High Prairie: A Special Community
It’s A Beautiful Place
I live in a rural community called High Prairie, located in Washington State above the tiny town of Lyle, just off the Columbia River Gorge. High prairie is a rolling plateau where the great forests end and the grasslands begin. It is about 2000 feet in elevation with canyons on three sides. Our small plateau and surrounding valleys are coterminous with volunteer Fire District 14, which has taken the name of High Prairie. Support for our firemen long ago became a focus for our little community of perhaps 400 people, spread out over 64 square miles.
It has always been a sparsely developed community. The native Americans primarily occupied this area up until the latter half of the nineteenth century. Few pioneers lived on this side of the Columbia River before the 1850’s. The first families to set up homesteads on this land had to be self sufficient, innovative and resourceful because they lived miles apart from their neighbors and it was at least a two day round trip by horse or wagon to buy supplies or to get mail or news. This small community built a one room school house for their children, dug their own wells by hand, raised their own chickens, cattle, goats, wheat, vegetables and shared what they had whenever necessary with their neighbors.
There is a book whose author was a young girl growing up in High Prairie during the 1890’s. She writes about how this small group of neighbors supported each other with food, shelter, medicines or physical help whenever the need arose. Many times they shared their meals, even when their food supplies were low, with their Indian neighbors and with hungry strangers traveling through as well as with each other. Good neighbors were essential and this small community passed on these values to new families who moved here.
The values of the early settlers in this area have been passed on for several generations now and yet we are all quite different both in our ages and in many of our beliefs. We come from many different areas of the world, we have different religious beliefs, political views and educational backgrounds, yet we share three things that tie us together… trust, compassion and generosity.
Even though we all have our faults and differences, we are able to find our common ground and see the good in those around us. It is a beautiful thing and I hope and pray we continue to pass this on to the new neighbors moving in into our community, just as the old High Prairians did for us.
Today, these passed on values mean so very, very much to me. I have been so impressed with the positive energy I feel from so many of my neighbors and friends here. I have stage 4 breast cancer and have been receiving treatment for over two and a half years. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what is most important to me. I want to do what I can to “pay forward” the good neighbors who have been so kind and generous. I have decided to donate over 60 vintage quilts that I have collected over the years to my community for a fundraising auction and sale. Some neighbors have also donated quilts of theirs to add to this sale. The proceeds will help maintain our community center and two firehouses.
Such events have become a tradition here. With so much turbulence in our country and the world these days, I wonder how a community like ours at High Prairie can exist and even thrive when there is so much unrest going on all around us. Yet our shared values bring us together to support each other and our community.
It makes me so happy to remember how my husband and I were made to feel welcome from the day we moved into our home. We saw that when someone needed help because of sickness, a death in the family, or any other need that came up, such as plowing a driveway for someone who could not get out after a storm, these neighbors all pulled together to give aid. Often they didn’t ask but the neighbors saw the need and found a way to be of help. I have seen neighbors set up a scheduled work party to help clean up after a fire, to arrange a work party to cut wood for a widow so she has heat for the winter and after the wood was cut and stacked, they brought food for a potluck picnic together, making it a fun event.
When we first moved into our home, a few of our neighbors helped us move furniture and set up a time with us when they brought the food and we had a dinner here where we got to meet and get to know many of our new neighbors. A man who had just lost his wife to cancer came to that dinner and offered to bring up his power mower to cut our long, dry grass near the house for fire prevention. He called it “paying it forward’’, in the community tradition. I think it helped all of us, as he was not alone mourning the death of his wife, but instead was out working to help a new neighbor.
It is rather remarkable that in the past 17 years, a group of neighbors and volunteer firemen spent many hours to apply for a grant, administered by the state of Washington, to help pay for a new firehouse and community center on land donated by community residents. With the money they received, the High Prairie Community Council along with volunteer firemen and volunteer community members donated materials and many hours, days, weeks and sometimes months of their time and labor to help build, paint, and decorate our new firehall and community center. Prior to the grant this community held an annual “Firehouse Sale” in order to support our firemen. It brought in thousands of dollars for our firemen, and after the new fire hall/ community center structure was built, it helped fund the completion of the center’s kitchen and additional firemen’s gear.
These annual sales have continued for close to 18 years now and it connects us as neighbors and friends working on a common cause. It also introduces us to new neighbors and them to us. It helps unite us and there are so many other groups and functions which bring us together all year round. We have the Needlers who meet weekly in a private home and work to create the quilt for the annual sale, a community garden, an annual Christmas dinner & party, (complete with Santa arriving in a firetruck), the Mother’s Day Tea, the “Prairie Larks” singing group, the Firemen’s dinner and many other events and functions taking place in our community center.
I feel so lucky to live in this active and generous community. I ask, how many other rural communities of our size have a place they can assemble for groups of over a hundred and seat them in a rather grand manner? How many other rural areas have a quarterly newsletter with news that directly affects us and is written and published by our friends and neighbors? We also have our own website helping to connect us to neighboring communities such as Goldendale, The Dalles, White Salmon and Lyle. There are many events going on within our community year round that we are invited to attend as well as a book club, Bible study group, yoga classes and I can go on and on. It is a wonderful place to live and we have many special neighbors and friends but most of all we have a unique neighborhood that supports us and makes us all feel like one big family.
I want this wonderful community to continue to come together several times each year to work on a common cause, and the new neighbors moving in to feel as I do, that they are part of something greater than just a rural neighborhood, spread out over 64 square miles. I want them to feel the warmth and pass forward these values of trust, compassion and generosity, for many generations to come.
We want to invite our neighbors and neighboring communities to join us for a one day sale June 16th of this year, from 9 am to 6pm. We want to share, celebrate and welcome everyone to this beautiful community.
We will be selling and auctioning over 60 vintage and antique quilts. There will be three bands playing throughout the day starting at 10 am, vendors selling miscellaneous merchandise, a bake sale and a food booth selling hamburgers, hotdogs, chili, chips and drinks. You can also buy tickets for our quilt walk with multiple prize drawings throughout the day. Lottery tickets can also be purchased for three of the quilts ahead of time up until minutes before the drawing is made.
I invite my neighbors and all communities around us to come out and volunteer or participate in any capacity you wish. Bring your families and friends for this special event and soak up the warmth and kindness of your neighbors and most of all have fun.