By Emily Erickson
We are a little town with a big lake and rolling mountains. Our downtown streets have funny one-ways, but not as funny as the one-ways of years ago, I am told. Along those streets are rectangular shops with stickers that say, “Small Business Alliance” and “Love Lives Here,” with their window displays lit up by rope lights and masking tape.
Walking between the stores and on the newly widened sidewalks are the people; the humans who sit in coffee shop chairs and say, “How was the snow on the mountain today?” and “How’s your dad doing these days?” These people are Sandpoint, leaning against bar tops holding bottles and fresh brews, listening to the four-piece string band with the shoeless bassist and banjo player.
Our houses are in neat rows and also sprawled in the mountains, like the kid playing with our LEGO homes got tired and threw the rest of the pieces in a tantrum across the carpet, across the hills. The neat rows have front porches, which fill with life on a sunny day, and the scattered ones are built by those who “just needed more space to breathe.”
Moose with long legs walk in mother-daughter pairs alongside our cars, like it was “take your calf to work day,” and we all missed the memo. The big ears of deer twitch and turn from the ditches, deciding whether to leap toward or away from the gravel of the road or the trails on which we walk and play.
We ride bikes with helmets in the daytime and transform under the full moon into glowing, hooting and hollering pedalers enjoying each other’s company; our rowdiness amplified by moonlight and whiskey.
We climb mountains for fun, filling our lungs with crisp, clean air, off trails that we talk about as numbers, not names. Our words are shaped by experiences that are hard to articulate, like, “Did you see the snow ghosts at the top of Trail 444?” or, “Watch out for the family of goats when you get to the Scotchmans scree field.”
We hold rallies for women, which men and boys are welcome to attend, and start movements from big green vans that turn into positive changes for the whole state. Our newspapers are printed with stories about the fight against smelters and opinions on whether another train bridge is a good or bad idea.
Our old theater shows mountain films, where concession stands are run by our friends, and hosts The Follies, an event filled with laughter and city leaders wearing lingerie. The magenta-cushioned seats support our bodies and also the performances that can’t be described as anything other than “culture.”
But, there’s another part of our town. A small part with a screaming voice, like someone on the playground gave the bully a trumpet. Its loud horn bellows overtop our harmonies, saying “Come one, come all! But only if you look and think just like me.”
We all reply, “Stop playing so loud,” and “You’re the only one in that sandbox,” but our words get lost in the out-of-tune blasts.
The bully and his friends are only a few, but think they are kings and queens, marking up our pretty beach signs with swastikas like we all feel the same. They make videos and organize robocalls saying, “Come to this place,” and, “You’re not alone.”
But, you are alone. And we don’t feel the same. We are shouting, “We aren’t a safe haven for your hatred and bigotry!”
We are photographers and writers, roasters and painters, builders and farmers, doctors and brewers, musicians and entrepreneurs, and we are not your refuge.
Our politics are red and blue and purple and green. Yet, we all still say “hello” at the grocery store, no matter how anyone voted. And we are not your refuge.
We are small, and northern, and have a history that’s being written and rewritten. And we are not your refuge.
Because like the signs in the rectangular shop windows explain, “Love Lives Here.” So “Come one, come all,” only if you think the same.
Emily Erickson is a freelance writer and amateur doodler, with a love of coffee and all things mountains.
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