ReLook: Numero Hill & The Sinking City

It’s my first week at the University of Rochester. Since I’m adjusting to my new schedule (and homework-work-load), I thought I’d revisit some old blog posts. Some stories deserve a second telling. Some deserve a better telling. In a happy (yet horrid) affair, I edited, cut, and rehashed this post. I hope you enjoy! 

Numero Hill & The Sinking City

Think about this: You live in a small town; you’ve been there your whole life. One day, it just disappears, vanishes (maybe “Vanish” is too much; how about this: “It drowns”). The city drowns.

The waters rise. All you can do is head uphill.

WASHington

Last weekend, I was asked to lead worship in Entiat, Washington by my friend Gar Mickelson who was guest speaking. The church’s usual “worship-person” was on a retreat. I’m not sure who he was retreating from; they didn’t tell me.

Gar gave me advice to keep it simple: “It’s a small church in a small town.”

On the three-hour drive to Entiat, Gar spoke to us—us includes my wife; Josh Hardy, the guitar and piano accompaniment; and myself—about some of the history of Entiat, WA, a tiny town along the Columbia River, near Wenatchee. “In 1960, most of the town had to move and relocate to higher ground, due to the Rocky Reach Dam, built just a few miles north on the river. This dam would be so powerful and so important, it would provide power all the way to Coeur D’Alene and beyond.”

The dam fulfilled its purpose and benefited many towns, unfortunately, at the cost of Entiat. The waters rose and she was of covered. The locals who stayed had to resettle uphill.

The Number Entiat

Pulling into the church parking lot, we noticed a steep and flat cliff on the side of a big hill which overlooked the town. “Numero Hill,” said a local.

On the cliff, Numero Hill displayed different sets of numbers, painted on the rock with alternating colors, textures, and fonts. It was Entiat’s refrigerator door; her children’s drawings of numbers, starting at 21 and ending at 2010. They were class years.

More from the locals:

Every year, a group of rebellious and brave teenagers tie a ladder to a rope—at the top of the hill—and lower the ladder down with someone hanging from it (this all usually happens in the middle of the night). The end result, of course, is a new class year marked forever into history on the side of Numero Hill.

Apparently this tradition started as a competition between the seniors and juniors at Entiat High School. The seniors would climb up and paint their numbers then the juniors would have one or two nights to black it out; all of this had to be done by graduation night.

How insane is that?

After church, we were offered a delicious meal as a thank you to our service. When I asked about Numero HIll, the “Old-timers” really lit up. Stories graciously flowed with smiles and frowns, some stories echoing each other, some contradicting.

I asked about the police; did they care about it? It all seemed dangerous to me. One very nice older gentleman, I think his name was Don, responded “Son, this is tradition.”

Preparing for the worship set. Photo by Josh Hardy.
Preparing for worship at Entiat Friends. Photo by Josh Hardy.

Life in, Life Out

Where else in the world would something like this happen? Teenagers risking their lives to paint their school year on to the side of a mountain, no body caring to stop them? Police? Parents? Schools?

It’s as if Entiat is stuck in the 1950s.

Don also told me about “This guy” who wrote an opinion piece to the local paper about the dangerousness of kids climbing mountains with ladders in the middle of night. “He also talked about the environment,” added Don.

“Did anything come of it,” I asked.

“He was straightened out.” Later, I realized Don was around when the town relocated to higher level.

In the car ride home, Gar asked us if we could imagine what it would be like to watch our whole town be washed away. Personally, I couldn’t. All I could think about were mewithoutYou lyrics from “The Dryness and the Rain.”

One day the water’s gonna wash it away

One day the water’s gonna wash it away

One day the water’s gonna wash it away

And on that day, nothing clever to say

After the waters swallowed Entiat, Numero Hill transformed from a mountain in to a monument; it was the last bit of heritage they had, all the locals had, besides themselves anyway.

I like to think these old-timers look up to Numero Hill and are reminded about the town that used to be. They see reckless children climbing and defacing a beautiful mountain in the middle of the night, retreating back home alongside the Columbia, laughing about it in the morning.

In the end, the community was fine; everyone got new homes out of the deal (so I’m over-dramatizing a bit). It does make you wonder, doesn’t it? What it must feel like to see your childhood home disappear—for the benefit of others, for strangers—under the rising and unforgiving waters of the Columbia River.

Numero Hill, you inspire awe, trepidation, and heritage; hopefully, I’ll see you again, someday.

The best picture on the internet I could find.
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11 comments

  1. Looks like a fun tradition, although I can understand the concern with defacing nature. There’s a massive stone near Medellín known as “El Peñol” that has been a tourist attraction for many years. Some knuckleheads started painting the name of their town on it but were stopped midway through the second massive letter.

  2. That monument that you speak of is not called Numero Hill. It is most definitely Numeral Mountain. I have heard it referred to as Numeral Hill however, any and every true local will tell you that it is Numeral Mountain. And, not all painting is done at night. Only the attempts at destruction (by the junior class) was done at night. LIFE magazine published an article about us and our tradition many years back. Photos were taken of my class (class of ’93) however, quotes were taken from the following senior class (class of ’94) and the article was published in their magazine in either May out June of ’94. My mother has a number on that mountain as do several of my uncles. My brother and I have numbers on that mountain along with cousins, friends, my church family and many many peoples that I know. My oldest daughter is a senior (class of ’14) this year and she will soon have her number on that mountain. It is a tradition. Tradition is what brings us all together and keeps us all together. The numbers on that mountain will be there long after we are all gone.

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