Friday, June 23, 2006

Smiling Country

Randy and I have the privilege of living in Washington's beautiful Methow Valley. They call it the Smiling Country, aptly named because of the big blue skies and sun-drenched valley tucked at the base of the North Cascades.

Randy and I smiled the first time we visited here. We had tried to outrun a rainstorm from Seattle, squeezing in one last campout before fall. Stormy weather followed us all the way to the Methow Valley. I'm not the most enthusiastic camper, so staying in a cozy log cabin instead of unpacking all the camping gear was fine with me! What could be more romantic? Rain pattered on the metal roof, a fire crackled in the woodstove.

The next morning, I pushed aside the gingham curtain and beheld the valley's splendor. Cornflower-blue skies, sunny hillsides, and snow-peaked mountains greeted us. We strolled along Highway 20 and discovered a log home builder, then a real estate office. Our dream took life.

It wasn't just the beauty which captivated us, but the slower pace. No traffic jams. No one hurried. Folks lounged on wooden benches outside the general store, licking ice cream cones. A dog slept by the screen door.

We tramped nearly every inch of the valley with a patient real estate agent before settling on the perfect future homesite. Someday, maybe in 10 or 15 years, we'll retire here, we thought.

Our visits to the Methow Valley became more frequent. We always experienced a letdown driving back to Seattle, especially when the country roads funneled onto the crowded freeway again.

The contrast between the Methow and "life in the fast lane" caused me to question: Why can't we live there? I immediately squelched the idea. We could never make enough money. Besides, who in their right mind would leave a secure job?

I guess we were a little crazy, but I've never regretted our decision to leave. Our perceived security clashed with the promise of adventure. We wrote lists of pros and cons, what's-the-worst-that-can-happen scenarios. On Nov. 28, 1995, a Ryder truck packed to the gills rolled away from our home of 13 years. Destination: Methow Valley, Washington.

That was 10 years ago. I wish I could say that we rode off into the sunset with nary a care or concern. Of course, we all know life isn't like that. We've experienced disappointments, job challenges, and financial struggles trying to eke out a living here. But I wouldn't trade it.

Life can be more simple here. Lower incomes translate to a back-to-basics mentality. Even though I still love an occasional trip to the city, I feel overwhelmed in shopping malls and wonder why I thought I needed so much stuff? Contentment comes easier here--and the appreciation of simple wonders.

One winter night, Nip, our sweet cat, perched on the window sill, staring outside. I was curious to see what had captured his attention. A deer peered in, close enough to fog the window with his breath.

Seasons are more pronounced. Winter's still, quiet blanket of powdery snow, spring's carpet of balsam root "sunflowers", summer's hot days and never-need-airconditioning nights, and autumn's blazing golds and crimsons delight the senses.

And then there are the people with their strong sense of community, friendly and caring. Almost everyone waves, whether or not they know you. The cardboard birthday cake in the window of the Tenderfoot General Store, announces who is celebrating that day. Even our dogs' names appear on the cake for their birthdays! The annual 4th of July parade makes me think I've stepped into a Norman Rockwell portrait of red, white, and blue.

Randy and I love taking evening strolls, looking up at the myriad stars. Life still holds problems and challenges, but we've discovered freedom in this simpler lifestyle. Security isn't always found in jobs and bank accounts. As it says in Matthew 6:21, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Today, as we sat outside soaking up morning sunshine, I felt grateful beyond words for the treasures God has given us.



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