Not many people appreciate that Opal Creek Wilderness is a rainforest–not a tropical one like you see in Central America or Southeast Asia but a temperate one. As rainforests do – it rains a lot…especially this spring. The cool, wet climate has been quite the adjustment for me after having lived in mostly hot, dry environments the last six years. When I first arrived, no amount of clothing, rain gear or fire succeeded in warming me to comfort. The forest’s chill worms its way into bodies of students and guests here as well. Recently, workshop participants gazed at me in horror when I informed them our power was out and they’d have to make do with an old-fashioned wood burning stove and lantern. Some younger students have cried out their discomfort as they strain to finish the last mile in the cold and rain to Jawbone Flats.
Yet the magic of this place still captures the soul. I’m reminded of the Eagle’s song Hotel California and the line “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” It’s like that here. Despite the hardships of living in a rustic setting where it’s consistently cold and rainy (or snowy!), we all are captivated by the sheer lushness and vibrancy here…and we’re pulled back. On their last day, adults and youth alike are already making plans to return. Likewise, I can’t bring myself to leave for more than a few days each month.
The irony is that the very element that pushes us to our edge – water – is simultaneously what brings so much life and power to Opal Creek. The over 100 species of moss and lichen that carpet the trees and forest floors, the firs and cedars that reach 200 feet into the sky, those adorable little salamanders and (of course) all those majestic waterfalls – are all there because of the massive amount of precipitation we receive (over 150 inches per year!).
Water is also what gives us power for heat and electricity. A simple hydroelectric system developed in 1870, the Pelton Wheel, funnels the creek’s natural flow down 270 feet of mountain over nearly a mile, constricting the water pressure as it goes until we get a great burst at the end, spinning the wheel and generating up to 9.6 kW of power. It supplies 80% of Jawbone Flat’s power, even as we fluctuate from our core of 10 people to over 50 when guests arrive.
What I’ve realized is that the bane we curse (cold rain) is actually our greatest blessing. In a time when many parts of the world suffer from drought (including my old homes in Southern California and Arizona), we’re still blessed with such abundance. And better yet… more warm, sunny days are coming as summer nears. And when the rain recedes and the sun breaks through the clouds, we all rejoice!