When the leaves disappear from the hardwoods and the last fruits of fall shrivel away in the cold, I’m tempted to call the winter a despondent time. Yet, when it seems like all color has drained away under the snow, a second, more hopeful thought occurs that winter quietly renews the plants. Irish poet and novelist Edna O’Brien summed it up nicely: “In a way Winter is the real Spring—the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.”
So, too, do our communities face their winters, times when they struggle in the face of economic uncertainty. Like the towns around Grays Harbor, dependent in a large part on the timber industry, jobs slip away. But new businesses have grown out of the old, spurred on by innovative industries where wood residuals morph into chemicals, plastics, fuels, and myriad other necessities, thanks to the NARA project led by WSU. The project seeks to build a sustainable bioeconomy to replace petroleum-based products. Some of those lost jobs are returning to Cosmopolis and other timber towns around the state.
After the devastating Oso landslide in 2014, the communities of Arlington and Darrington were also facing a time of despair. Their municipal staffs were stretched thin with disaster relief, just as they were being invited to compete for a lucrative revitalization grant. WSU Extension stepped up to help at a crucial and difficult period. As David Wasson writes in this issue, the experience illustrates Extension’s own evolution toward better ways to serve the urban areas of the state.
Back in the rural communities of Washington, sometimes a renewal needs a fresh set of eyes and voices. In Soap Lake, and many other smaller towns, the students and faculty of the Rural Communities Design Initiative pull together residents and their ideas to improve their hometowns, then they help the residents bring it to fruition.
Not all towns survive—witness the ghost towns scattered across Washington—but, at times, a quiet period for communities can mean a chance to rebuild, to maintain their town’s character with a new lease on economic life. Sometimes we just need to look toward what can be, and remember, in a more hopeful twist on the popular saying from Game of Thrones, “Spring is coming.”