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 weekly 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:
“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


                                                      The drive home under a sky blackened by smoke

NEW NEIGHBORS
Every New Season—July 20, 2014
By Mary Koch

“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. I was prepared but still shocked when my eldest stepdaughter Katie arrived at my door, calm and matter-of-fact, to say those words.

I’d been at Holden Village earlier in the week to help with a media tour of the mine remediation. I could have stayed longer, but I had a feeling that I needed to get home. As I drove from the boat Thursday night, I was stunned to hear that the town of Pateros, which is on my route home, was on fire. I detoured some 60 miles under a smoke-filled sky and got back on the highway for the last leg of my journey just minutes before that road was closed.

Relieved to reach home, I was unaware that at that very moment Katie and husband Rick were fleeing their home in the rugged Chiliwist Valley. The fire raged so quickly it outran official evacuation notices. Chiliwist neighbors had been alerting each other by phone. When Katie stepped outside into the smoky black and heard the fire’s roar, she announced it was time to go.

They got out with only minutes to spare and checked into a motel, unaware that their nephew was part of a fire team trying to battle its way up the Chiliwist. He had no way of knowing whether his aunt and uncle had made it out OK and no way of getting to their house. There were a few anxious hours until everyone knew everyone else was safe, then more anxiety as we worried about the house.

Katie and Rick were finally able on Saturday to drive back home, where they found nothing but ash and the molten remains of their metal roof.

Just about every family in the county has stories of near escapes and miracles. The massive Carlton Complex Fire is continuing to ravage despite intensive efforts to control it. Its survivors are not waiting to move on with their lives. This family that I was so blessed to marry into 35 years ago is rallying support. First there were emails of gratitude for what really matters: Katie and Rick’s safety. Now there’s a Google spread sheet entitled “Operation Restock” so we can keep track of who’s providing what.

Even my late husband John is contributing. Rick, who has multiple sclerosis, uses an electric wheelchair, but the charger was lost in the fire. John’s wheelchair was put in storage when he died seven years ago, and now it’s been returned to service for Rick’s use.

Just a week ago I was vexing over the burden of caring for two homes while I wait for my “old” home next door to sell—a home conveniently equipped with a wheelchair ramp and accessible bathroom. That home is now occupied by Katie and Rick, and they’re welcome to stay as long as they wish. Couldn’t ask for better neighbors.