Ann McCreary’s story in this week’s paper about the Methow Valley’s “zoom town” housing market, which has experienced a buying frenzy spurred by what one real estate agent called the “COVID land rush,” will likely pique the interest of valley residents and established part-time residents.
No one who’s been paying attention to the valley’s superheated real estate market this summer will be surprised. Eager buyers have been picking over a relatively small inventory of homes, driving up prices, further thinning the market and raising other questions about their long-term intentions, as Ann’s story documents.
I did not have much use for the hostility that some locals expressed toward second-home owners who decamped from the west side when the coronavirus shutdown began. I think those people have already made a commitment to the valley and its way of life, and should be thought of as assimilated.
We’re less sure, early on, about what to expect from the population bump we’ve apparently experienced. We’ve heard all kinds of estimates of how many people have moved here this summer, as high as 600 — which would be about a 10% surge in our overall population. That is a lot to absorb.
The valley is a welcoming and tolerant place, and most people can blend in if they choose to. At the same time, residents are protective of a valley culture that is antithetical to the big-city ambiance that many of the recent buyers are looking for relief from. I think some valley residents are wary of urban attitudes and expectations creeping into our everyday life. This is not a place that will have much patience for “Karens” and their entitled manners.
But as another real estate agent notes in Ann’s story, an influx of new people could also make the valley a much richer place (not just monetarily, but culturally).
Our ambivalence may seem off-putting to some. The Methow has benefitted enormously from the presence, generosity and involvement of west side inhabitants who have second homes here, and who actually do treat the valley as a second home — that is, with respect and appreciation for the attributes that drew them here in the first place.
Among those is an amiable informality. I tell people they have to shed a couple of things when they relocate to or spend time in the valley: their ties and high heels, and any whiff of pretense. Acting like you’re important is irrelevant and doesn’t impress us. Everyone here is important to keeping the valley viable as a place to live and work.
It’s not that we don’t care who you are or what you’ve accomplished. We’re impressed, grateful for your interest and sympathetic with why you’ve settled here. But resumes and Noteworthy Person profiles aside, what we really want to know from newcomers is this: What are you doing here?
The printed word, absent spoken inflections, can create misunderstandings, which often happens in tone-deaf emails or tweets. So it is that the preceding question can be parsed several ways, depending on where the emphasis lands:
• What are you doing here? Perhaps comes off as a little accusatory, suspicious, uncertain as to the new arrival’s intent and motives.
• What are you doing here? Personal, curious, inquisitive, an invitation to reveal a bit of yourself. We’re actually interested.
• What are you doing here? More to point, how are you going to involve yourself in the community? What are you going to contribute? How will you make a difference? All you have to do to take part in something around here is just show up.
• What are you doing here? Why the Methow? For quite a few new arrivals, this place has been their goal for years, so they should be able to answer that query easily. We’re definitely not just any place, and we don’t think of the valley as an escape pod.
Always looming on our horizon, closer now than ever, is a question that goes to the heart of the Methow Valley’s sustainability: What is our population carrying capacity? How much can we grow and still have enough water for everyone, enough local services, enough of the private space that we treasure? By all reports, our summer tourism carrying capacity was severely tested this past season, as visitors inundated the valley (some of them disrespectfully) while the state’s Phase II coronavirus protocols were still in place.
Which leads to a question that valley residents need to periodically answer if they want to preserve the Methow’s special qualities: What are we doing here?