As I followed the river down the lower valley in the early morning hours, pear blossoms and balsamroot shone in the morning sun. The river rapids glistened with light, while the cliffs revealed their storylines in dramatic relief in the rays of the rising sun. I tried to image what it looked like before the fire, and before the road, and before the glaciers.
The road in the lower valley has not always been here. It is a relatively recent installment. Prior to the road, visitors to the valley entered via established trade routes long used by Native Americans. J. Lee Fulton wrote about the two main entry points to the Methow Valley. Bald Knob Trail began at the Columbia River, and climbed up and down the hills of Texas Creek and entered the valley about a mile below Benson Creek. The other main travel route was the Chiliwist Trail from the Okanogan Valley to Benson Creek.
Then came the age of the automobile, and a desire for a more efficient entry into the Methow Valley. The early Methow-Barrons road was the beginning of Highway 153 that cut through the cliffs of Black Canyon and paved a direct route from Pateros to the upper valley. The state utilized prison labor to complete the road. Reinforced barracks were built to home the men while they built the road. The Methow Valley News, dated Dec. 27, 1907, reported, “The employment of convicts on state road work has not only saved a considerable sum to the taxpayers, but has been a genuine success in every way.”
The cottonwood sapling in my passenger seat filled the car with sweet scents as I thought about the men who carved a route through rocky cliffs, thousands of years after melting glaciers and rushing meltwater carved earlier routes. The sapling was a gift for my brother, to celebrate his new home in the desert stretch of southern Idaho. A cutting from our home to his. Pine trees, raspberry canes and vegetable starts from my husband traveled from our patch of dirt in the Methow Valley to my brother’s family in the Treasure Valley.
I never realized cottonwoods smelled so lovely — as their spring scents arrive at the same time as other spring flowers that fill the air with the aroma of new beginnings. She kept me company as the scenery changed from snow-capped mountains, to river gorges carved by glacial floods, to deserts filled with sage as tall as trees.
This weekend marks the anniversary of the day when Joe and I climbed to a point above a Gold Creek drainage and exchanged vows in a patch of arrowleaf balsamroot, a bouquet of lupine and mock orange between us. The view has changed since that day — fire cleared the overgrowth, opened up the forest floor. The result is a greater number of buttercups, shooting stars, yellow bells, blue bells, mock orange, arrowleaf balsamroot, lupine, Indian paint brush, arnica and spring beauties.
Amongst the changing landscapes, and the progression of years, I am reminded of a thought by C.S. Lewis, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. You cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”