A Setting Speaks

img_3903

Nestled up against the rolling foothills bordering the Salmon River, the town of Stanley, Idaho has an expansive view of the Sawtooth Range. This time of year the town has already put on its down jacket and hunkered down for the winter that will soon be bullying its way into the basin trailing harsh winds and snow. But this week, it’s a lovely place to be, free of tourists, dressed in the warm golds and reds of autumn. With a populace numbering far less than 100, it’s a hardy community that’s already stacked in the firewood under wide roof eaves. Shops are closed or only open for limited hours of business. The change of season is caught in the crisp air scented by sweet leaf mold from trees quickly discarding their summer clothes like the residents.

img_3909

Highways bringing summer visitors from either Sun Valley to the south or Boise from the southwest converge here, the road bending sharply changes one’s perspective of the landscape from rolling ranch land to majestic mountain peaks. But there is no mistaking this for a hospitable place to settle year round. In the 1820s hardy Hudson Bay fur trappers learned it and were quick to leave when the beaver population did not yield the bounty they’d hoped for. Miners stayed only as long as the veins produced ore. But other souls have found a home here, settling in for the long winter months with ready acceptance, fair trade for the beauty that greets them each day in the form of snow-capped peaks and quiet isolation.

img_3906-1

As a writer, this place speaks to me. Place your romantic fiction here, it whispers, but do not neglect the harsh realities of such a setting. Use it as a character, one that inspires and directs the plot. Let your characters be shaped by this land and this climate that changes so sharply with the seasons, transforming the residents as dramatically as the landscape. Allow your people to learn from the seasons, the rhythms of life that bring comfort in their consistency. Transport your readers here to this place so removed from the modern pace of their lives.

img_3898

And so I shall.

Advertisements

Back Under Idaho Skies

Cherry Springs in Fall
Cherry Springs in Fall

After spending the last two months in the forested Pacific Northwest, it feels exceptionally fine to be back in Idaho under this expansive sky I’ve come to love. From the western border of Oregon all across the mountain passes and later spanning the broad rolling plains of central Idaho, the past becomes almost palpable. The imagination seems to be sparked by ghostly voices of earlier travelers.

Each time I make the passage, I am struck with the contrast of traveling at 70 and 80 miles an hour against the struggles of those determined souls who were grateful for a few miles travel in a single day. This especially presses in upon me as we pass along the Snake River, starting with Three Island Crossing. Such a short time ago, the collective breath of an entire wagon train would have been held as each wagon made its way across the fast-moving, sometimes unpredictable Snake. For us, it is passed in a mere eight seconds.

Then there is Massacre Rock and Register Rock nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the route except for a few ignoble road signs. Once again, fear would have gripped the travelers as they approached the narrow passage between two rocks that now have been blasted away for the freeway. Not knowing if vengeance-bent natives were waiting for them on the other side, they made their way through, one wagon at a time. We pass through without a thought in two seconds.

Today we walked along a familiar trail that follows Cherry Creek. We’ve missed the fall color, leaves scattered across the path now by winds notorious to this area. But it’s still beautiful. Leaves shush beneath the feet as birds who will brave the winter or wait for a later migration note our passage casually with soft sounds from the bare branches.

Cherry Springs Nature Area is a riparian habitat that winds along a gentle stream carved between a narrow canyon covered in brush. Shade provided by a variety of trees supports an even greater variety of wildlife, including beavers, voles and even weasels. The signs warn us that this is the time of year to be alert to Moose during the rutting season of late September and October. We missed sighting them all. But the thrill of that possibility added an element of anticipation.

There are places that speak clearly to the soul of man. Idaho sings to me.

Traveling Through Dr. Kat Meriwether’s Country

While traveling through Idaho this past month, we’ve had an opportunity to visit many interesting historic sites. We started in Payette’s long valley leading along the river, where Kat’s Law has its fictional setting. That portion of our travels took us to the bustling recreational center of McCall. But this past Sunday, known locally as Pioneer Day, we spent several hours touring the Fort Hall Museum in Pocatello, Idaho.

One room is dedicated to the frontier doctors who served the community at the end of the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth. From instruments of torture that represented early dentistry to one of the earliest drug stores in this area, there was almost more to absorb than hours in one afternoon provided.

It was interesting to read the labels of “medicines” to treat everything from toothaches to heart palpitations. Worthy of further research was the use of sassafras for a wide variety of ailments, including the relief of constipation. I remember it from my childhood as simply a great tasting tea offered by my great grandmother. Little did I know I was apparently being dosed!

The handsome Rosewood medicine case belonged to a Dr. Augustus Fisher. The label reads that it was made in Germany and that the bottles are labeled in Latin. It made me wonder how long the shelf-life was for these elixirs. But I would imagine most patients would have been impressed by the case alone with all the mystery of strange amber liquids with exotic labels.

The picture on the right is of Dr. James H. Bean, one of Pocatello’s earliest doctors. Receiving his medical degree in 1857 would have made him closer in age to Kat’s father, Nathaniel. What gives him some notoriety is the fact that he owned and operated one of the first drugstores, opening it’s doors in 1891, shortly after Idaho earned statehood. The newspaper clipping reveals the frontier nature of the town at that time. It reads, “A man, Cal Durfey was shot to death while seated in the chair occupied by Red(the dog in this picture). It was an accident. A man named Taylor saw Durfey reach for a handkerchief-thought it was a gun.” 

That small footnote seems to be a good writing prompt to me. Doesn’t it make you wonder what Dr. Bean did? What became of Taylor? Why was the man so obviously jumpy, as to draw his gun as a reflex? So may questions, so little line space in that yellowed newspaper article.

I love museums, don’t you?