By Zach Hagadone
For many years, in the earlier part of this century, my friends and I took to referring to Sandpoint as “The Shire” — owing not only to its natural beauty, but because it’s not unusual to feel more than a little “bubbled” within it. Breaking the gravitational pull can be difficult (and I can attest to that fact, having boomeranged in and out of this place as a residence seven times since 1999).
During those periods when I’ve been away, it’s usually to have lived and worked in Boise or its surrounding areas.
There have been short stints in other places along the way, but I’ve been an Idaho man since I came into this world three or so blocks north of the current Reader office at Bonner General Health in late-September 1980 (a distinction that, as we all know by now, will be denied to future generations for the foreseeable future, thanks to Idaho’s perverted right-wing politics and the nation’s equally dysfunctional health care system).
Anyway, the upshot of all this wandering is that I’ve gotten to know Idaho pretty well.
Aside from about a dozen cumulative years spent in the capital city, I think I can say with confidence that I’ve been to just about every corner of the Gem State: from Island Park near the Montana and Wyoming borders, down through Ashton (with a stunning view of the Tetons) to Pocatello and Bear Lake on the Utah line; to Twin Falls and through the southern desert to Jackpot, Nev. (Cactus Pete’s!); Arco, a.k.a. “the Atomic City”; and the The Craters of the Moon.
I’ve been through the Sawtooth communities of Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley, with a stopover at Hemingway’s grave, a whiskey at his seat in the Sun Valley Lodge and a good meal at his favorite Ketchum restaurant, Christiania, or “The Christy.”
Then there’s the Air Force company town of Mountain Home, the Bruneau Sand Dunes and Morley Nelson conservation area; Silver City and southward through the Owyhees; over into the blasted Jordan Valley on the Idaho-Oregon border; and more times traveling north on U.S. 95 and Idaho 55 from the Treasure Valley to Sandpoint than I can count.
All this windy, geographic preamble is to say I had the pleasure of visiting a part of Idaho that I’ve never seen — recently spending a weekend in Kamiah, on the Clearwater River and reservation of the Nimiipuu people (a.k.a. “Nez Perce”), with my dad and brother as we tried and failed to catch some steelhead.
And it wasn’t for lack of trying. We spent about nine hours on a drift boat with a guide who — I kid you not — had a dip in his lip the entire time. Now, I like my tobacco products more than the next person, but the idea of consuming the demon weed in any form for that duration is unthinkable to me. The guy spit every 30 seconds for the entirety of a work day, with no breaks.
As it happened, apparently, there’d been a big rain in the Clearwater area a few days prior to our fishing expedition, thus the river was running high and definitely not “clear,” owing also to runoff from the Camas Prairie to the west (and our guide’s chaw spew). The fish had “squirted,” to borrow one of our guide’s many, many colorful colloquialisms, to more pristine waters, leaving only a few big straggling spawners behind to laze in their glorious fuzzy bulk in the shallows of the egg beds. At least we got to see a few of those.
Of course, they call it “fishing,” not “catching,” so there’s never any sense being frustrated by empty nets. The best part was simply spending some quality time with the old man and the not-so-little brother, taking in new scenery and getting familiar with a few new towns — Kooskia, Kamiah and Orofino on Highway 12 are like traveling back to the Idaho of the early-’80s.
There were many memorable moments (and some moments that evade memory, thanks to whiskey and strong beer), but I’ll retain my brother’s description of Kamiah — “This would be an easy town to get into a bar fight” — and the perpetually spitting drift boat guide and his tale of a couple of good ol’ boys who took the tires off their Toyota Tacoma and went for a steel-rimmed “booze cruise” on the decommissioned railway running along the east bank of the Clearwater, only to hit a boulder and have to be rescued by the sheriff.
Then there was the duo of hardware store employees who we named “Machete Dan” and “Little Steve” — the former a stringbean 20-something with a wispy mustache on his face and an 18-inch homemade blade on his belt, who glared at us and sold us a barbecue without saying a single word. The latter being the smallest fully proportional man I’ve ever seen, who was as loquacious and helpful as Machete Dan was not.
I’ll tell you what, it’s nice to live in The Shire, but there’s a whole lot of Idaho out there to explore.
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