One of the goals for spending this past spring traveling along the eastern slopes of the Cascades was to visit a few of the communities along the way. Unsurprisingly, the general pattern of ranches and farms surrounding small-to-moderate size towns dominates the area. Our original plan was to visit Tieton, WA and the Methow Valley and whatever we found along the way. Our typical slow-and-meandering approach to travel meant that we didn’t make it to the Methow Valley, but we had visited there last summer. We did discover some very interesting folk along the way, though.
Ekone Ranch / White Eagle Memorial Preserve Cemetery
Katie had been researching green burials because someone she knew of had recently been buried in a green cemetery. She found that there were only two locations within Washington that are actual green cemeteries, one of them being the White Eagle Memorial Preserve. She then started reading about the Ekone Ranch that it is associated with and it wasn’t long before they were on our list of places to visit.
Our vision is a world in which people are connected to place and care radically for the planet, each other, ourselves, and all life.
The Ekone ranch is part of the Sacred Earth Foundation. Their main activity is providing camps for youth and adults that allow them to gain, or hone, an appreciation for land and our place in it. They were gracious enough to allow us to visit for a day and meet a few of the folks that work there. I was extremely impressed with the sense of vision and the ability for that small community to overcome the tragic loss of its founder while keeping to his original vision. I also love how they have kept their overall impact on the land low and continue to add land to the foundation as it becomes available. While I am sure it was a big challenge, they have set themselves up organizationally in a way that will continue on into the future.
The White Eagle Memorial Cemetery is very much a part of that future. It is an amazing use of land that does not require it to be “remade” or “molded” into something other than what it wants to be. And it provides a great service to people as well. Every plot looks like the surrounding woods whether it is currently being used or not. Other than the ironwork entryway and a few metal sculptures around the corners of the cemetery, it is fairly unadorned. Wildlife roam the land as it always has, including a number of snakes, like the well mannered rattler we came across who kindly warned us of its presence.
We left the ranch with a great respect for the people there and the work they are doing.
Where many saw a failed small town that the fruit packing industry had abandoned, Ed Marquand and Mike Longyear saw an opportunity. Ultimately, they converted unused packing facilities into artist lofts, event space, an art gallery, and a small business incubator. From this seed, many other opportunities have sprung up and it has been written about many times, like here: OPB
Katie and I spent a couple of weekends in Tieton. Ed and Mike were extremely generous with their time, including taking us up to their cabin, and even provided us with a place to park our trailer in town on the second weekend. That weekend featured a larger Yakima-area arts tour that included Tieton. Many of the galleries, lofts, and artist’s studios were open to the public. Seeing how many people have benefited from their vision, and the implementation of that vision, was extremely impressive.
Every enterprise that Ed and Mike backed needed to bring more opportunity and not just be an end in itself. This is what likely overcame the suspicion about a couple of Seattleites coming in with their money and taking over. Every idea they have is about community as well as connecting the community to the broader world community. They want to provide places for people to stay who want to visit, beyond the very cute El Nido
cabins. They just recently opened up the “617” tapas bar designed to promote conversation amongst residents and visitors. Ed and Mike are always looking to connect up newcomers with others, so don’t plan on getting a nice quiet table for two.
It is unclear what would happen to Tieton if something were to happen to Ed and Mike. They have recruited a number of folk who work tirelessly running many of the operations, but it is clear that Ed and Mike are the driving force. Tieton is still a bit of a sleepy town during the week when there aren’t events happening and it seems likely that it would return to those roots without the endless energy that they put into making things happen. Future-proofing the for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises is still a challenge.
Another challenge is that there is clearly still a cultural divide between the majority Latino population and the mostly Caucasian arts & farming population. There didn’t seem to be a lot of intermingling of the two except at the two restaurants in town, a Mexican and a Salvadoran one. Ed and Mike do a lot to try to bridge that gap, but much of it is generational and will probably require the youth to break down the barriers.
Our last community-based experience came when we decided to join a work party to help in the building of an earthship near Ellensburg, WA. Earthships are intended to be self-contained living structures designed to be zero-waste and off-grid. Earthships tend to follow six design principles:
- Be made from recycled materials
- Create their own passive heating and cooling
- Create their own passive electricity
- Harvest and treat rainwater
- Produce food
- Contain and treat all sewage
A very intriguing aspect of earthships is the sharing community that is being built up around this interest. Earthships are very much about do-it-yourself. Much like in the Maker community, sharing experience and helping others with their projects is how much of the knowledge is passed around. The Earthship Academy
tries to formalize this a bit, but my impression is that it really is there to help foster the growth of the community.
Doug and Stacey live in an earthship-style home with their two children, and are in the process of building one on the same property for Doug’s aunt. The original home is an early “hut” style, but the new home is a Simple Survival Earthship
. By the time we joined in, the packed-tire foundation and the rebar / wire mesh framing for the cement ceilings were all in place including the first layer of cement. We worked on adding another layer of cement to the outside, and cutting and taping bottles for use in the bottle wall.
Doug’s easy demeanor and encouragement to "just get in and try things" was refreshing. Stacey was such a welcoming host as well, providing lunch and dinner both days, as well as a wealth of knowledge about living off-grid. Their daughters, Violet and Hazel, gave us full tours of their fairy house and provided artwork for our trailer. The crew changed from Saturday to Sunday, but all seemed to enjoy the time spent. Even though people came from all over and various walks of life, there was a sense of commonality, somewhat like an Amish barn raising. At least one other there was ramping up to start work on his own earthship nearby.
The Broader Community
Community comes in many forms and it was rewarding to be welcomed into those that we had the opportunity to visit this spring. Each gave us so much to think about and we appreciate the generosity and sharing that each showed. Though we have yet to find a place that we are ready to settle into and call ours, I feel that as we move around we leave threads behind us connecting up those places that we have visited. We have already seen some cross pollination and maybe that is our role for now.