Mazama Retreat, Day 1

Ever since my son died, in 2001, I’ve gone on retreat the last week of October. The 26th marks the anniversary of Andrew’s death. Cancer. He was 16. I come to Mazama, just outside North Cascades National Park, at the head of the beautiful Methow Valley. Just me and my lab, Jessie. We get easy access to alpine trails with soul-soothing vistas. We walk through sun-gilded meadows and groves of nearly leafless aspen. Ponderosa pines surround our cabin, straight and silent sentinels, protective of those seeking solace.

Mazama Meadow

Mazama meadow

I’ve developed some rituals. On the trip up, my first stop is Andrew’s memorial bench, erected by his classmates at his high school. I also visit with Jon, a dear friend who lives nearby and dad to Jessie’s brother Homer. (Homer died a couple of months ago.) I then take the long way around, via Stevens Pass and faux-Bavarian Leavenworth where I grab a brat and beer before proceeding up the Columbia River valley. We stop again at Twisp to visit Tappi, my favorite Italian restaurant, before the final push to Mazama, dodging road-roving deer.

Good sleep is priority one. First, a little man-dog ritual: Worn leather sofa, spread with towels to protect it from dog, six paws stretched toward the warmth of the fire. I sip a single-malt scotch and gaze at the flames.

In the morning, it’s coffee, one of my beloved’s morning muffins, and a bit of writing. If it’s a stick-around-the-cabin day, Jessie and I will stroll to the Mazama Store. Other days, we’ll go to Harts Pass or Tiffany Mountain. Our hikes have gotten shorter and easier. Jessie’s 13 now, with arthritis in one hip and both front paws. I look for places to get her on snow, which she loves.

I cook most nights. Each meal is a meditation. A seasonal specialty is Pappardelle al Ragu di Cinghiale (wide noodles with a sauce of braised wild boar). Boar is tough to find, but I have an orchard that produces so many apples that I trade hundreds of pounds to a farmer friend. I take mostly yogurt in trade, and usually a free-range apple-finished pork loin. Due to travel, Kelsey postponed what she calls her hogs’ “meet their maker” date to November. Fortunately, my friendly Twisp chef knows a local meatsmith.

Today’s a stick-around-the-cabin day. After breakfast, we’ll walk over to the store.

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