Monday, September 8, 2014

The Ache: Stehekin

--> I felt it on the way uplake. I felt it as we laid out the tent on the dry dirt, smelled the cottonwood and pine mixed together, when I felt my breath whoosh out of me when I plunged into the icy water, and, especially, when I saw the sunburned, muscled bodies bearing up under backpacks on the shuttle up to dinner.

Hikers of the Pacific Crest Trail often make a detour into Stehekin, a community of 75 year-round residents and a lot of seasonal tourists strung along a single 12-mile paved road at the far end of Lake Chelan. I’ve been told that the cinnamon rolls at the Stehekin Pastry Company (usually referred to as The Bakery) are well worth the extra mileage to a calorie-starved hiker…or anyone else, for that matter. Walking in over mountains and valleys is one of only three ways to arrive – the other two are float plane, and boat.

There is no road to Stehekin from the outside world. Wifi is limited; cell service does not exist. Instead you are at the foot of blue craggy mountains, the foot of the glacier-fed Stehekin River, and the foot of the deep, clear crystal blue Lake Chelan, at its coldest here near its source, where the stars glitter like diamonds above the lightless road. In Stehekin, it’s not surprising to see rusted out cars with tabs that haven’t been updated since 1980…because, you see, there’s no law here, and no need.

Stehekin is my childhood condensed. I did not grow up here, but the things I liked most about growing up on Lake Chelan are here: a small-town feel, little that has changed, friendly waving people driving slowly by, an orchard to wander through, a garden to stop in, and the smells of water and pine and cotton wood and earth: dry, dusty, summer-baked earth.

 I went to Stehekin because it seemed like the thing to do after two years away, and it was all that I needed, but it also gave me an ache that would not dissipate for the three days I was there. I ached because it felt like going home, but also because it was not a home I could sustain. I ached because I want very much to carry the peaceful warmth of an endless Stehekin day with me wherever I go, but in the few weeks since I’ve been back in the States, I’ve found it harder and harder to be able to find that endless summer day space in my everyday. Even if it wasn’t Stehekin, I had found that peace in Panama, and I want it again. I want it always, just a shut laptop away, just a bike ride from the front door.

I ached because I looked at the Pacific Crest Trail hikers and I wanted what they have: endless nights in a tangible world, where their feet take them the distance they need to go, their backs carry what they need to live, and their smiles shine out past their courage and connect with anyone who carries the same badges: the same willingness to leave life as it is to go seek life how it could to be: closer to the source and further away from the fear and powerlessness that can cause paralysis and stagnation.

It is a slower existence, and one I feel often: on hiking trails, next to monstrous roaring waterfalls, and last night, by myself. I shucked off my clothes on a still-warm rock in the darkness and swam out into where the moonlight was illuminating the water. I looked down and saw own legs below me under the surface, as clearly as if they were illuminated by daylight. The moon shone straight onto my skin through glowing liquid, as if to say, “You see? You are here, too – I see you. You are as much part of this water as I am part of this sky.”

And it is in that water that I will always live, regardless of where I am. Chelan – deep water – nourishes me, reminds me that my roots need not hold me stagnant, and that I can float out past the shore and into the moonlight, where I belong.

I ached there because it was home, but not because it is a home that I have to stay in to live in. I ached because it reminded me of how far I have come since my first time swimming up into Rainbow Falls. I ache because my highest self sees herself in the surroundings here – she sees the courage she writes with, the strength she walks through her days with, and an inner beauty reflected outward in these tall craggy mountains and a lake so deep it’s hard to find the bottom. She is at home here, but then again, she is at home everywhere. The only the thing I need to know I’m home is the feeling I found here: a familiar, deep, soul-touching ache. 

Love and aching kisses

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