Finding Home in Green Bluff

Exploring Green Bluff
written by Nicole Sheets

The first time I visited Green Bluff, I was with my colleague and mentor, Pam. I had only lived in Washington for a few months. Green Bluff is about 17 miles north of downtown Spokane, and only 10 miles from the campus where we taught, but it feels worlds away. It’s a loop of small farms and scenic barns, evergreens and rolling hills dotted with hay bales or alpacas. The place is basically one giant photo op.

Pam and I were supposed to go on a walk that summer morning, but by the time I got to her house, around 9 a.m., she’d been awake for so long that she’d already taken that walk and was ready for Green Bluff.

Pam’s impulse to go early was wise: picking feels fine in the cool of the morning, though you already feel the promise of noonday heat. You wear your broad-brimmed hat and balance your pail or cut-open milk jug. Your coffee hasn’t worn off yet. You’re focused.

It was almost the end of strawberry picking. I was slow at collecting the fruit, but Pam was efficient, used to dealing with dirt to get what she wanted. Pam was an expert gardener, maintaining a backyard oasis that she shared with family and friends. She lived by a modified version of Cicero’s aphorism: If you have a garden and a library and chocolate, you have everything you need.

Pam took me to several of her favorite spots on the bluff. At the farm where we picked the strawberries, the owner knew her by name. Pam told me that he plays classical music to his cucumbers to make them grow. This was no joke. Her tone revealed some kind of gardeners’ compact to respect whatever magic or strategy will conjure the fruit from the blossom.

When my daughter was born almost two years ago, no one rejoiced with me more than Pam. I took my daughter to Green Bluff for the first time when she was six weeks old. As I sat on a hay bale, nursing her in the shade of a cherry orchard, I knew I had achieved a new level of assimilation to the Pacific Northwest. We should be on a poster, I thought. When the baby fell asleep, I handed her to a friend while I climbed ladders and picked 10 pounds of Bing and Rainier cherries.

Pam died last August, much too soon. I remember her when I walk by the garden she helped to design on campus, its flowers like a calendar, crocus to lavender. From my first days in Washington, Pam took the time to show me some of the places she loved best, places like Green Bluff, as a way of saying that everything would be all right, and that if I was open to it, this place would start to feel like home. About this, and so much else, she was right.

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