By Joanna Bastian
It is a dangerous trip down river with the spring runoff at peak flow this week. The drive itself is dangerous. I’ve pulled over several times to safely observe the flow without drifting into oncoming traffic. I don’t know why I look. The sight fills me with terrible awe. My stomach churns with just as much ferocity as the turbulent water. Whole trees rush by, roots clawing at the air. I wonder if they make it to the ocean in days, or in hours.
Phil Brownlee in Pateros recalls the flood of 1948 whisking a haystack downriver. A rooster perched on top, crowing his discontent.
I met with Rebecca Meadows recently — she said she had something to give me. I expected maybe an old newspaper article, or photos, or maybe some flower bulbs. Instead, it was something even better: stories recorded by her father, Wayne Luft.
The family lived at the mouth of Black Canyon. Wayne led guided horse packing tours through the Sawtooth and Pasayten ranges. In his final years, Wayne made a series of CDs, recording his memories of the early days guiding through hillsides full of flowers, rockslides and high mountain lakes. One of the sweetest memories Wayne shared was that of his daughter’s seventh birthday.
Young Rebecca had asked to ride up to Boiling Lake for her birthday. The family and a few friends loaded up the horses and rode into the Sawtooth range to fish and camp for a week.
At the campfire that first night, Rebecca made the sad observation that this would be her first birthday without a cake. Her father told her he would make it up to her with a triple-decker cake when they got home, but she replied that it just wouldn’t be the same. Here they were with all these people and no cake to share with their friends.
Wayne asked his young daughter if she wanted to lead the group to Cub Creek the next day to fish. Her eyes lit up with the idea of riding in front. After breakfast the following morning, Wayne made an excuse to stay at camp to prepare a big birthday dinner.
When the riders got out of sight, Wayne, his son Pat, and his friend Manual started digging a fire hole to roast the dinner. Legs of lamb were rubbed down with garlic and wrapped in foil with potatoes and onions. Wayne mixed up a cake in a Dutch oven and placed it in the fire pit on top of the lamb. After an hour, Wayne pulled out the Dutch oven and set it on a stump. He dusted off ashes before lifting the lid. The three men held their breath and looked into the oven. Manual declared it the prettiest cake he’d ever seen. The men mixed up a sugar frosting and spread it over the cake.
Late in the afternoon, the fishing crew returned with Rebecca riding tall in the lead, grinning from ear to ear. After dinner, everyone sang happy birthday and the cake was revealed. From the sound of Wayne’s voice on the CD, it is hard to tell which pleased Rebecca the most: leading the fishermen to Cub Creek that morning, or the surprise birthday cake at Boiling Lake that evening. The look on the face of his 7-year-old daughter was something Wayne remembered vividly years later, when he recorded his memories along with all his other “Tales of the Methow.”