Methow Valley, Washington and Aristocratic Whistling Horses

For the past several summers my boys and I have packed our bags, our food, our sunscreen and bug spray and headed east of the mountains to the beautiful Methow Valley.  We look forward to it all year and the memories we make are extremely precious to me.  This year I borrowed my father’s truck and a friend’s vintage 1967 Aristocrat Lo-Liner travel trailer/caravan; complete with a bright turquoise oven and refrigerator.  Although I have zero experience pulling a caravan (and for me to drive my father’s four wheel drive truck I had to move the seat to the closest possible setting so as to reach the pedals)  I was nonetheless completely ready for the adventure.  I’m getting older, and the thought of another year sleeping on the floor of a tent with two smelly teenage boys was getting to be too much.  Last year I found myself laying awake at night with thoughts of the Westin hotel’s “heavenly” beds and showers…and room service… Needless to say, I was thrilled to have been offered the caravan.  My older son however, was nervous.  He worried I’d lose control of the steering on the mountain pass leading to the caravan, along with the three of us screaming inside, plummeting to the valley below; a heap of bones and turquoise oven parts.  I assured him that I knew what I was doing (although I really didn’t) and suggested he relax and enjoy the ride as we headed out-of-town.

The five-hour drive saw us leaving the dark, thick Cedar and Douglas Fir woods of Western Washington, through the ear-popping mountain peaks of Snoqualmie Pass, and entering the Eastern side of Washington .  Once east, the skies opened; no longer blocked by the tall trees and mountains, the warm sun and blue sky welcomed us into her house like an old friend.  Hours later we landed smack dab in the heart of rolling hills, patchwork-like quilts of old farms and acres upon acres of orchards and vineyards of the Methow Valley.  Along the way, cardboard signs decorated with balloons, streamers and even deer antlers dotted the roads; handwritten words announcing a wedding, an anniversary or a garage sale on each.

I laughed to myself at the silliness (and my stubbornness) of it all; driving a borrowed old caravan/trailer with a borrowed truck through the mountains and into the open road, while singing along to Andrea Bocelli on my iPod without a clue of what I was doing.  Only weeks prior I had been in downtown Chicago, spending the day at the Chicago Art Institute Museum surrounded by Picasso, Monet and Warhol.  After the museum I enjoyed a cappuccino at a coffee house across the street before catching the subway back to my hotel.  While I could literally bathe in the fine waters of art, submersing myself in city culture, I am just as happy hiking up a well-worn trail, letting my feet get dirty with muddy waters and keeping my hair in a pony tail for days on end.  Nature, small towns and farming communities have a culture of their own that I certainly don’t mind bathing in either.  I’ll admit I have my limits when “roughing it” outside, but that said, I also have my limits of enduring the over-stimulus of the concrete jungle as well.  It appears I am quite limited…..

Around dinner time we finally arrived at Whistlin’ Pines on Alta Lake in Pateros.  The owner, Brian, greeted us with a friendly smile, handshakes and hugs.  Brian also runs Sawtooth Outfitters – a guide company that essentially takes people (mostly men) into the woods for sometimes weeks on end, on horseback, with mules, carrying guns, supplies and such…to kill things and bring back the meat…and such.  Born on the property some sixty odd years ago, Brian’s the real deal when it comes to cowboys.  Tan, broad, rough and leathery, he wears Wrangler jeans, old cowboy boots and a worn and dirty cowboy hat. I’ve only ever seen him wearing a shirt a few times.  He’s the man you want in your corner; a fierce protector.   I can’t help but feel completely girlie when around Brian, no matter how tough I think I am. I’m sure there are even a few men out there who’ve felt like a fancy pants in his presence and even rattlesnakes fear him.

In fact, last year during our visit, I found a rattlesnake by our tent and alerted Brian.  He slowly walked down the path to our site, flat head shovel in hand, located the snake within minutes and as quick as a viper himself, cut it’s head off, chopped it up and buried it.  He then grabbed the still wriggling body, took a knife from his pocket, sliced it open and skinned it right there; throwing the snake meat to his dog, Chili.  Handing the skin and rattles to my son he smiled, wished us a good night and went back to his house to eat his dinner.  We all stood and watched him walk away – in awe and shock at what we had witnessed.

After unpacking, settling in and eating dinner I poured myself a drink and walked down to the lake with my younger son.  The sun had set and the night-time was arriving.  It’s always been my favorite time of the day on the lake.  Everyone else is usually either still cooking or cleaning themselves up for the night, therefore, it’s incredibly peaceful.  We sat on the edge of the floating dock and quietly watched the turtles swim by; their little heads popping up every so often.  The bats joined us too; skimming the water for their own dinner and drinks and across the lake, the sounds of the horses running and neighing echoed off the cliffs surrounding us.  I’d like to believe that Picasso, Warhol and Monet would have loved it there as well.  When the mosquitoes got to be too much we headed back to our Aristocrat to hunker down for the night, play a game and eat cookies in bed…