Return of the Night Music


I see it as soon as I open my eyes. Something in the way the growing daylight is distorting through the glass, playing on the ceiling. Is it the pawing elk, the nervous flooded out beaver, or the wise faced foxes? Something is alive out there and moving, something familiar but obscured in recent memory. Noise, chattering and musical, creeps through my open window and pieces start to come together. I bolt up, with that sleepy childhood feeling when charged sounds, smells, and sights rouse you and suddenly you remember its Christmas morning. It’s the River of No Return--returning.

Mountain Sunrise Near River | Stanley Chamber

In warmer months, we sleep under the stars on a deck overhanging the Salmon. Unobstructed views, but not overly private. We get a lot of traffic: thundering elk crashing down the riverbed, osprey diving, otters playing, our front yard busy beaver making his home, all framed by the everchanging Sawtooth backdrop. With reluctance, we move just inside at the first freeze. The view constricts a little, but we keep a window open, never missing an episode of Nightlife on the Salmon. It’s an uneasy feeling when the river stops altogether, freezes over, and by the next storm has disappeared leaving little trace. That “I-know-I’m-forgetting-something” sense of things not being in their proper place. It’s quiet out there, too quiet, and creates a stillness than can be borderline claustrophobic. Some of the signs that winter is letting up are subtle, but the breaking up of ice jams is not. Deep groans and creaks rise up from below the surface. Huge chunks break loose from each other and careen into a growing bottleneck at Bridge Street. Rising water starts to pool, finding channels old and new.

River in Snow and Ice | Stanley Chamber

In front of our house, an ice block 20 feet across hangs up and catches shard after shard. Unseen forces build until the pressure is too great and the whole crazy mess starts to move at once. The surging river muscles through the ice foot by foot and then in one dramatic push it all cuts loose. The Salmon River is once again her wild, noisy, spirited and unfettered self. Like the river thawing out, town is coming out of hibernation too, starting with the recent Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel. Joining the rinkside bonfire where steaming bowls of elk sausage gumbo and zesty Bloody Mary’s also freely flow, I finally grasp the real heart of this event. These people are fun loving, welcoming, and generous with their time, talent, and treats. Post curling festivities continue beyond the rink to a crowded Stanley Club Saloon, a party in full swing to the Austin sound of the Aaron Einhouse Band. I scan the crowd. I know most everyone here and I’ve started to think of them as my comrades in arms. As a rule, I don’t like to use military/conquest terms to describe our relationship with Nature, but honestly, January was something of a battle around here.

But tonight is different. I hardly recognize anyone without their full suit of armor, engaged in some type of full combat snow removal, whether by shovel or backhoe or plow truck. We’re wearing a lot less layers, we’re not wearing hats, some of us aren’t even wearing snowboots. Out on the dance floor, aching backs and shoulders are all but forgotten. The mood is high, we’re all laughing and chatting and whooping it up like any “normal” Saturday night in a lively mountain town. The way Stanley is meant to be. Everything shrugging back in to place, like the Mighty Salmon. We’re digging out and we’re ready to stretch our legs a little. Whether it’s the good times of the Snowmobiler's Ball and Fun Run, or the outrageous Winterfest Drag Races, or the thrill of the Stanley Sled Dog Rendezvous, there’s something for everyone this month. Grab a buddy, come play with us, and make some winter memories of your own.

-Alison French Steen

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