While driving down from Lester Road on Sunday morning, my thoughts turned, as they always do on Sundays, to my weekly column. It was, like many weeks, a “what shall I write about this week?” kind of week. As I idly pondered different topic ideas, I came around a curve on Upper Bear Creek Road and slammed on the brakes … I mean, gently glided the car to a smooth full stop.
I was facing a line of cowboys and cowgirls on horseback and behind them, a vast ribbon of what my untrained eye identified as Black Angus cows. A cattle drive!
Although some ranchers have turned to trucking cows to and from grazing grounds, I’m delighted to report that cattle drives are alive and well, at least in the Bear Creek region. And although it’s just cows, there’s something slightly exotic about seeing them walking along pavement en masse.
The cattle formed a black sea, which parted around my Subaru. I wasn’t sure what cattle drive protocol was, so I jumped back in the car after taking a few photos, and then sat with the window down and greeted the riders, some of whom I knew from their day jobs as things other than cattle drivers.
A sunny Sunday morning. Cows lumbering up a balsamroot-lined county road. Sawtooth peaks gleaming white in the distance. I felt so lucky to spend a few minutes in such glory. It’s little moments like this that remind me how unique this valley is.
At first I had thought I’d write about May Day in my column, since the newspaper publishes on May 1 this week. But as I was researching May Day, I discovered that it’s the 121st day of the year, which normally would be insignificant, except for the fact that at a recent event I ran into a valley part-time resident, and we were discussing the origins of the North Cascades Highway. (Hang in here with me for the forthcoming – albeit tenuous –121 connection.)
I had thought the motivation for the highway was the convenience of residents, like to make it easier for people like me to access the blueberry paradise of Cascadian Farms and for west-siders to access the eventual ice cream oasis of Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe. But no, the part-timer told me, the highway construction was commercially inspired, by gold.
“It’s true,” he said. “I read about it in ‘The Smiling Country.’” Now here’s the kicker. “I think it was on page 121,” he continued. “Yes, I’m pretty sure about that.”
In an uncharacteristic move and quite possibly for the first time in the history of writing my column, I checked references. Indeed, it was all right there on page 121 of Sally Portman’s book – the prospectors’ dreams of gold later swapped for the gilded promise of tourism.
This reminder of gold in the Methow Valley came flooding back to me as I looked across the rippling river of cows to the dazzling sunflowers carpeting the surrounding hills. Strewn across the landscape, tumbling in the rivers, beating in the hearts of the people you know: gold, everywhere you look.