A New Glimpse

Out of the blue, a distant relative, who happens to be a neighbor of mine, provided another image of life on the homestead in Glenwood, Washington. It came in the form of a picture postcard with a message scrawled on it, mailed to my great uncle Robert Kuhnhausen in 1909. The image shows workers in a field of hay, raking the cut grass into mounds amongst the stumps of the former forest. In the background Mount Adams looms, ever present in the Glenwood valley.It wasn’t until I had scanned the image that I was able to inspect the figures in the field. In the foreground is an obviously female worker, clad in overalls and a white cap. Since the card was sent to Robert, the eldest in the family, and the handwritten inscription declares this to be the Her[man] Kuhnhausen Farm, I inspected this person carefully. I am firmly convinced that this is Rosa Kuhnhausen, my great aunt, and the great-great-grandmother of the relative who gave me the photograph. Rosa led a full life, and by that I mean a long and painful one, but she carried with her a practical philosophy that has inspired me through the recent painful adversity in my own family’s life. She died when she was 106 years old, three months after meeting my daughter who was named after her. My daughter died at age 10, two years ago.

Making hay in the Glenwood Valley of Washington State in 1909. Mount Adams fills the skyline to the west. The worker in front appears to be Rosa Kuhnhausen.

My family and I just returned from a trip to Glenwood. We hired a mechanic to unfreeze the breaks on our 1978 Tioga recreational vehicle, installed a manual choke to make it start more easily, and mucked out the interior to make it livable again. We made a late start on the Friday before Father’s Day, so I was worn out by the time we reached Vancouver. We pulled off at an RV park and spent the night. My wife and I have reached the age at which having an RV to camp in is actually a benefit, not a sign of selling out. No more pitching a tent in the dark after hours of driving, then sleeping on lumpy soil when the air mattress drains completely in the middle of the night. My son hasn’t yet reached the age when traveling in an antique RV would be a shameful thing to do. Besides, we got to take the dogs along.

This is the first time we have ever been at Glenwood for the Father’s Day weekend. It is an important local date, though, the weekend of the NPRC Glenwood Rodeo, which bears the embarrassingly politically incorrect name of “Ketch-um Kalf.” Of course, Glenwood sits right at the southern border of the Yakama Indian Reservation, and the historically displaced Native American population is growing in the area. I couldn’t really say how many of them participate in the cowboy melee, but I saw quite a few in the stands and in the booths selling fry bread, tee shirts and jewelry. There is a story I’ve always wanted to write about how the Yakama Indians first drove their cattle to the railroad back in the 1870s, a sort of Indian Cowboy tale.

When we arrived at Glenwood we went to my cousin’s home where a gathering of the relatives was in process. Tables were spread with potluck offerings in a large shed where the remains of my uncle’s old Piper Cub stood or hung above them. It was good to see so many cousins, aunts, descendants thereof, and distant relatives of the bunch gathered together to talk and eat and catch up on things that had happened in the years since we had gathered together. One muscular stranger turned out to be the same guy I had last seen as a scrawny eight-year-old long ago. And above this ranch, above this shed, half a mile from the grassy corner where Patti and I got married fifteen years before, there was Mount Adams.

Mount Adams used to have a clear inscription on the eastern face, as my grandfather loved to point out. One of his local history books references this fact in the title. The volcanic ridges and glacial scours on that facet of the peak scrawled out three immense letters: U S A. Since his day an avalanche has partially defaced the A, but the aficionado can still pick out where it used to be. This peak governs the valley below it. From its snowfields and glaciers flow streams of runoff that water the farms and ranches of the valley below. Shares in the water project that divert this water to arable land are scarce and expensive, but usually not available anyway. The mountain provides the water, governs the local climate and weather, and provides the backdrop against which the lives of the people who stay in the valley are lived. It’s not usually an easy life, but the scenery can scarcely be equalled.

One eastern Washington boy returned to this valley in his old age. He loved the mountains and he sought the privacy this valley provided. He built a log house a few hundred feet north of where Patti and I stood on our acre of pastureland when we got married. He was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Oliver Douglas. His home is now a bed and breakfast, so you can visit it if you make a reservation.

As for that hayfield, it remains at the center of a dispute that has split our family apart for a decade since my grandfather died. One day, perhaps, the descendants of the people in this photograph can actually step foot on the same ground where Rosie forked the grass into piles of hay. Instead, I drove by slowly when we visited, insisting that my son look away from his video game long enough to at least see that field. And I hope he will remember it.

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