ARCHIVES

PASSAGES

A few years ago I visited one of my childhood homes, a small A-frame in Wyoming that had been expanded with the addition of two tiny bedrooms, where my younger brother Zack and I slept, ages two and three.  A narrow flagstone-lined corridor connected the new rectangular structure to the original triangular one and it was this stone hallway that captured my adult interest, for in the suspended childhood time to which my memories of the house were subject the passage had taken on mythic proportions.  Yet although my recollection of the proportions of the hallway proved hazy, my memory of its significance lingers unblurred.

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Rio Grande

I remember the first time I spent a Christmas away from my family. (Incredibly, I was in my mid-20s by the time this occurred.) I was working for Outward Bound in southwest Texas in the Chihuahuan Desert, near the Big Bend National Park, along the silty ribbon of Rio Grande that serves as the US-Mexico border. 

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Squirrel of Shame 

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of the 1980s cover band Squirrel of Shame. Until two weeks ago, I hadn’t either. But if you’ve got the beat and you love rock ’n’ roll, you’re going to want to jump at the chance to see a Squirrel of Shame show some time. The Methow connection to Squirrel of Shame is part-time Pine Forest resident Scott Wiltamuth — who, incidentally, turns out to have graduated from college in the same class as me, but we only recently met. I’ve tried to identify common connections we had in college, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

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Carlton Complex Fire, 2014

The sounds of summer: the rhythmic trill of peepers, coyotes’ haunting cries, the gurgle of the river, wind softly brushing pines. Add for summer 2014: thunder’s electric reverberation, the bang and zap of lighting, the wail of sirens, the chak-chak-chak of helicopters, the drone of water tankers, the mesmerizing muffled rumble of a  DC-10. READ MORE

Carlton Reflections, 2015

It began as so many wildland fires begin, spreading quickly through the parched grass and trees, throwing up great white pillows of smoke against bluebird skies. It was kind of beautiful, actually, if you didn’t know what lay ahead, which of course we didn’t. It was, after all, July, and there were often fires in July. As the fire sped toward power lines the news spread: there would be no electricity after Thursday.

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Twisp River Fire, 2015

We thought we were prepared this time. We had limbed trees, cut brush, watered, spread gravel. We had weed-whacked and raked and shoveled. We had tuned up generators and filled up water jugs. We had consolidated our important paperwork. We had purchased fireboxes. We had updated our insurance. We had paid our bills. We had made an emergency plan for the animals.

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Threads

The best stories, of course, are the ones I’ve been asked not to publish. When I began writing the Winthrop column, which I freely refer to as “the Winthrop gossip column,” in the fall of 2009, I suddenly made a lot of new friends. People started approaching me in the street to introduce themselves and pass on news. They’d tell me some great story about a local person or about themselves, some hilarious or fascinating tidbit, and then just as I was spinning the story in my head to get it ready for the next week’s edition they’d say, “but please don’t write about this in your column.”

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Hidden Figures

When the kids were little and prone to throwing hissy fits about small indignities, we used to tell them “you get what you get and you don’t get upset” (or, alternately, depending on our mood –“you git what you git and you don’t throw a fit”). Now I’m second-guessing this advice to take the hand you’re dealt. It makes sense when a child is melting down because he got the blue plate and wanted the red one, but it’s not actually a very hopeful or productive approach to life. History is filled with examples of human life improving for many because one person threw a fit. Quite often, getting upset results in making things better.

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Y2K

Two decades ago, on the eve of Dec. 31, 1999, the developed world prepared for the widespread chaos that was expected to ensue as soon as the clocks clicked over to the year 2000. People worried about Y2K for years, their concern intensifying in the final months leading up to the split second when computers all over the world would, allegedly, cease to operate properly, causing havoc in the power grid, banking, air travel, and other computerized systems.

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Christmas 2019

In my early days of writing this column, around this time of year I used to feature tales of local residents facing abject misery during their annual tree hunts. Frozen fingers and toes, wailing children, Christmas trees so bedraggled that even Charlie Brown might have turned up his nose at them. Everyone who had ever cut a Christmas tree with small children in tow could relate, some even remembering these tortuous excursions with a kind of nostalgia — memories rendered joyful by the passage of time.

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Christmas 2018

I remember the first time I spent a Christmas away from my family. (Incredibly, I was in my mid-20s by the time this occurred.) I was working for Outward Bound in southwest Texas in the Chihuahuan Desert, near the Big Bend National Park, along the silty ribbon of Rio Grande that serves as the US-Mexico border. 

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Christmas 2017

In previous years I anticipated with great glee the misadventures of those who tried to create lasting meaningful memories for their kids by tromping for hours through waist-deep snow to find the perfect Christmas tree, but recently people’s experiences with cutting their own trees seem to be as picture-perfect as an LL Bean catalog, and there’s no story in that. But I’ve begun to realize that the holidays are in general an unmined treasure trove of potential misery, pitfalls of suffering lurking near every tradition.

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Christmas 2016

Despite dark nights, news and events, the past week has been one filled with light. First, the slow but steady increase in daylight hours with the winter solstice, always eagerly anticipated by those of us in northern latitudes. 

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Christmas 2015

A couple of weeks ago one of my neighbors asked my daughter when we were planning to get our Christmas tree. Apparently this neighbor can see the lights of our tree in our living room from her bedroom window, and it gives her a little spark of happiness just before bed. When I heard this, I too got happy; my Christmas tree lights make someone else smile at the end of each day.

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