The invitation came as a surprise and an honor. Mark, an artist friend from Stehekin, WA, offers one or two artists a week of free lodging in a home he caretakes in the summer, and he proposed I fill one of those slots in 2019. As we all know, by the time the date rolled around, COVID-19 had brought opportunities like this to a halt. The following year, with many uncertainties still surrounding the pandemic, Mark decided to pass on the residencies.
But THIS year was going to be it. Mark emailed me in late spring with another residency offer, and I accepted. The Naked Hiker, our daughter, and our dog were also invited, and we reserved seats on The Lady Express to Stehekin for June 27, with a departure on July 4.
If you’ve read my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, you know Stehekin is where my family and I sojourned for two years in the mid-1990s. If you haven’t read or listened to the book, or ever been to this mountain village, this brief excerpt from Hiking Naked will give you a sense of it.
Stehekin, translated as “the way through,” once was a passageway for Skagit and Salish Indians through the North Cascades of Washington State. Later, highways were blasted through parts of the mountain range along Lake Chelan, but none of them ever made it the lake’s fifty-five-mile length to the community at the end. Today, a more accurate description of Stehekin might be “the way away.”
Like us, most people get “uplake” on The Lady of the Lake, a commercial, passenger-only ferry that makes one trip daily in the summer. The Lady sails four times a week in spring and fall, but in the winter, it runs only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Depending on whether you catch the boat at the lake’s midway mark at Fields Point or at its beginning in the town of Chelan, it takes two-and-a-half to four hours to reach Stehekin. Some opt for a half-hour floatplane ride; the hardy hike a full day over National Park and Forest Service trails. Telephone lines from the “downlake” world never made it to Stehekin, and there still aren’t any cell towers, either. Most interaction among Stehekin’s eighty year-round residents takes place face-to-face. Contact with the rest of the world is by mail and now, for those who have satellite dishes, by e-mail. A single public telephone, for outgoing calls only, haltingly relays voices via satellite when communication is urgent.
For me, Stehekin is an ideal setting to stimulate creativity. Mark didn’t have to entice me, but the video clip of Boulder Creek, rushing just a few yards from the house, heightened my anticipation.
I was in need of a big dose of the place. I was all set to schedule this last-day-of-the-month post before we left since I wouldn’t have Internet connection. I welcomed that break, too.
Until we checked the weather forecast for the week we were scheduled to visit.
The next day, Mark sent an email with his own warning:
“Hi folks, first, just so you’re aware of Stehekin weather predictions; triple digits are in the forecast for Sunday through Tuesday of next week. If you’ll be unhappy in that kind of heat, we can think about a different time.”
I promptly replied, “Yes, we’ve been watching the weather forecasts. We’re going to brave it; might spend lots of time dangling our feet in the lake!”
Then, after conversations with the Naked Hiker and the daughter:
“Hi again Mark,
I spoke too soon about braving the heat. We’ve all given it more thought this evening, and we’re feeling we’re not up for these extreme temperatures. It’s disappointing, but we know that kind of heat would limit some of the things we love to do in Stehekin, and I think I’d find it a challenge to my creativity.”
It’s been hot here on Lopez Island, too (upper 90s for the last few days). Still hoping for some writing inspiration, I abandoned “the new secretary” for the table on our deck. Every half hour, I’d shift the Patio Umbrella to retain a spot of shade. Today, though, the expected high is 66 degrees—40 degrees cooler than what Mark and others in Stehekin will experience.
Weather watchers at the Washington Post suggest an exceptional weather pattern plus climate change have contributed to the region’s unprecedented heat wave. It’s likely we’ll experience higher temperatures than usual throughout the summer.
And as we approach a holiday weekend, the National Interagency Fire Center is asking everyone to be careful with anything that could start a fire. The Center reports that as of June 29, 47 wildfires have burned 667,566 acres in 12 states; 7200 wildland firefighters are working to control the blazes.
While I’m grateful for the marine air cooling my home, and aware of my privilege to live where the weather isn’t so extreme, I’m worried about these record-breaking temperatures. Whether writing from home, Stehekin, or elsewhere, I’m pouring my creativity into solutions to the climate crisis.
*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets.