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)
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|
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.
|Martin Ridge, 9/1/12|
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.
|Operations workers (Tim and Taylor) interrupt the school bus |
with a plumbing disaster, tie-dye, and dance.
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.