As the end of August nears, I’m reminded that I have just a few short months left at Wellington. Located as it is high in the North Cascade Mountains, Wellington is only accessible from late June/early July through late October/early November. Given the amount of snowfall in the past few years, we haven’t been able to reach Wellington until July, and we have been done there by the end of October. In just a few short weeks, verdant underbrush will give way to the burnt orange and bright red of fall foliage. Then, the snow will come once again, locking Wellington in an icy cage until the summer thaw.
For those of you not in the know, Wellington is my favorite place in the world. It is my happy place. It is beautiful, peaceful, and undoubtedly haunted. During the summer months, the stars shine brilliantly at night, with millions of points of light never visible from the city. Along with stunning vistas of nearby peaks, the paths are lined with vibrant red castilleja (Indian paintbrush), purple foxglove, orange columbine, and wild strawberries. The air smells clean, and marmots call to one another from behind nearby rock outcroppings. This year, two juvenile barn owls have taken up residence in the forest alongside the snow shed. They converse in eerily screechy voices as the sun goes down.
I’ve written quite a lot here about Wellington since I first visited in 2009. That’s because Wellington is the place that made me believe, once and for all, something happens after we die. It is the site of the worst avalanche disaster in the history of the United States. It is a ghost town in more ways than one.
Every summer, I make multiple visits to Wellington. In the past few months, my focus has been on introducing it to others – walking people through and sharing the history of the location and the haunting. I am blessed to be able to do so, since I believe the ghosts of Wellington want their story shared with as many people as possible. That is what I do, both onsite and off. I tell their story in the best way I know how.
Whenever I visit, I can feel the site reach out to embrace me. It is as if I am wrapped in the arms of old friends. No matter what’s going on in my life, no matter how stressed I am (and the answer this summer is extremely stressed), the second I set foot on that sacred site I am made whole. Everything fades away, and for however long I am there I achieve a state of zen.
While Wellington feels familiar and friendly, it still has secrets to reveal. It is as if the town delights in showing me something new every single time I visit. This year, it is the addition of a tall, black, human-shaped mist that steps into my path, slowly fades away, and then re-appears further off in the distance. This apparition beckons, leading me to whatever piece of the story he or she has to tell. Hopefully, it is a story I will know in full before winter sets in once again.
Another new experience is a giant presence called Bear. He stands so close, as if there is no personal space he is willing to let lie between us. He strokes my face and whispers in my ear, “You know me. You know me.” He seems so certain, I have to wonder if what he says is the truth. Perhaps I do. Perhaps in another life, another place, another time, I did know Bear the way he believes I do.
My relationship with Wellington has matured over the past several years. In the initial rush of new acquaintance, it was as if Wellington threw everything it had in an attempt to impress me. Now, it is more subtle yet meaningful. Today, Wellington opens up like a flower, revealing layer after subtle layer of its story.
The fireworks of that first heady summer at Wellington have given way to quieter phenomena. The children still rush to greet me, but now they do it silently, slipping their hand into mine as if to escort me about the site. The voices are quieter now. The touches are gentler. The apparitions are far softer and less defined. Perhaps it is because I no longer need the fireworks to believe, and so Wellington saves those for newcomers who have yet to give in to the town’s charms.
Judging from the people who call and email me, however, Wellington remains up to its old tricks, shocking newcomers with an aggressive and in-your-face campaign. When they return from their visit and inevitably find me somewhere in the ethers of the Internet, those lucky enough to experience Wellington in all her haunted glory write me of loud voices, firm touches, bright lights, and solid apparitions. They are equal parts terrified and intrigued, and they want to share their story. I am happy to listen, overcome with nostalgia for the days when my relationship with Wellington was new, as well, and the town had much to show and tell me so that I would believe and tell others.
I no longer investigate Wellington – I have no need to do so. When I go, my equipment remains either at home or in the car. Instead, I visit old friends. I sit quietly and listen. I walk and watch. And no matter what I see, hear, or experience, I always leave better than I was before I came.