Starting with the most-obvious and most-mispronounced word outside the valley, I turned to local natural and native history buff George Wooten to gain some insight into the word Methow. According to Wooten, a commonly accepted meaning for the word “Methow” is roughly translated as “the place in the middle.”
Wooten explains that likely, stemming from a Nxa7 maxim (Wentachi) word definition for “to be in the middle,” this word would roughly be pronounced “shmitoush.” When you say the word, and take into account differences in dialects that could alter letter or syllable emphases, by slightly dropping the “sh” and emphasizing the “ow” — you can roughly make it sound like “met-how.”
Another intriguing explanation for the word “met-how” is presented by Jay Miller in “Native Met How,” attributing the river’s name to the name of the native tribe that inhabits it and refers to “sunflowers seed” as the meaning. Wooten took note to notice that the Salish word “mitxaw” derived from the word root mkw7 = balsamroots, locally called sunflowers, in Salishan. This word is also similar to a word root for snow = mk’w ; relating how the flowers arrive as the snow retreats.
These conflicting word origins, though seemingly different, may connote the same thing in a way. When we envision the spring landscape of the Methow, the “place in the middle” could be thought of as the places in between the shrubs and trees where the balsamroots erupt and leaving their seeds to find more places in the middle.
I have heard it described as the “place in between.” Surely, geographically speaking, the valley is the place in between the great Columbia Plateau and the towering Cascades. This seems obvious yet telling.
Being “the place in between or in the middle” is still a marvelous metaphor, regardless of the origin. This meaning couldn’t be more poignant as another graduating class has arrived at their place in between. The 2019 graduates are, more than ever before, in a place in between and they can look to the balsamroot sunflowers for inspiration on how to occupy the place in the middle.
As young shoots, these plants show tenacity and perseverance. They work hard against extreme environmental variables like radical temperature swings, frost, snow, hail and wind, and eventually gracefully take their place in between the taller shrubs and trees to show their beauty. As they emerge, they work together in a bundle, protecting one another from the elements, acting as braces for each other. They lean on each other during the gales, owning strength in togetherness. They stand proudly as individuals, yet in a bunch, with grace and power. They do all of this for their seeds — for what they will leave behind, in this place in between.
As time and seasons march on, they grow with depth and strength. They wither away, retreating underground to safety during the scorching heat, but each year they return to the same place, among their offspring, friends, and family and they offer beauty, lifting spirits.
I know these 2019 blossoms will never forget their roots. Let’s hope they come back often like the balsamroots with more depth, strength and beauty.