Sunday, August 22, 2010
....At the Garlic Festival in Tonasket.
I've been meaning to get out to Tonasket for some time now, which might surprise those of you who know the place. It's a fairly unremarkable little town in northeastern Washington, out past Omak somewhere. It's not on the way to anywhere, that's for certain, except possibly Canada. It had some local cache for hosting the Barter Fair, which I understand used to be a giant, free, hippie-type event where anyone could come and camp out and bring whatever they had to trade, be it goat cheese, homegrown, or banjo music. No money allowed. Some years ago, however, the powers that be (such as they are) decided to rein it in and now vendors are charged a $60 fee and I hear it isn't at all the same.
But that's not why I wanted to go. Nor was it for the garlic fair, though that was a factor in my choosing to go this weekend. No; I wanted to get out there to see my mom's place. A couple of years ago, she shocked us all by up and buying a remote, 150 acre piece of land with a pretty nice small house/large cabin on it. None of us had the slightest idea that she harbored ambitions to own such a sizable hunk of the Earth. She's lived in Bellevue for the past 25 years, is a well-respected child psychologist, and likes to wear expensive heels.
In Tonasket, the footwear is 80% shitkicker cowboy boots and 20% worn out Birkenstocks.
Nonetheless, mom has taken to the place like a fish to water, and has spent the majority of summer weekends for the last two years out there, renovating the cabin and putting in fences and extra wells and whatnot. It's possible she has some survivalist leanings. She has shown me hundreds of photos and invited me out numerous times.
It's a long drive, but I finally went. I packed up Hope and Paloma, left Homero in charge of goat-milking, and drove over highway 20, the North Cascades highway. Beautiful drive, and the brand new North Cascades National Park has a very fine interpretive center/museum about halfway through, to let the kids out for a romp. Most of the way - both ways, actually - I was on roads I've never driven before, which always makes me happy.
Mom's ranch (it needs a name - Kathy's Folly?) is extremely pretty. It's about 10 miles out of town, half of which is up a dirt road up a mountain. Tonasket is in a river valley in the Okanagon Hill country, and mom's place is up in some of those hills. Rugged, semi-arid, covered with sagebrush in the open parts and with Ponderosa Pine in the forested parts, and with great cliffs of black rock thrusting up here and there, it's an amazingly scenic area. The whole region is crisscrossed with smallish rivers, and the narrow river valleys are agricultural land, growing tree fruit mostly, but also melons, tomatoes, onions, and of course garlic. The hills are range-land. Cattle wander along with white-tail and mule deer; black bear; coyotes; cougars; and dozens of smaller animals. Many of the rivers are popular for fly-fishing.
The town itself, frankly, lacks charm. It's a very typical small, dusty western town. It has not, unlike many other similar towns, adopted a theme, so there are no fake old west saloons or fake Bavarian ski lodges. I guess Tonasket at least has authenticity going for it. It is what it is, which is a small ranching and farming community with sizable populations of both Mexican farmworkers and aging hippies. It has some down-at-the-heels motels and several antique-slash-pawnshops; some fancy espresso stands and an upscale health food store; and a small but healthy arts community.
We had a good time. Mom took me to the local tavern for friday night karaoke. I was really very surprised by the level of talent, to tell the truth. I fancy myself a pretty good singer but nearly everyone was better than me, and there were at least three seriously professional level voices. Nonetheless, I let myself be persuaded to get up there and belt out "Me and Bobby McGee." I danced. The dancing, I must say, was absolutely NOT up to the same level as the singing. I saw three barefoot people (something I've never seen in a bar before) and many folks who clearly just didn't care. Mom danced all night long! So I danced too.
The next day we went to the garlic festival. The entire festival was not as big as a regular Saturday Farmer's Market here in Bellingham, but it was fun anyway. There were things you would never see here on the west side, like a booth selling locally hunted and tanned skins, including beaver, otter, mink, and wolverine. I didn't buy any animal skins (although I admit to standing there and stroking them with my cheeks for several minutes) but I did buy a pound of russian hardneck garlic to plant and a few jars of preserves. I bought pickled garlic and lavender jelly, and I spent twenty minutes or so talking to a local cheesemaker. I entered a drawing and won a free sandwich from a local shop. I saw Tonasket's local belly-dancing cadre perform.
All in all, I had a wonderful weekend with my mom and her family. I'm glad to be home, even though that means I am facing some six gallons of milk that needs to be processed ASAP. I think I'll make it all into cajeta.