By Joanna Bastian
I sent out a thick batch of cards last week and, spoiler alert, I wrote “Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year” in each of them. Sorry if you were waiting to be surprised with something a little more creative, like, “Season’s Greetings from the Bastians.”
If I were to be truly honest, what brings me the most joy during this season is not a holiday, but the anticipation of the day after winter solstice. I’m not the first one to look with glee to a marked increase in daylight. Some people with better engineering skills than mine built Stonehenge and Machu Picchu to mark the length of days. I tried to build something similar out of our abundant amount of snow but then it got dark rather early in the day and I had to go inside to warm up.
Winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. The Earth’s northernmost point along the axis is tilted as far as possible from the warmth and light of the sun. The very next day, the Earth moves further along its orbit around the sun. The days become a little longer, the sun a little warmer as the Earth’s tilted top begins to turn toward the sun. Truly, a day to celebrate.
Last week, the Methow Valley News began a five-part series featuring the history of the Miller family. I met Richard Wipple, a cousin of the Miller’s, after the Carlton Complex fires of 2014. There was a cold drizzle that day in October when I drove up to a tepee flying Seattle Seahawk colored ribbons. A large man, tall and broad-shouldered, met me. Despite the damp air, he wore a Seattle Seahawks T-shirt. A Seahawk cap kept the rain off his face. He offered me a diet Coke and spoke fondly of his family — memories of playing with his cousins, tales of his grandparents, and the strength of his mother. His name was Richard Wipple.
Richard agreed to meet with me at a later date to talk about his mother, Mary Marchand, who worked for decades to preserve the Salish language into a written format. Being a linguistics geek, I was intrigued. Richard passed away unexpectedly before we could meet again. I wrote a column about our conversation and, after it was published, I received a phone call. Wendy Snook interviewed Richard’s mother before Mary passed away in 2013. Over cups of coffee at Blue Star, Wendy shared her notes, and suggested that I contact Mark Miller, Mary’s nephew.
Mark and his sister Cyndy graciously agreed to share their memories of Mary, and other family members who worked to improve their communities. With their permission, I spoke with historians and contacted museum archives. Everyone I contacted held a deep respect and admiration for the Millers.
I was touched by their story, and I hope that everyone will be just as inspired while reading about their intimate connection to the Methow Valley.