Letter from the North Cascades: Week Four

Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Commercial Fishing, Culture, Reading & Writing | 2 comments

Hi friends –

A month into my time with the North Cas­cades Insti­tute, I’m think­ing that a writer’s res­i­dency is some­thing like a fish­ing sea­son. As on the Nerka, I rely on rou­tine here in Dog­wood 2. Instead of get­ting the gear in the water at first light, though, I’m work­ing at each day’s oppos­ing end, tap-tapping my way into tomor­rows. I’ve second-guessed this process – you’re sup­posed to get up early and work­ing first thing in the morn­ing; all the Real Writ­ers say so! – and trust me, sweet­ies, I’ve tried. But my words are noc­tur­nal crea­tures. If writ­ing mem­oir is to roam murky trails of mem­ory, cast­ing a light for those sto­ries that glim­mer and wink back through the dark­ness, per­haps there’s a grace in sit­ting with words long into the night.

An admis­sion: my first full week up here, I didn’t walk a sin­gle trail. Not to check out the water­fall at the top of Sour­dough Creek Trail, not dainty quarter-mile Deer Creek Trail, and I didn’t even know about lake­side Penin­sula Trail, just out the din­ing hall. I told myself I was here with a book to write, no time for walks! That, too, was like the fish­ing sea­son, when we fling our­selves at the July king open­ing until our bod­ies must impose their own lim­its. We leave them no other choice. Now, after too many days of sit­ting, I take time to appre­ci­ate these sur­round­ings. Hope­ful of see­ing another bob­cat, I move slowly, test­ing each foot­fall for stealth. (And suc­ceed­ing, when I acci­den­tally scared the poor Christ­mas Bird Count gen­tle­men the other day.) Thanks to writer friend Suezy, there’s always a rain­proof note­book in my back pocket, wait­ing to cor­ral the ideas that inevitably appear when you step away from your desk. Today I walked in the snow. It didn’t stick – none has, yet – but turned my hair white and refreshed an early mem­ory: press­ing my face against the win­dow to watch enor­mous flakes surge down, stunned to learn that snow could steal the black from the night sky.

Late at night, when I don’t think I have any­thing more to give, I step away from the desk and curl up on the lit­tle green loveseat on the other side of the room. If you’ve sent a let­ter (and I’m so grate­ful to those who have!), this is when I open it. At the end of the day, as a reward. Even if we’ve never spo­ken and wouldn’t know each other’s tim­bres, your voice fills this lit­tle haven. The voice of a friend. I lean into your pages like a con­ver­sa­tion, then, with Amy Gulick’s Salmon in the Trees as an inspir­ing desk, I write you back. It is a con­ver­sa­tion, and like any good visit with a friend, I feel renewed when we say good­bye. Enve­lope sealed, stamped, and lean­ing against the jade plant on the cof­fee table where I can’t miss it, I go back to the desk and write one more thing.

It’s been said in so many ways: writ­ing is lonely, soli­tary work. No one else can do this for us. Whether in moments of tri­umph or despair, we’re all star­ing at our screens, our note­books, alone. Yet I don’t feel alone. From the work of favorite authors lin­ing the kitchen counter (“Your lit­er­ary blood­line,” nov­el­ist Jim Lynch has called them), to the post­cards bright­en­ing the fridge, I feel you here with me. This, too, like fish­ing: it’s when we’re able to step away, toss­ing phones into a drawer and stash­ing lap­tops in their cases, that I feel most con­nected to my sur­round­ings, the peo­ple in my heart, myself.

Be well, friends. Happy Win­ter Sol­stice to you and yours.


c/o ELC

PO Box 429

Mar­ble­mount, WA 98267


About mail: Your let­ters go to a post office that’s a half-hour drive away. I don’t leave the cam­pus; mail moves from there to here by the grace of Care­taker Tom. Like­wise, my responses wait patiently in the office’s Out­go­ing Mail bas­ket, until one day, thanks to some kind deliv­ery fairy, they van­ish. If you don’t hear a response as soon as you’d expect, trust that it’s com­ing. Just a pause in the con­ver­sa­tion, a moment to con­sider a bit longer before speak­ing. Not such a bad prac­tice, really.



  1. I have thought you to be corvid ”’ but I see you are a nite owl

    • Ha! Yes, that’s turn­ing out to be true, Tom. Def­i­nitely not keep­ing fish­ing hours. All best to you and Mary; I put some­thing in the mail, but it may take a while to reach you.

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