Before this tiny [home] decision we made a big decision that transformed our lives. We moved from Buffalo, NY to Yakima, WA. We were not running from anything. We were not unhappy. We were following our dreams.
For the month of July, 2008, Samantha and I set out in our trusty Honda Civic and traveled through 25 states, 13 national parks and put over 10,000 miles on the car in under 30 days. This road trip was partially financed through years of aluminum can returns and saved change and fueled by a desire to travel and an Ansel Adams photograph of half dome in the Yosemite Valley. On this trip Samantha and I visited Seattle, Mt. Rainier, Portland and the Pacific Coast in which we shared a moment of affirmation that we would be back. We didn’t know when and we didn’t know how but it felt right and boy was it a diverse and spectacular region.
Years passed as we started and then finished our graduate studies in Buffalo and I asked Samantha to marry me on the Italian coastal villages of Cinque Terra mid-way through a one month backpacking/train hopping excursion through Europe.
We excitedly planned our wedding, the end of our jobs in Buffalo and an extended backpacking trip through Patagonia while telling ourselves and anyone that asked that we were moving west to follow that unexplainable feeling we had on our trip 4 years earlier. What was so interesting about this big decision to relocate was that there was never any doubt. We are still not sure how leaving our entire support network wasn’t paralyzing, but there was certainly a now or never feeling associated with it. Our entire lives we heard people saying “I wish I had done this” or “I should have done that” and we understood that taking the next natural and expected step of staying put, buying a home, continuing our stable jobs (which we loved) and starting a family (which we want) would certainly defer or eliminate our dreams of travel, adventure and new experiences if done immediately. Call it temporary selfishness, but it is what we wanted, so it is what we did.
While researching our future in the Pacific North West, job opportunities in Portland, Seattle and Yakima popped up. Yakima? A Google search revealed an alarming amount of negative commentary and satellite imagery showed not much more than brown sage brush high desert and pavement. This was not a great first impression but Samantha’s prospective company paid for us to fly out to interview and see the area. The long cross-country trip was exciting and the interview satisfactory but a short conversation with a stranger named Brian became the highlight of our short time in Yakima.
Brian had a beard that must have been a year in the making and spoke with enthusiasm and positivity no matter what the subject. He explained that he and others got together to brainstorm about how to make Yakima a better place at events they called ideaJAMs. He talked about all of the outdoor activities available nearby and how he and others socially brew beer as a group of friends every Thursday. He had an intangible aura that emitted confidence and kindness and most notably Brian was the kind of person that highly valued community with a natural ability to build and strengthen relationships between people. Some people collect hats, Brian collects people, bringing them together and through him, extensive networks of friendships emerge effortlessly. How a 2 hour meeting with a complete stranger could make a decision so easy was beyond us but that was it, Yakima was our next destination. The city was manageable. It was small enough (100,000 people, but feels much smaller) to make a difference and to get involved. 300 days of sun they said. No traffic congestion they exclaimed. 1/3 the cost of living compared to the west side of the mountains they shouted. And perhaps most importantly for us at the time, it was at the center of the most amazing region of the United States; a mere 5 hour radius from British Columbia to the North, The Pacific Coast to the West, Bend, Oregon to the South, into Idaho to the East and more places and opportunities than we had ever imagined in-between.
We threw a going away party in the form of a wedding and got our affairs in order. We moved out of our 4 year apartment in Buffalo and used the last of our money the best way we knew how, traveling South to trek, bus and boat through Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia. We returned to Buffalo just long enough to pack our belongings into a 16’ U-haul and drove across the country once again, retracing much of the northern route of our 2008 road trip, this time with a smart phone allowing us to search Craigslist for a place to live. We arrived in Yakima, WA on January 20, 2013, borrowed some money from my brother to cover the first month’s rent and started our lives on the opposite side of the country.
Our call to Brian to inform him that we were proud new residents of Yakima came as a surprise as we had not informed him of our decision. With-in weeks we were driving with Brian and his fiancé to the Oregon coast to a beach house party. In May Samantha and I hiked up Mt. St Helens. The next weekend we stood on top of 12,200’ Mt Adams with Brian and a group of his PNW friends. In August we stood 9 strong on top of 14,440’ Mt Rainier with an amazing group of old friends from the East coast and new friends from the West. We spent a day underground caving in old lava tubes, and a new years eve at a mountain pass party complete with a rocking jam band. A conversation with a local winemaker (and modern day Renaissance man) named Bill led to a job with him at the winery before I could find work in my field and was followed by a strong friendship. We attended communal board game nights followed by home brewing nights at a nearby bed and breakfast style home dubbed the Hall Haus, which lucky for us sat just a few blocks from our own rental Apt. We attended one of those ideaJAMS and pitched an idea that 18 months later is blooming into a full blown non-profit communal workshop and education center called the Yakima Maker Space. We rafted the Tieton River thanks to the surge of dam release water every September and spent many hot weekend days aboard large collective, inflatable flotillas as we lazily made our way down the river that bares our cities name. We’ve attended remote gatherings in locations difficult for most vehicles to get to, only to have 50+ people arrive, set up tents and crowd around the fire complete with guitar and harmonica. We attended an incredible intimate and well executed music festival called Chinook fest, organized by a few local friends with a dream who bring a large and diverse line-up of roots-rock musicians that shine amidst the tall pines, clear river and towering rock walls of a small state park tucked away in the mountains. We toured the awesome new local start up water bottle company called Liberty Bottleworks and fell in love with their product, sustainable ethics and business practices so much that we worked with them to create a custom designed bottle. We spent as many weekends in a tent as we did in our apartment exploring the diverse landscape of Washington State. We said goodbye to a close friend with a large going away party only to have him return in 3 months with little more explanation that “I love this place and I love you people.”
Ultimately we too fell in love with this big/little rural/urban town situated in the heart of Washington, and the heart of the entire northwest. Here are a few more reasons why:
Beautiful vineyards and delicious wineries stretch for over a hundred miles South-East to Walla-Walla. The Yakima Valley grows 75% of the nations hops (used in the beer brewing process) on expansive 14’ tall trellised landscapes of climbing hops whose fragrance cloaks our downtown come fall. We celebrate our hop harvest by throwing one of the top 10 beer festivals in the country (Fresh Hop Ale Festival) right in the middle of our downtown and give the proceeds to our arts organizations. Just down the road we witnessed a new (and now nationally acclaimed) brewery rise from the very hop field that produces it’s iconic and universally loved Field 41 Pale Ale and Top cutter IPA. We played organized indoor soccer in an old fruit warehouse that happens to be connected to one of Yakima’s long standing breweries, Yakima Craft Brewing, whose “1982” Amber Ale nods to the year that Bert Grant opened the first post-prohibition brewpub in the United States located in Yakima and launched the beginning of PNW craft beer exploration. Word has it that Yakima Craft still uses Bert’s original brew kettle.
Our bi weekly farmers market changes with the season and offers up fresh produce and products directly from the valley leaving no doubt where the food on your table came from. The autumn harvest here in the agricultural center of the PNW is worth an extended trip in its own right as colors transition, u-pick farms open, and local roadside stands fill to their brims with the fruits of this valleys labor. It is clear that the long days and hard work of Yakima Valley agriculture is the foundation and source of pride for this city and all who call this region home benefit immensely from their dedication. 300 days of sunshine and thus a minimal amount of rain is supplemented with a complex network of irrigation canals leading from beautiful recreational reservoirs in the mountains to the large swaths of green crops standing starkly against light brown foot hills, that if followed west long enough, transition into the green, damp cascade mountain range, where the omnipresent glaciated white peaks of Mt Adams and Mt Rainier stand watching over the Yakima Valley. Our local ski resort, White Pass is less than an hour away and has an off-the-beaten path, hometown vibe that avoids the inundation of west side crowds while offering up loads of snow, steeps and groomers with a beautiful new ski accessed 6000’ “High Camp” Lodge for the obligatory mid day craft beer.
Stay right at a fork in the road just outside of Naches, WA and instead of White Pass you arrive at Chinook Pass (1 hour+ outside Yakima) and the boundary of Mt Rainier National Park. From here you can park and do one of the area’s most beautiful short alpine day hikes available (Naches Peak Loop Trail) or continue on 1 hour to the heart of the National Park and explore from one of many visitor centers and Lodges.
On the way to White Pass and Chinook Pass, a mere 20 minutes outside of Yakima stands the Andesite columns and walls of the Tieton climbing area where Samantha and I both shared our first rock climbing experiences with friends that showed us the ropes. Not far from the cracks of Tieton is a quaint agricultural town reminiscent of those backpacked through in Patagonia except for one addition, Mighty Tieton. Mighty Tieton is a small group of designers, artists, architects and other creative individuals whose goal is to help revitalize the local economy through encouraged entrepreneurship. Mighty Tieton brought the very first Mini Maker Faire to our area have been very helpful in the formative year of Yakima Maker Space.
Oh, and what about the City of Yakima you ask? You know, that one that looked like a surface parking lot in a desert from that satellite imagery? Let us correct that original perspective…
Our downtown is full of history, is extremely walkable and is on the rise. A beautiful pedestrian greenway skirts the edge of the city hugging the rivers and sage brush hills that make this valley feel enclosed and intimate. Within walking and biking distance of the downtown core is the gorgeous, extremely functional and always bustling Franklin Park where one can swim, walk through our museum, grab a meal at the local soda fountain and catch some live music all in a single day! Walk out of Franklin Park into some of the most beautiful and interesting streets of the Barge Chestnut Neighborhoods where if you know the right people you can find yourself watching a projected movie in the backyard on a warm summer evening. A local organization (IheartYAKIMA) formed around the same time that Samantha and I arrived and the three amazing co-founders are producing undoubtedly the most positive voice for Yakima and growing the civic pride that was noticeably lacking. The aforementioned Yakima Maker Space filled a vacant storefront in the historic Pacific Building and is working hard to inspire, empower and educate the community through the act of making. Yakima Craft brewing just opened its second tap room in the historic Larson building while Tieton Cider Works just opened a beautiful new cider bar of its own in town. A new restaurant with local ties and commitment is rising from an empty corner lot in the center of our downtown using thoughtful and detailed design and extremely talented local craftsman (we are looking at you Atlas and Cedar). Yakima boasts multiple art galleries and generous philanthropist who believe in the arts, one of which took the initiative right in front of our eyes to establish a new physical space for a decade old movement, and the Yakima Light Project was born. One can lounge in Franklin Park for three consecutive days of free outdoor music during the annual Yakima Folk Life Festival over three decades in the making or make your way downtown on a Thursday evening to grab a drink and enjoy the free concert series.
Our city has invested a year’s worth of time and money into the careful study and design of a beautiful outdoor public square in the center of our downtown to create a focal point for our community in what used to be a large parking lot. Our favorite local coffee house recently occupied the vacant and historic train depot where you can still feel the train shake your table as it passes on the other side of the Depot wall. Pacific North West University is our new Osteopathic Medical School and is bringing even more diverse young educated people to our little city. The beautiful 1500 seat Capitol Theater hosts traditional plays and musicals as well as contemporary movie screenings of the latest Warren Miller Ski films and its history is told on its walls through photographs and news clippings from the height of its glory days all the way to the depths of its 1975 fire.The Seasons Performance Hall is a beautiful renovated church turned performance space that has been contributing to the culture of Yakima for nearly 10 years now and is where Samantha and I attended our first tedX presentation, concert, and documentary screening!
And nothing has been more inspiring than watching this community recognize the opportunity here and execute their dreams. We have watched the two young entrepreneurs of local start-up Copper Pot Caramels evolve from burnt batches during recipe perfection to flawless execution, business expansion, machinery acquisition and much deserved press coverage proving what is possible when a simple idea meets a little (ok a lot of) hard work here in Yakima. Two other young Yakima entrepreneurs and life long friends recognized a gap in the hop market that needed filling, small quantity home brewers. In one year we witnessed them evolve from shipping small bags of hops out of a garage to the acquisition and transformation of an entire warehouse into a unique homebrew store and event space allowing them to give back to the community while dramatically increasing inventory and distribution.
I can’t even count on two hands the number of personal friends that have purchased homes right here in Yakima in just the last 12 months but I can promise that we are not the only, nor are we the last young professionals choosing Yakima. This is just the beginning.
Needless to say, it’s has been an INCREDIBLE 21 months.
We could have moved anywhere and we CHOSE Yakima. I hope that this little manifesto helps those of you from the area fall in love with this jewel of Washington State all over again and makes those of you that do not live here understand our decision in a new light. So the next time (and it won’t be long) we find ourselves being asked “WHY would you move HERE?” We can point them in this direction as a reminder that Yakima is worth it. Yakima is deserving of our time and energy. Yakima is deserving of investment and good design. Yakima is deserving of a positive reputation.
And how does this tie into our decision to build a [tiny]home here?
Our story about Yakima started with trust in and affinity for a single person and has grown into a love for an entire community. To experience that love being reciprocated is an amazing feeling that we are beyond grateful for. In the two weeks since we announced our plans to build tiny the out pouring from friends and strangers alike has been incredible. We have been offered materials, labor, consultation, places to build and places to park/live. We couldn’t think of a better way to explain why we are stepping out on a limb to do this project here and now than by sharing our positive experience in Yakima. SHED is not just our project, it is becoming our community’s project and there is great comfort and support in that. Thank you Yakima.
“So many people live with-in unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a person than a secure future. The very basic core of a humans living spirit is their passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an ever changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
-Chris McCandless, Into The Wild
Take a risk. Challenge yourself. Be pro-active. Have a voice. Be vulnerable and Just say yes.
Who knows where you will end up but like Samantha and I mentioned before, things always have a way of working themselves out and you will find a deeper appreciation for the places you’ve been and the place(s) you call home. Cheers to Buffalo. Cheers to Yakima. And cheers to everyone near and far who have helped make us who we are today and to those we have yet to meet who will help us positively evolve tomorrow.