Monday, June 4, 2012

Finally, We Get to Holden Village

READER, I am no longer at Holden. I left a month ago today. I declared an intention to write about it while I was there, but there were, as I've mentioned, Distractions. And then I hoped to have ample time to catch up after leaving, but that hasn't really worked out as I intended either. And meanwhile building up, day after day, has been the accumulated weight of words unwritten, of space between today and the last time I posted, which makes it harder and harder to get back in the groove.  Blogger's block, if you will.

But I still really want to tell you about February and March and April, the three months I spent at Holden. So, for those who are still reading: this is how it began.

* * *

NO matter where you start from, Holden Village is tricky to get to.

My approach begins on February 5th, when Willa's father (who was the first to recommend Holden to me, and me to Holden) gives me a lift from Port Orchard out to Chelan, a small town in central Washington. Chelan lies at the south end of Lake Chelan, a 55-mile-long body of water surrounded by mountains.

I stay overnight near Chelan at the home of some new friends, enjoying good food while getting to know my hosts and learning about their off-grid home and gorgeous wooded acreage.  They feed me well, let me play with their lovely dogs, share stories with me, and teach me to ride a snowmobile (wheeheeheeee!). After dark I go outside alone and tromp through drifts of diamonds under the bright, bright moon.

The next morning my hosts deliver me, well breakfasted, to the Lake Chelan ferry. ("I see you've brought your rock collection," one of my new friends comments dryly as he loads my duffel bag into the truck.) The ferry is operated by two captains (First Captain and Second Captain, of course) and a deckhand, who takes a stewardly role, loading baggage and staffing the snack/souvenir counter. One of the captains uses the loudspeaker to intermittently describe the history of the ferry and interesting bits of the landscape we pass as we motor uplake. The waters are calm today, but apparently 3' waves are common, and 8' waves not unheard of. Having encountered 8' waves in a larger vessel, I have no desire to experience them aboard this 65' aluminum boat.

The ferry, known as the Lady Express, travels at 25 miles per hour, a pretty good clip for a boat. Road-weary, I intersperse dozing with gawking out the windows at the snowy hills and mountains flanking our route. It's pretty, and I'm pretty sleepy, so the two hours go fast. Soon we're approaching my stop, the port of Lucerne. There's not much to see here: a few scattered buildings, and a dock, high above the winter-lowered lake, with a strange red boxy vehicle on it.

I worry about lugging my things up that steep icy ramp (the duffel and the backpack and the banjo and the messenger bag).  But without any obvious cue, the boarding and disembarking passengers line up and begin passing everything up the ramp, chain-style: luggage and boxes of produce and bags of mail. (I spot the telltale smirk of Amazon boxes among the goods.)

It all gets loaded into the little red crew truck, and then we get loaded in too. A friendly short-term guest, a pastor from Spokane who once worked at Holden for a year, offers me one of the vehicle's wool blankets as a lap robe to take the edge off the chill of the unheated passenger compartment. She's excited to be returning, and eager to tell me about her experiences with the place and what to expect of Holden in winter.

It's 11 miles of switchbacks up from Lucerne to Holden; the road is unpaved, but evenly graded and very well cared for. (This is but the first of many contrasts I will mentally draw between Tassajara and Holden Village.) My seatmate assures me the scenery along the drive is gorgeous, but due to the scant placement of windows on our little red box-truck, we can't see much of it. I can't even tell when we're close to the Village until we stop and the door opens to admit the Registrar, who (along with the driver) gives us the necessary safety-and-arrival announcements.  Then, as we fold up our blankets and disembark, we're greeted with cheers, applause, and cries of "Welcome!" from a small crowd of people gathered at the loading dock. The kindness of the greeting gets me a little choked up (and then I get all tense and tooth-gritty, because I hate crying in public).

Welcoming is a major focus of Holden's ministry, and man, do they have it down. The Registrar passes me off to Rob-from-Staffing, who guides me to the dining hall (where lunch awaits), assures me my luggage is taken care of, and says he'll be back soon with more info for me.  (I later learn that Rob isn't just showing me around because it's his job; every new staff member at Holden is assigned someone who volunteers to make them welcome and show them the ropes.)

I'm the only new staff member arriving today, so I sit with the two guests who just came in, my new pastor friend and an enigmatic ponytailed gentleman. We barely have time to exchange pleasantries before we are joined by Steph Carpenter, one of the Village's two directors, who gives us an overview of Village life, and another staff member with yet more info for us. After this the others are dismissed, but Rob returns and sits me down for staff orientation.  This is adding up to a lot of info, and I'm tired, but I keep thinking how much I longed for something like this at Tassajara, when I was wandering around trying to figure out what the heck was going on.

Rob gives me a tour of the Village's central buildings. They're all clustered fairly close together, chalets and lodges and community buildings. Nearly all were built in the 1930s and '40s, but they're in good condition, clearly well cared for. This place is well-funded, I can tell. Rob shows me to my quarters; I get a room to myself with a south-facing window. The room contains four bunks (each covered with a handmade quilt), two closets, a desk and a sink. It's warm and clean and rodent-free, and it's upstairs from a lovely-smelling wood shop.  A sign taped to the door reads "Welcome Lindsey!" in disarmingly earnest Comic Sans.

It took me a long time to get this unpacked.

Rob leaves me to settle in, and I'm good and ready for some downtime to process all the information I've received.  But in a few minutes, he's back to tell me he's located one of my two supervisors, and wonders if I'd like to get an overview of my job from her.  Sure, I tell him.  Unpacking can wait.

I'll have two jobs here at Holden, roughly half-time for each. One will be assisting in the Craft Cave, a semi-subterranean space crammed with looms, fibers, basket reeds, and a multitude of other art and craft supplies. The other is assisting in the Media Archive, digitizing lectures from cassette and cleaning up the resulting audio files. My Crafts supervisor is currently out of the village, but my Media supervisor is happy to go into lots and lots of detail about the archive. It's her pet project, which all too often gets de-prioritized for other matters; she's thrilled to have a librarian on hand to appreciate both the significance of the task and the elaborate system of record-keeping she's devised for it. As for me, I'm thrilled to have an opportunity to work with Audacity, an open-source, cross-platform audio editor; I've been wanting to learn to use something like this for personal projects, and now that's my job.

At last I beg off, craving a few minutes to myself before dinner, which is served promptly at the slightly premature hour of 5:00. At 5:30, my getting-to-know-you dinner conversation is interrupted by a prayer and announcements, including the introduction of people who arrived today (myself and the two guests; everyone else who came in was returning staff).  Afterward I hang around talking and drinking tea -- Holden's dining hall has a lovely tea bar, with a great selection of black, green, and herbal teas -- and watching a pi├▒ata get decimated by a group of children celebrating a birthday party. (Birthdays are a big deal here; over dinner we sing to the birthday girl in the style of her choosing, replacing the typical lyrics with meows).

At 7:00 I go to Vespers, a daily event everyone in the Village is expected to attend. The service is brief, typically 20 or 30 minutes of music and/or lesson. Our speaker for the evening, a young man from the IT department, speaks briefly about the nature of grace. I scan the hymnal for familiar tunes; there are not many. Holden's Lutheran tradition is very far from my low church upbringing, I fear.

After Vespers is Snack Bar, which turns out to mean ice cream in the dining hall, $1 for a healthy-sized scoop. I open a tab; there will be many more Snack Bar events, and I rarely say no to ice cream.  Eating it also offers another opportunity to chat with Holdenites.

Tomorrow, I learn, is Stop Day. On Stop Day everything stops, even food service, so that staff can have a true holiday. In the wintertime, Stop Day traditionally happens about once a month; in the summer, when Holden is packed with guests, it doesn't happen at all. So I'm lucky to be here for one, I guess. Secretly I'd prefer to learn the routine before I take a break from it, but I keep such seditious thoughts to myself.

Staff morale is high, and I join a lively group of about 10 others on a moonlit hike up to a ridge known as "The Third Level," the location of the old mine entrance. (No, you can't go in, not ever, not under any circumstances, they tell me.) I always forget how elevation can change your ability to keep up with those who are used to it; it's a short trek uphill, but I feel the burn in my lungs. The snow reflects the light of the full moon in gaudy glints and gleams, and once our eyes adjust, it's easy enough to see the landscape. We even spot cougar tracks following rabbit tracks (and I make a mental note never to hike alone here). My companions do handstands and yoga poses in the snow. I'm disappointed with my camera's complete inability to capture the scene; it is wondrous winterland, and far below the ridge, the village lights glow golden in the blue-dark.

I think I'm going to like it here.


  1. Nice writing. Great line = "I spot the telltale smirk of Amazon boxes among the goods.". More please.

  2. Thanks, Don! I'll see what I can do.

  3. Glad to hear from you friend!! Hope all is well on your grand adventure. Lexy turns 1 in 15 days. What a crazy year.

    1. What, already?! That kid is growin' like a weed. Thanks for keeping up -- yeah, crazy is definitely the best word for it. :)

    2. Good to hear from you again, may you continue to be blessed on your pilgrimage.

    3. It is sooo good to hear how you are doing! I am glad you liked that experience! one thing to throw out there is that i passed my level change and will graduate next may!!!!! Thanks for kicking me in the pants that first year and a half with my academics :)---

      your trusty mentee

  4. Thanks, Hillbilly and Ness. I appreciate your checking in on me here. Congratulations on your impending graduation, Nessy! I'm really proud of you!

  5. Hi! I found your post through a Google Alert we have for the phrase "Holden Village." I love your reflections and photos. Would it be ok with you if we linked to your blog post from our Web site and/or Facebook page? Let me know!

    1. Hey Serena, good to hear from you! I'd be honored if you linked to my writing. Thanks so much!