The Women of Jawbone Flats

Author’s note: This was all inspired by Keeley’s mom, Bonnie McAnnis, who is an amazing woman. She drove me back to Portland from Jawbone and we talked all about this. 

When I step out of my front door, I am in the ancient forest, surrounded by trees in a canyon of pristine wilderness area. Through-hikers are quick to make the “your life must be so hard in this awful place” joke, which I suppose is fair from their perspective. But when I’m not busy soaking up the sun by the pools, hiking around in a seemingly empty backcountry, or eating homemade cake every night in the lodge, I am legitimately earning my stay here. A thoughtful onlooker recently pointed out that for such physical and emotionally taxing work, it’s surprising there are so many females who work in Jawbone. Among the many quirks that make this organization so unique, this one never crossed my mind.

I suppose it is rather ironic how Jawbone Flats got its cheeky name, then. Rumor says this town is named after the miners’ wives who had a reputation for “shooting the breeze” while their husbands were at work. You know, gossiping, chit- chatting, JAWBONING! I’m sure if you asked any woman who has lived here since the 1960s, she would roll her eyes at this tall tale, but it’s the story we still tell today. Well, 1929 was a long time ago, and these days, Jawbone Flats is home to eleven hard working employees, eight of which are female-bodied. (And our entire “Beyond the Gate” staff is female, too!) Gone are the days when the men would work grueling hours in the mines or mill down the ancient giants, while the women would stay home to housekeep. Now you can find any employee that works and lives here breaking a sweat and pulling long hours to upkeep this old mining town-turned-non-profit we call home. Although we all walked our own paths to get here, we ended up together in Opal Creek because we share an appreciation for the beauty, wisdom, and spirituality that lies within this valley.

There is something so calming, nurturing, about this slice of the universe. While it is first and foremost an educational facility, there is a constant cycle of rebirth and new life around us; it would be foolish not to recognize how fertile this land is – from the blooming forest, to the flowing water, to the moon and stars. While I am grateful for all the hard work each individual does for this humble non-profit, I have a particular fondness for the smart, strong, and adventurous women I have met through working here. I can’t help but imagine how the female role in Jawbone Flats has evolved over the past 80 years or so.

A regular schedule is something I gave up when I came to work at Opal Creek last year. You’ve always got to be willing to roll with the punches and take the initiative if you’d like to see something done. I’ve taught old growth forest ecology to 25 fifth graders, cooked a meal for 75 people, hiked with ten teens in the backcountry, cleaned the cabins 100 times each, extinguished forest fires, picked up 1000 suitcases, and chopped more kindling than I can remember. Our days are long and often draining, but the healing waters always recharge and soothe us. No matter the day, I can seek wisdom from the co-inhabitants, friends, and family of this dreamy community and be reminded that I am strong, powerful, smart, and just plain wild!  There is no place better than Opal Creek to discover this about oneself.