When I was just shy of twelve, we moved nearly 3,000 miles from Kingston, Jamaica diagonally across the United States to the Pacific Northwest.
To say that it took some adjusting is an understatement, but that’s a story for another day. We settled into Wenatchee, Washington – a town of around 20,000 people which touted itself as “the apple capital of the world and the buckle of the power belt of the Pacific Northwest” – a tagline that ran for years (and still may) on the front page masthead of the Wenatchee World.
Even as a teen, I found Wenatchee incredibly charming. It’s named for the Wenatchi tribe of Indians, and the word means (loosely) river which comes from canyons. Nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the Wenatchee Valley is a basin where the mighty Columbia River collides with the Wenatchee River. In fact, since the aluminum smelter where Dad worked relied upon hydropower, it was essentially the rivers which brought us to live in that place. Friends lived up in places like Saddle Rock, Castle Rock and Number One Canyon, and it did indeed seem as though the rivers were born in those canyons.
It’s a part of Washington that many people outside the Pacific Northwest do not comprehend – they can only picture rainy Seattle or sulky Portland, and do not realize that an odd blend of desertlike conditions in the summer coexists in a place that serves up powdery snow for skiers and snowboarders.
The movie A River Runs Through It debuted when I was in high school, and I felt a familiar connection to the Big Black Foot River it portrayed. The film came at a time when I was still wrestling with my love of words and wondering what on earth I might do with them, and it planted in me the earliest comprehension that fixating on, deeply exploring and writing about special places and moments is worthy.
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
~ A River Runs Through It and Other Stories (Norman Maclean)
We are all partial to the special places we hail from, but I think I can defend the argument that central Washington – and specifically the Wenatchee Valley – is a very special place. The sunlight dapples a picturesque landscape peppered with orchards, and the imposing peaks of the Cascades and the Enchantments pull at your very soul, imploring you to explore.
My sister and I grew up tortured by long backpacking trips with Dad into permit-only destinations – a normal trip would clock in at no less than 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Again, these are stories for another day – but epic hikes to Lake Caroline in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Spider Meadow in the Glacier Peaks Wilderness Area are where our family bonded, for better and worse. Good friends, cousins and boyfriends could be tested for their longevity, sticktoitiveness and overall potential on those treks.
We hiked Haney Meadows and we dipped our toes in the pristine waters of Icicle Creek. We devoured burgers at Gustav’s in Leavenworth and cracked jokes under evergreens.
We snuck off into the canyons as teenagers bound for a discarded couch, a view across forever and the grand plans you make when you’re 18 and life stretches out before you, teasing you with potential and things unknown.
I left these towering peaks, epic valleys and sunny skies a few short months after graduating from high school two decades ago. I went back every summer at first, fading into a few visits here and there. Eventually, life pointed me in different directions and the visits grew less frequent and then evaporated entirely.
Call me sappy (I will certainly answer to it), but when the occasion of my twentieth high school reunion arose, I knew with great certainty that it was time.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
~ John Muir
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