Monday, November 12, 2012

Long Haul

I like driving the stretch of Interstate 5 just south of Salem, Oregon. There's so much to look at: vineyards, thickly forested hills, amusement parks (including my childhood happiest place on earth). But I bet the one thing that gets the most double takes is the Transformer Truck.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Too Many Stories

So, I'm in Nashville. What I'm doing in Nashville is a story for another blog post; right now I just want to tell you how I got here.

Where did we leave off?  Oh yeah, July. I spent most of July at the Grünewald Guild, which is also a story for another blog post. And then in August I was in Portland and Eugene and Tillamook and the Seattle area.

In Portland I went to a wedding reception I'd promised to attend, where I had a swing-dancing lesson from a very tall man, and found out that some of my friends had more kids than I thought they did.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Things I Learned During Two Months of Farm Work in the Okanogan

• It's pronounced "oak-a-noggin".

• The number of hours of labor that go into bringing you a bag of organic salad greens, an heirloom tomato, or a pint of pesticide-free strawberries is staggering. No matter how high the prices at your local farmer's market, your farmer is likely earning nowhere near minimum wage for his work. Small-scale organic farming is a labor of love.

• If you sleep in an old camper in a sheep pasture, you may occasionally get friendly calls from the neighbors.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


"I have so many fun things planned for you this weekend!" Hannah declares as we walk briskly up the steep incline from the dock to her brother's house.

"That is exactly what I need right now," I reply fervently. It's May 4th, and I'm fresh off the boat: I've just waved goodbye to a village worth of friends, including my newly-ex-sweetheart. I knew today was going to hurt. That doesn't make it hurt any less.

Now I've landed in Stehekin, a teeny town at the north end of Lake Chelan, where I'll be spending the weekend. I first heard about it over a year ago from a sailor friend:

Roscoe: You should come visit Steheekan.

me: Steheekan?

Roscoe: It is an odd little mountain community. You either hike in for 2 days, or you drive 4 hours from [Bellingham], take a boat 4 hours up the river. And you have this pretty much self-contained little mountain community of probably less than 1000 people, spread around a place that looks astonishingly like Rivendell.
No phones, no newspapers less than 2 weeks old. Maybe 6 cars.

me: oh my gosh. this is definitely going on the list.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Season's Change: March and April

SPRING comes slowly to this high valley. The landscape reveals itself to me little by little, with new surprises every day: I didn't know that was there! My Holden is the village snuggled deep into white drifts; now I'm getting glimpses of the Holden most people see. Meltwater pools in the basements of a couple of central buildings (I am told this happens every year), while the French drains along the road run deep with cheerful streams just begging to be waded in. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Balance of February

AFTER that first overwhelming week, I begin to settle into the schedule of the village... though that schedule continues to be eventful.

In the Media Archive, there's a long-awaited delivery of new laptops; though IT sets them up for me, I'm still left with a lot of audio-specific troubleshooting.  The old laptops, borrowed from other departments, ran Windows XP, Vista, and Ubuntu Oneiric; the new ones, a shiny row of Windows 7 drones, vary just enough in their audio settings that it's tricky to figure out how to get them to record at the proper levels. The best fix I can find is to reset each one individually for each recording. It's inconvenient, but it works.
In the Craft Cave, several looms run out of warp at about the same time, and I get to learn about the process of warping on. It begins with many, many reiterations of the weaver's knot (several hundred on the largest loom), tying the remnants of the old warp to the new warp. I recite the Craftinator's guiding phrase "Over all, under all, up and through" like a mantra. Once the knots are secure, the new warp must be wound on with tension, spiralled with sheets of kraft paper to keep it from entangling itself. This is a two-person job, but two staff members are not typically in the Craft Cave at the same time, so the process moves slowly until we enlist the help of our friendly neighborhood Mavericks.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Two Jobs and a Day Off

MY supervisor in the Media Archive is leaving Friday, five days after I arrive. One of those days is my arrival, one is her departure, and one is Stop Day. That leaves only two days for training.

The Archivist takes me to the physical storage site for the Audio Archive. It's in a sort of balcony area above the gymnasium; the building, known as the "VC" or Village Center, is unheated in winter, and we approach across a daunting sheet of ice in a poorly drained entryway. The archive is two lengthy rows of stacked cardboard boxes, carefully labeled with batch numbers, filled with cassettes of lectures from the past several decades. There are also some CDs and some reel-to-reel recordings, but those have already been digitized. My project is cassettes from 1976.

We lug a couple of boxes up to the Media Archive office, a small room at one end of the attic of the building known as the Hotel. With electricity limited in winter months, this may be the only room in the entire village that is allowed to run a space heater. The Archivist shows me how to sort out the contents of the boxes for processing; her detailed systems are designed to provide consistency no matter how many people are working on the project at once. She dreams of pushing it forward quickly by taking on three or four full-time volunteers at once. But there are always more urgent matters demanding staff time, and due to housing limitations, the Media Archive project is always put on hold for the summer. At this rate, with one assistant working on it half-time spring through fall, plus the Archivist's work when she's in the village periodically, it will take years. So, don't worry about finishing a certain amount, I'm told. Just do as much as you can.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Vocabulary

Hol·den Vil·lage n.
1. a Lutheran retreat center located high in the Cascade range of central Washington, on the site of a former mining town. Established 1957. Isolated by steep mountains from automobile traffic, television, radio, and cell phone contact. Staffed year-round, with a summer population of several hundred and a winter population of about 50.
2. A community of people in transition.

In my first week at Holden Village, I learn a lot of new words. Many of these are snow-related:  Roofalanche.  Postholing.  Hoarfrost.

A roofalanche is a small avalanche off the roof of a building. All the structures here have steep roofs, to more easily shed the heavy layers of snow that accumulate on them every year.  "The word may sound funny," director Steph Carpenter warns us, "but it's no joke."  Roofalanches are typically sudden and involve massive quantities of snow and ice.  Paths carved and stomped in the snow guide us carefully around "roofalanche zones."

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.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Full Circle, and Then Some

IT turns out that, despite its remote location, Holden Village is full of distractions: meals to share, people to get to know, crafts and music to make, conversations to have.  It's still very much winter here, and sleds and skis and snowshoes have beckoned with each fresh snowfall; when the sun breaks through and turns the road to muddy slush, we sit on the loading dock in deck chairs, soaking up precious Vitamin D.

So it is that now, at the end of March, I have yet to tell you about what happened at the end of December and January, much less afterward. It's hard for me to believe so much time has passed since my last post.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yub Nub!

DECEMBER 17: time to head back to my hometown for the holidays.  I polled a number of friends about the road north: I-5 or 101?

I-5 is a well-beaten path, the main artery of the West Coast, but it goes over some high mountain passes that can get snowy at this time of year.  I have chains and rear-wheel drive, but I don't have a lot of snow driving experience, and I don't really want to get more on this trip.

US Route 101 runs along the coast (except for south of San Francisco).  It is less well-traveled, less of a straight shot, and farther out of my way. However, it doesn't involve any mountain passes, tends to get more rainy than snowy, and I've heard it's a scenic drive.

I polled friends and family for advice, and got a mixed bag: some said stick to the 5, and others said the 101 is a better choice.  I dithered about it for quite a while before deciding it was worth the extra mileage to take the scenic, more-likely-to-be-snowless route.

This turned out to be the right choice.  Because what nobody told me is that 101 runs through Endor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

On Soledad Street

As of this writing, I'm currently residing at Holden Village, a remote community in the mountains of Central Washington. I want to clear a bit of a narrative backlog (blog backlog, a clog, a bog) before I tell you about that, but if you need to know more about Holden right now, well, here's the website.

The events described in this post take place December 12-17, 2011.

* * *

THE first time I set foot on Soledad Street, I'm scared. All those signals that I'd been taught mean this is the wrong part of town are clearly visible: run-down and boarded-up buildings, lifeless graffiti, dingy people slouching on the sidewalk wearing unfriendly expressions, or inappropriately friendly expressions, or no expressions.  There are makeshift tents and shopping carts laden with personal collections of things.  Occasionally, a really nice car cruises down the street, pauses for a minute or two while holding a brief exchange with someone on the sidewalk, and then disappears. My internal alarms are blaring: Get out of here. Get out, now, it's not safe, go.

But I'm here with the Companions, and we're going to Dorothy's Place.