May 3, 2020

Gem State Waters

For my co-captains:

Spring is here and Idaho wants to kiss. It knows it shouldn’t, of course, but it looks too good not to. Idaho is young enough, is fit from its work at the grain elevator, and only chews tobacco, never smokes it. Idaho has strong lungs.

It’s the green season and three years since I’ve seen it. All the tones and textures are layered like opium den carpets across the hills and Zach disagrees about its beauty. “It’s land man-made,” he tells me, “people out there in combines making money off it. There should be trees. Where are the trees?” He thinks it foul, like the smell of laundry detergent wafting from the homes of strangers and into his nostrils unsolicited.

MFK Fisher writes about what she calls Sea Change. Sea Change being something we all know about, something in our blood that understands the tugging of the moon and the tides of the ocean. It is any action, once inconceivable on land, performed calmly and comfortably. It is anything powerful and strange that occurs in us when living out of sight of the shore.
Where I grew up is always a point of confusion in my relationships. Palouse is my hometown: roughly 1,000 people on the Eastern edge of Washington. Garfield is the neighboring town where I went to middle school and where my eldest brother lives now, his family of five contributing to the total 618 residents. Pullman, where Washington State University resides and where I worked all my summer jobs, boasts the nearest bowling alley, shopping mall, Wal-Mart Super Center, and Starbucks.

I use Idaho and Washington interchangeably because, mentally, I know when I cross the border. I grew up camping on the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River, with many of my happiest days and nights spent in Idaho. I lived in Moscow for a year out of college; 20 minutes away from my parents, it's the Gem State’s locational equivalent to Pullman and its superior in every other regard. There’s Deary too, with about 520 residents and easily one of the best restaurants in a 32-mile radius. Potlatch has Floyd’s Market, Fiddler’s Ridge, and the old swimming hole I would sneak off to at 16.

Idaho is in stage one of its reopening, permitting 90 percent of businesses to unbolt their doors this month. It wags its finger about proper protocol, but never shut down the gun shops that claimed to be “essential.”

My boat has crossed the border into Gem State waters. I may be at sea but I can sense it: the divide reaching down to the earthen floor. Surrounded by land and none of us can see it, possessed by our own primitive and invisible needs. Fisher writes, “That voyage was the one that made me most mistrust myself, alone to face sea change. I was full of a slow misery of loathing for what was happening to make all the people around me act as they must.”

Idaho is standing too close. Its smile is naked and predatory: simultaneously acknowledging and dismissing my fears. It’s wearing buffalo plaid: clean and proud and broad chested, with freedom on its lips.