Pagan summer solstice gatherings may have opened a portal to another time and place and summoned up ancestral spirits and gods to beckon us northward. Passers-by on Twisp-Winthrop Eastside road might have been surprised to see Nordic gods, goddesses, barbarians, knights and Viking warriors convening Saturday evening to partake in farewell celebration for Twinthrop residents Hannah Viano, Joe Talbert, and their son Ely.
The family of three will be spending the next year overseas on a sabbatical in Norway where Hannah, a local artist at TwispWorks, has been selected for an artist in residence in a small, isolated fishing village in a chain of islands off the mainland. They are taking advantage of the long summer days in the far north to travel a bit before settling down for the school year where their son Ely, a fifth-grader, will enroll in the local school.
Though choosing to move to the valley and become landlocked five years ago, a seaman’s lifestyle is nothing new for the family. Hannah has long history in fishing and sailing, having been a sailing instructor for Outward Bound and captained a vessel on the R2AK, a self-supported race to Alaska from Port Townsend in 2015. Her paper-cut work is highly influenced and inspired by the ocean. Joe works aboard research vessels in the high seas for the University of Washington, where he designs and deploys specialty research equipment for monitoring ocean conditions. He commutes to the lab in Seattle on a bi-weekly basis and often spends weeks out at sea. A year abroad will undoubtedly offer new inspiration for Hannah’s creative works, a change of pace from commuting for Joe, and exciting explorations and adventures for Ely, who will join a local soccer club and ski team. Best of luck to the Talbert family as they embrace the famous Viking proverb: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
True to the Viking saying, an intrepid venture with four boys to Heather Pass this past weekend left me with new insights. The low snowpack from this winter has almost entirely melted off all but the northern most slopes, and the wildflowers are about month ahead of schedule in the high country.
I was pleasantly greeting by large patches of sweet-smelling Sitka valerian, Valeriana sitchensis, an herbaceous plant with pinkish to white flat-topped clustered blossoms. I hadn’t seen valerian in a while and couldn’t recall its name, but memory triggered my instincts to know it was either poisonous or medicinal in its properties, which proved to be helpful along the trail.
One funny thing about hiking with four youthful boys, besides the constant chatter filling the airwaves with grandiose comic book story makings of “marmot armies in an epic war against the unarmed savages,” is that they constantly want to know if a plant can be eaten. “Mom, is this poisonous? Can I eat this?”
Foraging reports of the different plants on our hike by this gaggle of boys included the following: mountain hemlock, an evergreen and therefore not edible in any real sense was nibbled on and reportedly sweet to chew the twigs; huckleberry blossoms, reportedly sweet to suck the nectar; and yarrow, minty, tingly, and “somewhat addictive.”
I have always wondered how indigenous cultures came to know which plants were edible, toxic, or medicinal in nature, now I think I know. They must have sent their boys into the woods.