"In My Mountain Town, We’re Preparing for Dark Times" Article re Twisp

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A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 17, 2020, Section A, Page 27 of the New York edition with the headline: In a Mountain Town, Preparing for Dark Times

In My Mountain Town, We’re Preparing for Dark Times​

As the contagion spreads, we look ahead to winter and wonder whom we can safely pull close.
By Christopher Solomon
Mr. Solomon is a contributing editor at Outside Magazine


The North Cascades in Washington, mid-October.Credit...Ian Allen for The New York Times

TWISP, Wash. — At dawn the deer are as thick as cattle in the valley bottom, feeding on what remains after summer’s final haying. Soon, hunting season’s first shot will scatter them to higher country, where winds shake the aspens’ first golden coins to the ground. There’s not much time. So they eat the stubble without pause, fattening up for the hungry months ahead.
At the river, the water is skinny but runs cold again with the return of freezing nights. The trout feel the change and are voracious. This makes them reckless, and the fishing is good in the squinting hours around sunrise. I tie on an October caddis and skate the fly over the water in the blue morning. Big trout lunge after it, detonating the quiet.
It is autumn again in the mountains of the West, and what is not gracefully dying is desperate to live.
I live in the lap of tall peaks in Washington’s North Cascades, where the turn from summer to fall always mixes beauty with melancholy. October’s yellow afternoons smell of winter at the edges. The soft ovation of the cottonwoods sends another round of leaves adrift on the water. Everything lovely harbingers an ending. Nothing gold can stay, as Frost wrote.

Even in the lovely moments, a franticness belies the season here, the underlying rhythm of life in hard places. The black bear roots for the last frost-shriveled berries. The fish lurches to the fly. The woodcutter’s saw screams in the quiet forest, as she piles the rounds that will warm her family. All of us in our fashion rush to lay in the things we need before winter descends.
I stand in the river, ice water girdling my hips, and I cast, and cast again. I am as ravenous as the trout. I, too, need something to sustain me. But what, exactly?
This autumn feels different than those of the past. The wistfulness of the season is stronger, and the pace of the days feels more urgent. All spring and summer, as places such as New York suffered terribly because of the pandemic, we enjoyed our relative isolation and the lack of outbreaks. Our valley wants for many things, but we do not lack for elbow room. When the news, and the numbers, grew ever more awful, we simply headed outside, alone or together, as we sought the solace of open spaces, as Gretel Ehrlich put it.
The other asset that makes this place special is its sense of community. Late each autumn the already-small population of the valley shrinks smaller still, as avalanches close one of the few roads to Seattle and the snowbirds migrate south. People who have scattered to the woods and peaks and fields all summer now return, and the community knits itself together again for the cold winter months, buried in snow.

There are Tuesday night science talks at the Red Barn, and pickup hockey at the rink on Wednesdays, and costume parties at the Grange Hall. Friends crowd into snug, stove-lighted places, and they share meals featuring the tomatoes they canned the previous summer. We are the rancher’s cattle pushed down from summer range by first snow to gather together closely for the winter, warmer together.


The turn from summer to fall always mixes beauty with melancholy Credit...Ian Allen for The New York Times
In an era of contagion, though, closeness is treacherous. We are told to stay out of one another’s homes. We are advised to avoid gatherings. What makes us human — the need for connection, for human touch — is now suspect.
And so my friends and I fish too long when we should be picking the last frost-sweetened plums. We put our hands on the still-warm granite of the climbing pitch rather than cook down the applesauce. We take ridgeline hikes among larch the color of struck matches when we should be at the work desk. We run for hours through the mountains without thought of tomorrow’s soreness, or the firewood left uncut.
We tear at the days immoderately, like animals, and we wolf them down, hoping to fill a hole we see yawning ahead. There’s not much time. The forecast calls for snow up high this week — “termination dust,” the locals call it.
And so we also grab at the invitations to dinner outside with others — invitations that once felt casual but that now feel urgent. We sit on the patio drinking summer drinks long after summer is gone, ignoring the shivering night. We look for more human connections to make, wondering who we can safely pull close, whose friendship will keep us both warm. We are laying by memories for winter, as the bear puts on fat, in hopes what we have will be enough for the long, dark times to come.
Christopher Solomon is a contributing editor at Outside.


Active Member
I'm sure he's a nice guy, would be cool to hang out with, and he's obviously smart and industrious, and talented enough to write for a living, which is no small feat.

Having said that one would think that surveying the current global landscape would prompt him to ruminate on how fortunate he is to be living the life that he is in a place as beautiful, serene, and peaceful as Twisp, and look forward to taking advantage of everything the place offers.

If someone told me I'd be over-wintering in Twisp my first response would be to run out of the house and do cartwheels down the street shouting "Hallelujah!" over and over again.

Dave Westburg

WFF Premium
Overwrought. I was in Winthrop fishing several times this fall and saw no evidence of distraught young men or women tearing at the days immoderately like animals.

Overwrought. Evidently you can't snowshoe or ski and enjoy the outdoors in the Methow valley between October and April. You can only go outside in the summer.

The author talks about standing in the river fishing with "ice water girdling my hips." Hope this isn't the Methow. It's been closed since Sept 30.

+1 to the story writer for pointing out that "All spring and summer, as places such as New York suffered terribly because of the pandemic, we enjoyed our relative isolation and the lack of outbreaks." According the the Methow Valley News Twisp had only 1 new covid infection this summer until there were 3 more this week. Count your blessings.
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Gary Thompson

dirty dog
My children grew up in the Methow valley, while I stayed in the Okanogan valley.
I remember winter as a hungry time.
The deer and grouse were ever watchful for the hunter.
The fur bearing animals that I trapped were a blessing when it came time to buy rice and beans to go with what was canned during summer.
I for one do not miss the snow, the below freezing temps that would hang on for weeks or more.
IMHO the high mountain towns are for the younger folks that hike and mountain bike in summer, ski and snow shoe in winter.


Active Member
Great town, great valley. And everyone should at least once take the road up Hart's Pass for both the views and pucker factor...nothing like looking at a 2,000 drop 2' from the truck while white knuckling the wheel.
At the top, wife and I were invited by the elder on fire watch to climb up to the lookout tower and join him...he'd been a logger and scoutmaster for decades and had climbed every tall mountain peak we could see. Just a fine guy with such good stories...the tower views were absolutely incredible, see all the way into Canada.


WFF Premium
Great piece of writing! It is only overwrought if you have never spent a long, cold winter in isolation, apart from the friends and small community that help you survive the seemingly endless days with your sanity intact. Sure, there are still lots of outdoor activities. But imagine if you weren’t on vacation and that was all you had. For months on end. With very little human interaction. Not everyone is cut out to be a (romanticized) Dick Proenneke.

My biggest problem with the article was the poetic license with regard to the fishing season. I suspect that he was fishing the Methow on 9/30 or before even though it was written as if he were fishing it in October. Either that or he exaggerated the few small creeks that are still open.
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