“See you in paradise” is the catchphrase of Dan Rankin, mayor of Darrington, Washington.
To call his hometown of Darrington a paradise is... well, pretty accurate. Assuming that one considers paradise to be a place filled with natural beauty — a place where two mountain rivers almost intersect and where snowy peaks rise in all directions.
Darrington, population 1,400, is a place that exists because of lumber. The high school mascot is the lumberjack, and the Hampton Lumber Mill in town still planes and chops logs from local hills. It’s the town’s largest employer.
Mayor Rankin also owns and operates an independent lumber mill.
This is the kind of place that could only emerge from forested hills of the true PNW.
If you hike any of trails in and around Darrington you’ll almost certainly see notches in old growth stumps: a telltale sign of the logging days of yesteryear, an era when springboards, handsaws, and axes were king.
If you love outdoor recreation you have every reason to want to explore Darrington and surrounding environs for yourself. The Mountain Loop Highway goes from Darrington through several Northwest wilderness areas before emerging near the small mountain town of Granite Falls — from there it’s a short jaunt back to the “urban basecamp” of seaside Everett for lodging and fine dining.
Areas of this mountainous region receive 90 inches of rainfall a year, generating plenty of lush, green foliage. You can walk through a veritable PNW social media landscape, complete with mist, ferns, and fog-swathed evergreens.
Every year the Darrington Fairgrounds hosts the Darrington Bluegrass Festival. The history of this festival is worth noting. The local stringed music scene began with “tar heels” — that is, seasonal workers who came from the hills of Appalachia near the turn of the 20th century.
The term “tar heel” is curious. It refers to people from the pine forests of North Carolina. It can either be used derogatively against people from the American South, or it can be a term of empowerment and identification. Just depends on the context and intention of the user.
The tar heels who migrated to Darrington area knew forested hills and had the skills for high lead logging. Their logging acumen was perfectly adapted for working in Pacific Northwest logging country. Early migratory workers sent for their relatives and brought them west to work the slopes of the Cascades.
Soon there was a thriving tar heel community in Darrington. These transplants from the American South brought their banjos and fiddles with them. Weekly community jams took on a life of their own and in the 1970s the first Darrington Bluegrass Festival was born. The event has been held every year since.
Today “tar heel” culture lives on in subtle ways, as when a funeral is held in town and a community-wide picnic is staged as a wake in the community center. These memorial feasts are organized through a phone tree system as in church potlucks of yesteryear. According to Darrington native, Adrienne Hall, this generosity of food in times of need is tar heel culture to a T.
There’s one other fact about Darrington that really illustrates the quirky, independent nature of this small town.
When a Darrington resident makes a trip westward to more populous areas like Arlington or Everett (as they inevitably must to get supplies not available in town), this is called “going down the valley.”
The distinction embedded in this casual phrase is telling. In talking with locals, it truly seems as though Darrington residents consider themselves to be at the center-point of the known universe: that everything outside their mountain town is to be recognized in its relation to themselves.
Why wouldn’t you see yourself as the epicenter of the world when you’re living in Eden?