Rain. Thank you. Clear skies. Thank you. Cool breeze. Thank you. The many reasons we all love it here are easy to remember when the smoke lifts and the plumes dissipate. For one, we can see our neighbors. We can see the ridgelines, but we can also see that it’s still dry. So, we breathe easy for bit, cherishing the moment.
What is left after the firestorm is a series of contemplations that never cease. The importance of place. Resilience. Re-imagining. Re-opening. It begs me to ask, are we unique?
This is the question that I have been pondering through this last round of smokapolypse. You see, ever since moving here there’s been this pretext that the Methow Valley is special. Not just special, but more special than — fill in the blank.
Let me do that for you: Suburbia, USA, riddled with strip malls and parking lots; those other mountain towns with hyperbolic egos and gearheads; or rainy drizzle-soaked hamlets choked under the dark skies on the west side of the Cascades. Then, when faced with repeat large fires, we have pumped ourselves up to be extraordinary. The problem with this thinking is that it begins to create an arrogance that we must live up to.
What if we can’t live up to this status that we continue to flaunt? What has happened to humility? Is it okay to say, “hey these fires, this pandemic, this economic shift, these housing issues, the water crisis — this is hard stuff to solve, and we don’t have it figured out.” If Twisp is to live up to its motto of being “real,” we need to get real that the valley is a difficult place to live, for many reasons, and accept that those reasons might start overweighing the benefits. For some, they already have.
We’ve been telling ourselves how resilient we are as a community, that can withstand the stress, repair the damage, and rebuild stronger. What if, instead, we are actually not that special after all? What if we are like lots of other places with social challenges and growing pains? You see, I think this has always been the case. In every community, there are those who are marginalized, those who care, and those who do what they can to survive, to help, to participate. It looks different in different communities. Maybe that’s where we are unique. But anywhere people call home, there will be those who love it and stand by it.
In reading Solveig Torvik’s column last week depicting the findings of inequity in the valley featured in the book “Dividing Paradise; Rural Inequality and the Diminishing American Dream” by Jennifer Sherman, she highlights one of the social ills in our community regarding the alienation of old-timers by newcomers who possess new capital. While we can take this as a warning of a social failure, maybe it’s the same story that’s been told over and over in every small community under growth and change. Maybe once again, we are not unique, but rather part of a familiar story we just don’t want to read.