Fishing, fires, and huckleberries
July 2009, Nature of Place, NCW Green Ways
By Nancy Warner
Ask someone what they prize most about living in North Central Washington, and they’ll likely say the four distinct seasons that shape the rhythm of life here.
For 107-year-old Gretchen Minard, this rhythm has its strongest beat during summer in the upper Wenatchee Valley. Born in Leavenworth in 1901, she remembers the fun she had on the family’s farm along Chumstick Creek. “We could wade in the river or in the stream. And, of course, there was pretty good fishing then, too.” She adds that, “if you wanted any fish you had to get out and do your share of periwinkle hunting.”
Using periwinkles, or caddisfly larvae, that clung to the underside of rocks in Chumstick Creek for bait was something Bud and Ray Norman also did as they came of fishing age in the early 1940s.The brothers remember learning to fish for rainbow trout with the neighbor kids. ?When we first started, it was a willow stick with a line and sometimes a hook made out of a safety pin,? Ray remembers.
Recently retired from a lifetime of logging, Bud and Ray grew up along the Chumstick helping their dad with his horse-logging business. “I was swamping for a team of horses in the woods when I was 9 years old,” Bud remembers, “cutting a trail through the vine maple so they could get in there with the horses to pull the wood out.”
“Back then,” Ray recalls, “the timber was cut mostly into short logs because it was so big.” The brothers remember watching their dad work his cross saw on ponderosa, or yellow pines, up to 4 feet around. They say most of what was marked and cut in the 1940s was either pine or fir. “There used to be quite a bit of white pine around,” Bud says. “Tons of it up around the lake and up the Icicle.”
Huckleberry season was a high point of the summer for Gretchen’s family, who would pack their berry-picking buckets and camping equipment on packhorses and hike the old Indian trail from the Chumstick Valley to Lake Wenatchee. She recalls how they spent a whole week doing most of their berry picking in a big meadow above Lake Wenatchee. “Huckleberries usually came out where they had just recently logged,” she explains. “Some years they got quite a few, some years not so many.”
While everybody who came to visit Gretchen’s family at the cabin they later built at Lake Wenatchee “had to have a trip up Dirty Face” to visit the fire lookout, she doesn’t remember seeing many fires around there until recent years. Bud and Ray say there are definitely more fires now but remember quite a few back then too. “The logger then was the first one they’d come after for fires,” Bud remembers. “They used to shut us down and we had to go fight fires.” Ray adds, “We usually had to hike into the high lake fires.”
Looking back at the changes they’ve seen, all three longtime residents agree the area is drier today. Reflecting on the wildflowers at her family’s cabin, Gretchen says “we had plenty of wildflowers and they were always bright and pretty. But the ground is changing; it’s not as moist as it used to be. When the weather changed the flowers changed, too.”
Nancy Warner is the coordinator for the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS).