August 1, 2011

On Vacation

This post is not about farming, other than to say what a wonderful farm-sitter we have (thank you Desiree!). This post is about where we went on vacation - Bead Lake, WA.

In 1980, when I was 4 years old, Mt. St. Helens erupted and sent a cloud of ash around the world. We were living in Spokane at the time and all I remember of that awesome event was in the middle of the afternoon the ash rained down and it became dark as night. For the next few days no one could go outside without a special mask to prevent ash from getting into your lungs. Imagine my poor parents with a 4 year old and 1 year old stuck in a suburban house, with no cable! When the ash finally cleared and we were allowed back outside, my parents decided we wouldn't stop at the front yard. Instead they grabbed a map and chose a location about 1 hour north of Spokane - Bead Lake.

There are at least a hundred lakes within a couple hours drive of Spokane, so I'm not sure how they decided on Bead Lake, other than it is pretty remote for being so close to a largish city. I don't remember anything from that particular trip, but the lake made an impression on my parents and, being that there wasn't any property on the lake for sale, they decided to purchase 10 acres and a small, rustic cabin just north of the lake. This became known as the "hunting cabin," because my dad hunted white tail deer from that base camp for the next dozen years. (Picture of the "hunting cabin", 20 years after it was sold to another family. It's now in significant disrepair.) From the hunting cabin we had ready access to Bead Lake.

A quick story about the hunting cabin, before I launch into the lake. My first independent outdoor adventure happened at the hunting cabin. One afternoon I headed out on my own, as I did frequently because I've never had much fear of anything. I must have been about 8 at the time. I crossed the marsh on our property and began to move through the brush and trees. After a few minutes I looked around and had no idea which way I came from or how to get out. I heard my Dad's advice in the back of my mind, "If you get lost, stay put. It's hard to find you if you are moving." So I chose a nice looking tree and sat down. Not much after I heard my Dad calling for me and followed his voice out. I still never pass up an opportunity to bush-whack my own trail.

Ok, back to Bead Lake. It is amazing. It's a glacier-formed lake with very steep, nearly unbuildable slopes around 80% of the shore. The edge where the glacier receded and dropped lots of rocky sediment is the edge with cabins (as seen the in picture, cabins along the right). The steep slope, and the fact that it's National Forest, means that the lake will never be over-built and most of the land will remain wild. Wild, as in deer, elk, cougar, bear, turkey and the return of wolves, yes wolves! The lack of cabins and septic systems also means the water in the lake is very clean, drinkable, although my mom won't and would never let us kids drink it. The water is also clear - on a bad day you can see down about 15 feet; on a good day at least 30 ft. Add to that amazing fishing for Kokanee (landlocked salmon), Lingcod (landlocked cod) and Mackinaw, and this lake is a destination for all kinds of outdoors people.

When I was 4 to 9 years old, the weekend ritual was to hitch up the boat, drive up the hunting cabin on Friday night, stopping at the spring for water (no running water or electricity at the hunting cabin) and make dinner on a camp stove. The next morning we would get up early and head to Crystal Shores, Bead Lake's then boat launch, convenience store and campsite. We would try to get there before the crowds so that we could jet across to the beach - actually just a flat spot with small, well weather rocks - and set up before anyone else could get to that one non-steep location. We nearly always won the race and so we dubbed it "Correll Beach". My memories of days on the beach are as thick as the mosquitoes got in the evening. Learning to skip rocks (a skill I'm still trying to master), trying to catch fish in a plastic bucket, finding crawdads under sunken logs.

Then there was the day I got heat exhaustion. Needless to say, it was a hot day and the beach as south facing, getting a full day of sunshine. I was busy being a kid and refusing to stop to lotion-up or eat or drink. In the afternoon it hit hard, like a flu bug. I was burning up. My parents took the canvas top off the boat and made an umbrella of sorts for me to lay under. The only liquid we had left, other than the lake, was pineapple juice. I downed nearly a gallon (or so it seemed). By the time we got back to the hunting cabin and cool of the forest, I was well again.

Another significant memory was learning to water ski. My dad took two kids skies and screwed them together with wood so it was like skiing on one wide plank. I learned by floating in the water just off Correll Beach, holding the rope and my mom holding me by the back of my life jacket. Dad would slowly speed up until my mom let go and I stood up. I think I was 8 years old, but that's fuzzier in my memory than the feeling of the first time I got up and went around the lake.

For years my parents watched for cabins to be put up for sale around the lake. Not much was available. Many people keep cabins in the family. There are names, like Mead and Andrews, that go back more than 50 years. Finally, when I was 9 years old, the lake cabin, as it would come to be called, came up for sale. It was old and the stairs and deck were falling apart. The whole thing was leaning slightly. But it had a lot of waterfront and the price was good. My parents made their move. (Picture is of the lake cabin today, many repairs and a new second/lower floor later.)

When I was about 12 or 13, the operator of Crystal Shores, Pete, died of a heart attack. I had known Pete my whole life, it seemed. He ran the little convenience store with candy that my brother and I would purchase - usually year-old gummy worms. Loosing Petet put an end to Crystal Shores, which was divided and sold to three families, who all built huge cabins. These were the first really big, really nice, new cabins on the lake. This event marked a change. Since then property values have gone up steadily, so have taxes. One by one, the older smaller cabins are being tore down and new, mammoth cabins built.

Today there is a little public boat launch, run by the forest service, at the far east end of the lake. The launch has no dock and is only used by fishermen or kayakers. Correll Beach is still there, but we seldom see anyone at it. The people we bought the lake cabin from, now own the one next door to us. (We sold the hunting cabin 20 years ago.) There is a trail and two campsite that people frequently hike to. But the lake remains the same beautiful, clean, wild place it ever was. My parents are able to visit it often, but Jeremy, Jordan and I only get there once a year for a week long vacation. Still every time I smell the air the feeling of childhood comes over me and I smile. And now Jordan is getting to experience all the same places and activities I did - literally retracing my footsteps, hopefully not the heat exhaustion step though.

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