LIFE ON THE FARM
An encounter with Skagit farmland results in a lifelong love
My discovery of Washington’s mountains was unavoidable. As a skier, it was inevitable that I would someday find the ski gems tucked into the North Cascades – Mt. Baker, Stevens Pass and surrounding backcountry areas, to name a few. The farmland, the state’s bread-winning landscape, was another matter. The upper and lower Skagit Valley – I would have never known these places, even in years of calling Washington home. But in my relocation from Utah to Washington just five years ago, I moved onto a farm. And that’s where I fell in love with the Evergreen State.
Wistful nostalgia is the best way to describe my feelings of that summer. A midsummer night’s dream – youthful, pastoral, simple – it was a life depicted in paintings, seen in magazines, hoped for in dreams. My farm life may not have been a completely authentic experience, like a glimpse into a Dorothea Lange image, but more of a short detour into another life. I just skimmed the surface of what it means to live and work on a farm, but the crumbs of the real experience were nothing less than enchanting. They’re some of the best memories I have of Washington.
Just outside of Concrete on Highway 20 is Rockport, a small upper Skagit Valley organic farming mecca. Just beyond the Skagit River on a tiny garlic farm, I found a living space above a barn. Then I discovered a job at Cascadian Farms, a 28-acre berry-producing property that is now the face of all Cascadian Farm products. Every package with a Cascadian Farm logo depicts the green, lush strawberry rows growing into a cartoon depiction of the nearby Cascade peaks. I gazed at that backdrop every day, and that picturesque setting was the tipping point toward my move. I couldn’t turn down that kind of office view.
So, just weeks after leaving my friends, my job and the mountains of Utah, I found myself living in Rockport, riding my bike to Cascadian Farms, hiking the surrounding mountains after work, and surviving off a healthy diet of local fruits, and vegetables. It was fairy-tale-charming.
I lined the walls of my miniature space with books I’ve collected over the years and laid journals, sketchbooks and doodle pads out on the table. I dreamed of what I wanted to do in my future – learn Spanish, do a backflip on skis, play the mandolin – and recorded everything I was doing in the present. I worked long days, got off just in time to enjoy a few hours of sunlight, and then snuggled into the cozy barn with a book at night. The mountains have always given me a challenge, but this landscape gave me a resting place.
My friends thought I was crazy. Weeks would pass with no communication for lack of cell phone service and time. In their minds, I dropped off the face of the earth. In mine, I had just found salvation. The farm was a rescue from the crowded streets of Salt Lake City, the smog of the city and the hot, dry deserts of Utah. That summer, only two friends came to visit. The others missed out on the fresh veggies, abundant water, friendly horses, yoga in the neighbors’ barn, the ingredients of flawless farm dwelling.
Aside from these frilly benefits, farming requires hard work, something I’ve always tricked myself into believing I was doing in the mountains. The people I met and worked alongside in the Upper Skagit earned nothing short of my total respect. Up early and to bed late, they are the reasons we enjoy strawberries in the summer, apples in the fall, and dream of blueberries in the winter.
I often wonder if I’ll have the opportunity to do it again. Currently, I can barely call one place home, as I am traveling most of the year. The flights, taxis, buses and skiing has transported me to some of the world’s most beautiful places, but serenity is often trumped by a schedule. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know there is a place for unadorned enjoyment, where the taste of the berries is worth anything you can buy and just as lovely as many places you can travel. I know there is Washington. And there is a barn in a field near a river that is a picture-book perfect place to live. X
Molly Baker is a professional extreme skier, freelance writer, dancing freak and pastry aficionado, who lives in Glacier when she’s not traveling the world.