In April 1956, when Doti was 11 years old and living in East Lansing, Michigan, she wrote a short story called, "Secret of the Mountain Lake" for a class project. Actually it was a long short story: 39 pages!
During these last few years, in anticipation of moving, Doti threw out a lot of things while cleaning out her house – but she kept "Secret of the Mountain Lake," safely stored in her file cabinet. I'm sure she kept it all these years because it described some of the happiest times of her life. I read the story a few years ago and told her how much I enjoyed it, then I ran across it again in January after she'd been hospitalized. After she passed away, I scanned the story, converted it to a PDF and have posted it on this webpage.
The story is a mix of fact and fiction. She based it on a family reunion she'd attended the previous summer, in 1955, in the small mountain town of Skykomish, Washington. Her father, Don Leu, had grown up in Skykomish during the Great Depression and many of his relatives still lived in that area. In the summer of 1955, Don and Anne drove from Michigan to Washington with their three kids: Doti, Don and Dave. After reaching Skykomish, located high in the Cascade Mountains, the Leu family embarked on an overnight backpacking trip to a beautiful lake called, ironically, Lake Dorothy. During the Depression when my father was a kid, he had spent many evenings camping along the shores of Lake Dorothy and now, two decades later, he took his family to this same site. After the backpacking trip, the Leus attended a family reunion in Skykomish.
The following spring, in 1956, Doti wrote "Secret of the Mountain Lake" describing her backpacking trip and the family reunion, and she illustrated her story with several colorful drawings. Although the story is based mostly on fact, she also added a fictional storyline about an amiable old Indian named Joe who they encountered. As you may know, Doti had a life-long interest in Native American culture so it's not surprising that she wanted to tell a story about a noble Indian that she'd met in the mountains.
Except for Indian Joe and a traveling companion she'd invented, named Debbie Stone (perhaps an actual friend of hers in Michigan?), all of the characters she describes in "Secret of the Mountain Lake" are real, including her parents, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. The places are real, too, including Lake Dorothy, Miller River and Cass' Picnic Area. This story is a window into the Leu family in the 1950s, and into Doti's childhood, interests and knowledge (such as how to make a basket out of birch bark!) As she noted on the cover, she dedicated it to her mother who, "spent many long hours typing out this story for me."
Interestingly, Doti had bought an 8-millimeter movie camera in 1955 after saving up her money for many months. While her playmates saved their money for clothes or dolls, Doti bought a camera! She brought the camera along during her family's trip out west that summer of 1955, and she and others shot several rolls of film during their travels. I still have the 8-millimeter movies they shot of their backpacking trip to Lake Dorothy and the family reunion in Skykomish, all of which formed the foundation of "Secret of a Mountain Lake," and I've posted clips of it on this section's home page.
To download and read "Secret of the Mountain Lake," (a 10 MB PDF file), please click here: Secret of the Mountain Lake.