I have found column material to be slightly on the lean side the past few weeks. I revisited the heading on the back page of the newspaper to refocus on the overarching topic of this column: “Valley Life.” So, I asked myself what has valley life been like this week. A light bulb turned on in my head: an “ah ha” moment. It’s shoulder season! There’s not a lot going on.
The term “shoulder season” has never made sense to me. What has the shoulder got to do with slow season between peak summer and peak winter activities? Turns out the term first appeared in the travel industry in the 1960s and evidently was related to the fact that the weather in both spring and fall, the in-betweeners, is too chilly for shirtsleeves and too warm for bundled layers. Thus, a shawl or light wrap to cover the shoulders. Who knew?
I was more familiar with the descriptive term used in Sun Valley, Idaho – “slack.” Slack was the time the locals liked to hang out in Wood River Valley and enjoy the amenities with fewer tourists. Our valley is not unlike its Idaho sister. Once the hunters leave and before the snow enthusiasts arrive, there’s a palpable lull.
The primary indicator of the change of seasons is when the North Cascades Highway closes for the year. In a shift from tradition in years past, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) identified the date when the gates would swing closed in advance – Nov. 15. However, the closing was moved up to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10, after snow began to fall. I watched the last of the loaded logging trucks chug past to make their runs to the mills on the other side. It’s a long way around on Highway 2.
Closing day happened to be a blue-sky day worthy of a last trip to the top of the pass to bid The Watchers adieu until next year. Now the whine of Highway 20 has quieted down and only those headed to Wilson Ranch, Lost River, and Mazama travel the ribbon.
The Mazama Store honored veterans with their traditional flag raising and tribute on Nov. 11, followed by coffee and treats in the courtyard. For the holiday season, the bakery will prepare take-and-bake fruit pies, pumpkin brioche, dinner rolls, pumpkin harvest loaves, artisan breads, holiday cookies and cookie dough on a first-come, first-served basis. This is a change from taking special orders as they have done in the past. Everything made in the bakery is yummy, so don’t miss out.
A hopeful trip into Wilson Ranch to see whether Jack’s Hut was open came up empty. The Freestone Inn website reveals that Sandy Butte Bistro and Jack’s Hut will not open until mid-December due to shortage of staff. Sadly, such is the common tale in the valley.
This quiet season can be quite productive. There is most likely a stack of books beckoning to be read, phone photos awaiting a permanent place in a memory book, closets and drawers in need of de-cluttering. Or, maybe just watch football!
With all the changes and losses the past 20 months have brought, it is encouraging to know that the Town of Winthrop and other helpful parties are working on a modified Christmas at the End of the Road on Nov. 27. It’s time to light up and perk up from slow — shoulder — slack season!