On This Day, in Idaho

I wake to the sounds of scurrying and scratching and a bit of gnawing in the wall behind my bed. It’s as if they’ve pulled everything out of their overstuffed, mousey, hall closet and are sorting and organizing their things. It doesn’t bother me because I am currently living in a community with a plethora of my animal brethren. Deer in the front yard. Elk in the next neighborhood down the way. A cougar spotted across the street (eek!). Samantha is with us, too. Being an indoor only, city dwelling feline, country mice are as new and fantastical to her as a small mountain cabin and fresh air is to my husband and me. Suffice it to say that Samantha is in kitten heaven. All her senses are alive as she waits for her chance to pounce.

After coffee and a few chapters of The Dreamer – the story of an imaginative boy who studies and questions everything he sees – we hit the road for a day trip with our hosts in their RV. A veritable living room on wheels, it has everything: bucket seats, cozy table for four, private bathroom, down-comforted bed, beds for the dogs, and a refrigerator stocked with drinks and snacks should we have a hankering.

We drive north on 75, through Ketchum, along the Big Wood River, past Galena Lodge and up the winding road toward Stanley. Rustic cabins on the left and “Billionaire’s Row” on the right. The likes of Hanks, Schwarzenegger and Curtis tucked behind aspens, cottonwoods and pines of several varieties. Covered porches and Jeep Renegades. Bike racks, kayaks and sufficiently REI’d stragglers-of-the-season heading out for their adventures.

We wind and climb up and up. It reminds me of Mt. Rose Highway, I tell my host. Yes, she says, the pines are thick here, but that is unusual. As we come over the pass, the valley lay spread below. Light yellows and browns bask in the summer sun. White flanked antelope feast casually, all the while knowing the weather will soon turn and the feasting will melt away like last winter’s snow. The grazing will become foraging, which will turn swiftly to desperate searching. But for now: abundance.

As we wind down and through, our hosts point out camp sites and fishing holes. The water in the river and creeks is as clear and bright as the skin of the luckiest girl in high school. Fresh. Clean. Swimming with life and hope and not a drop of resentment. The sky is the same blue as the eyes of the exchange student from Sweden. The fields are his hair. The whole place holds that same sort of mystery. Not yet understood, but hope that an understanding will materialize.

We stop in the petite town of Stanley, where the last remaining crowds queue up at the town’s famous bakery. Two women in front of us, fit and fashionable in cowboy country, talk calmly about their homes in Florida drowning in the wrath of Irma. Two trees had fallen in one woman’s yard. I hated that tree, she says. It’s just stuff, anyway, the other one says. I think of my things back home: my favorite sofa, my books, my internet connection, my lemon tree. Could I live without these things? My attachments are hitched to me like the tether ball at the end of the rope on that pole back at Greenwood Elementary. Punched ragged through umpteen moves over the years, but still holding on. You’ve got to get rid of this stuff, my husband says. Or at least go through it. What if it was all gone when I returned? What then?

We sit on the deck eating poached eggs and cinnamon rolls. My husband tells stories of adventuring decades ago. Where does the time go? Where DOES the time go? It gets swept up in the 140 mile per hour winds of a hurricane. We stand there in the eye and watch it swirl and thrash around us as we try to grab it and put it back into our finite timelines.

I sip coffee and take off my jacket as the sun’s rays warm my back. I have left my sunglasses in the RV and squint as salty tears squeeze out of the corners of my eyes. I wipe them away with my napkin and eat the last bit of cinnamon roll. It tastes like orange, I say. It’s in the frosting, my host says. Yes, I think, it’s all in the frosting.

We load back into the RV and head further up 75 so that we can backtrack and get the best vistas of The Sawtooth Mountains. The peaks are craggy, with spikes of rock, jagged and majestic, rising out of the valley and peering down on it, like a protective dragon. Fierce but somehow safe. Traces of snow dot the peaks. A glacier looks as if it is pulling back up the mountain, afraid of something. Don’t worry, I say to the glacier. Summer is almost over and soon you can creep back down. But what about global warming, it asks. I want to say that we are all doing our best.

We turn down a road that heads to Red Fish Lake. We park near the lodge and trickle out on the gravel path. The dogs leash up and wiggle and waggle with excitement. They know about the dog beach and pull in that direction.

The dock chicken foots out onto the lake, one finger with canoes, one finger with motor boats, one with paddle boats, another with kayaks. The water is the same blue as the star sapphire that my mother gave me years ago, the sun reflecting a twinkle right in the center. Don’t ever sell it, my mother tells me. Her own attachments are super glued to the most sensitive patches of skin on her body. Parting with any one of them would take a layer with it leaving an open wound. Seems I am similarly sensitive. I’ve got to go through all the stuff in the garage! A wise friend’s motto comes to mind: it’s not what you can live with, it’s what you can live without.

We stop on the bridge over the small stream that feeds the lake. The Kokanee salmon are gathered, holding their spots in the shallows. They have turned a deep red, have deposited their eggs and are waiting to die. They hug the banks of the creek. Do they want to touch the earth just once before they die? I am so glad we humans are not required to die right after our kids are born, I say to my host. I just heard about a young mother, she says, who died in childbirth. That’s so unfair, I say. We study the red fish a moment longer.

The dogs play fetch with sticks on the shore of the lake. I sit on a log with my legs stretched out and count: one black lab, one yellow lab, a sheep dog, a golden retriever, a pug-ish type, and our hosts’ border collie and King Charles spaniel. Each has a devoted owner and a meaningful name. No, no, Piper, that is not your stick! Come, Grommet, Come! Good girl, Bailey.

As we drive toward home, my host and I sit in the back of the RV and wonder how life will be for our grandchildren. It might not be that different for them, she says. But it probably will be for their children, she continues. Yes, I reply. Even surrounded by beauty, unanswered questions and reminders of suffering and desperation linger.

On this day, in Idaho, I let the crisp air hit my face through the open window as the valley and mountain landscapes pass by, and I focus on the abundance that is here, right now.

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