The 2014 Killer Whales swim team showing off the trophy they'd just won. Photo by Ashley Lodato

The 2014 Killer Whales swim team showing off the trophy they’d just won. Photo by Ashley Lodato

Ashley LodatoBy Ashley Lodato

Life is slowly returning to normal for many Methow Valley families, while others are still fully immersed in fire concerns, from worrying about homes and property to navigating insurance claims to wondering how they will start over.

About 60 kids from the Methow Valley Killer Whales swim team resumed the swimming season just in time for the county championships on Saturday. The meet had been scheduled for Brewster, but Brewster’s pool was still full of ash and debris, so Omak rallied and offered its pool and the meet was held there.

The drive over the Loup was the first for many of us since the fires, and it was sobering. Knowing that an area was burned and actually seeing the aftermath are two pretty different things, with the latter stunning us into silence for much of the drive.

Despite the fire camp located in the adjacent park and stampede grounds and the constant presence of helicopters and planes circling overhead, the young Killer Whales were able to forget their fire woes for a few hours while they defended their position as county champions for the tenth year in a row, scoring not only the largest number of team points but earning at least half of the individual top point scoring awards as well, even after having had no swim team practice for 10 days.

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The Killer Whales won the Okanogan County championship trophy. The red shirts denote the individual high points scorers at the meet. From left: Mikey Hafsos, Katie Labanauskas, Hannah Hafsos, Eden Davis, Shad Franz, and Bodie Paul crouching in the front. Photo by Ashley Lodato

Swim meets are always friendly competitions, but this one seemed particularly sweet, with families who know each other only from the swimming circuit seeking each other out and asking about how everyone is faring in these stressful circumstances. One of the most touching moments of the meet came when the Okanogan swim team presented the Methow coaches with a baggie full of cash, which the Okanogan swimmers had raised through a bake sale and which they wanted to donate to swim team families who had lost their homes.

Lingering in the back of everyone’s minds is that although for many the sense of urgency surrounding this particular fire is beginning to diminish, it’s still just July, and fire season has only just begun. We’re just not sure what the rest of the summer and early fall will bring and it’s an unsettling feeling. But in areas where the fire didn’t strike, the lakes are still inviting, the mountains are still glorious, and the air is clear. The natural elements that make Methow Valley summers so special are all still present, and with a fresh reminder of how precarious their permanence really is, being able to savor them  is all the more poignant.

PREVIOUSLY, IN WINTHROP