I was in the checkout line at a Safeway store in Monroe last Thursday when the clerk blurted that I looked “like someone who just escaped from somewhere.”
She had a point. I hadn’t had a shave or a haircut in more than a month. I had the gaunt, hollow-eyed look of someone who had endured more than a bit of institutionalization. I was a little slow on the uptake and my clothing was clean but haphazard, as if hastily borrowed from multiple closets.
Since I was, in fact, a bit of a shambles, I couldn’t take offense at the clerk’s observation. I was less than four hours removed from the hospital, still wearing my plastic patient ID bracelet — which I flashed as proof of my recently concluded incarceration.
After precisely four weeks at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee, where I underwent two surgeries and intense IV antibiotic drips for an invasive infection, I had been sprung — with a prescription for several more weeks of scorched-earth antibiotics in hand.
After a long weekend in Seattle, I’m back in the Methow Valley, wondering how re-entry will go. I look different, having kept the better part of the beard (we’ll see what people think of that). I’ve been away while a lot of interesting things happened — the news just kept on coming. Winthrop hired a marshal; the smokejumper base got a reprieve; the Three Devils Road issue was settled; Little Star Montessori School launched its expansion — and much more.
I figure a month out of commission will require at least another month of catching up. Maybe more. But if I run into you — I hope I run into you — and still seem a little unfocused, be assured that I’m delighted to be back and can’t wait to be fully assimilated again.
Meanwhile, the Methow Valley News kept up with everything in grand fashion. To my everlasting, inexpressible gratitude, the newspaper staff and columnists cranked everything up a notch to ensure that 115 years of publication wouldn’t be interrupted. You might not have noticed the repeat bylines, but I sure did.
They were assisted by some of the best journalistic talent and community commitment this valley has seen. Karen West and Solveig Torvik, experienced newspeople with distinguished careers, interrupted their retirement to make substantial contributions. Columnists Mandi Donohue and Ashley Lodato filled in admirably with news and feature coverage. Ranger Rick Lewis has been showing off his chops as a sports writer.
And while she shuns the spotlight, I have to credit my partner, Jacqui Banaszynski, with helping to steer coverage and shape stories the past few weeks. Jacqui, a Pulitzer Prize-winnng reporter, has been a top editor at several large newspapers including The Oregonian and The Seattle Times. When I bought the News six years ago, we agreed it was my dream and my responsibility — not hers. You wouldn’t have known that these past few weeks.
While we needed those people’s best efforts to ensure the newspaper’s ongoing integrity, I have always thought of the News as a community effort. We rely on so many people in the valley and beyond to help us with news contributions, interviews, tips, advertising support, advice and perspective. The News is, in a sense, an information cooperative — everyone here has a role in making community journalism as good as it can be. That’s especially important now, when credible information can be hard to come by. If I haven’t thanked the Methow Valley enough for that in the past, let me reiterate my appreciation.
And I would be remiss in not thanking, again, everyone near and far who expressed their wishes for a speedy recovery — in emails, on Facebook and in cards and packages mailed to the hospital — or who called me or brought me books or dropped by for a few minutes. Hospital hours are not easy to fill with anything that isn’t about being sick, so every contact was appreciated.
We drove back into the valley Sunday afternoon on Highway 20, the way I first discovered it more than 20 years ago. It was wonderfully familiar — and, as usual, a revelation. I’m always struck by the beauty and serenity of this amazing place, and impressed with the powerful sense of community that shapes how we live. It would take a lot more than a month away to make me lose sight of that.