Friday, February 13: River Awakening

I’m lying in bed looking out my east facing window where the morning light illuminates the first red flowers of the geranium on its ledge. The sky is a mix of eggshell blue and grey-tinged clouds over the hill emerging through the melting snow.

East or west, February is one of my favorite months. Whether there’s snow or rain or sun, the promise of spring is evident. There’s a different bend to the light. Days are noticeably longer. Here on the east slope of the North Cascades, the days have been in the 40s melting snow and earth. Patches of long bunch grass poke out of our land like a hairy coat. Whips of new growth shine red and gold on shrubs and trees. Their leaves and buds will be months in coming, but their sheer radiant vitality is a showy bloom of its own.

Most notable here is the change in the river. With the trees still bare, it is clearly visible from above, forking and branching its way east. Throughout the year, it rises and falls with the seasons, gathering snowmelt in the spring, it gains volume of body and sound. For months at a time, it is my aural companion even these hundreds of feet above. Its song comes into the silence, softly at first and by late spring and early summer a constant crescendo of water music.

This week, it has picked up enough volume to make itself heard even in doors. It’s like a parade in the distance making its way toward me. What a welcome addition to the mix of incidental sounds in a landscape so generally devoid of the man made. As I write, snowmelt pings on the metal roof like rain. Flies buzz against the glass. Outside, the rooster crows. Beneath that is the paradoxical white “noise” of deep silence with its shifting pitches and pulses, the celestial music. And mingling with that esoteric sound, the river.

Poets and visionaries have sung of rivers in every language of every culture where water runs freely from mountain to sea. Rivers are our mothers, giving birth to our fragile civilizations through their rich flood plains and their essential gift of water. Of the four elements, water feels the most palpably feminine. Fluid. Drenching. Quenching. We swim in water fishlike before birth and float out of the womb on its tide.

To live on a river is a great blessing. It is a constant gift of wisdom. If you are lost, it will lead you. If you are parched it will refresh you. If you are in its way it will carry you, sometimes to safety and sometimes to harm. It is impersonal and cold and constant. It will forgive you your expectations and show you what is. You can have no better companion. Not even a tree can love you like a river.

Listen. It is calling you right now. Your name is its song.

A Valley Like This: Musings on Art in the Methow

The barista is a soprano.  The Chamber Music festival is sold out a week in advance.  The neo-traditionalist funk band concert by the Duhks has a few seats left.  Shakespeare is coming to town, both Will himself, and a children’s production of As You Like It.  A 10 year old fourth grader playing Silvius showed me his first lines, and explained the plot with its gender disguises and love themes.


No.  Twisp.  A town of 900 nestled in the North Cascade Mountains.

A relative newcomer here, I’m watching for openings in the culture stream, auditioning to read poems for the second annual Mother’s Day show called The Mother Experience Project.   I’m looking for an evening in April at the local playhouse to host a reading of William Stafford’s Methow River Poems, written nearly twenty years ago, half a dozen of which greet trekkers along the Methow River here.  There’s an art installation outside the Post Office, a defunct telephone booth that’s now a tiny “Art Library” where patrons can take or leave books.  I recently left a copy of my “first” book of poems, Elegy with A Glass of Whisky, that won the BOA Editions New Poetry America Prize in 2004.  There’s a copy for sale at the local bookshop, too, but I thought it would be fun to put it in the Art Library and see what happens.

I picked up my tickets for the Duhks at the Methow Arts Alliance, a tiny storefront along “The Courtyard” off Highway 20, between Poppie Jo Galleria, an ecclectic mix of women’s fashion, new and used furniture, and antiques, and Rey Emmanuel, the Cuban Mexican restaurant.  Their narrow office has windows on both sides and curtains dividing workspaces.  It’s chock full of boxes of supplies; the porch holds paintings of Methow Valley Super Heroes that will soon grace the fence line of the school where I work.  The Executive Director, Amanda Knox and I had a short but equally chock full conversation about poetry, art, and music.  One of their volunteers came in before I left; she’s involved in both the local salmon recovery project and the local arts.  Amanda and I had just been marveling at all there is to do here and the varied populace that fills the seats and halls–whether it’s the Merc Playhouse, a retrofitted hardware store, or the “Barn,” likewise repurposed as an art venue, the Community Center gymnasium, Confluence Gallery, or the Twisp River Pub, whether it’s a talk on grizzly bears, an art exhibit, “Trashin’ Fashion,” film, jazz, pop, an oratorio by a local composer based on journal entries of Boy Soldiers of the Civil War.  Not a seat in the house.

There is so much resonance in place.  Stafford said in his poem “A Valley Like This”

Sometimes you look at an empty valley like this,
and suddenly the air is filled with snow.
That is the way the whole world happened—
there was nothing, and then…

But maybe some time you will look out and even
the mountains are gone, the world become nothing
again. What can a person do to help
bring back the world?

We have to watch it and then look at each other.
Together we hold it close and carefully
save it, like a bubble that can disappear
if we don’t watch out.

Please think about this as you go on. Breathe on the world.
Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings
roll along, watch how they open and close, how they
invite you to the long party that your life is.

Art is one of the ways that we can “help bring back the world.”  Whether this Valley is filled with snow or disappears in mist, it is always touching those who live here, its mornings and evenings a constant show that translates itself into pigment, sculpture, music, dance, poetry.  “We have to watch it and then look at each other.  Together we hold it close and carefully save it.”  Both the Valley and what it produces are gems that warrant our curation.