A Tale of Two Villages

By Beacon Staff

I write about Bigfork. I also live in Bigfork. OK, my address of record is actually in Woods Bay, but I live in Bigfork. That’s because in my spare time (when I’m not writing this column) I help run a restaurant I own part of. Like writing, it’s kind of a retirement job. And yes, retirement is a job that I’ve never been very good at. But the point is, I find myself on the front lines each summer as Bigfork transforms from a quaint, comfortable village into a bustling mini-metropolis attracting vacationers from not just the surrounding states, but the Eastern Seaboard, Europe, Asia and especially Canada. We business-folk of Bigfork love the bustle of summer and we love those who create it. And even though, come September, we may find ourselves deficient of sleep and energy, it’s the summer business we live for.

Well, alright, maybe that’s not quite correct. The summer business helps keep us alive, and those of us who survive it thrive on the all-out effort it takes to make it through the summer. But, as we’re serving the summer crowd, we find that there’s precious little time for anything else. In the case of unsuccessful retirees like me, it’s enlightening to ask why we do it. The answer is simply that we love living in Bigfork and the essence of living here is participating in the life. And that life includes both the summer and the not-so-summer.

I’ve heard the legends, that there’s nowhere to park in Bigfork during the summer and that Bigfork is a ghost town during the winter. Regarding the parking, I’ve never been unable to find a place to park in Bigfork. Sometimes there’s been a short walk involved. But being just one generation removed from the folks who walked two miles to school every day in the snow uphill both ways, Bigfork simply isn’t big enough to create a walk of any consequence. And a ghost town? I’ve seen the photos of Electric Avenue covered with snow, only one car on the whole street. In fact, I’ve taken some of those – at 5 a.m. But I can’t recall ever seeing this in reality after the businesses begin to open, which starts every morning at 6 a.m.

We’re heading toward winter right now, probably my favorite time of the year. Bigfork doesn’t close for the winter, but it does become more mellow. In the summer, for example, I find that I’m often hustling just to provide service to my customers. And although there is enjoyment in that, in the winter I have more opportunity to converse with my customers. There’s always a family feel when you visit a shop in Bigfork, even in the summer. But in the summer, it feels like a family reunion, all these people you see only once a year. In the winter, the family feels more like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

You might say our community becomes a bit more homey, but there’s more to it than that. The Bigfork Summer Playhouse closes and in its place appear the Bigfork Children’s Theater, the Bigfork Community Players, Cowabunga and more. And the difference is that folks like me are transformed from audience to participant. It’s thrilling to give a standing ovation to a professional theatrical performance. But that’s nothing compared to the roar of the crowd following your own three-minute bit in Cowabunga.

Travel around the country – Hawaii, Alaska, Florida, Montana – and you’ll find that there are places where folks accept life and places where they make life. Montana is a place where people make the life they have, rather than accept the life they’re given. Most of us in Bigfork are not farmers, but it feels like a family farm. After working nonstop during the harvest, there’s time to sit around the fire to joke and reminisce. And like the family farm, even though there are no crops in the field, the place remains in full swing year round. It’s just that, in the winter, we have more time to enjoy it and more time to spend with those who enjoy it with us.

So come on over. The fire will be burning and the coffee will be on. All year.

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