AS A LIFELONG Puget Sound dweller who appreciates the occasional long drive, I’ve been visiting the Methow Valley off and on for a half-century. And, probably like a lot of natives, I have grown to increasingly appreciate it for how little (relatively, at least) it has changed.
The scenic valley and its two central towns, Winthrop and Twisp, have long provided escape for urban types yearning to get up in the morning; walk outside with a cup of strong coffee into clean, dry air; and hear nothing.
Close as it is to bursting Pugetopolis, the population of Methow year-rounders has remained remarkably stable as the valley morphs from its wild past — first as a home of native peoples, later that of settlers who ranched and harvested timber — into a vacation haunt favored by urban escapees.
Through that evolution, tourist-oriented Winthrop and the nearby traditional “working town” of Twisp have retained a sense of sameness — in a good way.
That’s partly illusion, at least at valley central. Visits to Twisp, especially, in recent years have made it clear that significant social movement — or at least creep — has been quietly at work there. Not the splitting and divisions we’ve all come to loathe, but convergence. The town, in the wake of devastating fires that nearly claimed it in 2014 and 2015, is quietly growing, and evolving.
During a winter visit, I made a mental note to return in the spring to try to tap into the local undercurrent and create a profile of a place in transition. Specifically, I wondered whether what feels to an outsider like a strong sense of community really is that — and how that elusive spark is bottled and harnessed in a little town of 1,000 old-timers, newcomers, telecommuters, artists, growers, craftspeople and trust-funders.
That planned trip, due to coronavirus complications, turned into a long, delightful series of telephone conversations (remember those?) this spring with Twispers, both old and new, discussing “community,” Methow-style. It immediately became clear that inseparable from the story of today’s Twisp is the tale of its accomplished and unlikely mayor, Soo Ing-Moody, whose arrival in the rural enclave seems an almost eerie instance of fateful good fortune.
A portrait emerged of a place whose inhabitants show pride in ownership — a community that almost all agree has formed bonds that are special. If you’re lucky enough to visit it in coming months or years, enjoy that vibe; respect it; and keep it in your brain, for later use and inspiration, the way I kept Twisp in the back of my reporter’s notebook.
Community, be that a place or concept, is where one finds it — or creates it. Those of us who live amid overpasses have plenty to learn from those who cluster among clear water and rusty barbed wire. There’s value in appreciating the rare places where town and community go together.