Winter Residents


December, 2016 The kids are bundled in layers upon layers, puffy caricatures of themselves. We leave the toasty coziness of the wood stove to venture out into the white evening. A pilgrimage to the big city…that is, the one mile journey from Lower Stanley to Upper Stanley. After a full day of shoveling and plowing, we’re finally able to make it out of our driveway and onto the snowy roadway. For most of December, we’ve had a steady alternation of arctic temperatures and dumps of wet heavy snow. Several storms have together dropped almost 5 feet of snow on Banner Summit, and the Stanley Ranger Station has recorded an overnight low of -38.1 degrees. Stanley’s parade of signature winter events will begin after the holidays, but for now, town is pretty quiet—a time when many businesses temporarily close and Stanley locals take the opportunity to travel. Due to the weather, several holiday events and school activities have recently been cancelled or postponed. We’re heading “uptown” tonight for the re-scheduled ukulele performance of the Stanley School students (nine in all) at the Stanley Sluice Ale House. It is dark and snowing on a Monday night, the highway is deserted and I expect only a handful of kids and family members to attend. We make the turn onto Niece Avenue, mountains of piled snow towering over the intersection at Ace of Diamonds. Through falling flakes, we come upon a sea of vehicles lined up and down the street and spilling over into the neighborhood. We approach welcoming windows, savory smells, and laughter, underscored by the cheery melodies of the Pesky Grape Seeds, favorite local musicians. The door opens on a scene more reminiscent of a bustling urban bistro than a hibernating frozen town, population 63. Diners pack every table, patrons fill the bar seats and the walls are lined with standing spectators. The mood is vibrant and lively, the cheer almost palpable. Friends and neighbors celebrate the season and the chance to dig out and congregate. The students play and sing their hearts out, overcoming jitters and hitting an easy stride. The enthusiastic crowd begs an encore and the kids deliver. An enigmatic mix calls this valley home in all four seasons--not just in fair weather, when adventure, social diversion, and fruitful employment are abundant and Mother Nature is at her easiest to love. It’s obvious that this is a fairly adventurous group: independent, self-reliant, preferring to live outside the hustle of mainstream urban life, but after a few winters here it becomes clear there is a defining quality that runs much deeper. Above all else, Stanley folks are civic minded. In the high season we provide services and infrastructure to accommodate thousands, depending on a very small community core. A lifetime of volunteer hours are needed for everything ranging from city council, school board, sewer board, library board, fire department, EMT’s, and Search and Rescue to the chamber of commerce, ice rink, snowsport trails grooming, collaborative groups, civic and environmental organizations, school and community events. Everyone steps up and fills a role and most citizens wear at least two or three hats. For a bunch of march-to-the-beat-of-your-own-drummer, off-the-beaten-path eccentrics, Stanley knows how to do Community, and nowhere does it shine more than in supporting the shrinking tribe of local youth. After the performance, the pack of kids retreats to their natural environment—outside, in the snowy night playing tag. Slowly the crowd dwindles and says goodnight. This evening was a necessary antidote to the creeping cabin fever that I didn’t even suspect was infiltrating. I leave feeling blessed to be a part of this warm, gracious, and generous crowd. Driving home, it turns out we’re not the only ones (Hearty? Adventurous? Crazy?) enough to call the Sawtooth Valley winter quarters. Four sets of eyes reflect back on us as we slow to a stop above the Valley Creek Bridge. Stanley’s wildest residents out on a late night prowl—Cervus Canadensis, our native herd of elk. Like the river guide whose truck broke down in Stanley 30 years ago and never again passed the county line, elk range the high country through the warmer seasons and find themselves camped out at the town watering hole for the winter. For better or worse, this place draws us all back time and time again. Winter visitors find a connection here more intimate and nuanced than in the throngs and clamor of summer, a soft balance between quiet stillness, serenity, and solitude and the communal off season festivities, the rush of adrenaline filled snow sports, and the camaraderie shared in a cozy local establishment on a starry December night.
Source Url: