I remember the first time someone called me a Local here. To me it was a badge of honor, something I didn’t take lightly and in fact, barely took at all.
“Yea, you live here. Didn’t you realize that yet?”
I guess I hadn’t and I certainly hadn’t thought to give myself the title. Just like becoming part of any team or group I think belonging is gained by earning it in time, not by trying to take it by force and it’s not something you should expect.
Of course you have to feel that you belong too but that doesn’t mean that you should expect others to feel the same way immediately.
In a town built on hard work and old school values there is a certain feeling of a gentleman’s agreement: show you’re meant to be here, feel you’re meant to be here and maybe others will feel the same. It’s a show of respect and a nod to tradition. There are old timers here that will barely acknowledge a newbie, waiting until they’ve earned some stripes and you know what? I like it. We are often so self-congratulatory that a hesitation from someone who has already earned their time here is a good reminder to bring the self pats on the back down a little.
And so, although I do live here, I am still reticent to shout from the mountaintops that I am a Local, to lay stake to that claim. As you live here you realize that there’s still so much to learn and so much you don’t even know that you have to learn. Yet as you start to feel a bit more comfortable claiming the place as home, as you softly tread towards the place of belonging, suddenly a shift starts to happen. You are edging towards the other side and suddenly, newcomers seem foreign, even though you were a newcomer just one short year ago.
Now, I grew up in what I thought was a small town.
I was wrong.
I was a Local there from birth. I could walk through town and see familiar faces and it was quiet enough that a horse or a tractor could be among the “traffic” of Main Street. It was safe and cozy and creative. There were hippies and farmers alike in the sleepy little spot and it was peaceful.
Then came the grapes.
The town had been known for its apples, always apples. Since I can remember the fields were covered with apple trees. The area is even known for its Gravenstein apple. There’s an Apple Blossom Festival in the Spring meant to welcome the new and to bless the harvest in the Fall. We would run and play through all the farmers’ apple orchards, picking a less wormy snack off the ground if we got hungry. No one cared about fencing or property lines. It was small and quaint and kind and communal. The town was all apples.
But one year and for every year after that, people started to decide that apples were no longer the key.
And so it went that every apple orchard suddenly was ripped up and planted with grapes and every spot of undeveloped land which could be used for grapes was purchased and sold and turned for profit. It felt like it happened overnight. The farmers I had watched going down the dirt roads on their old tractors were replaced with hired hands on fancy new equipment and the old timers seemed to disappear into thin air.
The grapes had taken over and thus the town was forever changed. With the grapes came an influx of money and with that an influx of people with money. Small Town Simple Life turned to Small Town Chic as visitors flowed in from all around the world to taste the crop and sample the quaint town of ours that was, in fact, no longer ours.
It was the first time I had ever felt a sense of ownership or protective pride over the town and it came as it was slowly sifting through my fingers like sand. It was impossible to gather up and put back together again. It was forever changed.
The town had always been a melting pot but with a common undercurrent of a simple back to basics life. In came those who could buy that idea and aim to emulate their version of it. Those who had lived in the town for decades could no longer afford their houses. Children who had grown up there could no longer afford to stay. New school hippies came in with money that they used to try to be like the old school hippies whose houses they had purchased. But money couldn’t buy what the old timers simply were.
The new school hippies felt contrived, as if they had read A Hippie Life for Dummies book; as if they could simply buy the lifestyle, wear the t-shirt and become accepted as the same. And then there were also completely different types added to the mix, good and bad or bad and good depending on who is asking and who is telling. It’s all in your perspective. Either way the town had suddenly been taken over, the new population outweighed the old and the ways of old were deemed unimportant or falsely duplicated in a way that made it feel cheap. My town was changed.
And so upon coming here, I thought I knew something about living in a small town. I didn’t want to impose, I wanted others to feel respected by me and positively affected by my presence, if affected at all.
I knew nothing of living in a small town.
My old “small town” meant I knew maybe half of the people in my graduating class. This Winter, on a good week, one where there’s a poker night or Christmas, I might see 12 people. For New Year’s Eve we had a party and there were 5 of us. That was a good showing. Every person counts and the night is changed simply by one addition or subtraction.
But now it’s Summer and the influx has started and now instead of one or two people, it feels the whole world has RSVP’d “yes”.
Locals had told me about the anxiety that comes with the Summer. Last year I had seen friends simply stop in the middle of the street looking at the packed bar. They would have to walk away (or at least have me order their drink and bring it out to the safe(r) zone of the porch.
I didn’t get it.
I had arrived in the busy time. Busy was normal to me. I’ve always been a bit of a social butterfly (or hummingbird as one girlfriend used to call me) able to roll with a thundering crowd and meet new faces until the wee hours of the night.
The other night The Chief and I decided to stop for a drink at the local watering hole on our way home from work. We planned to head home afterwards and put some starts into larger pots, transplant and replant but we wanted to catch up with friends whom had just returned to town.
We showed up to a huge crowd that exponentially increased by the minute. Pretty soon there were over 100 people there. Going from 12 in the Winter to 100 overnight could give even the biggest social hummingbird anxiety.
I’ve been in that bar in the dead of winter, the only one there, waiting for work to start (work that only existed because of a film crew in town, otherwise it would have been closed and silent until late May). I’ve listened to the creak of the old wood beneath my footsteps. Suddenly, I’m shoulder to shoulder with a mass of people and I know less than 1/4 of the crowd and I can’t hear anything except the beating of my own racing heart.
The tourist season is underway and as it turns out, so is my crowd anxiety.
The Chief and I looked at one another wide-eyed and found a place outside the porch even to gain some distance and to be able to actually connect with our friends whom we did know there. The great divide between Tourists and Locals had begun.
Luckily for me, even though I was one of those tourists last year, I was a tourist because of a Local and so I was given access and entrance to a different world. Otherwise, who knows if I would have met any of them, much less the shy Chief.
Now I’m on the other side of things. I am fielding the questions about living here (“You actually live here in Winter?”) and giving constant directions to places I know of but often haven’t ever had the time to visit. I’m trying to help people not commit faux pas and to gently correct them when they do let their dogs swim in the drinking creeks or leave their trash for someone else to haul out.
I hate the idea of ownership over a town but I hate it just as much as I love it.
You should love your home.
You should feel pride in where you rest your head and maybe one day your bones.
But sharing it with outsiders? Unfortunately, that can feel hard, even harder when outside of 50 people (seasonals and year round) everyone is an outsider. The thing is, not even a year ago I was an outsider. But in a town when the addition of even five people is noticeable the addition of 50 or 100 is overwhelming and it can be difficult to remember the ultimate truth: these newcomers are here because they want to be a part of the beauty of this place. The way they interact with it may be different, you may never be friends, you may never even meet but that doesn’t mean that what I so loved about this place should lose practice or not be shared.
I love that people always wave when they pass one another here, that they say “hello” or give a nod and pull over to catch up.
The other day, I found myself not recognizing a vehicle and not making a move to wave because of that.
That’s not who I want to be.
I don’t want to protect my newfound membership in a club by making others feel like outsiders. I want to be a refuge from city life for others and to facilitate a place where everyone waves and shares the feeling of the beauty around them.
The other day I was driving down the hill from the glacier to town. Tourists are constantly walking the road, and at this time in the season the tourist vans aren’t running because it’s too early in the season or too late in the day. This couple had hit both options. They jokingly threw out upwards pointed thumbs to me, seemingly more going through the motions than seriously expecting me to stop.
I did. That’s how we do things here.
“Need a lift?”
It’s four miles back to town and even farther to the campsites if someone isn’t staying at the hotel. After a day out on the glacier or ice climbing or packrafting, an added four mile walk can be just the opposite of what the doctor ordered.
They looked tired.
“Really? Oh, my gosh. Yes, please. That would be so fantastic. Thank you.”
I had been in the car plenty of times when this same situation arose but I had never gotten to be the driver, never gotten to be the one deciding to pick someone up, to do a good deed and to show some hospitality. You always pick people up if you can, that’s how the town goes.
In the weeks prior, as Spring had shifted to Summer, my protectiveness over the area had turned closer to un-hospitable than I’d like to admit. It isn’t how I actually feel, but it was how I started to act and I’m not proud of that.
The thing is, we’ve all been tourists at some point. We’ve all walked on someone else’s turf only to realize we’ve mistakenly poked holes in it. I think my living in a town forever changed by outside forces has made me sensitive and cautious of newcomers, just like people here might have been cautious of me. I’ve seen the town change just by the few people who’ve been added in a year (myself included). The television show certainly has left its mark. But it’s impossible to live if we are constantly afraid of change, even if that fear is somewhat staked in reality. We fear the town changing for the worse, but my worse isn’t yours and so we all influence what happens and have to compromise accordingly.
Picking up this couple and having a great conversation with them during the ten minutes of the bumpy drive refilled my tank and inspired a shift in perspective.
I can spend the entire Summer months here guarding my territory. I can complain about tourism, feel the intensity of the influx of people. Or, I can share. I can let each person’s experience here be their own, it doesn’t change mine. I can even learn about the area from them, since they are here to tour and I am here to live and sometimes I miss the newest cave that’s opened up. I can welcome them and hope for the best or I can be my smaller self and try to keep all the cookies for me. But really, that just makes me sick.
Sure, the crowds are still overwhelming but I can instead feel that increase in energy as fuel to my fire instead of letting it dampen me. I can see the pros and accept the cons and realize that I’ve been those tourists and I could have been them last year, had I not had an “In” and because of that, be reminded to treat everyone with kindness instead of becoming a curmudgeon. I’ve already moved to the middle of the woods, if I close myself off from newcomers, I’ll really be out here and if the town had closed off to newcomers, I wouldn’t be here at all. And so, I aim to change my disposition, divert my anxiety towards more useful emotions and see the beauty in what is before me.
My hometown changed and still is changing but the biggest uproar is in the past (and I’m sure again in the future). Anytime we face a full 180 degree turn it’s hard to adapt but as the years go by the edges soften. Now, in my town, the apple is gaining a sort of resurgence. Cider has become a huge industry. The kids of families that I grew up with have started businesses around this. We are paying homage to the past but in a newly defined way. Change comes no matter what we decide about it but change can loop back around and find its base again too.
The Summer is intense, but there is so much that is good about it. Adventures and colors and rainbows fill the day where before the cold and the lack of light decided our actions. Besides, soon enough, it will be Winter again. The quiet will return and the constant party will cease. Summer Camp will end. Books will open, fires will be made and tended to. Eyelashes will freeze and the dog’s toes will turn furry again. And then I’m sure I’ll wish for a girl’s night out on the town that won’t exist until Summer again. The ebb and flow.
And so every day I look at the river and wonder how it was ever frozen enough to let us cross it but instead of missing the snow I try to remember that it will return, but for now, she flows.
Let Grown-Up Summer Camp begin and remember to call in sick (hiking) when your patience is fading. Cheers to the highs, cheers to the lows and welcome to Summer.