At the northern end of Lake Chelan is an unincorporated community called Stehekin, which means “the end of the road” or “the way through,” depending on who you ask. It’s inaccessible except by boat or plane and the introduction of phone lines is very recent. I found myself heading there a second time, the weekend after I’d turned 25. Alone, I was going with the sole purpose of garnering interviews from the people I’d met. I imagined in my head that they would be exactly where I had left them, and yet I was surprised when they were. I’ll start with a moment during my interview with Mark, a bearded park ranger who’d moved to Stehekin in the 90s.
We had been talking about ambient noise and how it had affected our past lifestyles. I was comparing Stehekin to my apartment in Brooklyn, where the soundtrack usually consisted of full-blast reggaeton and the whirr of my roommate’s juicer. I’d blamed this environment on my own unhappiness in the past.
I smelled pines and crisp plants. I heard birds moving above me, the wind bending the trees they sang in. In the middle of the movement I felt still. Between pine smells and subtle mountain sounds, I was calmer than I’d been for months. I think the reason for this ran deeper than it simply being what I was used to (having been raised in Lancaster County).
Mark told me that he'd expected our conversation to be more superficial but was pleasantly surprised, which thrilled me. This was the first true interview I'd had on the trip thus far and I'd felt stupid and unsure of myself coming off the boat.
That night, the lake seemed to have caught fire from the moon’s reflection. I marveled, falling asleep in my cocoon of a hammock, slung between two pines. I thought about skyscrapers and mountains. Sometimes I feel as though this entire trip has been one long open house: should I live in Seattle or San Francisco or Los Angeles or Stehekin... I wondered which was more organic and if that mattered anyway. Most importantly, I considered which would give me peace. Mark had offered me temporary lodging if ever I wanted to come back and I was feeling the place pull at me.
What struck me was how simply happy Mark seemed. There wasn’t the typical airing of grievances that I’d normally get in conversation. Even though he described himself as a “7 out of 10” on the happiness scale he held a certain aura: a calmness, an image of being able to transit life slowly and with enjoyment.
Digging deeper, in conversations both on and off the record, I discovered that the notion of a life without worry or regret is fantasy. I learned about undercurrents, factions, and religious fanaticism in the community… you know, the usual stuff. Humanity was still humanity.
I remember walking around the lake and to the bakery, on the second day. I felt wonderful, listening to the land waking up around me. I began to smile and faltered. Stressful thoughts swept back in, and I had to fight to keep them out. I smiled again, telling myself it was okay to do so. This little skirmish persisted for a while, ridiculous but important.
Deciding to believe that Stehekin translates to “the way through,” I boarded the boat and drifted. I wrote this on the way home:
"I truly feel that I've somehow made new friends on this trip, and also that this place really is calling to me for some reason. I'm learning to open my eyes to more people, and to become vulnerable again...Having the camera out is a wonderful excuse for asking these people a million questions. I also feel that I am on the correct path after all, that this adventure is what I needed, that throwing myself into this weird quest is already causing change in myself and in my view of everything around me."