Living on the Edge on the High Desert of Washington

Tara Here. Now how I got here… That is a direct result of Intentional Manifestation.

In 2001 I ventured to North Dakota to try to “do life” with a man who represented himself as “a rancher.” All was not quite as he presented it during our courtship that began as an Internet romance. But oddly enough, I fell in love with his life and his ranch and his child and the man. I am writing a book, the working title for which is 48 Days in North Dakota in which I discuss small-scale ranching and the challenges presented when one tries to get into farming or ranching–having the passion but not the family experience.

Four years later I found the land I call The 3-Bell Ranch. It is everything I “put out there” almost ten years ago, even before my journey to North Dakota. There are acres and acres of pasture for my horses. I’m flanked by State land. The views here are absolutely breath-taking. The energy of the land soothes the soul and heals the body.

But it didn’t feel like that when I landed here a year ago!

The house was a ramshackle shack suffering from years and years of neglect from owners whose love of the land and passion for being orchardists led them to a life of the edge– the plight of small farmers, orchardists and ranchers all over this country. It took only two years of being paid late by the Gold-digger Co-op to launch the snowball of financial ruin that smashed them flat;  they were forced to rip out their cherry trees and apple trees –for here, in Central Washington, if you don’t maintain your trees (i.e. spray them), you must remove them. With the trees went the irrigation. Without irrigation, noxious weeds took hold. And without income from the land, the bank foreclosed.

I bought the land at auction – gambling that I would find water when a well was dug for household water. The well turned out to produce 35 gallons per minute, and was 180 feet deep. In a conversation with Fred Cook, of Cook’s Irrigation, I learned that 20 years ago, a well at this location would have only been ten or fifteen feet. The water table’s receding. Water rights are at risk. Without water the Okanogan Valley will consist of sagebrush, a bit of bunch grass and an array of noxious, invasive, non-native species such as hounds tongue, Russian and Diffuse Knapweed, Baby’s Breath, Dog Bane, Saint John’s Wort, and so on and so forth. Without irrigation it will take 30 to 40 acres to feed a horse or steer during the growing season, but there would be no way to grow hay here except on small areas where the water table is so high that “sub-irrigated” grass will grow.

There is so much to learn about living in this country.

Water is precious. Every drop is precious. Without irrigation there would be no apple trees, no cherry trees, no pear trees, or hay crops or tomatoes or lettuce or any viable commercial crop.

People are on the edge here. When the recession struck the U.S., not many people  here felt it; they were already dirt poor. If you look at the second hand shops you see it. People use things far beyond their “worn” status; they use them until they’re spent– beyond thread bare– beyond “worn out.” They’ve been sewn, glued, welded, mended time and time again until there’s just nothing left to mend.

—  LIVING ON THE EDGE, PART II —

Years ago I was part of a cadre of teachers in Washington who had been selected to teach other teachers how to use technology to improve student achievement. In our State-wide meetings, those from Eastern Washington used to complain that Western Washington controlled the State and that their needs were neither understood nor adequately addressed. They were so right. Eastern Washington is a different world. It’s beyond Beyond. People here are honest, true, and friendly. They take care of each other. There’s an unspoken pact of reciprocity.

In July 2009 I had the opportunity to spend several weeks in the company of some really amazing young men who installed permanent irrigation sets on the large, unwieldy portion of my land I refer to as the “back 40”– a 12.5 acre field that has been fallow for seven or eight years now. “We’ll get her done,” they’d say. “Don’t worry; you’re in good hands.”

A rational person would look up and exclaim, “No one can do that!” but here, everyone does the impossible. They have to. They have to rise to the occasion, to step onto that frayed tightrope believing that it will not snap under their weight, knowing even if it did, someone, a neighbor, a stranger, God perhaps, would catch them before they hit bottom.

“We’ll get her done,” is the ‘signature quote’ for the Okanogan. It’s a hard life. A life on the edge. There is a daily reminder that we are fragile, interconnected beings.

I feel at home here in this place where the word “impossible” does not exist. And so here I am with my horses, mules, pony, dogs and rabbits, living close to the land, documenting this existence through video and digital photography– my passions. Each year I share some of my favorite images of horses in a calendar I call Horse as Horse in Okanogan County. The calendar features my herd shot at liberty in wild areas of Central Washington. And my next project will be to create brief videos documentaries about agriculture in the Okanogan as well as training videos teaching people skills such as selecting irrigation systems, strategies for installing them on large tracts of land, repairing lines, sprinklers, etc. as well as instructing people about using horses in small scale farm operations.

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One thought on “Living on the Edge on the High Desert of Washington”

  1. Tara – This is a wonderful story of manifesting and designing your life. I knew a hydrologist/Native American/retired Marine from those parts and I am very familiar with the people there: tough, poor, resourceful. They/you live where cougars prowl and it’s hot as hell in the day and cold as crap at night. And water. Always the trouble with water, huh?

    He devised a method of helping bring back streams that was a little too simple for the Army Corps. He rode out to where he saw the land had once held a stream/pond, and then followed it to it’s maimed or changed source. Then, working with the curves of the land he wove and knitted branches and brambles across the dried stream bed. He said even he was amazed at The Mother’s ability to heal herself. Within a year the water was back. In two, there was a stream and the beginning of the ecosystem at the edges of the banks. In three, the beavers returned. From there, it was a done deal.

    Until the farmers shot the beaver, that is.

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