Along with nearly 60 of her classmates in the Methow Valley School District, my oldest daughter will graduate from high school on Friday. In between recurring moments of nostalgia I’ve had bouts of regret about all the things we didn’t teach her or expose her to before sending her off into her next chapter. There’s so much we didn’t think to do, or we meant to do but forgot, or we didn’t make time for.
But one thing we did do — which I hope to some degree makes up for the things we didn’t — was move to the Methow Valley when she was a baby to raise her in this place. We knew that being raised in the valley would be special, but we couldn’t have anticipated just how true that would prove to be.
Like so many other parents, we took our kid up into the mountains, floated down rivers with her, introduced her to the lakes. She explored aspen groves and stands of pine, made fairy houses in mossy glades, ate Spring Beauty in May and huckleberries in August. She learned to swim at the Wagner Pool, to skate at the Winthrop Rink, and to bike in the Barn parking lot. She has celebrated community successes and mourned community losses along with the rest of us.
Like our fellow parents, we gave our kid a Methow Valley childhood — a chance to let this place and these people get under her skin. I have to trust that it’s enough.
The class of 2022 is one of the largest in Liberty Bell’s history, and they are as diverse as they are numerous. Their interests vary and their values aren’t necessarily aligned. But collectively, this is a class that embodies everything you’d want from a rural upbringing. Almost without exception they know how to light a fire in a woodstove and how to douse a campfire effectively. Some can field dress a deer; others can pluck a chicken or clean a fish. They can cook a meal, change a tire, jump-start a battery. They hold jobs. They know how to plant seeds and harvest from the garden. They care for animals, younger siblings, grandparents. They can entertain a baby and have a conversation with an elder. They notice the darkening days of autumn, they can identify constellations, they’re aware of the moon’s cycle. They pause to watch hawks circling a field and Canada geese migrating. They’re not afraid of the dark.
The lessons of resiliency they’ve learned during these past eight years of fire, flood, smoke and pandemic were hard-won, but they’ll be enduring ones. These kids are like morels pushing up through the ashy layers of a blackened landscape, seeking the light; they persist.
Through experiencing more than their fair share of environmental hardships as well as typical small town squabbles, the class of 2022 has learned to see themselves as part of a community. They’ve witnessed friends and neighbors showing up with trucks to help them evacuate, with trailers to move livestock, with shovels to clear out mudslides. They’ve seen crowd-sourcing campaigns and meal trains support families suffering the death of a loved one, a serious illness, the loss of a home. From watching the examples set by community members around them, they understand that compassion and generosity will take them farther than suspicion and intolerance ever could.
You kids — so many of us have seen you grow from round-cheeked little cherubs into poised young people, we’ve watched you on sports fields and onstage, we’ve seen you provide each other with advice, acceptance, and a range of ideas and perspectives — we wish you all the best in your next chapters.
May your Methow Valley childhood buoy you throughout your life, rooted by a sense of place and sustained by this extraordinary community. May the four essential elements of this valley be a foundation for you: may the earth ground you, may fire ignite your passions, may air fill your sails, and may water remind you of the interconnectedness of all living things and all that is worth protecting.