The sound never fails to catch our attention. At home, in the office, at the library or the post office, or in the park, the scream of a siren in the Methow Valley causes us all to pause, to look and listen, to try to determine where the alarm is coming from and, more importantly, where it’s headed. We note which type of emergency vehicle is responding: law enforcement, Aero Methow Rescue Service, or fire trucks. Worst case, it’s all three.
I wonder, have we always been so attuned to the sound of sirens or has it only been since the Carlton Complex Fires?
I recently had overnights in two different big cities and in both places heard sirens a dozen times or more in 24 hours. I hardly glanced up. It wasn’t that I didn’t care — that I didn’t know that sirens most likely meant some misfortune for some other person or people. It was just that whatever was happening wasn’t happening anywhere I was familiar with, to anyone I knew, probably not even by several degrees of separation. It was so anonymous — just sirens wailing, headed somewhere, for someone else.
I realize that it’s the unique relationship between this place and the people in it that makes me take note when I hear sirens in the Methow Valley and virtually ignore them elsewhere.
It’s both the blessing and the curse of small-town living, I think. If the accident or incident those emergency vehicles are responding to doesn’t directly impact anyone you know personally, you’re still in some way connected to those affected: their kid is in your kid’s class, or they’re the person who smiles at you across the coffee counter each morning, or you’ve seen them at the grocery store.
When we hear sirens in the Methow Valley, we know that within a few hours, a day at most, we’re going to discover the cause of them: a car crash, a brush fire, a medical emergency. Then pieces begin to fall into place; we learn the story. When we’re lucky, we breathe a sigh of relief: false alarm, close call, disaster narrowly averted. When we’re not, what follows is a meal train, a Go Fund Me, a memorial service.
These all-too-frequent brushes with catastrophe are reminders of how interconnected we are in this little community. Because each tragedy has the potential to impact us more intimately, they elicit our empathy. They invite us not to look away, but instead to pay attention, acknowledge, remember.