Every New Season

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter
under heaven
(
Ecclesiastes 3:1)
 

SEVEN-OH!
AND COUNTING
BY MARY KOCH

After two-and-a-half years serving on the staff of Holden Village, a remote retreat center in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington state, I'm back home in the Okanogan Valley with a new perspective. Join me as I discover "conscious aging" and down-sizing.

If you would like to receive my essays directly by e-mail, or if you would like to respond to me, please e-mail:

marykoch@marykoch.com


Mary Koch is a veteran news reporter and editor. She was an Associated Press editor before marrying John E. Andrist in 1979, when she joined him in editing and publishing the Omak (Washington) Chronicle. They sold the newspaper in 1996, three years after he suffered a paralyzing stroke. John died in 2007. Mary continues to work as a writer and editor, most recently as communications coordinator for Holden Village.


RECENT ESSAYS:
“It always comes down to money,” said the veterinarian with a matter-of-fact voice. She was treating my black lab mix, Daphne, who was uncharacteristically lethargic, refusing to eat or drink ...

There’s nothing like the cool calm of early mornings in summer. Yet on a certain weekend, that morning calm is imbued with a quality of apprehension ...

“Our house is gone.” Four words that say so much and have been said so often this week as the largest wildfire in state history rages across Okanogan County ...

“Why would you do that” my 10-year-old neighbor asked, truly puzzled ...

I am neither here nor there, but I am more here than there ...

Americans purchase about 6.5 billion greeting cards each year, spending between $7 and $8 billion. I am sure that over the years I have preserved at least one of those billions in my basement ...

The flatbed truck pulled away from my house, taking away a goodly portion of my life ...

Saturday’s email from a staff member at Holden Village stirred pangs of remembrance ...


This is Mary's fourth series of weekly essays. The first series, Journal of Healing, described her years of caregiving for her late husband. The second series, A Widow Bit, explored  a caregiver's life after her loved one has died. The third series, outlined below, described living and working at Holden Village. To read essays from the earlier series, go to:

Widow Bit Index

Journal of Healing Index


Essays from Holden Village:

Quite possibly, the most important thing one does at Holden Village is leave town ...

“I’m tired all the time, grumpy and irritable,” confessed one of my usually cheerful hiking companions ...

A hard crust on top of the snow means that the season for making snow angels is pretty much over ...

It’s been a week of bridges, of recognizing how much we need them ...

Friends write to me of spring’s arrival in the Okanogan lowlands: warmer temperatures, bird songs, forsythia and balsamroot blooming, bulbs sending green shoots skywards. Here in the North Cascade mountains, the harbingers of spring are different ...

 “MAAARRRYYY!” My name echoed through the old building called Koinonia, where my office is one of several on the second floor, tucked above meeting rooms, library and the “craft cave.” I wondered how many people besides me were being alerted that something was up ...

Holden Village takes hilarity seriously. Thus S.O.B. Day is celebrated religiously every February ...

“Three days coming, three days here, three days going”—the traditional wisdom about colds that I learned decades ago...

 “All that motion, and so amazing because it’s in total silence,” said the woman at my lunch table as she gazed out the window at falling snow. Poetic, but there’s something in me that won’t let a generality pass without scrutiny ...

  How cold has it been? Three sets of pajamas worn one on top of the other, two pair of heavy socks and five blankets are all you need for a good night’s sleep...

The late Mollie Ivins, a wise and witty journalist, described her beloved home state of Texas as a place where “too much is not enough.” I believe that description applied to the entire country last Sunday—even at Holden Village, where excess is tolerated only in moderation...

The most challenging part of living at Holden Village is not the remoteness, lack of cell phones and TV, extreme weather, frequent power outages, nor scarcity of hot showers ...

 “This is the way it should be!” a young man shouted. Snow was falling ...

This new year of 2014 seems nicely rounded to me ...

 “Cold December flies away …” and not a moment too soon ...

Go? Stay? For the past forty-eight hours I’ve been dithering over whether to leave the village ...

  Surely everyone, especially as we grow older, experiences times of angst when we wonder whether our existence has made any difference in this world ...

I lost a friend last week, the oldest friend I had. Old, not in the sense of age but longevity ...

My first trip to Holden Village was Holy Week 2011. I came to honor the memory of my father, who loved Holden, but I admit that on that first visit, I didn’t quite get it ...

After nearly two years of proving myself to be an earnest, responsible member of the community—steadfastly showing up for my shifts of sorting garbage, stoking wood-fired boilers and scrubbing crusty pots and pans (all in addition to my real job as communications coordinator)—I was finally given the position of responsibility for which I yearned ...

Last week we had heavy rain along with thunder and lightning. Consequently there’s a water shortage. It’s the kind of paradox you get used to here ...

I stripped bare naked, thinking I’d go swimming. But the instant my foot went numb as I slipped it into the glacial waters of Holden Lake ...

I knew my day of “Grace” would come eventually. Not “Amazing Grace.” Grace, in this instance, is a 23-foot inboard speedboat ...

    This is postholey season ...

“Aren’t you proud?” Rebecca asks as we eat lunch in a high mountain basin, gazing at vertical glaciers that feel so close I imagine reaching out to touch them ...

About a mile west of Holden Village is a large clearing in the forest, the site of a labyrinth fashioned after the famous one at Chartres Cathedral, near Paris, France ...

This village takes fire seriously, aggressively protecting its historic wooden buildings that are well dried after 75 years. Therefore I have no excuse when, supposedly participating in a fire alarm last week, I fell into a pile of powder snow, laughing so hard I couldn’t get back onto my feet ...

Thanksgiving weekend at Holden Village is similar to many American households: football preceding a sumptuous turkey dinner, earnest prayers of gratitude, cross-generational card and board games with the staccato of ping pong in the background, and finally, the snowy and solemn processional to the Blessing of the Composter. The huh?

Seasons do not evolve here in the mountains. We do not slowly rotate from autumn to winter, luxuriating in lingering sunny days, watching golden leaves drift slowly into piles. No. It’s more like someone clicked a switch ...

 Poof! Summer has vanished like multi-colored soap bubbles that briefly shimmer and then disappear ...

What does a hiker on a hot day in the North Cascade Mountains have in common with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner?

A guest asked me, “Do you get so you just take the mountains for granted?” ...

    I wonder what it is that makes a house a home. I’ve lived in a number of houses, but didn’t always feel “at home” ...

“All you can do now is pray.” So often, we hear those words in a medical setting – the examination room, the hospital corridor, even at the patient’s bedside. It is said with a tone of resignation ...

 Sometime or other, when I was distracted with other matters, the splendid silence of winter dissolved into a short and diffident spring from which summer has suddenly emerged ...

I spent my 68th birthday yesterday trying to recall the previous 67 – or as many as possible ...

The surest sign of spring at Holden Village is the arrival of two busloads of workers ...

Spring at Holden Village is both a state of mind and an exercise in determination ...

During a brief visit home last week, I realized that while my neighborhood looks the same, it will never again be the same ...

Last week – Holy Week – marked a one-year anniversary for me ...

 Perhaps someday I will live in a senior citizen community with folks my own age ...

If Holden Village, with its Lutheran roots, were to have a patron saint, I would nominate Katharina von Bora, wife of Martin Luther ...

You may be lingering at the table after a meal, or you may be waiting for a meeting to begin or the boat to arrive, or you may be out on the trail on a snowshoe trek, when more than likely, someone gives you a gift: their story ...

In addition to our regular jobs, all volunteers and staff at Holden share three rotating assignments to keep the community going ...

Even at Holden Village, one dresses for the opera. Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte was playing Thursday night ...

Holden Village is so remote and tiny, it doesn’t even merit a dot on the map. Yet I feel as if I’m at the crossroads of the world ...

Just when I was finding my groove, we had “Stop Day” ...

To get home you have to go out – a strange turn of phrase for someone raised in a family of baseball fans ...

 I had a dream the other night about Holden Village. Most people here would classify it as a nightmare ...

My first snowshoeing trek was neither what I anticipated nor desired ...

Thursdays are "Hunger Awareness Day" in the village, which means we get rice for
lunch ...

This cozy little village snuggled in its mountain valley can be a scary place ...

If I thought I would escape the ghosts of Christmas past by coming to this isolated mountain village, I was dead wrong ,,,

When I told a younger friend that I was moving to Holden Village, she asked with confusion: "What is that? Some kind of assisted living?" ...


Copyright Mary Koch, 2014


        Mine remediation project at Holden Village. The photo, incidentally, was taken
July 17 from the highest tailings pile. In the distance is smoke rising from the
Carlton Complex Fire, which blew up that day.

MAYBE GOD LAUGHS
Every New Season – Sept. 7, 2014
By Mary Koch

Holden Village reminds me of a saying about rivers: you can never step into the same river twice. I recently returned for a brief visit to this remote retreat center where I lived and worked for two-and-a-half years. Nestled amidst soaring mountains, the place is always the same but different because people continually come and go. Only a few are privileged to remain as long as I did.

Originally a mining town, Holden’s industrial legacy has endured in three enormous tailings piles that loom above the village. Pollutants from the old mine seep into a large, nearby creek. Nearly 60 years after the mine closed, the mess is being cleaned up in a project so immense I can barely wrap my mind around it. Who could ever imagine picking up and moving a fast-flowing stream of water as it rushes down the mountain? Yet they’ve done it. Who could imagine building a mile-long, 80-foot wall that no one will ever see because it’s underground? They’re doing it. Who could imagine reshaping the entire side of a mountain? They’re doing that, too.

All it takes is a battalion of engineers, a fleet of Herculean earth-moving equipment and laborers – men and women – who relish rugged, hard work. Oh, and it takes, I’m told, more than $200 million. No, not your tax dollars. The international mining company, Rio Tinto, is stuck with the bill.

Early one morning I sat on the creek bank, listening to the rush of water. In minutes, that idyllic sound would be drowned by the roar of machinery. I watched as the machine operators and truck drivers strolled onto the job site. Uniformly outfitted in hard hats and neon safety vests, most of them are burly guys. Yet they’re dwarfed by their equipment. And even a 30-ton dump truck is reduced to Tonka Toy proportions when measured against the mountains that tower overhead.

Decades of legal wrangling preceded this strange project. Contaminants leaching from the old mine turned the rocks on the creek bottom the color of copper. Still, the water is clean enough to drink. Of course, no sensible person would drink from the creek because ALL mountain streams carry the threat of Giardia.  The problem here is that contaminants killed tiny insects on which fish feed, severely reducing the trout population. The creek, by the way, manages to clean itself of contaminants by the time it reaches Lake Chelan, some 10 winding miles downstream.

The incongruity of it all surpasses my awe and wonder. Why such hubbub and disruption in this time and place? Of all the mountain streams, remote valleys, polluted waters and tainted landscapes on this planet, why here and now? And how large a carbon footprint do we create when we’re supposedly cleaning up pollution?

People working on this project are earnest about doing the right thing. One by one, the machinery fires up, a crescendo of disruption in the early morning peace. I have to wonder if God, looking on, profoundly sighs and maybe laughs.


A photographer aims at the enormous excavator
used to build an underground barrier wall.