Haven

The drive over the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State is breathtaking, and even in May there is snow alongside the highway. This year we caravanned from Western Washington with my son; two vehicles pulling trailers with all our possessions to settle in northeastern Washington near the Columbia River not far from the Canadian border. The last time I lived here for any length of time was over three decades ago when my 2nd born daughter was a little girl. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the cabin nestled among the pine trees, felt the serenity of this land and witnessed the majesty of the Columbia River. Now I am here at my daughter’s house, the one she and my son in law built several years ago. This is where my husband and I will stay while we are building our home.

There are few distractions here; one is graced with the essence of simplicity. To be near the river and surrounded by the Ponderosa Pines is a gift that frees my spirit and I cherish my time here. While I look forward to the future the past is my treasure, for the discovery of this sanctuary all those years ago fulfilled a dream.

I have so many memories of the early days; summer afternoons with the children swimming in the river, hiking up to the apple orchards, and the “berry walks” harvesting the mulberries and abundant serviceberries. I remember the rattlesnakes and the bears, (I saw a young bear close up in an apple tree one year) and the osprey’s nest across the river. I remember hitchhiking into town for groceries; giving birth to my youngest son in the deep, quiet winter of a January morning. These were times of faith, simple times, deep times.

Nature was all around us so each day was a learning experience for us all, both adults and children. At one point there were three households on the land and between us we schooled our children, teaching them math, reading, and art. My daughter tells me these were some of the happiest days of her childhood. There was always plenty of excitement like the stump fire that broke out behind the cabin one summer which took us all day to put out. Exhausted as we were by the end of the day we still had to deal with a wild dog that attacked our chickens as we were sitting down to dinner. There was the day my daughter broke her arm and we had to go all the way to the hospital in Spokane.

We had few possessions in those days. The kitchen was furnished with wooden apple crates for cupboards and we kept our perishables in the spring box up the road behind the cabin. We had electricity but cooked with a wood cook stove and did laundry outside the cabin in standing washtubs and hung our clothes on clotheslines. We baked bread and grew our vegetables which we canned, froze, or stored in a root cellar.

Every now and again there was a day when I was alone on the land and it was these days that are some of my most precious memories. I was complete in stillness within, with the sun on my face, the trees singing in the wind, and the chirping of cicadas. Many years later I am again granted this peaceful feeling as I gaze at meadow that unfolds in front of the house. There, in the middle of the field is Angel’s tree, the tree beneath which lay the ashes of my grandson who was stillborn almost two decades ago. I can’t think of a better place for him to rest.

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Querencia

In Spanish, querencia describes a place where one feels safe, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home.  My querencia is in Northeastern Washington near the Columbia River. I think it is one of the most beautiful and peaceful spots on the earth, and as a nature lover life here has brought me much joy.

I have lived here in each season of the year of the year but summers are special. In the earlier years I spent hours walking the land; I hiked up the switchback to get the mail or down the hill to walk along the river front. The countryside was quiet, except for the sounds of nature; the cicada’s chirp, the birdsong or the buzzing of bees. There was plenty of other wildlife to observe.  There was an osprey that had her nest across the river and she was fascinating to watch as she soared back and forth to her nest.  There were coyotes that yipped at night, and once a mamma grouse scuttled out of the bushes to fly at me, protecting her chicks as they scurried across the trail. One day I saw a rattlesnake alongside the road which stopped me in my tracks. I dared not move until it slithered away.


One of my favorite places to walk was to the two deserted apple orchards not far from our cabin. Even before apple harvest season the children and I would walk to the upper orchard to play and to enjoy the fragrant lilacs when they were in bloom in May. Both orchards were overgrown and both deserted but the apples were tasty . It was great fun to take the kids in the red Radio Flyer wagon to the upper orchard and get apples for canning, pies, drying, or just eating fresh. We often took a picnic and made a day of it. The children loved playing among the trees. The upper orchard was the large of the two and was on the left hand side of the road and sloped upward. At the top of the slope there was a huge mulberry bush, more like a tree than a bush. We harvested the berries by spreading an old sheet on the ground beneath the tree and shaking the branches. From there we gathered up the sheet and dumped the berries into containers to take home.


The Lower Orchard, located on the right side of the road at the bottom of the switchback was smaller, and perched on a cliff that overlooked Bear Meadow.  One Indian summer afternoon I took a walk by myself up to the lower orchard. It was late in the day, still hot, and the sun was low in the sky. The air was still and fragrant with ripening fruit and the pungency of the Ponderosa Pine. I meandered for a while, just breathing in the peace and enjoying the scenery . Suddenly I became aware that I wasn’t the only visitor. A few yards away I looked up to see a half grown bear in one of the trees. I looked at it and it looked at me. My heart was pounding I knew not to panic and run but I didn’t want a showdown either. Very slowly I turned to leave and as I did so heard a crashing of branches breaking and when I turned back around there was no bear in sight. Apparently he was more afraid of me than I was of him. This is one of a few bear sightings; certainly it was the closest I had been to one out in nature.


Over the years there have been changes on the land. That is the nature of life as we all grow and evolve. There is no longer access to the orchards and the switchback is overgrown and fenced but the river still flows, silent and strong, and the trees are still abundant and tall. The wind song whispers to me. I am at home, on the land and in my heart, my queriencia.

Haibun

A few years ago when I was still writing poetry consistently I discovered a form that I like very much which is called haibun. I hardly ever see this kind of writing but I find it fascinating and something I might explore further. I believe that in writing, generally speaking, less is more and the challenge is to get your point across in the fewest words possible; quality, not quantity. A good writer will engage his reader to make him think, transport him into imagery, and entertain him.

My most recent revelation is that I need to remember to decide who my audience is. This will determine the style of the piece, the voice, and the tense.

I also believe that free writing or stream of consciousness is very important. I try to free write every day. This helps free my mind and gives me ideas. Thank you Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones.)

The River

I get up early and walk upriver to enjoy the fresh morning breeze and the birdsong. The sunrise reflects on the glossy surface of the river creating diamonds of sparkling light.  As I sit near the estuary I notice a creature swimming towards the shore. As it comes closer, I realize that it is a beaver. I sit very still and watch as he makes his slow progress across.

serene of morning

undisturbed; creation’s peace
sunrise in command.

I spend long summer days by the banks of the mighty Columbia River considering its mystery and ponder the workings of my own life.  The river is wise and powerful and its silence is comforting. Despite rocky shore, various plants thrived on the sandy ground and bloom with tiny wildflowers.  The osprey flies to and from its nest on the opposite bank. Once or twice a day the train etches itself along that ridge. The rocks scrabble noisily down and I wonder if the bank will give way. I shed my clothes; wade into the chilly water in as far as I dare and plunge under.

deepness, cold water
soaring birds against the sky
sharing river life.