It’s winter in Hood River, which doesn’t bother me much. It should, because it’s wet and cold and gray. But winter also means that the crush of the tourist season has ended, which is worth celebrating.
My husband and I used to be tourists in Hood River. We’d come every summer, sometimes for a long weekend, sometimes renting a house for a week or more, before we decided to move here. And I appreciate that tourism keeps this town alive. Oak Street is adorned with appealing shops and cafés, instead of dark, empty storefronts that look like missing teeth. But when I need milk on a summer afternoon, I would rather buy a cow and milk it myself than face the grocery aisles clogged with daydreaming vacationers and their overloaded carts.
In the winter, it’s refreshing to find a parking spot downtown, go into a restaurant and get a table right away and, honestly, enjoy good service again. The various employees working throughout the winter are the best. They survived the autumn cut, and the slack-jawed kids who couldn’t wait until their shifts ended have gone back to school. Business owners smile, nodding in recognition that if I’m still around, I must be a local.
It’s as if the entire town heaves a sigh of relief at surviving another breakneck summer. Endless streetfairs, art shows, fruit festivals, wine tastings, outdoor concerts and athletic competitions have exhausted everyone by September. We’re collectively overdue for a nap.
Winter is also the best time to reconnect with local friends, as we finally have opportunities to get together. In May the trickle of houseguests begins and quickly becomes a flood. My husband and I don’t mind our friends and family coming to visit. We’re flattered that they want to spend some of their vacation time with us and we enjoy showing off our lovely little town. But by September, Ajay and I ready to put away the guest linens and have restful evenings at home. By October, we’ve recovered. And by November, the local dinner party season has begun.
Dinner parties here involve wine and phenomenal food. People develop their specialties, and Ajay and I have been carving out our own niche. Though my husband’s family is from India, we never bothered to learn many Indian dishes because there were so many fabulous Indian restaurants in Seattle, where we used to live. In contrast, Hood River has none. We scramble to fortify our repertoire, as our friends drop hints for authentic meals. I consider myself an adequate cook, but not gifted like some of our friends, so we try to compensate with good bottles of wine.
Winter is also when the local yarn shop kicks into high gear. I’m a little late to the knitting craze, but for the women who meet once a month at the shop for Knit Night, their obsession with yarn is no fad. We settle into cozy couches, drink wine (seriously, it’s like water here) and admire each other’s projects. So far, folks have been too polite to note that my plain scarves are the equivalent of me drawing a simple triangle on a piece of paper, like a kindergartener, while their stunning sweaters and gloves and patterned socks are like Buckminster Fuller going nuts with his geodesic domes. I tell my competitive nature to take the night off. The wine helps.
All too soon, the sleepy, lazy, quiet days grow longer and lighter. Suddenly it’s May again, and while summers in Hood River promise nonstop excitement, I look forward to reclaiming my town again in the fall.