Monday, September 15, 2014

Village at Meridian: "Two Days at The Village"

As a young girl, I went through a phase where I wouldn’t answer to my name. Those in my life had to address me as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella if they wanted my time. I saw what those girls ended up with, and if someone who cleaned up after seven men, had narcolepsy, or catered to mean girls could do it, so could I. Anyone wanting me to show up, do a chore, or give audience had to acknowledge my royalty.

Not a bad hold out for a six-year-old middle child.

The crown was hidden away over the next few decades, for a treasure chest of reasons. Layers of dust formed atop it, from things like:

“When’s dinner?” “Did you send that report in yet?” “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were driving?”  

Forget crowns. Just getting through the week took precedence.

Princess thoughts crept back while touring a tiny village near Helsinki, Finland. I delighted over the design as street lights dripped with details and benches were draped in fleur de lis, for no other apparent reason than to please the eye. While standing at the center of a footbridge adorned with intricacies, I concluded that the artist must have been hopelessly in love, trying to impress his woman. I imagined what it might be like to be her.

When The Village at Meridian was being built, I curiously peered at its palatial rooftops while driving by the corner of Fairview and Eagle Road. Just before The Village opened, I was asked to write an article about it. The article quoted Ramona Merrill Richardson, Regional Marketing Director for CenterCal, who said, “It’s not an exaggeration to say the public will not be prepared for how truly remarkable the setting will be."

The night before its official Grand Opening, The Village invited a friend and I to its VIP party, wooed us with fire dancers, the finest food, costumed entertainers on stilts, glittering lights, performing fountains, and fantasy-like color and structure. It was pulling out all stops to make that first impression.

We looked, and I admired, sat for fleeting moments by the fountain, and visualized sitting on a cushioned couch by the water with a book, “Someday”. Sadly, I hadn’t allowed myself to languish there.

But… it’s been one doozy of a year.  I’d put in sixty-hour writing/editing weeks.  My home needed attention, the grown kids needed cash, the flower beds called, my dog wanted walks, I wanted/needed exercise, I had a pile of emails and voicemails to answer, friends and family were getting after me about being a stranger, and to top it all off, a few stress-related health scares.

A serious break was in order. Not just for a few hours, or a day. But maybe for…two days. Two days at…The Village. Yeah.
Any doubts The Village could deliver dissipated immediately, as waves of fuschia-purple flowers greeted me on Day One. How had they known purple was so seeped in meaning for me? The color of royalty, said a thought tugging at mind. A tiny, elegant fountain stood in its own tucked away corner near the entrance, greeting me.

“Welcome,” a sign said, “As you explore, prepare to be amazed at the attention to detail, creating the perfect place for friends and family to return to, again and again.”

I stopped at Guest Services to refresh. From behind the desk, “Sierra” asked what I was up to that day. I told her about my two days off. Photojournalist that I am, I asked Sierra and nearby security guard, Nick, to pose for a photo. Nick shot a look that said, “Nick doesn’t do that.”

His gaze challenged, and I almost backed off, until he suddenly struck a pose that was a cross between superhero and Miss America. I choked out a laugh.

Stepping outdoors into Fountain Square, the lilting water glistened, and I finally had the chance to look around, unhurried. Statues of butterflies and books signified imagination, transformation. A little girl on a swing angled out over the water, wearing a look of pure glee.

I used to be that little girl, I thought. I used to sit out in our backyard, swinging and daydreaming for hours in the summer sun. What happened to that girl?

I walked a few steps and stopped cold.

“Do you see her flying above you?” the plaque enquired, “Do you hear her laughing?”

“Listen,” it advised, “Now it’s your turn.”

Near the little girl swinging was another sculpture, an empty swing waiting to be occupied. I self-consciously looked around at the people lunching on the patio, and refrained.

The plan was to do it all on the first day, then relax in the extreme on the second day. I walked to Axiom and rode a stationary bike for an hour to jump start endorphins while using their huge windows for people watching. Cute older couples, hand in hand, a sunglasses man wearing a red flannel shirt on a vintage bike, and shopping friends with multiple bags paraded past.

Refreshed from the workout and quick shower, I intended to shop it out, beginning with the sunglasses man-inspired quest for perfect shades. "AJ" at Oconik pointed me in the right direction, then wisely didn’t hover as I tried on and located the One. I then wandered into Sur la Table, the store friend Chef Brad deemed, “a foodie’s playground”, and rekindled my cooking love. Not every day, not ever meal, and not when it’s expected of me, but weekend, friends coming over cooking. Classical music piping into a clean kitchen. Flowers in a vase. Thoughtfully-seasoned, well plated, artfully garnished food, prepared at my own pace. Anticipating that first taste, aroma, flavor.  
I was so ready for lunch.

Meeting friends at Cacicia’s for my walking library friend SarahPedia’s birthday celebration, I snapped a photo of Sarah and Publisher Yvonne just in time for SocialMediaJen to photobomb it. AIMWendi, and Preschool Melissa walked in soon after. We ordered together, getting the “Au-Oue” (capellina pasta with fresh garlic, parsley, and asiago cheese, pronounced like “I.O.U.”), the three-cheese “Fried Ravioli”, a Twisted Caprese sandwich, and they even had a melted mozzarella and pepperoni on rustic sourdough bread sandwich, named “The Sarah”.  Eating family style, we grinned whenever a certain friend accidentally called the place “Cacciatore’s”, and quickly learned the way to eat authentic Sicilian street food was to dive right in, and not try being pretty about it. I liked the Twisted Caprese a little too much.

When everyone else went back to work, I shopped again, playing a private game called “Favorite Things”, to get back in touch with who I used to be, before the crazy schedule, the responsibilities, the stressors. I discovered vintage footballs at ProImage. ROC had some very cool jeans, a waterfall, and shoes that needed me. Loft had a hot little mustard print skirt. Z Gallerie nearly put me into a creative coma with its peacock-themed table setting, game of jacks-inspired light fixture, and European traveler’s writing desk.

“I’m here to find my favorite thing,” I announced to the two ladies at Brighton, then looked to my right, spotted a crowd of blingy purses, and said, “Found it!” They laughed, I laughed.  

Back at guest services, I came around a well-decorated corner and collided with my restaurant owner friend, Bijaya. She’d been someone I’d spent hours with, talking and learning, before we’d both become so busy. Deciding it was fate, we found a bench by the fountain and talked the afternoon away. Security Guard Nick strolled by, struck a pose, then assumed an all-business demeanor and continued on.

I tried to explain.

When it was time to meet my sister and brother in law for dinner, Bijaya joined us. 

Twigs’ golden, Tuscany-inspired stucco exterior and outdoor, light-strung, wrought-iron-fenced patio was inviting. When Laurel and husband Lloyd appeared, the fun multiplied. Historically, Laurel was a source of celebratory fun, and as she sat down, “Celebration” burst from fountain square, causing me to grin at the timing. My sister introduced us to the deliciously evil world of signature fries with Gorgonzola fondue while I instructed them on how to pronounce Bijaya’s name. Then, Bijaya corrected me. I’d been saying it wrong. A dish of calamari, a couple of truffle pennes, prawn and salmon linguinis, and one dessert pizza later, we were all full of happiness.

Security Guard Nick walked past, stopped, posed, and kept walking.

“Who’s that?” Laurel and Lloyd both asked, amused.

Bijaya turned to me with sincere brown eyes and said, “What if we’d just said ‘Hi’ and ‘Goodbye’ today?”

From the benches to the calming waters to the layout, everything about the Village’s design encouraged people to stay, linger, connect.

Later at Big Al’s, I threw an immediate gutter, just before Laurel mentioned Lloyd’s late mother belonged to a league. Lloyd threw strike after strike. He coached me, “Slow down, relax a little”, and when I did, was the Spare Queen, beating out---by only a few points, but it counts--- my highly competitive sister for the first time at anything, ever.  She was a good sport, congratulating me, but displayed mild surprise.

Outside again, we were met by magic. At night, The Village became even more intimate, with semi-private niches of fireplaces and couches. Lovers cuddled on outdoor sofas watched the flames.

“Let’s take a walk,” Laurel said, and we toured like three little kids, commenting over the lights and splashing Fountain Square.

Heading to my car, I passed what I now called the Princess Fountain, illuminated. I loved its simple elegance, how it stood unapologetically on its own. Taking a nearby bench to absorb the past hours, I realized I no longer wanted to be ‘Queen of The Village’ the next day, as planned. The Queen has to rule the kingdom, do everything. She’s responsible.
I wanted to be a princess again. One that was, say, middle child. All of the privileges, none of the duties.

I looked around at the spires, the purple flowers sprinkled along the footpaths and bursting from planters, the architecture surrounding me. Someone, some Prince Charming, had finally built me a castle.

“He must’ve been in love,” I beamed.

And tomorrow, I’d be the Princess.

~Day Two~

I passed the little fountain, throwing in both penny and wish.
I recalled what a friend had messaged to me just that morning, “Remember you are a light to the world,” she’d written, “A strong, empowered, beautiful woman who deserves forgiveness, love, and is worthy of every blessing this universe has to offer.”

Those words bolstered me when encountering It’Sugar, filled with old-school candy, the kind I snuck into class when I was younger. I touched a wrapped candy necklace, and laughed over Sixlets. The orange ones had been my favorite, and orange was now my current best color. Red is the color of love, yellow the color of friendship. Combined, they create orange, which signifies passion. I’ll focus on orange stuff today, to honor that, I thought. Today, as princess, I’d live with passion.

I sat at Fountain Square for a moment.  A woman walked past me, tripped, recovered, and laughed. I liked her “just roll with it” attitude, and that thinking put me directly in the path of Charming Charlie’s magnetic pull. A wonderland of sparkle, the orange-passion-coral section contained earrings that needed my ears.

When White House/Black Market drew me in, I was toast. Before me stood a mannequin wearing The Dress, one my very cells were already attached to. Classic vintage cut, black and white houndstooth, gorgeous enough to inspire poetry.

“What size are you?” said Barb, who I hadn’t seen approach. Without even saying I wanted to try it on, she had my size, plus shoes and a belt, and led me to an elegant dressing room.

Going from active wear to the dress meant for you changes you. Gazing into the long, gilded mirror, I posed, something I rarely do.  I didn’t want to change back into my street clothes, ever. I felt beautiful.

“I’m like Nick!” I thought, laughing and posing some more.

At Grimaldi’s, my publisher gushed over my new earrings, and I gushed over the dress I’d soon buy as we lunched over pizza with pesto, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes while discussing future book ideas.

Afterwards, I played The Village tour guide. Walking past the Shiver Shack, manager Max called out, “Hey, do you girls want samples?”

Max recommended the peach. That was my favorite, so I got that. My publisher chose red raspberry, and we clinked sample cups together in the sunshine before happily crunching the finely shaved ice.

 “See you soon,” I told her, and headed off to my massage appointment at Axiom.

I’ve had plenty of massages, but none that put me to sleep on the table.  Robyn put me into a trance-like state, and I slumbered…thrice. My muscles and skin hummed afterward, the ultimate way to approach a couple of whatever-I-want hours at Fountain Square.

Melting into the living room couch near Cacicia’s was a good/ not so good thing, since I was fighting the desire for another Twisted Caprese. (I didn't leave that night without another one.)

Security Guard Nick was standing near the restaurant entrance, and I waved, hoping he’d pose when I had my camera ready. He didn’t.

Inhaling the dancing water, Caccicia’s, and someone cooking up what smelled like bacon, I did some long overdue personal writing into a simple notebook as friends greeted each other, music played, forks clinked with plates, and couples walked past, hand in hand. No one was in any particular hurry.

“Are you having fun?” Peggy Davis at Guest Services asked me when I stopped back in. I told her I was on my way to The Village Cinema. She said to check out the murals there, since they were hand painted. I’d had no idea.

“Which movie should I see?” I asked “Emily” at the cinema. She knew most from start to finish, having ready many of the books.  

Tip: if you’re nice to the concessions people, they’ll let you get the kids’ pack of popcorn, candy, and soda. Ticket guy Chris tipped us off that there was a VIP section with extra-large, comfy seats. My friends MicronJanet, and PreschoolTeacher/FashionistaLeslie liked the VIP section, too.

At dinner that night on Backstage Bistro’s balcony with Janet, Janet’s mom Addie, and Leslie the phrase, “Life: with color” appeared on my writer-stage mind. The Village was the best of life, condensed. As if Leslie had read my thoughts when she told Addie, who’d never been to The Village, of the concerts, the choreographed fountain, the ice skating in the winter, and of what a great place it was to meet up.

“We should make this our go-to place for Girls’ Night,” she told us, and we nodded as our server, Ali, brought onion straws, which led into a question about rings vs. straws.

“You’ll see!” Leslie promised. The four of us discussed the atmosphere, pleased over what wasn’t present. No offensive music, no teenagers cruising for dates, no one showing too much skin, no cursing, and no food courts making us feel more like cattle than customers.

For entrees, I got the Fish and Chips, Leslie, the Risotto, Addie the salmon burger, and Janet the Bistro Burger. My Parmesan-sprinkled chips were hand-cut, and the fresh cucumber-yogurt tartar sauce was delicious. Stealing the show was the dessert Ali suggested, a raspberry tart laden with gelato, which led a short life.

After parting with the girls, I spent my last moments at Fountain Square, where children and adults were fascinated by the “pretty water”, and kids called, “You’re it!” at the nearby playground. I walked over the bridge, feeling lighter and more content than I had in months, after two full days of play.  On that bridge, the little girl on the swing and the adult I now was finally merged, so they could play together. I walked to the empty swing sculpture and sat, without reservation.

Before leaving, I stopped at the Princess Fountain. What had I learned from my Village adventure? That it was okay to shop it out every once in a while, that being surrounded by beauty helped me comprehend my own, that humor (like the posing Nick) enhanced my days, and that I needed more of that, that you’re never too old to play dress up, have lunch with friends, or spend a day by the water, and, at long last, that time out reconnected me with the artistic, shy, magical, singing, dreamer of a little princess I used to be.

Can you see her flying above you?

Do you hear her laughing?

Now it’s your turn.


  *View the "Two Days at the Village" video by VSquared Creative 


*This post was sponsored by The Village at Meridian. Thank you for the terrific hospitality!

For more "Appetite for Idaho", click here.


*Bio: Amy Larson is a writer, editor, and ghostwriter, and the author and creator of the "Appetite for Idaho" book series. She joins Randy & Alana on WOW104.3 FM each Friday morning as entertainment editor, talking about family-friendly events in the Treasure Valley. She writes for IDAHO Magazine, Edible Idaho South, Sun Valley Magazine, Eagle and Greenbelt Magazines, and Idaho Family Magazine. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Appetite for Idaho Book Locations

Where can you get the new Appetite for Idaho book? Well, you can always message me on the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, and they're also all over the place at other locations you'll find food, folks, and F-U-N, like:

Ashley Inn, Cascade

Babby Farms

Bridgetower Chiropractic
Buffalo Gal, Donnelly

Candy World, Nampa
Cascade Lake Inn, Cascade

Flatbread Pizza, Downtown Boise

Flying M, Boise

Flying M, Nampa

Lissa's Learning Ladder

The Orchard House

Twin Springs Resort

Wholistic Beauty Boutique

Coming soon to:

Flight of Fancy, Donnelly

*If you'd like the Appetite for Idaho book sent right to your door, send
$18 per book to:

Amy Larson
119 S. Valley Drive, Suite A  #218
Nampa, ID 83686

For more Appetite for Idaho, click here.

*Don't forget to visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page for Idaho folks, food, and fun each weekday.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Appetite for Idaho Sponsor List

A HUGE thanks to those who are making the "Appetite for Idaho" book possible:

YouBeingSocial/ Jennifer Quinn
(Yes, Jennifer, I put you first, out of alphabetical order just because we joked about that!)

Alavita/ Cameron Lumsden

Bridgetower Chiropractic/ Dr. Scott and Debbie Gibbons

Canyon West Guitars/ Thomas Duncan

Chime Runners/ Aymee Michels

Deb and Eric McGrath

Dog Bark Park/ Frances Conklin

Elk Valley Resort/ Caddyshack Deli/ Kathi Lewis

Flatbread Pizza

IdahoMagazine/ Kitty Fleischman

Janet Hobbs

Laurel and Lloyd Blackstone

MoMo Food of the Himalayas/ Bijaya Pudasaini

Point Rider Publishing/ Yvonne Rousseau Ron Gardner, Videographer

Sarah Nash 

The Culinary Club

The Orchard House/ Sherri McCoy, Kris Thompson

V Squared Creative /Tobe Brockner

Wholistic Beauty Boutique/ Colleen Fletcher

WOW 104.3 FM 

Do YOU or your business want to be a sponsor, too?

Here’s the basic run-down:

$50 gets you or your business in the next volume of a series of very cool books I’m producing, but not without the community’s help. 

Info Stuff:

Idaho writer Amy Larson shares her love for the Gem State in Appetite for Idaho: Volume One, through adventure stories and recipes of well-known Idahoans like the Idaho Press Tribune’s long-time managing editor Vickie Holbrook, radio personalities Randy Scott and Alana Lynn, 3 Girls Catering co-owner Gretchen Pelsma, The Sushi Bar McCall’s Jordan and Jennifer Ragsdale, weatherman Larry Gebert, Buffalo Gal sous chef Jake Totter, and more. 
She believes the combination of stories and food will instill warmth while connecting people, and the result is tasty. Beta readers (who include historians, local business owners, and a State of Idaho International Tourism Division Specialist) call Appetite for Idaho ‘a treat’, ‘engaging’, ‘stories with humor, reverence, and Idaho history’, ‘much more than expected’, and ‘an experience.’ 

Ms. Larson is currently a Treasure Valley writer, editor, book coach, and regular contributor to Idaho Magazine, Edible Idaho South, Eagle Magazine, Greenbelt Magazine, and Idaho Family Magazine. She is featured weekly on WOW104.3 FM as a guest entertainment editor on Randy & Alana’s Morning Show, and has a ‘Friday to Friday’ blog that lists family-friendly, mostly free events on WOW104.3 and KIDO radio’s websites. Her Appetite for Idaho blog, Facebook page, and Twitter micro-blogging attracts the attention of thousands throughout the state and beyond.

The first in a series, Appetite for Idaho: Volume One is expected to arrive in bookstores and eateries by summer of 2014, with a new volume of little-known stories, adventures, and recipes from some of the Gem State’s favorite Idahoans set to be produced yearly.

Amy's Note: It was suggested to me by a 30-year veteran of marketing that I acquire sponsors through the many friends I’ve made along the way. For a donation of $50, sponsors will be listed on both a gratitudinal blog link, and have their business or personal names appear with wording similar to this in the back of the book:

“Since its inception, Appetite for Idaho has been a community effort.
Special thanks go to:

Super Business
Great Magazine
Terrific Store
Tasty Restaurant

I would be thrilled if you’d consider contributing and becoming a part of this fun venture. I’d be happy to send you the testimonials/ reviews I’ve already gathered.

Send $50 sponsor donations to:

(Message me on the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page for address details)

Thank You for Your Support!

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

See more of Appetite for Idaho at the website.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Eh Capa Queen

She Speaks Horse

A Young Equestrian with a Gift

“Karmel’s a great storyteller,” said my friend, Larie Horsley. As Karmel Laursen began giving a mother’s account of the miracle that had unfolded before her eyes over time, I had to agree. We were at the Sun Valley Wagon Days, because Larie knew of my interest in a group that would be performing there, the EhCapa (“Apache” spelled backwards) Bareback Riders Club. Her daughter, Brandi Horsley Krajnik, is the owner of BK Arena in Nampa, where the club practices. I had come hoping to hear the tale of Karmel’s daughter, a girl named Ecko, who had tamed a wild mustang and was now riding it, two years later, as the EhCapa Queen.

To understand the gravity of becoming an EhCapa Queen, a little history is in order. In 1956, looking for a way for children to benefit from horsemanship without the exorbitant cost of tack, the club was created. With a style reminiscent of American Indians of old, the EhCapa dress the part and paint up their horses as Indians once did. There are no bridles or bits. Control is through voice commands, cues from the riders’ legs, and a one-inch leather tack rein. Riders turn right, left, stop, gallop, and jump their mounts over horizontal poles several feet in the air. Accomplished riders put arms behind their backs, as if flying, and don’t hold on at all. The EhCapa Queen is an extremely good rider with an extremely good horse.

I had pondered all this as I drove up to Sun Valley with my friend Janet to watch the parade, and hopefully to spend a few minutes with Queen Ecko Laursen and her mother. Larie said she would introduce us.

Something about this group of country folk I’ve fallen in with just gets me. When we met up with Larie, right away it was, “Here’s a couple of chairs, have a seat,” and “You should’ve camped with us this weekend,” and “You’ll both have to come to the barbeque.” Always warm and welcoming.

Larie led us to a shady canvas near the parade site, saying the EhCapas would ride past us within thirty minutes. Beneath the canvas was Karmel Laursen, mother of the EhCapa Queen, who offered us camp chairs beneath the cool tent. I set my digital recorder and we all got ready to listen.

Karmel told us of the time Ecko was eight years old, visiting her grandfather in Wyoming during summer vacation. Ecko’s granddad took her up to the Bighorn Crags to see the old mustangs, part of the true Spanish breed, some of the last of their kind.  Looking at the herd from about a mile away was the first time Ecko had seen such animals. When, amazingly, a mustang approached the fence, she reached out her hand and touched its nose. Her brother snapped a picture. That ignited a determined spark in Ecko that some day, somehow, she would get a mustang of her own. Later, when she told her grandpa she’d touched a wild mustang, he didn’t believe her at first, but her brother had the proof. She said to her grandpa, “I’m going to buy a mustang someday, and I’m going to train it, just for you.”

Every year since that summer, Ecko asked her mother to take her to the BLM mustang sales. Year after year she begged, knowing exactly what day and time the sales were held. “Mom, can I have a mustang this year?” she’d ask repeatedly. Her mother always said, “You have a horse. You’ve got two horses. Go take care of them.”

“But I want a mustang,” Echo persisted.

“No,” was the yearly answer.

By age fifteen, she’d worn her mother down. When she said, “Mom, let’s go up to the mustang sale,” she hit pay dirt. Karmel said they could go, but only to look.

There were many mustangs at the sale, and Ecko intended to visit every stall, but at the second one, she came to a stop.

“I really like this one,” she said.

Karmel believes Ecko was drawn to the palomino in the stall because it resembled a former horse of theirs, which had died of colic. The horse they were viewing was by no means a kid’s horse. He was four years old, appeared to have shire or draught horse blood, and had feet the size of dinner plates. Karmel directed her daughter towards the two-year-olds, more appropriately-proportioned horses for a petite girl. She reasoned that a younger, smaller horse could grow up with her, unlike a horse that had been on the range for four years, learning bad habits.

“No, Mom,” said Ecko firmly. “It’s this one.”

She agreed to look over every horse before making a decision, for by now it was clear that the Laursens would be getting a horse. A few more hours were spent looking carefully over each pen, yet Ecko kept returning to the palomino.

“He’s huge,” said Karmel. “He’s almost frightening.”

“Mom,” Ecko insisted, “this is the one.”

Karmel told us she began praying the first of many prayers, such as, “What am I supposed to tell her now, God?” She sighed, turning to her daughter. “Explain just one thing to me. Why is this the one?”

Ecko asked her mother to look at the palomino’s eyes. Karmel stared and stared. Finally, taking a deep breath, she said, “Okay. I understand.”

The horse had the kindest horse eyes she’d ever seen. She just couldn’t say no. She made Ecko call her father, not wanting to be the only one responsible for an enormous horse that, who knows, could possibly end her daughter’s life. Ecko’s father told her, “It’s your horse,” and then asked to speak to Karmel.

“What do you think?” he said.

She replied with a phrase that would soon become common. “He’s huge!”

How huge was he? So huge that it took five or six men to load him while he put up a fuss. Almost too big, too tall for their large stock trailer. Once the horse was in the trailer, a man approached Karmel and asked who the rider would be. Karmel pointed to her tiny daughter. The man handed her a card and told her to call if they had any trouble, he’d come and pick him back up.

“Has this horse been returned?” she asked, and the man admitted that the horse was a “gimme back.” She didn’t share this with Ecko, even when they were driving down the road with the mustang kicking the tar out of the trailer, causing them to swerve and almost run off the road.

When they got home, they soon discovered that the fencing around their pasture was far too short. They borrowed a round, eight-foot tall corral from a lady down the street.

“He’s huge,” Ecko’s father said.

“I told you,” said Ecko’s mother.

Each morning while Ecko was at school, Karmel fed Durango, who stood on the far side of the corral, talking to him so he’d get familiar with her. The dog had another method, running right into the corral, and horse and dog got along fine. When Ecko got home from school each day, she went right to the corral, talking to her new horse. A couple of weeks later, she announced she was going inside the corral. Karmel told her she would stand aside and pray, not able to watch what she feared was her daughter’s demise. When Karmel finally felt brave enough to turn around, she watched Durango as he sniffed, nudged, brushed against Ecko, and walked all around her. The girl acted disinterested. When he put his nose up to her face, she leaned away. Durango got closer and she leaned back even farther, way down, as if doing the limbo. Ecko later admitted she was shaking like a leaf.

Thus began a process of getting to know her horse, slowly reaching hands out, gently talking to him in a low, soothing voice. Never pursuing or pushing him, she let Durango do the initiating. Brief touching graduated to the slight rubbing of his coat. Karmel said he looked like a little kid with oversized snow boots who’d gotten up out of bed in the morning, not bothering to clean himself up. Anxious to brush him, Ecko began taking the brush with her into the pen, but Durango was skittish. So Ecko continued to spend hours with him, just rubbing his coat and talking. This soon turned to a moving motion of walking around, touching ankles, flanks, face, until one day she picked up a foot, still rubbing, and then another.

Durango was smitten with his new “mother.” He’d often lift his head, sniff the air, and know when she was home. While he kept his distance from Karmel, when Ecko was present he was on the closest side of the corral, nearest to her.

We were interrupted from this reverie by shouts of, “They’re coming!” from the surrounding EhCapa parents, who play a critical role in the organization, both moms and dads. Club parents with their children and farm dogs had gathered to watch the Big Hitch Parade. As we all wandered to the curb, I was impressed once more by how quiet horse parades are. No radio music blares, no car horns blast. It’s just laughter and talking and the clip-clopping of hooves. Soon the EhCapas trotted past, regal riders in their leather, feathers, and painted faces, their majestic mounts painted with markings of the riders’ handprints. Queen Ecko led them, in costume and black braided wig. She looked like royalty, sitting straight and proud atop Durango. Knowing a bit of their history made my eyes mist. As the EhCapa Bareback Riders passed by, I could easily see the look of accomplishment on each face. They’d learned to ride bareback, acquiring knowledge not many others had.

We watched more of the parade at the curb, then returned to the cooler seats under the shelter, where Karmel picked up the story.

“Ecko had always been able to do things with horses like no one else”, she said.

They had a high-strung horse named Doc, who also was not made for kids, but Ecko handled Doc more easily than even the horseshoers or vets could do.

“I would have never dreamed of the things she’s done,” Karmel told us. “She just speaks horse.”

With dangerous or spirited horses, the phrase with the Laursens is often “Send Ecko out first.” Even when she was a small eight-year-old and new to EhCapa, Ecko taught Doc to stretch his front legs out, almost as if he were reclining, while she shimmied up his leg, grabbed his neck, and mounted. When club members first saw her unique way of getting on her horse, they asked her to do it again so they could watch. The same patience she had with Doc was the patience she had years later with Durango. Karmel told us she’d had plenty of ideas about how her daughter should do things when it came to the horses, but had learned to keep her mouth shut. She eventually just sat and watched the small steps her daughter took with each animal in her care.

After countless hours with Durango, the day came when Ecko decided to drape her body over the horse, and once again, Karmel prayed. When Ecko asked her mother to take the rope and lead him around the pen while she was lying on him, Karmel prayed harder, knowing how easily this massive beast could crush her child. What happened then was as natural as Ecko and Durango’s relationship had always been. Durango sniffed and licked Ecko in an affable way, as if to say, “Oh, it’s just her. It’s okay, because it’s her.

A few days later, Ecko announced she was going to swing her leg up and sit on Durango. Karmel prayed again. Really, really hard. She heard Ecko become upright on the beast, then Ecko startled her by exclaiming, “Whoa!”

Karmel quickly turned around to see if Ecko was all right, and was immediately told to face forward. She carefully asked what the “Whoa” had been about.

“I can feel the power under me,” Ecko told her mother excitedly.

The parade was winding down, and Karmel ended her story. Our group of city and country women stood up and joined the EhCapa, gathered now near the red Sun Valley barn, sweating under their Indian garb, but looking happy. They’d performed and paraded for large crowds over the weekend, and had been enthusiastically applauded. I turned to Janet and said, “These country friends share stories like this with me all the time. Isn’t that just incredible?”

Janet and I found our way to Echo and her horse, Durango, who was busy slurping water and getting a well-deserved bucket of oats. I touched his golden coat.

I wasn’t sure what a real live horse-whisperer would look or be like. I wondered if, like several animal-lovers I know, Ecko felt more at ease with animals than with people. This was not the case. The EhCapa Club is also involved with 4-H, an organization that emphasizes public speaking and showing animals, as well as excellent training in animal care. Ecko is a 4-H product. She repeated some of the story her mother told us, adding her own perspective, such as what had been going on inside her mind when she first laid eyes on the mustang.

“I looked at his eyes. I saw how calm he was. It was as if he were trying to tell me something, trying to tell me he wanted me. I needed this horse. He spoke to me like no other horse did.”

Although everyone else discouraged her, Ecko had wanted the challenge, wanted to prove to people that she could do it. “So I did,” she said simply. She admitted that she’d been scared out of her mind, and mentioned the moment she first sat up on Durango. “Holy cow, I’m on a mustang,” was her thought, followed by, “and I don’t know if he’s going to buck.”

I asked how she’d done it, this incredible mustang training, and Ecko said, “Baby steps. First of all, I had to build trust. He needed to know I was not going to hurt him.”

Her eyes brightened as she described her feelings for the horse munching hay a few feet away. “Loving and adoring,” was how she put it. “He’s my best friend. If he were to be sold or should die, I don’t know what I would do without him.”
Now seventeen, Ecko plans to be a horse trainer. “There are people that stay on the same horse for years that don’t ever get to experience the challenge of training a new horse. New horse, new challenge.”

She talked a little more about the day she was in the Bighorns with her grandpa. “He was the first person I called when I bought my mustang.” She knew that her grandfather talked about her around Powell, Wyoming, because every time she visited she’d hear, “Oh, so you’re Ecko”’ She had loved sharing stories of Durango with her grandfather, who died early last year before he got to see her as the EhCapa Queen. Or, we both surmised, maybe he did get to see her.

“Actually,” she said, “he did. I know he sees me. I told him I was going to buy a mustang and train it, just for him,” she added, eyes shining. “And I did.”

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday or, check out the Appetite for Idaho website here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reynolds Creek

Good and Lost

By nine-thirty, two things were obvious: my friend, Miss Direction, and I had missed the Eagle Scout flag-raising ceremony at Reynolds Cemetery in Owyhee County, and somewhere along the line, we’d missed a turn. The pavement had ended long ago, narrowing and dwindling to gravel before becoming packed dirt. Driving over a hillside into an expansive valley, we gazed out at miles of nothingness, in awe of the beauty and perhaps a little unnerved. Our map was inadequate, we had no GPS system, and we were surrounded by unapologetic mountains. Along the way, we could have taken about a half-dozen roads, and after traveling for more than an hour, we now weren’t as keen on trusting our instincts as we’d once been. Already, we had inadvertently found several muddy dead ends.

“It astounds me that there are even roads out here,” I said. “Why on earth did people make these? Where were they headed, anyway?”

I was getting a little nervous about our gasoline supply, which was still ample, but with another hour or two of driving aimlessly, that could change. I also felt remorse for not having brought any provisions beyond bottled water, which I merely sipped, in the event I’d need the remainder later. This seemed like a region where one could get good and lost.

Rounding a snow-filled corner, we were shocked to encounter a lone runner in matching long-sleeved shirt, running pants, cap, and shoes. I blinked, thinking I was seeing things. He turned, slightly annoyed at the disruption of his ponderings and privacy, gave a half-wave and moved closer to the edge of the road to allow us to pass.

“Okay, that was weird,” I told Miss Direction, “Where would he have come from?”

Neither of us could say; if we had known, we’d probably have been back on a main road.

A few minutes later, we came around another bend and spotted six more runners in full attire, moving in a formation small enough to allow discussion. The next corner revealed two runners. The corner after that yielded a lone athlete.

“It’s a runner’s mecca!” I exclaimed.

The fitness enthusiasts gave way to the occasional cow and, surprisingly, to ranches and farms, each nestled in its own valley. “Why would anyone want to build out here?” said the city in me. My question was answered almost immediately. Near each of these places was a row of telltale trees and saplings, meaning only one thing: water; exactly what the forefathers of the area had been looking for.

Eventually, we found our way back to Highway 78, coming upon what looked like the same road we had taken into the Owyhees. I now suspect that many of the roads out there connect to each other; I just have no idea how. Our search for the cemetery was abandoned, but I was determined to try again the following week.

During the days in between, I did a little research and found that the area where we’d been was actually Wilson Creek, not Reynolds Creek. We were only a couple of mountains off. The Wilson Creek area, I discovered, was indeed a hot spot for Saturday morning and afternoon runners.

Seven days later found me with a full tank of gas in my car, a generous lunch and plenty of snacks and beverages, plus an ample amount of company for moral support in the form of Mr. Larson, son Jared, daughter Erika and Gracie the gray dog. We were going to find that cemetery, no matter what.

“Turn here,” suggested my husband, who chose to act as navigator while I drove. He was looking at instructions we’d gleaned from the Internet.

“Is that Rabbit Creek road?” I asked, mildly concerned. No way did I want to get confused in this area again.

“Yeah, I’m sure it is,” he replied. Still, we traveled mile after mile without seeing a sign that proved the name.

“Do you think we’re heading in the right direction?” I asked.
“I’m sure we are,” Mr. Larson replied, possibly irritated by my apparent lack of trust.

“I’m turning around,” I said finally, and headed back towards Highway 78 and Murphy. Once back on the Highway, I found the local mercantile and pulled in.

“They’re just going to tell you we were on the right road,” Mr. Larson called out knowingly. We’d just see about that.

Like a scene out of a small-town movie, I walked into the practically-empty store to find the proprietor seated at a café table near an older couple, enjoying their company. He rose from his chair and smiled when he saw a new customer.

“We’re trying to find the Reynolds Cemetery,” I breathed, feeling a little silly. “We got lost last weekend trying to find it and I don’t want to get lost again,” I over-shared. “Could you tell me how to get out there?”

“Well,” said the man, “the only way to get there these days is by helicopter.”

“You’re kidding me,” I said, deflated. “Really?”

“No,” he answered, and then smiled. “You go down Old Highway 45, which turns into Rabbit Creek—”

“The one without the sign,” I muttered. “Rats. That means I’ll have to tell my navigator he was right.”

“Not necessarily,” said the man, “You can always go down a couple of roads beyond Rabbit Creek and turn left there. It ties in and will lead you to the exact same spot. He’ll never know the difference.”

I liked the way he thought.

Thirty minutes later our group pulled up to a farm, next to which was the sought-after ancient cemetery, complete with ornate iron gating and looming archway. Headstones were in varying states of tilting and dipping, seeming to undulate without actually moving. Some were only crumbling pieces of antique cement, time-warped wood or metal posts while others were made of intricately carved marble with shrouds, angels and bibles depicted on the alters of loved ones lost.

Wind, sun and rain had combined to wipe clean many of the epitaphs, but a few were still readable:

“Tis a little grave, but Oh! Have care! For cherished hopes are buried there.”

“How much of light, how much of joy, is buried with a darling boy.”

“Sleep, oh dearest babe, and take thy rest. God called thee home and thought it best.”

“Meet me.”

In several cases, children that had only lived to be eighteen months or so had the same size and quality gravestone as the parent they’d been laid beside. It seemed these were people that had valued a soul, no matter the age. I would eventually learn that diphtheria had often been the culprit, causing families to lose more than one member within days’ or weeks’ time. One man, I was later informed, returned home from business in the East to discover that two of his children had already been buried. A third child died the next day, and a fourth child died not long after.

I ran my fingers along the iron gatepost’s cool, smooth lines, curious about the long-gone hands that had fashioned it all. Curling, straight, pointed and exact, whoever created the only physical barrier for stray livestock, dogs and perhaps the coyote did so with care.

“Look over here!” called my daughter. Beyond the cemetery sat an old, abandoned schoolhouse. As we approached it, two farm dogs ran to greet us, joining our gray dog. They escorted us up the dilapidated steps and onto the school’s tired front porch; the setting, no doubt, for plenty of long-ago greetings and departures. The interior sported signs of multiple visits from birds, an olden-day attempt at decorating with a curtain still attached to its rod, and what I guessed was late nineteen-sixties fluorescent lighting and blackboards. 

Catching my attention and holding it hostage were the now glass-less windows, placed side-by-side to create a panoramic view of pastures and hills beyond. Had I attended school here during any era and at any age, I would not have been able to focus on my studies with that landscape calling. 

The basement was nearly as intriguing with its cement walls and high ceiling. I remembered that similar schoolhouses often had their lunch rooms and held plays and recitals downstairs. I wondered if this had been the case here, too. While the others lingered, I found myself drawn back to the cemetery, having an unexplainable desire to somehow connect with the people who had once been a part of this land. The Bernards, Brunzells, Drydens, Hallbergs, McDonalds and a whole lot of Giffords. As I looked around, “Native of Sweden” or “Born in Germany” was a frequent sight. I marveled that these folks could hail from so very far away, and yearned to know their stories. What choices had been placed before them that had brought them to this random, isolated place?

Once again, I was learning the lesson that life has many twists and turns; even more than the ones we’d seen last weekend on these winding Idaho country roads.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Twin Springs Resort

Just about the time I began to pray I wasn’t lost in the wilds of Idaho, we found our destination.

Twin Springs Resort (population: 2) seemed to come out of nowhere, and I was beginning to lose hope of ever finding it. The dubious sign informing us that we were now ‘leaving the Boise National Forest’, seen seconds before arrival, hadn’t been reassuring.

“Are we SUPPOSED to be leaving the Boise National Forest?” I nervously asked my daughter and niece. They didn’t know, and neither did I.

We’d passed many an ideal fishing hole and campground; and I couldn’t help but exclaim as we bumped along, “We’ll have to check that out sometime!”

The gravel road had been a little harrowing, but I was betting on the journey being worth the trip; great experiences, after all, often required sacrifice. Jaw-dropping scenery of the Central Idaho Mountains upped the enjoyment factor.

Taking Highway 21 from Boise up the hill, we turned right after the More’s Creek bridge. Passing a very populated Spring Shores Marina, we kept going. And going. And going, until eventually spotting a sign for the Cottonwood Ranger station where the road split. We kept right, but I began to have doubts. Should we have gone left? Twelve more miles, and I still didn’t see anything that looked like the cabins my sister and brother in law had told us about.

As hope dimmed, we rounded the curve and were instantly there. Rustic, authentic Idaho. Eclectic furniture on the front porch of the office/common area/ bar/ store. A welcome sign, assuring cold drinks and friendly conversation within. “We’ll be waiting for you at the end of the road with a cold one,” the signs said. The establishment also touted snacks, the game on TV, a pool table and a meal table surrounded by chairs, and a common area that seemed more like a Man Cave.

It became clear that no one would be a stranger by the end of the weekend, unless they craved solitude, and then there was plenty of that to be had, too.

“We are here to help you have a good time,” the website had claimed.

I was ready.

Three roomy cabins and the two-storied Gatehouse awaited visitors; each with its own peaceful view of the Middle Fork and built-in hot tubs on the back decks, fed by some of Idaho’s blessed geothermal activity.

Something was missing, though.

“Where are the power poles?” I asked the other guests. They shook their heads. I hadn’t seen any, either, yet our cabin had electricity. I later discovered that Twin Springs was a hydro-powered community. The power lines must have been underground.

Easing into the magical, restorative mineral waters and breathing the fresh air, accompanied by rushing river sounds and sunset colors bursting from just behind the mountains, our resident weekend barbeque king (my brother in law, Lloyd) handed us our dinner plates. We had all the makings of a beautiful stay.

After a long soak and catch up chat with family, hearty meal, and much-needed rest on a good mattress, I awakened the next morning to a body that felt ten years younger. As others slept on, the crisp air and gravel road leading up the mountain called to me. Taking pepper spray, sunglasses and camera, I set out, at that time happily ignorant of the area’s high bear population.

The sunset inspired thoughts of poetry. Not mine, but that of favorite Robert Frost.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I---
I took the road less traveled by.
And that has made all the difference.”

I wondered what it would be like to spend a week or two here, writing.

Upon returning to the cabin, I learned that the morning’s fishing excursion had yielded abundant results, with one fisherman, glowing with excitement, sporting her very first catch. The crew went to work,  creating fillets for the kitchen’s little freezer that were to be enjoyed at an upcoming meal.

The next day, our group piled into one vehicle and rode up the gravel road to a spot called Neinmeyer, a campground reported to have good fishing and even better shade. We played in the water, snacked, and lazily talked and napped while the sportsmen cast out and reeled in.

Back at Twin Springs, I continued my search for the fabled sauna, which I hadn’t been able to locate all weekend. I’d become a sauna convert during a trip to Europe, with my European friends testifying to the benefits sweating out toxins had on overall health and complexion. I was determined to find the place.

It wasn’t as if I hadn’t asked.

“It’s that stone house right over there,” another guest told me, but we’d talked when it was dark out, and I hadn’t been able to see where that person had pointed.

“Oh yeah, it’s that stone place thataway,” yet another guest told me, pointing too quickly for me to catch the general direction. Had I not been too proud to ask again, I'd have avoided an extended search.

So I wandered from stone dwelling to stone dwelling. I approached one, ignoring the DANGER: KEEP OUT sign, assuming it was only there to keep the public out. That’s how I wound up in the pump house. 

Thirty minutes before it was time to leave, I found the sauna, the same little hut we’d passed on our way down to the river all weekend long. Missing it had taken some talent. 

I’d have to save the sauna for next time.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!