As I drove through the rural outskirts of a Pacific Northwestern farming region, I kept thinking of something my cousin Summer had said to me just a week prior. We had been planning my road trip from Los Angeles to her slice of the world – Yakima Valley, Washington. “You’re going to be shocked by how country we are,” she told me.
Would I? What did she mean by that? Did she think I was too city to embrace rural life?
Before last August, Yakima wasn’t on my radar. In fact, I didn’t know the farming rich area existed. I knew I had family in Washington and that they didn’t live in Seattle, where Microsoft is located and Starbucks was founded. That was pretty much it.
But 140 miles southeast of Seattle lies Yakima, home to Summer, who I haven’t seen in over 25 years.
Summer, 31, and I reconnected on Facebook 12 months ago, albeit under sobering circumstances. Summer’s father posted that she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor following a seizure in her sleep. She underwent surgery and the tumor was partially removed and deemed non-cancerous.
I reached out to her wishing her a full recovery. From there, our relationship grew. We discovered our mutual interest in farming: She’s surrounded by it and I’m fascinated by food the world grows. In many respects, our reunion was the beginning of HAND + SEED.
Over the course of this last year, I learned so much about Yakima through Summer. She’d share photos documenting the last of the fall apples to be picked; winter’s frozen, snow-covered grape vines; spring’s beautiful cherry blossoms; and summer’s cherry harvest. Ultimately, Summer began writing for H+S, sharing her country life and introducing us to some of the food Yakima produces.
Through Summer, I created an image of Yakima. The people. The community. The sights. Nothing, however, would compare to actually visiting the region.
I arrived in Yakima after two full days of driving through California and Oregon with my 5-year-old son. I drove past the Washington border and journeyed through miles upon miles of golden hills and open valleys.
When I descended upon Yakima, I recognized the area where the mint farm Summer had written about is located, and saw numerous cornfields and, for the first time, hops. The vines, several feet tall, were growing vertically on trellises. The hop harvest begins this month.
I was a few streets away from her house when I noticed something strikingly different about the homes: apple trees in the front yards. I’m used to seeing citrus trees in Southern California. Also, many of the homes are on larger lots. Some have tractors parked on the side, or a few cows or horses on the property, and several are growing corn.
As I pulled into Summer’s driveway, a for-sale sign stood at its entrance. She and her husband, Travis, have purchased two acres of her father’s property to build their next house, which Travis designed. In addition to working full-time, they will help her dad and stepmom farm hay and will look into growing other crops.
Summer and I greeted one another as if no years had passed between us. I felt completely at home, and the tranquility of her rural surroundings was mesmerizing. Her neighbor’s cows grazed as we ate dinner on the porch.
For the next few days I took in Yakima. I saw my first pear tree, picked blueberries, and walked my first apple orchard. I was too late for cherries but I tried some great peaches.
I also got to know and appreciate Summer and her family. What struck me about Summer is just how sassy she is — she’s no pushover. She has a positive outlook about her brain tumor and sets the pace for her active family. Her wit, combined with Travis’ humor, makes for a fun chemistry.
Summer’s children Madisyn (14), Maciey (11) and Wyatt (8) enlightened me about what it’s like growing up in Yakima. There’s no other place they would want to live, that’s for certain. They can go on hikes, play just about any outdoor adventure sport, be around horses and raise pigs, take on summer jobs picking fruit, and immerse themselves in nature. The outdoors is in their blood, and though they traveled with me to visit Seattle, it’s the country where they’re most comfortable.
Like their parents, they have big personalities. They weren’t too fond of my compact Jetta and reminded me daily that it wasn’t a truck!
But this city girl enjoyed her dose of country, and I left Yakima knowing that I would return soon. It’s too beautiful not to, and there’s too much I haven’t seen. Summer suggests coming back in the winter, which I found humorous since I’m not a huge fan of snow. But I can make an exception in my quest to learn more about food and spend time with family, of course.
In the meantime, Summer will continue to enlighten us about Yakima and life of a country family.