I know it happens gradually, but it always seems to hit me all at once when I’m driving east over Snoqualmie Pass.
It’s like there’s a line in the road. On one side, Western Washington. On the other, Eastern.
One is not like the other.
At this imaginary line, the trees change from firs and western red cedars, to firs and mostly pines. The evergreens are a drier green than the lush green of the west side, and I think I prefer them, along with the wide blue skies that so often accompany them above.
Although I’ve never lived in Eastern Washington, this I-90 landscape, stretching from around Lake Kachess to just beyond Cle Elum, feels a lot like Colorado where I spent most of my childhood. It feels like home.
Most recently I made this drive for the LitFuse poet’s conference in Tieton, Washington, about a 30-minute drive from Yakima.
As I drove this well-worn path, I thought of the fires that recently raged through here. I couldn’t directly see the effects of the Jolly Mountain fire, save for one hillside of blackened trees that may have been from an older fire. But in the town of Cle Elum, window signs in businesses and homes along the main street thanked firefighters for their heroic efforts to save nearby homes. It won’t be leaving the minds of residents here anytime soon.
I was still thinking of the fires in my first of five poetry workshops last weekend.
On I-90 East, After the Fires
Carcass trees pepper the blackened hillside.
Whole stands of Pines died standing.
A hawk circles overhead, and finding nothing,
flies east with the cars on the highway,
racing, like they’re on fire.
LitFuse is a an annual gathering of poets in the small apple-farming town of Tieton (pronounced Tie-it-on). This year was my first time attending.
Workshops, readings and gatherings were held in a converted apple warehouse called the Mighty Tieton. It was a bit intimidating writing alongside so many accomplished and published poets, but there was also a good-sized showing of new and amateur poets like me. So I went with it.
“Are you a poet?” someone asked me as I arrived.
“Yes, I’m a poet,” I answered.
That was enough.
The harvest-time setting was one of the coolest features of LitFuse. Apple orchards surrounded the town and the trees were heavy with apples ready for picking. Stacks of wooden apple boxes lined the edges of fields, waiting to be filled and transported.
I stayed in an Airbnb on a hilltop a few miles outside of town. Apple orchards and vineyards were all around.
I returned home with a notebook full of ideas ready to harvest.
The Mighty Muse of LitFuse
Notebooks seeded, the muse
returned to her orchard, bowed her head
and slept. On the highest limb
of Honey Crisp tree.
Tomorrow, she will watch
her pickers fill their baskets for market,
and her poets harvest crops from their pages.