From devastating wildfires to destructive hurricanes to raging floods — we’ve seen and heard it all this summer. With their homes and memories gone, families are left in shock. In addition, many no longer have a source of income as employers have lost their businesses. Through it all, commonly heard is how resilient the communities are and how folks from near and far turn out to do what they can to help. Such is the way of the Methow Valley, having experienced the devastation and loss of life in wildfires.
Way back in 1959 — Aug. 17, to be exact — my mom and three kids had just returned from a train trip. The Northern Pacific Mainstreeter pulled into town late at night. There was something eerily calm about the night as we trudged home in the light of a half moon. Tucked in bed, but not yet asleep, at 11:37 p.m., it hit. The 7.2 Hebgen Lake earthquake rattled the earth with a fury comparable to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and ranks among the strongest in North American history. One hundred miles away from the epicenter, our beds shook, windows rattled, and the house creaked. When the earth shakes, it is very unsettling (no pun intended), as the ground you walk on is one thing you expect to be stable.
The landslides caused by the quake carried rock, mud and debris down Madison Canyon with force enough to toss cars in the air. Campers and vacationers at U.S. Forest Service campgrounds and dude ranches were swept away by the tidal waves surging down Hebgen Lake, sweeping across Hebgen Dam, crashing down into the valley; others were crushed by house-size boulders that hurtled into campgrounds. As a child, I was horrified with the random nature of those caught in the path. One boulder bounced over a picnic table without disturbing the food and landed on the tent of the sleeping parents of three — the children’s tent untouched. Wildfires do the same — burn one house completely down, leaving the house next door standing.
“The Night the Mountain Fell” by Ed Christopherson gives a contemporary account of “The Story of the Montana-Yellowstone Earthquake” aka Hebgen Lake Earthquake — a long ago, but not forgotten disaster. Twenty-eight people lost their lives that night. A lake created by the quake became forever known as Quake Lake.
On a much lighter note, I recently joined a “Pickles” group to see Brian Crane’s comic strip on occasion. Turns out, it’s more than “on occasion,” but, still the cartoons most often elicit at the very least a chuckle and sometimes a laugh out loud. Following days in the lives of Earl and Opal Pickles, grandson Nelson, and dog Roscoe, Crane captures the humor in familiar situations.
Comic strips — or “funnies” as we used to call them — can bring smiles and laughs, comic relief. Dagwood, Beetle Bailey, Nancy, Little Lulu, and Casper the Friendly Ghost may bring back pleasant memories, if you were one of those kids who asked for the funnies page from the newspaper.
One last one (if you are a dog lover): Dogs are sitting around the campfire telling “ghost” stories. The storytelling dog says, “And then his human left him alone for 15 minutes.” All the wide-eyed dogs gasp “Ahh” and raise their paws in horror! Haha.