Where is it?” “You take a ferry from Chelan to get there.” “Is it on an island?” “No it’s in the mountains--there are just no roads that go there.” “How do you get there from the ferry?” “You take a road.” “I thought you said there were no roads.” “The road has two dead ends.”

We laughed: Cecilia, Jericho, Kari and me.  Here we were, Cecilia: a Grinnell College grad who worked in D.C before moving to Holden, Kari: a Pacific North-westerner who spent her post-college years cooking in an upscale restaurant outside Seattle, Jericho: a Minnesota-native who's backpacked across India, and me: a writer from Detroit--belly-laughing so hard it hurt--drinking beer and tea and wine, sitting in our mountain chalet in a place so remote and off-the grid that Jericho's college friends are still not entirely convinced she hasn't joined a cult.

It’s a good life here in Holden Village. Today, I ran switchbacks while I watched rising sun orange mountain peaks, I ate pancakes topped with berries for breakfast, I read Old Turtle and The Lorax out loud to first graders in a loft above the library, I led elementary school students in poetry-writing beside Railroad Creek, I ate borscht and fresh baked bread for dinner then soaked in a hot tub while I watched the sun dip beneath Buckskin Mountain.  Tonight I'll return to my room.  I'll see my brother's pictures and my dad's calender and my mom's earring rack.  I'll see the card on my bookshelf with "Welcome Back to Holden" inside.  I'll sleep with my window open and my prayer flags from Ames, Iowa fluttering in wind.