Since 1974 or so, our family has loved a gem in the Cascade Mountains that is surprisingly accessible from our truly suburban homes in the Puget Sound area of Washington State.
The first years we were often there camping out with very few other campers nearby. The place was four miles down a dusty trail deep into the forest of tall trees and close-growing brush, across a little bridge, and, if you knew which little road to take, you could find a stony beach and a wide wide lake. Breathtakingly beautiful– pristine– and proverbially bottomless! A roaring creek led to a quiet inlet where a canoe could be launched. Little children splashed in the clear water and tried to catch minnows in the shallows.
We tented, in those days, and bundled up against the mountain cold, slept in sleeping bags. We hid our food in the car lest we attract hungry wildlife. We learned to recognize the bear-hair evidence on the trunks of trees. No question of the wealth of wildlife in that remote spot.
Well, here we are still meeting as a family on a summer weekend. We were, as of Friday, 14 +. Our family has grown by three generations since those days and we are used to reserving a large family camping area for the various arms of family who surround the campfire these days. More extended family will arrive over the course of the weekend: Friends and co-workers of the family have enjoyed this event for years now. We have seen whole families grow up just as ours has. We pinch ourselves at the specialness of all this. We know we are lucky.
Our little kids have grown up and their little kids are now a tall bunch of hearty young people ranging from 11 to 39 years of age. And everyone has a best friend or wife or husband to bring along to the amazing wilderness that is still hiding there.
The first place I checked when we arrived was the lakeshore– oh that familiar spot of so many memories!
The lagoon still looks the same, even if trees have fallen and trees have been born. The lagoon exists because this lake was invented long ago to made a reservoir for the Eastern Washington farmers. The lake level goes up and down, submerging the trunks of evergreen trees during parts of the years. I have lovingly called this lagoon area the Elephant Knees, because the trees stand above their reflections like tall gray legs of some large beast. I have made many versions of Elephant Knees paintings in the studio over the years. It is good to see the Elephant Knees again. They have a different look at different times of day and in different seasons. Sometimes they are standing on a dry shoreline!
Below is a collage of details and different renderings of the Elephant Knees from past seasons.
Summers “east of the Mountains” are very hot and can be extremely dry. The desert-like stretches of Eastern Washington are surprisingly good places to grow fruit trees, vegetables, livestock feed, hops, wine grapes, and so many lush things we find at our “west of the Mountains” grocery stores. Fresh produce is in its banner weeks right now. The famous Rainier Cherries are in season, among other things.
So the lake feeds farms that grow things like this. But this lake is not just a pond. It is set in the eastward summit of the Cascade Mountains, a rather young range, geologically speaking, that has its own unique character. People come from miles, for instance, to gather mushrooms in season, and sell them to restaurateurs for a pretty penny. The tall trees include pine trees which do not grow voluntarily in the western slopes. There is a sort of cordiality and grace that surprises a hiker just over the summit of the range, where the sun is hotter and the winters much colder. Snow fields last all summer in shaded creases of these mountains. Mt. Rainier always has snow on top, and snowfields. I saw little snowfields in lesser mountains this weekend. And eagles zooming in the heights.
This weekend there were two boys snorkling in the shallows of the lake. Never mind that the water is still very cold and the air chilly. It was not a sunny day, but that did not deter the kids. The three girls in our party swam in the cold lake without hesitation. They changed clothes and ran around camp with wet hair for the latter part of Friday.
These days the men (because all those people who were boys in 1974 are now certainly men– some of them with plenty of gray in their hair) bring up their special gear for camping. My son showed off the custom trailer he had invented and built of tough welded metal frames and stout wood sides. It drags bikes and other gear around the wilderness and the city as well. The men in this family like to build things from scratch. They are all “makers” of things. They’re a creative group who have accumulated skills that they put to excellent use!
My son in law (his is a construction company business) brought chunks of old wood from a house he is remodeling. The old house had to be taken away, and he cut it into chunks for a quick start to the campfire.
The meals are gourmet! All these folks are “foodies” and camp food is one of the specialties. People bring amazing homemade healthy food for these gatherings. We had an amazing birthday cake this year for a couple of birthdays that fall in the end of June. (A wedding was had in this place some years ago. Ashes have been sprinkled here, and so will mine, someday.)
Someone brought a little inflatable boat with a battery operated electric motor to snoop around the shoreline with. We always say there are no fish in Kachess because the fish are amazingly hard to catch. We do see remains of fish now and then but I think our fishermen have not yet presented a trout breakfast for all the trying they enjoy. They do sometimes tell lies.
It doesn’t matter that there are a lot of clouds in the blue sky. And even a sprinkle of rain for moments of time. There are cribbage boards and cards, and some serious campers have bought civilized camper rigs. The wives like their comforts. The men are dedicated detail-checkers. Safety and longevity is a well-discussed subject. And only some of us had to use the perfectly okay outhouse. Some of these rigs actually have potties!
The dog got out of the tent and went on a hike this morning before anyone woke up. It was okay. He knew where he was, even if we didn’t, and didn’t want to miss any food that might be beg-able. The little and big dogs love this outing, and good campers are excellent at keeping their pets contained and polite to other people and pets.
I am the “dowager” by now. I get fussed over and spoiled at these gatherings. The young men have all had courtesy-training’ they offer an arm to their grandmother. The grandmother gets to drink in the sweetness of place, family, and TLC without lifting a finger! I told them that in twenty years when they were meeting, if a sprinkle of rain came down on them, they could blame me– I would be up there communicating with them at this special spot.
Happily reporting. Susan [The Dowager]