Living on the edge of wilderness

Cascade wildflowersI’ve been keeping company with Ana Maria Spagna’s essay collections, Now Go Home: Wilderness, Belonging, and the Crosscut Saw; and Potluck: Community on the Edge of Wilderness while we’ve been vacationing in the Cascades.

After college, Spagna made a commitment to work on trail crews for the National Park Service in spring, summer, and fall, and to travel during the winter months. Eventually, she settled in Stehekin, Washington, a remote town in the northern Cascades, where she and her partner built their own house. I believe she still works the trail crews several months out of the year.

I tend to romanticize what it would be like to call such a place home. In her essays, Spagna captures the glamour and majesty of living surrounded by natural beauty, but she also writes about the never-ending challenges.

Ana Maria writes about how Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, tree huggers and loggers, religious fundamentalists and atheists get along (or don’t) in a small community.

There are the forest fires, flash floods, and avalanches. There are the costs incurred to keep residents of these areas safe from natural disasters, costs often borne by taxpayers who live in more populated areas.

It hadn’t occurred to me that precautions to prevent forest fires may cause the buildup of flammable, dense growth that could result in The Big One, a massive fire that destroys everything.

Spagna’s writing is important. She’s a voice from another world, the last bastions of nature, a voice whose wisdom we need to hear.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“I visited the Magic Kingdom thirty-seven times before I turned nineteen, and by then I craved something, anything, that would be the antithesis of Disney, the real thing. That’s what I found on the highway: places you can count on, places where in the morning without fail, there will be coffee at the gas station heading out of town….[and] people who….were honest, if quirky, and unexpectedly generous, and they lived an ethic that the land itself, no matter how pretty, can’t teach…..The Golden Rule.”
View from Spirit Lake trail
“These places…wilderness areas, national parks – are supposed to transform us, make us new…..they do not continuously dispense spiritual wowness like a fountain….I stripped myself of everything to be out there–out there!–and the problem with being out there is that then it is not out there anymore. It is more like in here….you can’t be made new at home.”

Quotes are from Now Go Home: Wilderness, Belonging, and the Crosscut Saw, by Ana Maria Spagna, Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, 2004.

Bridal veil falls