Reflections on Two Years in Jawbone Flats

There are at least a thousand different colors of green, and they all occur in the Opal Creek Wilderness. There are maybe fifteen different ways it can rain and they all happen here, sometimes in one day. The same trails traveled most days for two years can remain awe-inspiring and peaceful every time you set foot on them.  Those are things you notice on the good days, and most days are good around here.  After two years of living year-round in Jawbone Flats, I still feel lucky to live surrounded by wilderness.  Two months from now I will be leaving Opal Creek, and I am unsure how it will feel to live ‘outside of the gate’ again.  I’m excited and anxious at the same time.

My time at Opal Creek has been a blur, a lot of cleaning toilets, driving gear shuttles, looking for amphibians, and walking in from the gate.  Sometimes it seems that so much happened in this last season I can’t remember much about my first season. I’m not sure it is possible to explain what it is like to work and live at Opal Creek.  Contrary to my initial vision of a quiet retreat in the woods, living at Opal Creek was some of the most intense human socialization I have experienced.  Living in a community of ten and having a hundred, if not hundreds, of people walk by your cabin every day was a unique experience. It’s hard to express what it feels like to have your picture taken as you are sweeping your porch in your pajamas, and then when you say ‘hi’ having people walk away scared because they were under the impression that Jawbone is a living history museum.  I am, however, pleased with how many photos of my cabin have been taken by hikers, where my head is glowing in the window as I work at my computer.

I guess what I am saying is working at Opal Creek is probably not what most people think, but it is still pretty amazing.  I can’t say I got the quiet wilderness experience I was hoping for, but I did get an insanely challenging experience with some of the most intelligent, hard-working people I have ever met.

As for Opal Creek itself, it is changing.  There seems to be a noticeable increase, just since last season, in the amount of people, as well as trash.  And now I sit here in Jawbone, in late January, wearing Birkenstocks and there is no snow in sight. I worry about what is going to become of this place as it becomes more popular and more accessible.  I’m not sure what the solution is, but I do know that even though I am leaving I am still going to do whatever I can for this place and I hope everyone who loves Opal Creek will do the same.