Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Jana Harris - Sultan, WA

It's election day in Sultan, Washington, and one of the candidates, a tall and gaunt man with a long beard, is standing in the back of his pickup truck at a local gas station, hollering at passers by. He's running for city council. He has my vote, just for the beard and the courage of his convictions - whatever they may be. We get some gas at the station and I listen in a bit. He's talking taxes, and freedom, and about keeping government out of the "business of the little man." Some cars move right past him like he wasn't there. But others stop for a second on the shoulder and open their windows. Some folks honk. He waves at everyone. He seems to know about every third person, calling them by name. 

As we have traveled out of the urban cities on the Washington coast, we've found the towns a little tougher, a little more wild. People are more independent here, especially when compared to the reserved folks we know from our time in the northeast U.S. Hippies and rednecks live happily next to ranchers, methamphetamine entrepeneurs, and the ever-present militia folks in their cammo outfits. Loggers and fruit growers.

We wind through some narrow roads east of Sultan and up into some pretty ranchland. Mountains rise in the eastern sky, and we drive between orchards and pastures until we get to Jana Harris's farm on a spacious and quiet piece of land, a barn, a long house, and a pond to the north.

Jana Harris lives on a working horse farm, and before se see the house, we see four beautiful mares in separate pens on a clear and sunny chilly late morning in November.

Jana welcomes us into the house, as does Charlie, a sweet old lab, and Hillary Clinton, a cat with a - reported at least - running line of cat chatter.

Jana is whipping up some food in the kitchen. She talks about her land and horses while she cooks, and we drink in the smells and play with Charlie - who loves the sun coming through onto the dark floor tiles.

We eat and talk about Jana's work. Jana's most recent books give voice to pioneer women and children who lived in Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington. Jana does brilliant research, unearthing photos and stories and turning this raw material into gorgeous narrative poems that let these heroic - but often lost - characters live fresh lives on the page.

After a feast, we see Jana's writing area, atop an old black leather padded bar from the previous owners of the house. She writes and sleeps in a gigantic open room on the second floor, with large windows open to the southern view of her pastures and the mountain range.

We go with Jana outside as she brings the horses in from the fields for some hay and carrots. The horses are gigantic - I am a city boy, of course - but Jana hooks them and hauls them in easily, all the time talking to them, catching them up on these new visitors who are suddenly in their barn.

We go in for dessert and talk a little about her teaching, some of the schools she's worked at, and it's time to go. We take our leave - and two apples.