Smoke veils the east side of the Washington Cascades from the Canadian border to the Columbia River. I had an errand to the north the past couple of days, and woke this morning in Twisp, a small town in north central Washington. My colleague and I had struck up a conversation about bakeries. My first bakery of the day was the highly-recommended Cinnamon Twisp, where I stocked up on day-old poppyseed scones and cinnamon twisps. Later I stopped at the Rocking Horse in Winthrop for a coffee refill and a piece of sour cream peach coffee cake.
The radio kept me company as I drove south through the smoky valleys. The news is never good: violence in faraway lands, tottering economy here, the looming election. Of all of these, the election creates the most distaste. I know there are writers who use their blogs to spout political opinions, and I have never wanted to be one of those. But what I hear on the news is so polarized and oversimplified. There are a lot of questions that are too hard to answer in a few sound bites. Why does the presidential election last nearly two years, and why is so much money spent on it? Could people ever have a civil discourse on what government means? Could we agree to disagree and still get along? Is all the propaganda really necessary, all the lies and tangents that distract us from truly getting anything done? I looked up the word venal–it means capable of being bought and sold, corruptible and mercenary.
Recently, I’ve been listening to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Early in the book, author Susan Cain talks about the historical moment when Americans changed from valuing character to creating a cult of personality. This is evidenced by the popularity of reality TV and tabloid magazines. People are famous for being famous–they don’t have to do anything. Similarly, we want our presidents to have flash and style like a rock stars, but concern ourselves less with actual character. And are shocked when they behave less than honorably.
I turned the radio off when I couldn’t stand any more. The thought of all that money being spent to buy advertising when public land is on fire and our infrastructure crumbles…enough to make me cough up a hairball of disgust. Switched to music instead–the miles passed while I sang along with Chris Whitley, one of my guitar heroes, then hollered tunes with The Decemberists. I passed Cashmere, home of the Anjou Bakery (upscale chewy breads and unbelievable flaky croissants). Some of the thickest smoke was over Blewett Pass, and I dropped down into my home valley. After a quick break, I drove to fire camp in Ellensburg (Vinman’s Bakery–exquisite pastries and artisan breads. I’m partial to the focaccia). I’m working on the Yakima Complex, and my instructions were to go back to Red Top Lookout.
Smoke, and more smoke. The air is warmer and drier, the fires are more active. I spotted three new ones, and called them in.
What I know: those folks down in the smoke are good people, working hard. They have character. They are not venal. They believe in service, and the best way to serve is through a government agency. Our leaders may gesture and blather, but we carry on. We have a sense of something larger than our own interests. There is such a thing as the common good, and it is worth working toward. Maybe we have to lead from below. It consoles me a little bit to understand that decay is necessary to make way for new growth. It consoles me a little bit that smoke makes for breathtaking sunsets.
And it consoles me a little bit to bite into a delicious scone baked in a small town, made by caring hands. Truly a labor of love.