Five am: I stepped outside. Dreams wobbled in my sub-conscious. The bunkhouse was cozy, but no one slept well. Two babies and a three year old saw to that. We expected as much and, really, no one had come on this escapade to sleep.
It’s June 22nd and thirty six hours after the summer solstice. An opaque dome of sky, bruised on its rim by the climbing sun, hung above my head. Before me, lay hundreds of miles of National Forest and rural Oregon. At my back, the craggy top of Mt. Hood loomed.
We were a mile above Timberline Lodge, at the base of the Palmer Glacier. Perched there at an elevation of 7,500 feet, is the Silcox Hut. Last fall, one of our Dee Highway Gang bid on and won a night’s use of this iconic lodging.
Now, several of us stood on the rocky slope below the entrance, waiting for sunrise. The others identified features in the distance: Trillium Lake, Mt. Jefferson, and the Three Sisters. A brisk wind rushed down from the mountain peak. It slithered under the collar of my fleece. I sought shelter in the crook of the hut’s stone wall. I gazed to the north where, far away, lay the Hood River Valley.
Our home is located in town, just a couple of miles from the mighty Columbia River. To the south, on a clear day, Mt. Hood, in all its majesty, commands the horizon.
My wife and I, along with another lady, arrived in Oregon in the spring of ’78’. While scouting out the area, we stayed on a friend’s land in the upper valley. Their property was located just off the Dee Highway, Route 281, which runs north to south from the Columbia to the Mt. Hood National Forest.
We were young, romantic, and intrepid. We followed strict vegetarian diets, ground our own flour to bake bread, and envisioned communal living. We found a house to rent on the Dee Highway at the bottom of a steep grade. Log trucks descended that hill loaded with trees. Their “jake brakes” exploded in staccato bursts and the transmissions of their diesels growled as they negotiated the steep curve below our home.
Dee Flats, where we eventually bought property, was a short distance away as the crow flies. But, in order to access the plateau, you had to wander down 281 and turn west at the Dee Mill. Dee Highway, Dee Flats, the Dee Mill … these were the landmarks of our adopted home. The middle name of our first born son is, not surprisingly, Dee.
In the beginning, there were seven adults and two children. Over time, we evolved out of our communal living idealism and became four separate families. The gang has grown from that original number with the addition of children, friends, and grandchildren. These days, we have trouble finding a house large enough to host our annual Thanksgiving reunion.
For 39 years we have celebrated life’s milestones together: births, birthdays, baseball games, soccer matches, ski races, graduations, marriages, career changes, house purchases, hundreds of “pot” lucks, holidays, even cross country vacations. Along the way, we also witnessed the perilous launch of children into adulthood, everyone’s injuries, illnesses, as well as the passing of our own parents.
Our work lives grew from seasonal employment with the Forest Service and ski areas into more substantial occupations: nursing, the postal service, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. With time, we wove our way into the complex fabric of the Hood River community.
Six of the seven founding gang members, (one broke her wrist a week prior to our trip) ventured to the Silcox Hut to enjoy the summer solstice at altitude. Nine other gangsters by birth, marriage, or Thanksgiving, as well as two very welcome outsiders, joined us to share in this once in a lifetime event. A stay-in host pampered us. He served healthy dinner and breakfast meals amidst the unique accommodations. And, of course, there were the views …
The gang is now scattered about the Hood River Valley. Only one family remains on the Dee Highway. Weeks pass when we do not see one another. Of our eight children, six remain in the county, along with four grandchildren. Two children have gone exploring, though they make frequent trips back to their roots. One family threatens to leave for more rural environs. The changing community cramps their style. As for the rest of us, we will likely continue our adventure right here in the valley.