A piece of wisdom I recently heard bestowed on a newcomer who’d just moved here: “I highly suggest you invest heavily in winter.” The intent being, that if you live here in the winter, you should probably learn to ski or skate or find some kind of winter activity to enjoy because winters here can be a little long.
I imagine not too long ago, the message would have been quite different.
Once upon a time in a small town tucked up the valley of a wild river, nestled in the foothills of glaciated peaks, winter was a time of repose. It was a time to read books, gather around the fire and share stories, repair stockings and maybe sing songs. Work was dictated by the arrival and departure of snow as the land rested. Sure, people got out on wooden skis or sleds and took their horses out to do chores but I imagine that not too long ago, winter wasn’t punctuated by the hustle and bustle that it is today.
During this bygone era, when you ventured out on the road to make your way to the Mercantile to gather a few sundries, you’d meet a neighbor on the way and ask, “how are you?” Chances are the response would not be what it is today: “busy.”
At some point in this modern era, the response to “how are you?” in the winter has gone from the polite pleasantry of platitudes like “I am doing just fine, family’s in good health, and we are waiting for the snow to melt,” to “good, but busy.” Back then, spouses didn’t have “calendar meetings” where they woke early — before the kids — to grab a coffee and sit with a calendar to lay out the next six to 10 weeks of weekend scheduling for hockey games, ski trips, wrestling tournaments, basketball games, play practices, work trips, visiting relatives and appliance shopping. No, life back then was more predictable; routine and ritual set the daily pace.
Winter is traditionally supposed to be the slow time of year, the time when we all get a little reprieve. The ground is covered, there’s no garden, no wood cutting, no tilling. Time to step back. But winter in the Methow has turned into a recreational playground for a vast number of people who live here, including myself. In fact, I spend more time away outside of the house in the winter than other seasons.
No longer is winter a sleepy time. It’s an active, fun-filled, and vibrant time where energy and adrenaline run high.
On any given weekend through the valley, there are hundreds of people slapping on skis, boring into ice, stomping in snow shoes, gliding down slopes, twirling on the rink, slapping pucks, or jumping on sleds. There are more winter gadgets and gear being developed and marketed all the time to make being outside more comfortable and fun. It’s almost comical when you step back and picture all the people doing the various snow sports across the landscape. We have one more good month of true winter before the spring chores start to emerge under the snow pack and we enter the next “busy season.” From what I can tell, every season is just plain busy now.