4 min read

New Year’s Bacchanal

Photo of Tieton Winter Scene (Sandra Dean)
Tieton Winter Scene (Sandra Dean)

Dear Esteemed Readers.

It has been nearly a month since I sent out my previous mini-post that included thoughts about the turning of the New Year towards more light, growth, and warmth. Since then, I’ve been feeling the need to continue complementing my regular posts with occasional, less formal, “postcard”-style journal communications that offer more real time, personal glimpses of what my daily life is really like in this small, rural town that successfully combines a long-established agricultural presence with artistic and creative entrepreneurial expansion. As a visual artist I’m happy to contribute to this unusual, cultural renaissance.

That forthcoming cheery spring glow that I alluded to back in December has been slow to appear, and until recently, January has been dark, snowy and bitterly cold.

During the winter months after the frenzy of the autumn harvest, Tieton’s town atmosphere becomes extraordinarily quiet except for the nearly constant shipping activities in the gigantic fruit processing warehouses that transport our local earthly bounty all over the world. In January, many of the local orchardists leave for well-deserved winter breaks in Hawaii. The grape growers for the wine industry also prepare for escapes elsewhere. Even some of the agricultural workers often “go south” for a few weeks. This year, the cofounders of the cultural phenomenon of Mighty Tieton flew to Mexico City to check out new artistic connections and horizons. That leaves “artistes” like me and several others in this quirky town to ask ourselves, how do we keep our spirits alive during these dark days?

We continue with our more solitary creative work of course, but we also take occasional breaks for more social varieties of fun.

On New Year’s Day 2023, friends and neighbors bundled up around 2 pm and gathered outside Tieton’s sweet little 1940’s vintage cabins for a generous, “Brueghel-esque” bacchanal on the snow covered grounds, hosted by owners Nick and Ann, our “Hosts with the Most!”

Image of "Census at Bethlehem" by Pieter Brueghel 1566
"Census at Bethlehem" by Pieter Brueghel 1566

And here's our 2023 Tieton winter scene variation, minus the census count.

Photo of New Year's gathering at El Nido 2023
New Year's gathering at El Nido 2023

The table was laden with food and drink, with more treats arriving on platters by the minute. Luckily, several metal barrel bonfires “almost” kept the bone-chilling cold at bay as merry conversation swirled all around, accompanied by a vintage, call-and-response James Brown playlist in the background, curated by host Nick himself. It brought back my treasured memory of seeing James Brown live (from the first row) in Seattle sometime in 1969. The live audio excerpt below is taken from that same tour, in Augusta, Georgia:

There Was a Time (excerpt) — James Brown

But the cold at the El Nido outside gathering finally caught up with me after three hours, and I left just as more guests arrived.

The following day, I carpooled with a small group of friends to the Oak Creek Wildlife Area (about a twenty-minute drive from Tieton) to hear a sample of Nick's “other side” as a volunteer educational presenter at the winter elk feeding station. Once there, we piled into the back of a small, canopied, open-sided truck with side benches, and parked close to the herd itself to hear Nick’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable speech that covered the elk life cycle, habits, and breeding rituals. Winter feeding of the elk helps ensure that the large and hungry animals near Oak Creek (part of a larger herd of 12,000) will not maraud local orchards for their daily dining needs. Groups come from all over the continental USA and beyond to experience this exotic glimpse of local wildlife color.

Photo of Ann and Nick with shedded elk horn (Sandra Dean)
Ann and Nick with shedded elk horn (Sandra Dean)
Video by Sandra Dean`

Soon I was back in my warm studio, laying out and correcting the studies I’m preparing for the coming months’ artwork. As I took a tea break, I noticed that a new email had arrived from one of the Tieton “cultural ambassador scouts” who had flown to Mexico City seeking more expansive inspiration. The email message showed a photo of an apple with the name of the “USA” processor that had shipped it, accompanied by the following question from the email sender:

“Guess where the apples at our Airbnb are from?”

The Evans Fruit shipping warehouse is in Tieton! Our town is small, but we are Mighty—and we Get Around.

With Best 2023 Wishes,

Sandra first name signature

Sandra Dean, Visual Artist
‌Tieton, Washington USA