Sunday, October 04, 2009

Somewhere in nowhere

Stehekin, at the northern, isolated end of Lake Chelan, is the sort of place that, if you had years to just stay and be there, most of your friends would traipse through. They’d be surprised to find you; and you them. But on reflection, it would make all the sense in the world.

As those who have already been there know, you must cruise by boat for three or four hours to get to the remote hamlet with its lodge, restaurant and Forest Service information center. Wander along the lake’s extreme northern end, on the way to a network of steep mountain trails, and you happen on a bakery, a small schoolhouse and an organic garden where you can buy fresh-picked fruit, vegetables and goat cheese.

A few old pick-ups ply the road, frozen in time, Cuba-style. They, the glaciers, the trails and the mountains are all evidence of place that measures time in seasons and eons. During our third and final night, the first snow dusted the upper granite peaks. Another season gone.

The people who live here all know each other — well. And they know whom they don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. It’s the old story of a stranger merely being a friend you haven’t made, yet.

If you get weary on your hike along the road, stick out a thumb and you’ll get a ride and an earful of local lore.

Trust is still palpable in this secluded place.

You can fly in and out if you are willing to pay the price. A bright orange pontoon plane makes the trip two or three times a day. I met a retired Seattle policeman who lives in Omak, perhaps 150 miles away. He and his wife fly their bush plane to a remote landing strip. They come to fish and stay at a resort ranch, called, appropriately enough, “The Ranch.”

Back packers, many answering the challenge of the nearby Pacific Crest Trail, tromp down to the cluster of dwellings along the lake shore to visit the post office. The hikers have shipped provisions there for the final leg of their adventure from Mexico to Canada. “Only four days left!” one exuded in mock exhaustion.

If you have an hour or two or three — and in this place you just might — the hikers will fill the time with tales of the trail.

Back in the city now with its headlines of Iranian nuclear weapons and reports of political mudslinging, I think of Stehekin, Lake Chelan and the easy camaraderie of a place somewhere out in nowhere.

Yes, if you waited in Stehekin long enough, if you sojourned on the porch of the lodge, transfixed by the distant North Cascade peaks, if you stayed there in that far away world, thousands of other seekers would wander in, visit, and linger before moving on.

Perhaps that’s what’s needed. I know the earth is full of Stehekins — places pure, unspoiled and trusting. We need to discover them. We need to protect them. We need to know we can make more of them — wherever we are.

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