Stehekin is a community tucked between snow-capped peaks at the southern end of the North Cascades National Park. No roads will take you here. There is only a ferry, which makes the four-hour trip Lake Chelan once a day, bringing visitors and supplies. Alternatively the floatplane can be a quicker (but pricier) option. This glacial gorge is the third deepest lake in the U.S, after Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe—Lake Chelan is 2 miles at its widest but 1,500 feet at its deepest. There are no telephone lines here, but in recent years satellites have connected residents to the Internet. There are only about 85 full time residents, and the influx of seasonal workers almost doubles the town’s population in the summer.
I’m working as a housekeeper at the Stehekin Lodge this summer. Practically anywhere you go on the property you have a clear view of these extraordinary mountains. And at night it’s so quiet you can hear your heartbeat.
Massive, fragrant pines shelter our cabin. Kevin and I are filling every shelf and table with treasures from our hikes. Each day has been filled with pleasant surprises and little discoveries: tiny purple pine cones, amazing stories from my incredible boss who has lived everywhere/done everything, a deer carcass. There’s no telling what a day will hold.
The secluded nature of this place is evident in every aspect of daily life. Just take a walk—if a car passes you on the road, the driver will always give you a cheerful wave. If you’d like a ride, no problem, hitchhiking is a great way to get to know more residents. We don’t lock our cabin door, and we don’t even have a key– theft is a non-issue. Apparently there was a laptop left on a table by the dock this spring and it was three days before the owner reclaimed it. No one is so busy they don’t have time to make a conversation—you can talk with anyone at anytime. I’ve had wonderful conversations with staff, guests, residents and managers alike.
While there is no cell reception or movie theater, the town does have a mall: a shed where residents discard whatever they don’t need. A sign outside boasts “100% off, all the time”. Need groceries? A couple of miles from the boat landing there’s an organic farm and apiary. The farmer, Carl, never wears shoes. We have friendly games of baseball (swing until you hit it!), bonfires and potlucks for entertainment. The bakery here is otherworldly and I will be writing odes to their delicious cinnamon buns all summer.
View of the Stehekin Valley from the Rainbow Loop Trail.
Paintbrush is an incredible flower, which I will be researching and writing more about.
And naturally, there are hikes—in the Stehekin valley there are hundreds of miles of trails that take you to alpine lakes and waterfalls and pristine glacial gorges filled with wildflowers. This location is so remote we are rather cut off from the rest of the park, but there’s still plenty to explore in the immediate area.
I’m enjoying every minute spent in this incredible place, with these beautiful people, and spine-tingling, head-spinning beauty in every direction. I’m finally tucking into books that had long been gathering dust on my shelves at home. I’ve begun reading Comfortable With Uncertainty, short meditations written by a remarkable Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. One day at work in the laundry room I opened to a passage that was rather perfect:
“Breathing in, breathing out, feeling resentful, feeling happy, being able to drop it, not being able to drop it, eating our food, brushing our teeth, walking, sitting– whatever we’re doing could be done with one intention. That intention is that we want to wake up, we want to ripen our compassion, we want to ripen our ability to let go, we want to realize our connection with all beings.”
And this is the part that has really, really struck a chord with me: “Everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us.”
And what better place could I choose to wake up? I can challenge myself to practice loving more fully while folding laundry in a windowless room. I can practice cultivating compassion on beautiful hikes. I can wake up with a jump into icy glacial waters at any time of the day.
Everything (breathing in, breathing out, feeling resentful, feeling happy, being able to drop it, not being able to drop it, eating our food, brushing our teeth, walking, sitting) truly comes from the same place– this place of just being human, this incredible process of just existing, this process of learning how to be.