Note: all photos taken by Kate Poss, except for the ones of Kate and Lise and the selfie of Bill and Kate. Bill Poss took them
As a retired couple following our own schedule, we like to recharge by heading out with our trailer Marion into the wild country. Who would have thought that our ‘retirement’ resulted in a busier life at home than when were were employed?
Marion is where we feel most at home, even though she’s less than 90 square feet inside. We feel free and embraced in our tiny wheeled fiberglass box that shelters us wherever we are.
When Bill was working with Island County, he got to know J. Gordon, senior principal engineer of GeoEngineers. J.’s team worked as an independent consultant hired by the county to evaluate geotechnical concerns such as landslide threats.
Over the years, Bill and J. would meet at various sites requiring J.’s expertise. J.’s name is only the letter J, in case you’re wondering. It’s what his Scottish-heritage dad named him. In the past, Bill often mentioned J. —as “an interesting guy with a cabin in Mazama,” When J. suggested recently we meet up for a camping trip, we thought it would be fun to meet he and his wife Krista, a retired outdoor education teacher. The couple are avid cross-country skiers, and make the most of winter conditions in Mazama.
It was 65° on the sunny morning of June 5 as we drove north on Whidbey’s highway 525/20. Komo Kulshan, as Mt. Baker is known in the Lummi Nation language, was wreathed in clouds and its square-shaped volcano peak shown in the sun as we travelled north of Coupeville.
We arrived at the state park, backing Marion into Site 21 of the circular campground, framed by hedges of fragrant native Nootka roses. The campground bathrooms are clean and the free showers hot.
Our first night there, Krista heated up lasagna I made ahead of time in their new r-pod’s convection oven. We YouTubed a tutorial in order to learn which buttons to push on the oven to get it started—What did we do before YouTube?—It took over an hour to heat the lasagna so it was bubbling.
A dear library friend of ours, Donna Colamatteo, arrived to join us and lively conversation flowed around the picnic table. Donna left before dark to support a new Mt. Vernon speak easy, the Revival Lounge. Later we sat around the campfire recalling stories of travels and family. An easy couple to spend time with are J. and Krista. Our second evening found J. barbecuing salmon and roasting veggies. Another night of campfire talking and getting to know one another. A real treat to spend time with these two.
Early on a clear morning June 7, Bill and I said our goodbyes to J. and Krista, and drove off for the North Cascades and the enchanted Methow River Valley.
As we were driving away, Bill thought he heard something fall off the trailer. We turned around and there were his reading glasses lying in the road. He had placed them on top of the car when driving away. A driver in the opposite direction approached. We thought, oh no, the glasses are going to be smashed, but the car swerved, and Bill was able to retrieve his glasses intact.
Driving along Highway 20 past Sedro Woolley, we noticed skeletons of burned evergreens standing on the mountainsides from a 2022 fire. Sobering, considering the fires burning now in Canada, the worst in its history.
We stopped at Washington Pass at 5,590 feet. Bill attached a Bluetooth-operated electric brake device, preparing for the steep descent into the Methow Valley. The jagged Liberty Bell peaks dominating the skyline here are worth the stop and a short hike for the view.
Arriving at Klipchuck Campground, whose sites are available on a first-come-first-served basis, we found site #23 was available. It’s our favorite site.
On it stands a ponderosa pine titan, which, we like to believe, is a ‘mother tree.’ Suzanne Simard, professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia, talks of these elder trees, which communicate via a network of underground fungi. The mother trees share nutrients and communicate with younger trees when danger is approaching. The Early Winters River flows behind the campsite, providing a continuous shushing sound of water flowing over stones. A well-maintained outhouse was about three blocks away. Potable water was unavailable at this time.
Temperatures were in the 80’s and seeking shade, I asked to share a picnic table with a couple of ladies from Vashon Island drinking beers and eating strawberries. They had driven up for the day.
We got to talking and learned they were a United Airlines pilot and an attorney named Lise Ellner. Lise told us she was an open water swimmer and was planning to attempt swimming the English Channel.
Lise’s family moved from Brooklyn NY when she was a girl, to Taos NM, where her dad worked in public health with the Pueblo Indians. There she learned about social justice and about Southwestern Indian life.
Now working as an attorney with a social conscience, Lise said she’s represented clients at the state’s Supreme Court level. We chatted about the news, and the move to repress books, same sex relationships, and progressive thinking. Lise quoted author Isaac Asimov: “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’
Temperatures had climbed in nearby Winthrop to 92°. We drove to Pearrygin Lake State Park to swim in its refreshing lake. The 212-acre lake is a dammed section of the Lower Chewuch River. It is named for an 1880’s-era homesteader Ben Pearrygin, and became a reservoir in 1921. The scenic campground surrounding the lake features clean restrooms and showers. It was not crowded during the week, but filled up by Friday, June 9. We admired campsite #76, which featured a venerable weeping willow tree shading a waterfront campsite.
After cooling off from our swim, we returned to Mazama and sat outside at the Mazama Public House. Serving beer crafted by the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop, the pub also serves fare such pizza, sandwiches, and sushi. Bill ordered a Cuban sandwich and I ordered tuna sushi, grateful for GF fare to spare my three-years’ sensitive digestive system. Great food. We looked out at the other folks dining and agreed they looked like people we’d talk to—people who enjoyed the outdoors and each others’ company.
Later while getting groceries at the Mazama Store, we saw the same couple we’d sat next to at the Public House. Turns out they’re Alan and Lois Caswell, and their dog Charlie. Alan serves on the nearby Twisp City Council. He mentioned that Twisp is struggling to create affordable housing and is consulting with our City of Langley, which is experiencing a similar dilemma.
With the average price of North Cascade-area homes surging to $647,000 in 2023, community leaders created the Housing Solutions Network in 2020.
Out of this was formed the Methow Housing Trust. Qualified buyers earning 60 to 150 percent of Area Median Income are eligible for the program. They pay a discounted rate for housing, while the Trust maintains ownership of the land. A waiting list of more than 50 potential buyers reflects the interest and need for stable housing. A recent article on the trust reports that more than a third of the area’s households are cost burdened with having to spend more for housing than their wages support.
To date, the Methow Housing Trust has developed 28 permanently affordable single family homes in the Methow Valley, and is on track to complete at least another 45 by 2030. Five neighborhoods, ranging from Mazama to Twisp are built or in construction.
Wednesday morning found us waking up to the scent of ponderosa pine, cedar and fir on a gentle breeze. The fresh scent was in direct contrast to the eye watering ammonia fumes emanating from the outhouse. It was the only time that a visit to the local loo was unpleasant.
We visited the year-old Winthrop Public Library, part of NCW Libraries, and were wowed by its design, use of wood, and Rivian electric charging stations outside. North Central Libraries have served Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, and Okanogan Counties since 1960; an area the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. Thirty community libraries are served. Rural residents are served by mail order and two bookmobiles.
Bill and I enjoy bird watching, though we’re not serious people who go out with bird lists. One bird we sighted on our last visit was the Lazuli Bunting.
To us, seeing it is a kind of high. Before this trip Bill met someone who suggested we download the Merlin Bird ID App, sponsored by the Cornell Lab. It identifies birds by their song, as well as by sight. While driving along dusty roads behind Balky Ridge, between Twisp and Winthrop, we’d pull over at aspen groves where we heard birdsong. The Lazuli Bunting was identified! Also the Bullock’s Oriole. It was on our last day, June 10, that we spotted a Lazuli Bunting singing in an aspen tree.
This handsome fellow with turquoise head feathers perched in the meadows surrounding Pearrygin Lake. From the meadows bloomed fields of yellowhead asters, lupine, wild geranium, yarrow and Russian olive trees, which scened the air with a pleasant musky aroma. Talk about peak experience!
Hard to leave this blissful experience, but we had to return to camp, check out, and drive back to Whidbey for a retirement party for Maribeth Crandell. She retires soon from her job as Mobility Specialist with Island Transit. She and retired Deception Pass State Park Manager Jack Hartt publish a weekly blog, Hiking Close to Home, and are authors of a book of the same name.
As we approached our campsite, we noticed a couple looking intently at our trailer. We stopped the car and asked if they were looking at Marion, a phenomenon we’ve become used to, since she is unusual looking.
No. The couple had spied a pair of yellow and black birds with red heads perched on the roof of Marion. The birds flew into a nearby tree and the couple pointed them out. The woman said the bird resembled the one on my cap, which is a Western Tanager.
Yup. That was what they were! I told her that the birds are my departed mom’s spirit. On the day we scattered her ashes in Yosemite Meadow in July 2012, a Western Tanager flew by. Since then we like to believe their appearance means my mom has come to visit. We see the birds rarely, since they prefer the cover of tall trees. In our case at the Klipchuck Campground, Bill and I said my parents, Helen and Ray Burbey, came to visit.