Emerging out of the pandemic into social life is akin to waking up in a new time zone. It feels a little off. The habits and customs that were once natural, spontaneous or habitual are now upended. While many are eager to gather in small or large groups and attend functions and events, many have found relief in the time at home and preferring the quiet life.
Orienting what’s acceptable in numbers of people, vaccination status, when to wear masks or ditch them, and seeing old familiar faces after nearly a year, all creates a social awkwardness that feels overburdensome. Sometimes, it’s easier to just stay in.
Staying in is a choice that many residents have always enjoyed. The Methow is funny place because it draws opposing types of people. People who love its small town, yet vibrant social fabric, dive headfirst into volunteering at events, attend classes and workshops, and generally stay terribly busy. They are drawn to the rich artistic flare and one-of-a-kind, community-centric life that truly makes the Methow Valley unique. But the valley also attracts hermits, those who’d prefer to stay at home, do their own thing, and relish in down time. And I mean this in the most gracious way. I too enjoy my hermit tendencies and the pandemic has allowed me the freedom to be at home, unpressured.
I recently had an over-the-fence chat with my next-door neighbor about the phenomenon of social re-entry. After a busy weekend of Farmer’s Market and a Celebration of Life last weekend, surrounded by a lot of people for the first time in long time, the weekend felt socially exhausting, necessitating a recovery period of voluntary re-isolation. We both agreed navigating re-entry is a bit wrought with some unease; however, we also agreed that this unease always existed prior to the pandemic.
Like the climate and physical landscape that it is nestled within, the social landscape of the valley can be extreme. For born-and-bred locals, it probably does not seem strange. However, believe it or not, the social circles of the valley can be obscure, sometimes completely impenetrable. According to my neighbor, she attributes this social harshness and obscurity to people’s extreme hobbies.
Upon reflection, we are a community that attracts people with extreme hobbies, and the pace of life lends itself to develop them more deeply. The pandemic gave permission to people to start new hobbies or further develop them, but the Methow has always been a place of hobbyists.
Valley-wide hobbies run the gamut of interests and most people take them very seriously. Be it artistic interests, musical prowess, horseback riding, athletic pursuits or (king among them) gardening, valley folk pursue their hobbies with purpose, intention and ambition. This type of dedication takes time and commitment, whether is watercolor painting or ultra-running (or both!) — what falls to the wayside is often a wide cast social net.
Serious hobbyists tend to commune with like-minded folks with similar hobbies, creating a small circle of friends with whom they can share in their craft and activities. This type of bond is enriching and fulfilling; it’s truly a blessing to connect with people who love what you love. However, it creates tight-knit groups that leave little wiggle room for newcomers, and newcomers then tend to form their own groups based on similar interests.
If you are a hobby-less person, it can be a bit murky stepping into the valley’s fabric of extreme hobbyists. Step out of the pandemic and rest assured, there are non-extremists out here walking the trails instead of running, buying vegetables instead of growing their own, enjoying art instead of creating it. One thing I have learned through this pandemic is that being a generalist is as useful as being a specialist, and you can pick up any skill or hobby with a YouTube video. Share with me your hobby, extreme or not, to feature in my column!