It started with a parade. Five years ago this week I took over as publisher and editor of the Methow Valley News on our nation’s birthday, and on Monday I watched my sixth Fourth of July parade (do the math).
Ponderous reflection is inevitable on such occasions, and I’ve written something about that every year around this time. I suppose if I went back and read those columns, I might find some evolution in my relationship with the community, and possibly avoid being repetitive. But deadline approaches, and I can’t be bothered. You don’t remember what I said last year either.
It’s instructive to look back. Five years ago, the Spring Creek Bridge wasn’t completed yet. Mark Wenzel was still the schools superintendent. Paul Budrow had newly arrived as Twisp’s police chief. It was the 10-year anniversary of the Thirtymile Fire. Dave Acheson was the mayor in Winthrop; Soo Ing-Moody was Twisp’s mayor then and now. The massive Pearrygin Creek mudslide left mayhem in its wake. Three Rivers Hospital was asking for a levy increase. Okanogan County was about to add its second Superior Court judge. There’s never a shortage of things to cover.
The most profound thing I can say about the experience is that I like what I do here. It’s the best job I’ve ever had (granted, I essentially hired myself and report to me, so there are relatively few boss-employee dust-ups), and in some ways the hardest. There are a lot of responsibilities I have had to figure out how to handle, and this community deserves the best possible newspaper we can produce, week-in and week-out. I take that seriously.
In a sense, I spent my prior lifetime getting ready for what I call my personal Independence Day. My previous decades as an itinerant journalist provided plenty of preparation, and at the same time were hardly enough.
I know how to do news, but this is the smallest publication I’ve been part of as a professional, and the least-populated, most-rural place I’ve lived since I was a toddler in Nebraska farm country. I had some learning to do, and I’ve absorbed a few lessons (thank you, Methow Valley, for the kind and patient tutelage).
There is an element of truth in every small-town cliché, and that’s a good thing if you have the right attitude. People do know your business. History and tradition are important. Gossip and rumor-trading are part of the information matrix. Personal connections (good, bad, or momentarily uncertain) that you don’t initially know about can become conversational land mines. Still, I never tire of chatting with people about what’s going on around the valley. Listening is the skill I’ve most improved on in the past five years. Just ask my significant other.
I’ve also learned that there is nothing quite so powerful as passionate devotion to community, shared aspirations and sustained effort. Time and again, I’ve seen the Methow Valley respond to challenges with energy, perseverance and commonly held convictions about what is best for the community. It’s an ingrained insistence on self-determination, and an enduring example of how things can be accomplished at the local level. People in the Methow aren’t waiting for someone to come along and help them out. They are proactive about generating solutions while pursuing the help that might be available. We are our own best resource.
So there’s the serious reflection stuff. Just as importantly, it’s fun to be here. There is so much going on (and so many ways to be part of it), and the scenery is differently beautiful every day.
A common refrain — partly self-validating, partly a gentle warning to potential Methow emigrants — is that despite all the valley’s evident appeal, you really have to want to be here to make it work. The Methow is not always an easy place. It demands your attention, commitment and effort. I tell people that as publisher, I’m never not working. So it’s a good thing I don’t think of it as working. It’s just what I do. All of you help me do it every day, and for that I am grateful.