Intent on creating a cheese company, Lori and Ruth bought a 21-acre spread overlooking the valley. (It reminded Ruth of her childhood farm in Wenatchee.) A year later, Tieton Farm and Creamery keeps dozens of goats, turkeys, chickens, and ducks, plus three cows and nine pigs. Ruth milks the grass-fed goats. Lori processes the milk in the creamery, the only permanent structure on the farm. The result: chevre, feta, and halloumi—cheeses so delicious that Lark on Capitol Hill serves them to discerning diners and PCC Markets stocks it at all locations.
“The Goat Goddesses.” That’s Ed Marquand’s term for the Babcocks. A Seattle book publisher and the force behind Tieton’s revival, Marquand originally came across the town while on a solo bike ride. He rolled over tiny thistles known as “goatheads” and punctured his tires, a mishap that forced him to pause long enough to see the potential in the town’s empty storefronts. Five years later Tieton, population 1,195, is still a sleepy village, just one town square comprised of Mexican restaurants, a diner, and Mighty Tieton’s enterprises—a bookstore, printing press, and art gallery. Marquand and his partner, Seattle lawyer Michael Longyear, converted an apple-distribution warehouse into a condo complex and another warehouse into artist studios, one of which they rent to Seattle sound-sculptor Trimpin.
The Babcocks have big plans, too. The goatherds recently put their three-bedroom Columbia City home on the market and plan to break ground for a bed-and-breakfast right on the farm. But for now life revolves around the cheese—and what to feed the goats. “Most people spend their time talking about the plots of TV shows,” Lori said. “Ruth and I talk all day long about the ways to grow the best grass.”
Stephen Stout also fled the city for small-town life. But it was stars, not livestock, that drew him in. Stout, a physicist, lived in the Seattle suburb of Mountlake Terrace in the 1970s and worked for an electronics company that manufactured boating equipment. On weekends he drove the three and a half hours to Goldendale to lose himself in the galaxy. He felt at home staring into the eyepiece of the 24.5-inch telescope, constructed in the mid-1960s by four amateur astronomers from Vancouver, Washington, who donated it to Goldendale.
In late 1980 the telescope builders called Stout. They needed a manager at the observatory. Weeks later, after the interview, Stout fidgeted in the observatory hallway, awaiting the verdict. Finally, one of the men, a Dutchman with a strong accent, poked his head out of the meeting room and said, “Mr. Stout, come in and be happy.” The date: January 20, 1981—the day the U.S. hostages were released from Iran, Stout likes to point out—the day he escaped city life forever.
Thirty years on, Stout, 63, serves as the observatory’s only full-time employee and the state park system’s only paid stargazer.
It’s easy to see why he never left Goldendale. Sure, Main Street is a lonely stretch of blacktop flanked by a scattering of restaurants, bars, and shops. But, as I found at the county fair, the people welcome strangers. Deer pick through the overgrowth on the edge of town. Wind turbines dot the horizon, capturing one of Goldendale’s greatest resources. The constant breeze is one of two things Stout will admit to not liking about his adopted home. The other: light pollution. The observatory sits only a mile and a half from town and the lights negatively impact star visibility. “Unless there’s a power outage!” Stout exclaims. Then, crestfallen, “But Goldendale’s public utilities department is very quick and efficient.”