Raechel Youngberg

I fell in love with nature and zen poetry in a college course entitled ‘American Literature of Nature and Place’. On an unassuming trip to a local Bellingham bookstore, I stumbled across ‘Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems’ by Gary Snyder. Little did I realize that this book would become my constant companion on all future outdoor endeavors as well as dramatically influence the way I saw literature and the world.

“In a tangle of cliffs, I chose a place—

Bird-paths, but no trails for men.

What’s beyond the yard?

White clouds clinging to vague rocks.

Now I’ve lived here—how many years—

Again and again, spring and winter pass.

Go tell families with silverware and cars

What’s the use of all that noise and money?”

-Han-Shan, translated by Gary Snyder

My first memory is of a camping trip to the North Cascades as a young child. My parents were walking me around the campground at night with my little toddler head completely tilted upwards while my eyes took in the outlines of conifers framing the milky way. The story goes that one moment I was crying, unable to sleep and the next I was endlessly entranced by the trees and stars. Subconsciously I knew that I needed the wilderness from an early age but it took me until college to realize that spending time in nature is an essential part of maintaining my mental health.  As a naturally anxious person, the wilderness has taught me the art of being present.

I am a 3rd generation Seattleite and it still feels like home at times. But my real home is the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. My heart lies in the Chuckanuts, the Cascades, and the San Juan Islands. These places have been formative teachers in developing my personal philosophy on life. The Chuckanuts are where I first found my true passion in life, running. Sucia Island is where I grew confident as an environmental educator and learned how to be a leader. But my recent experiences in the Cascades have radically forced me to confront my insecurities and learn how to be a better person.

Two years ago my partner and I jumped on an opportunity to live in a small mountain town nestled in the eastern foothills of the Cascades. This vibrant community has shown us the art of slowing down and enjoying the beautiful simplicity of mundane tasks.

The sagebrush hillsides, snow-capped peaks, and winding riparian areas have taught me how to overcome my fears, push deep past any pains lingering from my past and truly begin to come into myself. If you add up all the times I came here for vacation as a child it adds up to a few months shy of three years. I could never have imagined how much these seemingly innocuous landscapes would have impacted my life.

By day I work to protect this area’s rural character and natural environment. During my free time, I can be found backpacking, climbing, fishing, skiing, and running through the numerous hills and drainages in the Cascades.