I am exhausted. Our first week at Zig Zag Mountain Farm has ended and it wore me out. The month long hiatus we took in Minnesota did nothing for my endurance. I am now sitting in the kitchen, with a blazing fire at my back, sipping tea and reminiscing about our latest road trip. We planned on camping each night on our way out West, just as we did this summer, but this time the weather did not cooperate. Bismarck, North Dakota was our first overnight stop and Chase had picked out a sentimental campsite for us, located along the Missouri River, the same river we camped on earlier this summer when we set out on the road. However, the tornado warnings and torrential rain prohibited us from any outdoor sleeping and we settled on the cheapest hotel.
I do not have a single good reason for why we slept in a hotel on night two, only that we arrived in Missoula around 9:00pm, hungry and tired. We could not imagine searching for a campsite and setting up in the frigid darkness. Finally, on night three, in the middle of wheat country Washington, we camped. Our drive to Palouse Falls State Park was slightly confusing. We knew that we were camping next to a rushing waterfall that drops a sudden 200 feet, but we imagined it would be set within a lush, wooded area, since we had been told that the state of Washington was full of rain. Yet, once we crossed into Washington, it felt like we were back in North Dakota – only flatter. Fields of wheat ran off in all directions for as far as I could see. The road looked like it had been only recently paved and was so narrow that we held our breath whenever another car would pass. It was the type of road just meant for a car commercial. We snaked between farms and never once saw any kind of forest or wetland. Within a couple of hours, the GPS told us that we would be approaching our destination in one mile. Confusing, there was no water in site. We set up camp and could hear rushing water, but we still couldn’t see this supposed waterfall. After walking a mere 100 feet, we set our eyes upon the beauty of Palouse Falls.
The falls are 198 feet in height and drop straight down into a 400 foot canyon. Tectonic forces and Ice Age floods over millions of years all contributed to the creation of such a spectacular sight. We climbed all around the waterfall for hours and never stopped being amazed. The canyon that contains the waterfall continues it’s winding ways for miles. The best view is from atop the falls, standing slightly behind the drop. I could feel the power in the water that raged over the rock and I could sense the force that it took to form such a creation. There was no doubt in my mind that the energy in this location was palpable. The air felt like it was waiting for a single spark to unleash it’s energy. Standing as close to the edge as I dared, I felt faint when I realized how much trust I was putting in Mother Earth. I was trusting that a cliff of rock and sand would hold my weight. I trusted that the ledge I was relying upon wouldn’t crumble and become part of the pile of fallen rock below. What is it about nature that allows me to trust without question, when I can barely trust my doctor to read an X-ray?
Our night was a cold one. The temperature dropped to 35 degrees, but we were toasty warm in our sleeping bags and sweaters. The next morning we took one last hike around the waterfall and started towards our final destination – Zig Zag Mountain Farm. Along the way we watched the countryside turn from fields to forests. We drove parallel to the lovely Columbia River from east to west, until we reached our turn toward Mount Hood. Our home for the next month is located at the base of one of the largest mountains on the west coast. They say everything here is larger because of all the rainf they receive each year, but it has yet to shed a drop since our arrival. Each day, we work surrounded by Fir trees that rise 100 feet above the ground. The leaves on the Maple trees are massive and each time they tumble to the ground I mistaken them for an approaching animal. They don’t just delicately drop to the ground like Minnesota leaves, it’s as though they are trying to let the whole world know that this is their last moment of life by making as much noise as possible.
Zig Zag Mountain Farm is different from the other farms we have visited this year. They offer a mountain retreat for workshops and classes throughout the summer. The farm manager, A.J., makes sure that the garden is producing and that the land is in pristine condition. Part of his taking care of the land this summer has been completing a massive forestry project. He and the other volunteers have worked to thin 33 acres of temperate forest to promote tree health and prevent forest fires. I hope you realize what an undertaking like this entails, but in the case that you do not, it means taking a thick forest and removing trees until there is on average 10 feet between each tree. This way enough light can filter through to the trees and keep them growing strong. The process began with sawing down all of the unwanted trees. Once these trees were scattered across the forest floor they had to be responsibly removed. The felled trees had to be limbed, bucked and stacked into organized piles. This meant climbing up and down the mountain, carrying insanely heavy pieces of trees and placing them into organized piles. These piles of wood could now be used for firewood, building materials and woodchips. Chase and I worked on the tail end of this project for the first week and I am proud to say that together we can lift most any fallen tree in the woods – once it has been bucked up of course. My muscles are still getting used to this lumberjack lifestyle, but luckily we have a wood-heated hot tub to ease my pain.