Country Whispers

Country Ramblins' on Country Whispers 2014

by Tamara Hillman
August written in gold. 2014

Grab a hanky; My August column will be written from a broken heart because of the recent loss of my beloved Methow Valley by wild fires that swept fifty miles along the river destroying everything in its path and beyond—this area was home of my youth, and all my cherished memories…


I have been saddened to the core this past two weeks by news from the Methow Valley in Washington State where I was born and raised. A wild-fire, (they called a funnel-fire because of the way it swirled through the river canyons pushed by thirty-five mile an hour winds) swept a gigantic blaze over fifty miles from the little town of Pateros, (mostly destroyed) on the mighty Columbia River, to the head of Bear Creek Canyon, leaving total devastation in its wake.

By some miracle, my hometown of Twisp, and the little tourist town nine miles north, Winthrop, were spared, but over one-hundred and fifty homes were leveled along the fire’s route. Everything in its path—houses, cars, farm equipment, orchards, haystacks, cattle, horses, wild animals, etc., were destroyed by this fiery beast causing people literally to run for their lives leaving everything they owned and cherished behind.

Landmark homes & ranches are now just mounds of cinder and ash. What were once beautiful evergreen trees are now charred, black sticks standing in deep gray ash that blankets the ground as far as the eye can see. Every mountain, hill, and dale was tainted by this Devil’s march. The old homesteads my ancestors farmed, and where my Mother and her siblings were born and raised, are now gone.

The area has been described as resembling a war-zone, and I see how that is absolutely true in all the scenes I’ve observed on Facebook, and pictures sent to my e-mail, (even drone-films made by newscasters from outlying cities in Washington telling of the horror of this destructive fire.) It seems unbelievable. My memories of a quiet country life have been completely disrupted by what I surely face seeing on my next visit to the valley in late August.

My brother, who remains in Twisp, reports there is no power, no water, no phone service (even the cell towers were destroyed) and if you don’t own a generator, there is a lot of spoiled food stuffs, and bored children sitting about with no entertainment, (they have no imagination these days to play pretend games since all their toys run on batteries or electricity.) Can you imagine having teenagers in the valley right now who have no I-Pods, cell phones, computers, television, etc.? OMG! And without a microwave, some families may starve to death. What’s more, you can’t flush a toilet without water and electricity. Must be interesting for young families.

Fifty years ago, we would have survived much better than these modern-day folks in the valley (or the nation) because we still had an outdoor privy between the house and barn, we could cook from scratch on an open fire if needs be, owned Kerosene lamps left over from our grandparents generation (and knew how to use them), could and would jump in the river with a bar of soap to bathe, and could care less about having a telephone receiver glued to your ear gabbing 24/7, etc. 

Today, I fear it won’t be easy on these spoiled youngsters who take the luxuries they’ve been handed for granted. Can you even imagine any one of your city-raised grandchildren knowing how to drive a stick or column shift in today’s world, or a tractor? God forbid, they’d sit down and cry at the mere thought. They’re all soft and spoiled rotten, and worst of all—NOT self- sufficient in any way, shape or form. It’s a good thing its summer too because without power and water in winter months these weaklings would surely freeze to death not knowing how to chop wood to stoke a good blaze in the old woodstove just to keep warm snuggled next to with a good book as we old timers did. Woe is me! Maybe that will be the only GOOD coming out of this negative event in my beloved Methow Valley—the lazy, unknowing, uncaring youth living there may have to earn their keep, and learn how to survive.

After this, as I look back, it really will be only in memories that I’ll recall the houses, barns, and fields where we visited friends, and played all those years. When I am gone, (or my mind leaves me completely—I’m half way there) those things I naively thought would exist forever in and around my hometown will be gone too along with my reminiscing.

Going forward, everything will be rebuilt brand new & shiny with all the trappings of a fancy, competitive world where once those wonderful, little, farming neighborhoods stood—where we learned to be respectful of other people’s property, and shared in anyone’s joy and feelings of accomplishment when improving and adding to what little they had by the sweat of their brow.

This new generation will never know the secret places we explored riding horses, or flyin’ in the wind on beat up old bicycles. The swimmin’ holes won’t be tucked away in the same shady places behind this farm or that with narrow paths trampled through tall grasses to reach that cool and refreshing oasis. The trees we climbed to view the world from on high will now only be blackened sticks unsafe to pursue the heights from their towering tops. The hills where we picked stinky bouquets of sunflowers for Mom to put in a fruit jar and display as though they were Carnations when we were kids will not produce wild flowers for some years now. No blue-bells, buttercups, wild roses, and fireweed. And even the bears will scavenge long and hard to find the once abundant wild huckleberry bushes and blackberries they readily gorged themselves on in the warm months of my valley all these years.

Yes, there will be great changes for both man and beast until Mother Nature replenishes her supply to all living creatures in that fifty mile stretch that now lays barren and devastated beyond any resemblance or recognition of the days of my youth. A bit of my heart is torn away in bitter grief for what used to be. I shall never view my beautiful valley in the same way again, not for lack of want to, but because it is no more…

Granny Tam

Upper Methow Valley in the Fall

Fire Storm by Tamara Hillman

How can this be—in one fell swoop,
only memories remain
of places I so cherished
and would visit once again?

Now only devastation,
ash, and cinders lie
where once I spent my childhood—
now smoldering, hot, and dry.

Homes that once were landmarks
are now just chimneys tall—
statues where those houses stood
just bricks and mortar all.

A small town—nonexistent,
caught by the fiery beast
at the end of our dear valley
where we’d be headed east.

The river with its tree line—
colors marking seasons each,
boasts now of only scorched rock
along its barren beach.

Orchards gone forever,
abundance of fruit lost—
livelihood of harvest masters
who will surely count the cost.

Fields I ran and played in
are burned beyond belief,
and all I feel when viewing
is sorrow, and much grief.

Trees we climbed as children
to view the world below
are only blackened sticks now
not fit for man, nor crow.

Aspen and great willows,
shading swimming hole,
are crumbled to the ground now,
and it hurts my very soul.

How green my valley once was
with flowers on the hills—
serene and peaceful respit
where I forgot my ills.

Open range where cattle
could graze the summer thru’
now strewn with bloated carcass’—
much more than just a few.

Home of my youth and schooling—
the place where I was born
resembles now a War-Zone—
tattered, burnt, and torn.

Our children won’t remember
what my mind retains so dear
for it will take a generation
to replenish all, I fear.

Locked in those faded photos,
and in the oldster’s eye,
the valley will remain pristine
as future years pass by.

Tamara Hillman

(Dedicated to the people of the Methow Valley whose lives were devastated
by the fires of mid July/ 2014.)

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