Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Resolution Revolution

I’m sure by now that we’ve all realized, whether consciously or not, that the word ‘resolution’ is only one letter off from the word ‘revolution’.

For my purposes, the resolution def I'm using is the visual one that talks about showing an image clearly, with lots and lots of detail. As a writer, editor, and artist, I’m a superbig details person. Coupled with ‘revolution’ (which has got to be at least a close cousin of the first word), ‘a dramatic change in ideas or practice’…I think I’ve got a pretty good frame to work with for the coming year.

I want details.
I want the story behind the story.
I want the ingredients.
All of them.

It’s been said that we don’t really choose the food we like, that any favorite dish is a combination of the knowledge we have of it, the memories surrounding it, the atmosphere in which we partake of it, and the people we choose (or don’t choose) to experience it with.

While I’m not a psychological expert (although I definitely pretend to be, and read everything about psych within possible reach), I can tell you this:

When I was younger, I did not like mushrooms.
But now I do.

My mother (an uncreative cook), forced me to eat them, thinking it a shame to waste such good (and, she told me, expensive) mushroom slices on one so reticent to enjoy them. I often assured her that she need not bother, since the result was the same each and every time, but her stubborn German blood, (a severe handicap) never allowed her to quit that easily. She determined that someday, somehow, I would like mushrooms, and must have assumed my prolonged exposure to the food would, one magical moment, suddenly snap me out of repulsion.

At the mushroom-laden dinners, I picked them out of the each and every main dish, and Mother would scold me, at which point I’d offer them to her, an offer she impatiently declined. I was compelled to stay at the dining room table until into my mouth the then-graying, drying slices were deposited. Mother didn’t know they went from mouth to paper napkin to wastebasket, because I never talked when leaving the table and taking my plate to the kitchen sink. This routine was not discovered until many months later, an unfortunate event for both of us.

As an adult in my thirties, I tried the same trick at a somewhat festive birthday dinner. Disguised under a dark yet transparent sauce, what appeared to be a strip of Chicken Masala was instead, a healthy slice of Portobello mushroom. Its rubbery texture shook me, and I made the discreet attempt to transfer slice to napkin, but was caught in the act.

“Don’t you like Portobello mushrooms?”  my good friend Mona asked, stifling an amused laugh.

“Is that what that is?” I asked, relieved it wasn’t the previously suspected huge slice of chicken fat.

I bravely stabbed at another mushroom slice…and in the safety of the moment and the longtime friendship surrounding me, liked it.

I'm not a picky eater, but this story begs the question, "How many other foods that I don't currently like could I actually like?"

I haven't many dislikes. I don't like menudo. I've tried it twice and disliked it to an equal degree an equal amount of times. I don't particularly like large chunks of cooked celery. I'm not a big caramel person, either...but...could I be? What if I tweaked some things, changed it up, changed who I ate the non-favorites with, or the location of consumption, or created new memories around the food items in question, like I did with the mushrooms? What if I learned a story about the foods I don't like...and then liked them?


What are the ingredients of a favorite?

Amy's Ideas on the Ingredients of Favorite Foods:

--And many more---

For me, a details person, nitty-gritty thinking isn’t new, but this next year I’m campaigning for more depth when it comes to our meals. Whose hand stirred the pot, and why and how have they found themselves in the kitchen? Why did they go with the savory when they could have gone with the sweet? What's with the mint leaves? What messages are they trying to convey through their food? And...most especially...if we don't like something, can we change it up and then like it?

In 2014, I want to see what I’m eating more clearly, I want to engage in a ‘dramatic change of ideas or practice.’ I want...resolution.

I'll call it….the Resolution Revolution.

*No doubt I'll be doing a large portion of this sampling with my good friends and the only other two members of The Culinary Club in existence, Sarah Nash and Deb McGrath, who've also written New Year's Resolution-type blog posts of their own. (Just click on their names and you can read them, too.)

Wishing You a Tasty 2014.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lake Lowell: The Friendly Neighbors Club

The Friendly Neighbors Club

 A Rural Idaho Women’s Tradition

as seen in IDAHO Magazine 

By Amy Larson

“Would you like to go to lunch with me sometime?” said Jean, a senior lady I’d just met. She was short, and her sparkling eyes, crisp voice, and white hair reminded me of an elf. It was 2001, and we’d just moved out to the rural Lakeshore Drive area near Lake Lowell. Each home in the neighborhood had at least an acre or two, and I was out exploring. Jean walked to her mailbox at the same time I trudged up the steep gravel road, and our chat led to a lunch invitation. Initially worried that I’d be lonely living the rural life, I said, “Sure.” She was a spitfire, and I had plans to be that way at her age. I was ready to watch and learn.

 A few days later, Jean picked me up in her sports car. I got inside and simply held on, certain she was a Nascar fan. We stopped to pick up Thelma, who lived nearby. Thelma laughed a lot, and told great stories. Three seemed like a good number for a get-to-know-you lunch, but at the restaurant, I was surprised to find nine others waiting there. They called themselves the Friendly Neighbors Club, comprising women who lived around Lake Lowell. They needed new blood . . . and that was me.

I can’t say I minded. Each had a tale that would familiarize me with area names, farms, and who was who. I got a crash course in rural Idaho by attending a two-hour, once-a-month luncheon. These ladies were really funny, and their club was an entertaining diversion from doing our business’s paperwork and our house’s housework.

I continued to ride to meetings with Jean and Thelma, who amused me with their Abbott and Costello act.  Sometimes Thelma would pass along a recipe she’d clipped from a magazine, knowing I had a family to cook for.  When I walked or drove up the hill, I’d either wave or honk at Jean. She became “Grandma Jean” to my children, who visited her every now and then. During morning workouts, when I rode my bike past Thelma’s little house down the road from mine, I’d wave at the big picture window I couldn’t see into, just in case she was nearby. She often spotted me.

Phyllis, another member, was a published writer, educated and well-spoken, who gave great devotional readings. Ruth made me laugh so hard I’d have to gasp for air, and she regularly invited the kids and I over for lunch and a dip in the pool. Charlotte, both smart and funny, was an artist who knew how to create just about anything. Midge, under five feet tall, shocked me at many a luncheon by ordering a big, juicy hamburger, and then eating it all. Soft-spoken Idella and her husband lived on our road, too, and year after year I took the kids trick or treating or Christmas caroling there.

Peggy, who claimed never to have had a toothache, earache, or headache, had supervised a corn topping crew in her forties, even during pregnancy. She never sat still, canned hundreds of quarts of this or that, crocheted blankets or anything else possible to crochet, and bowled with her league, who named their team Peggy’s Pickles in honor of her famous pickle recipe. “The secret’s in the water,” she told me. “It’s my special well water, and no one else can duplicate it. Many have tried.” 

Our entire family went yearly to the July potluck picnics held on Peggy’s front lawn under her huge shade trees on Walker Lake Drive. Because of these ladies, I never felt lonely living at the Lake Shore house. They took in my family and I. Nor was I the only one who felt that way about the club. Several of the members shared how they’d been transplants from other states, had needed friends, and the club had been there, making them feel that they had a place. The ladies were there for each other with a comforting sort of steadiness. Together, they mourned losses and celebrated gains. Their children were practically like siblings.

One summer, I developed a bike route past the houses of Thelma, Peggy, Idella, and Charlotte, which I rode almost every morning. The hunting dog of Peggy’s son followed me down the road one day and was struck by a speeding delivery truck. The dog didn’t survive, and I was heartbroken. A family came out of their home to help with the dog while I wondered how on earth I’d tell my friend. I rode back to Peggy’s and knocked on her door, but got no answer. At home, heavy-hearted, I called Peggy, and when she finally answered, I told her what had happened.

After a long pause, she said, “I just lost my son two weeks ago to an accident. He loved that dog, and now his favorite dog is with him in heaven. It’s okay, Amy.”
I cried a little, not having heard the sad news yet. Peggy, in her strong, corn-topping-while-she’s-eight-months-pregnant-way, consoled me, and after a moment said simply, “I sure miss him.”

I’d been a member of the club for five years before I had the good fortune to be entrusted with “the box.” One of the secretaries asked me to keep it for her. The cardboard box was clean, white, and carefully tied up with a thin turquoise string. At home, I went through it like a hungry child. It turned out to be filled with journals, minutes, old black-and-white photographs. What I learned filled me with a deep reverence for the club and the women who’d been a part of it all of this time.

I learned from its contents that the Friendly Neighbors Club had been formed on April 5, 1928, by farmers’ wives and mothers of school-age children. The first meetings were held twice monthly in a small building that became the district’s first schoolhouse. The club wasn’t unique. Many of the surrounding farming areas had such groups, and their heads would gather every so often to find out who was doing what within the communities, and sometimes coordinate their activities.

The Friendly Neighbors saw many needs to meet, one of which was proper school lunches. Long before a lunch program was instituted in the schools, the FNC made sure students had a good midday meal. Within the club, there were committees for just about everything, among them: flowers (weddings, funerals, illness), programs, membership, school, press and publicity, helping hand projects, ways and means, amusements, showers, books, decorations, the Marsing Auction, a scrapbook, and welcoming.

From about 1930 on, meticulous club meeting minutes were kept, which had the incidental effect of capturing the members’ cleverness. For example, each roll call featured a theme, as a way for people to get to know each other better. Here are some of them: “Name a Current Event,” “Name a Woman Writer,” “Yes or No: Does the Modern Girl Make a Better Homemaker Than Her Grandmother?,” “What I’d Do with a 25th Hour,” “My Secret Ambition,” and “What I Do When I Do What I Please.”

The minutes also provided evidence of stunts, riddles, card playing, games and contests, book and movie reviews, gift exchanges, spelling bees, and jokes played on husbands. Once, the members even held a “little kid party,” for which they all dressed as children.

The meetings often included the Pledge of Allegiance, readings of part of the Constitution or Gettysburg Address, and prayers. The “club collect” or motto, written by Mary Stewart, was: “Keep us, O God, from pettiness; let us be large in thought, in word, in deed.” Activities changed with the seasons: a family picnic in July, spook stories in October, family Christmas dinners and parties in December, Irish jokes in March. In the spring there was an early bulb and seed exchange, and the anniversary luncheon in April was always a big, fancy affair.

Within the box, I also found tiny, handmade booklets titled, “In Memoriam.” One for each year contained the names of lost members, frequently with the same quote beneath each name, “As if a rose had climbed the garden wall and blossomed on the other side.” It was evident that as the list got longer of original members who’d passed on, the ladies found ways to celebrate their lives. Instead of a regular monthly meeting, candle ceremonies were held and memories shared of the friend lost.

The women were conscientious, determined to make their contribution to society, and the minutes showed their specific concerns: Public Welfare, What the Community Hall Needs, Winter Care of Poultry, Favorite Breed of Chickens and Why, What Can I Do for My Community, Ways to Conserve Sugar, What I Can Do to Help Win the War, Suggestions for Club Work for the Coming Year, Putting Something Christmassy on Helen Johnson’s Nursing Home Door.

The Lakeview School attended by their children was their pet project. They oversaw last-day-of-school picnics, teachers’ receptions, tokens of appreciation for cooks and custodians, presents for the teachers, blankets for emergency use, and assisted with the repair and/or purchase of the furnace. I believe they even helped to purchase a piano one year.

            Most of them were mothers, and children were welcome at club meetings. After a fire at the schoolhouse in 1967, students were bussed to different schools, but the tight-knit farming community and the club helped them to stay in touch.

If a farmer decided to sell or went bankrupt, club entrepreneurs discovered a way to make money. A crowd of people would descend upon those farms on the day of the auction, which many times continued during lunchtime. The Friendly Neighbors set up shop, selling home-made goodies to hungry buyers and bystanders. The money they made went right back into the FNC fund, which was often used to help each other or someone else.

Turning the pages of minutes and journals, I was amazed at the many ways these women had made their mark. It seemed they’d been everywhere in their heyday, lending  helping hands and making donations to the Salvation Army, Red Cross, American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Marsing Disaster Fund, Children’s Home, Lizzard Butte Easter Association, Hope House, Mercy House, Youth Ranch, and Polio Fund. They donated turkeys during the holidays, granted modest scholarships, baked cakes for receptions, sent cards to anyone they knew going through a loss or a hardship, sent money to heart transplant recipients, and bought get-well gifts. They even “adopted” a resident of the state school to give birthday and Christmas gifts.

It wasn’t all work, though. The minutes revealed pranks played on members’ husbands, who often did the heavy lifting for events and fundraisers, in exchange for a hearty and tasty meal or two. The members were famous for their cooking. By way of pranks, one year the husbands got a little good-natured revenge during a club meeting. When the ladies went to their appointed luncheon at Lakey’s on Highway 20/26, they were told reservations had not been made, and that the restaurant had not been expecting them. Not sure what to do, the women sweated it out for a few minutes before a back room was suddenly opened with tables neatly set up for lunch and their smirking husbands inside, who were no doubt proud of themselves for finally getting even with their prank-playing wives.

            At one time, membership had climbed to fifty or more. The club was quite the social event at its height, with mothers, daughters, in-laws and sometimes grandmothers on the roster. Longtime FNC member Mabel Farner created a book called Yesteryears in Lakeview, documenting memories of the area before there was a lake, the farming life and other histories, and of course, the club. Mabel had passed away before I’d moved to the country, so we’d missed each other.

In 2006, when the Friendly Neighbors Club held its eighty-third anniversary luncheon, I was made an “honorary” member. I laughed, thinking I’d been a member all along, yet the main criteria for being in the club had been that the women were from the Lake Lowell area (what was once called Lakeview), and by then, I had moved back to the suburbs. Perhaps this was their way of letting me know that I still belonged, no matter where I lived. They were, after all, friendly neighbors.

 *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, November 8, 2013

Roseberry, Idaho: Restoration Inspiration


Perseverance and a Population of Two

By Amy Larson

As seen in IDAHO Magazine

            As I thumbed through a high-quality picture book of Idaho atop a rustic coffee table at a Lake Cascade vacation rental home, my eyes fell upon a quaint, white church. Something about it spoke to me, although I didn’t know why. It wasn’t an intricate building. Its lines were clean and simple. Why did I like it so much? My question was answered by the text below the image, which said the building was in Roseberry and had been constructed by Finnish people who settled there. My heart leaped. Strangely enough, I knew a little something about Finland. 

            Twenty-five years earlier, I had met Jari Vesterinen, the first Finn I’d known. His wife Mona quickly became one of my dearest friends. Jari introduced me to the Finnish language, which I still don’t pretend to understand, and Mona also taught me a Finnish word: sisu. She said it’s difficult to translate into English, but the best definition for it might be someone with courage and tenacity. The Finns use the word to describe someone who possesses strong determination, the ability to stick to something, and who is able to keep a cool head during crises. It’s a lasting quality, not a brief burst of courage for the moment. It’s sustainable. Being told you have sisu is the ultimate compliment.

            Although not yet the world traveler I plan to be, I did obtain a passport to visit Mona and Jari in their new home in Finland. Not long after stepping off the plane, I became fascinated with that country’s craftsmanship and architecture. The act of staring at that little church in the Idaho picture book tugged at my heartstrings. I hadn’t known there was a place so close by that was, in part, built by my friends, the Finns. After reading each word and looking at every picture of the Roseberry section of that book, our vacation soon ended, and I forgot all about it.

            Many months later, I was hunting for another Idaho city to explore, something different, something unique. I thought it might be fun to understand the history of Donnelly. When I looked up the town’s name on the Internet, Roseberry also popped up, along with a photo of that same, quaint church from the vacation home’s book. I learned that before there was a Cascade, before there was a Donnelly, there was Roseberry. It had been the largest town in the county at one time, sporting a population of five hundred. It had a  bank, restaurant, a mercantile where customers could get anything they needed, schoolhouse, a soda fountain, its own newspaper, a creamery, beautiful hotel, drug store, upholstery shop, flour mill, harness shop, real estate company, butcher, livery stable, veterinarian, barber shop, doctor, brick kiln, law office, two churches, hardware store,  confectionery, a baseball team complete with uniforms, and a band shell smack in the middle of an intersection, complete with a band that wore all matching attire when performing.

          By 1910, Roseberry was one hopping place. The following year's Fourth of July parade was real cause for celebration. The inhabitants of Roseberry not only assumed they’d become the county seat, but expected the railroad to come their way, as well.
How wrong they were. Before long, the Pacific and Idaho Northern railroad announced it would bypass Roseberry by one-and-a-half miles, a mere stroll's distance that would make a world of difference.

            Donnelly was established, named after a prominent railroad man. Once the railroad announcement was made, Roseberry, formerly the county seat hopeful and largest town in the valley, quickly began to decline. It was a church-going town that had a staunch rule of no pool halls, bars, or any other places that would evoke a bad reputation, which was why some folks claimed the place was "already dead long before the railroad killed it off." 

            Innovative at moving buildings, the locals relocated several Roseberry dwellings to nearby Donnelly, where the action and commerce would be. 

            This wasn’t the first time folks had cleared out of Roseberry, though. Many initially approached Long Valley, which contains both Donnelly and Roseberry, for a few reasons, but most wanted to homestead. It was free, richly-earthed land, and all one had to do was work hard enough for five years, to “prove up” the property.

            The area's first store was established by J.W. Pottenger and W. B. Boydstun in 1905. The post office went up in 1892, and postmaster Lewis Roseberry became the town's namesake. After H.T. Boydstun acquired the post office, he and a group of investors began platting the town site and selling lots through their Roseberry Commercial Club. The town’s initial population consisted of mostly English-speaking inhabitants, with a scattering of Finns.

            The Finns were builders who took much pride in their craftsmanship. Their log cabin building technique was so tight-fitting, it required no chinking—a handy thing for the cold weather.

 Even so, some Roseberry area homesteaders didn’t figure on the all-out Idaho winter. Particularly brutal was the winter of 1888-89, which provided a stark lesson on deep and enduring snow. Short on available pasture, hay, and feed for cattle, a large group chose to leave the valley.

            The Finns, used to the old country’s long, dark winters, weren’t scared off by the region’s worst weather. With good land for the taking, they stayed. For many, homesteading was a dream come true. They were accustomed to hard work and harsh conditions. All went splendidly, until that problem arose of the railroad track's location. Soon, building after building was loaded onto log skids and hauled off to Donnelly, and the once-booming Roseberry became a ghost town.

            When the last commercial building finally closed in 1939, the town drew what most thought to be its final, weak breath. By that time, very few Roseberry buildings were left.

            Enter Frank Eld. 

            The son of homesteader Albin Eld, Frank and his friends frequently walked to Roseberry as grade schoolers. One day, they visited the Nichols family's honey processing facility, located in the old Roseberry mercantile. Mrs. Nichols reached behind the counter and pulled out a nice pair of high-top tennis shoes. “These are left over from when this was a store,” she said. Frank was given a memory that stayed with him for a long time. A seed had been planted, causing him to determine that he would purchase a building there someday.

            During the 1960 commemoration of the Idaho Territorial Centennial, Frank helped get a temporary museum going in Donnelly at the city hall. One day, he and friend Margaret Klient stood on the city hall's steps, talking about how nice it would be to create a permanent museum in Long Valley. Discussing a location, they agreed on Roseberry, reasoning that it was very different from the three neighboring towns of McCall, Donnelly, and Cascade.

            In 1969, the mercantile in Roseberry was put up for sale, and college graduate Frank Eld bought the place from the Nichols family, thinking it would be a good location for a museum.

            When I drove through Roseberry on a bright morning last summer, I didn’t see a soul, although there was evidence of recent activity. Pulling into the parking lot by the big red barn, I noticed an open door on a building marked as the Nell Tobias Research Center. Not wanting to intrude, I poked around the little town, taking photos and exploring. There were the buildings I’d seen in the picture book, large as life. One cabin’s sign read, “Following the end of the Spanish-American War, four Finnish veterans, John Korvola, Jacob Kantola, Henry Harala and Nick Randa built this cabin. They came here seeking homesteads and wives.” 

            There was a schoolhouse, the Valley County museum, the recently-moved Mahala home, a carriage house, and the famous and picturesque white with red-trimmed replica of the bandstand, now moved to a corner lot. All in all, there were about twenty-five buildings to pore over.

            I saw two women walking along, and thought they must be tourists like myself, but it turned out they both worked at the research center. Gerry Wisdom and Bev Ingraham [MSOffice2] invited me into the building that they said was once a gas station, bar and grill in the nearby community of Lake Fork. They happily agreed that those celebratory vibrations were still present. 

            As I viewed the cabinets full of information and walls lined with maps and county records, I asked, “How many volunteers work here?” 

            “Not enough!” was the reply, as they related that their map specialist who’d categorized and catalogued the maps had just passed away, and was sorely missed. They also told me they were in need of a new specialist.

             “My friend Paula, there, is a captured volunteer," Gerry said. "She came down to visit and I put her to work.”

            These archivers and accessionists work every Tuesday from May to October, researching and accepting historical items that are brought in for donation. The center’s volunteers help historians with any research and family heritage inquiries. I shook my head in admiration upon learning that the center was known in many history circles, and has been called ‘the crown jewel of Roseberry’ by members of the Idaho State Historical Society.” 

            “How do you keep all of the information straight?” I asked.

            “That’s the job!” said Gerry.

            The two told me a little more about the Finns, although they were quick to explain that Roseberry was not entirely a Finnish community. Many English speakers had come from places like Kansas and Nebraska. It just so happened, though, that the Finnish part was the part I loved, so I kept prying them with questions, which they graciously answered.

            Gerry said during the time of the Long Valley homesteading, people were leaving Finland in droves. In that country, farmland was divided amongst the families’ children, which could leave little to be had. In addition, the Finns had been subjugated by the Swedes, who enlisted them into their armed services, but still allowed them to wear their own uniforms. For six centuries, the Finns were under Swedish rule, but were still Finns in their hearts. Later, the Russians took over, and made the Finns wear Russian uniforms in their Russian army. That was the final insult. Finns came to America by boat, looking for freedom to be, for once, exactly who they were.

            Although many Finns grew up as farmers, the money in America at that time was in the dangerous work at the mines. Many of these immigrants had been people of status in the old country, but now they had to answer to mine owners and others. After ages of tyranny, the Finns weren’t going to take it anymore. Upon hearing of free land in Idaho, they gladly left the mines. Seeing Long Valley's mountains, evergreens, and rich soil reminded them of their mother land. They obtained property, and told their friends.

            The research center staff in Roseberry joked about how they also got roped into getting involved in their yearly ice cream social, on Saturday of Labor Day weekend. 

            “If Paula sticks around long enough, she can get help out then, too,” Gerry said.

            Paula called from a corner of the room, “I’m going back to Oregon, where I don’t have to work!”

            The two women explained that Frank Eld did more than just buy the mercantile building. Over the years, he and the Long Valley Preservation Society helped bring structures back into town. For example, the Larkin House, Mahala Blacksmith Shop, and research building were either returned or relocated. It so happened my favorite little church was also a returnee, placed on the same spot from which it had been taken.

            Just as I was about to ask another question, a staff member came around the corner, displaying a book with the title, “Ladies with Sisu, by Floyd A. Loomis. Unprepared to see the word that had been a kind of personal battle cry, I had a strong emotional reaction. The center workers waited patiently for me to regain my composure, and then I explained.

            “First off,” I told them, “You’ve got to warn me when you’re going to do something like that. That word,” I said, choking up again, “has deep meaning for me.”

            “We know,” the woman holding the book said understandingly. I was sure they were all very aware of the term. 

            “In past years,” I said, “I’ve had to use every shred of sisu I had.” I took a breath, still trying to settle down. “Is that book for sale? Where can I get a copy?” 

            “It’s yours,” the woman said, handing me the gift.

            The ladies’ shift was ending, so I wandered outside to the big red barn. I’d heard of the Roseberry Music Festival held there each year around the third week in July. I wanted to see the barn, but it appeared to be locked. Then, amazing luck: a group of women, one carrying a binder labeled My Wedding, approached the barn, and their leader had a key. I guessed one of them was planning to rent the building. Walking in behind the group, I snapped some pictures of the interior. 

            When I left the barn and entered the parking lot, a man pulled up in his ATV. I mentally crossed my fingers and asked, “You wouldn’t be Frank Eld, would you?”

            It was Frank, the only full-time resident of the town aside from his wife, Kathy.
He opened the mercantile for me, which was arranged as closely to the original schematics as possible.

 As we talked, his friend Delbert entered the store. 

            “Don’t let me interfere,” he joked. “The longer you talk to him, the less work I’ve gotta do.”

            Frank, a Finn, mentioned the high quality of Finnish architecture. He’d written a book on the topic, Finnish Log Construction—The Art. “If it fits, it’s Finnish,” he said, citing an old Finn phrase and displaying something else that was common of the Finns I knew, a dry sense of humor.

            I listened to him telling me the museum and its items had moved across the street to an old schoolhouse that had come from McCall, but I was distracted by the church. I couldn’t wait to see it. “There’s something special about that church,” I said to my host, “It’s actually the reason I’m here.”

            “Oh, really?” 

            I told him my picture book story. He had a copy of the same book at his store.

            When we entered the church, all I could say was "Wow."  Frank told me his father had helped to build the place. It had everything a historic structure should have: creaking front door, wood that talks to you when you walk on it, mismatched pews. One pew was an original, one that Frank said he’d most likely sat on when he attended this church at its Donnelly location. “If you look underneath, you might still see my gum there,” he said.

            In the chapel’s front right-hand corner stood an antique wooden organ, which Frank zeroed in on. When he was a fifth-grader, he asked his mom if he could take a reed to play with, from an old organ that was stored in the barn. Ella Eld told him no, and then told him why. Her older brother, Victor, once worked an entire summer for a farmer who gave him the organ as payment. Victor was a natural musician who played by ear. At age twenty-one, he obtained land to homestead, and built a cabin on it. He stayed in his cabin just one night before being drafted into World War I. He went off to France, and never returned. The organ was housed at his parents’ home until they passed away, and then at his brother’s place, and finally in the Eld barn.

            Young Frank asked his mother, “Can we fix it?”

            It was winter, and the only place to work on the organ's many parts was in their living room. His mother gave permission to move the organ there. While Frank worked on the wood, she worked on de-mousing and cleaning out the bellows. They got most of the keys to work again.

            “Right there,” Frank said, pointing to the old organ, “is the reason that everything else is here. Working on that organ with my mother lit a fire in me to preserve things. She and I were very close, and she helped me with this preservation project for as long as she could.”

            “I knew this church was special,” I said. “I think it’s because that organ is in it.”
            Once again, Frank gave his knowing smile. “Now you understand why I like to have school kids visit, hoping some student will do the same thing, and that someday, they’ll take over.”

            “Look what you and the Long Valley Preservation Society have done,” I said, truly impressed, “That must make you feel so accomplished.”

            “I always joke that it keeps me out of the bars,” he replied.

            He said he often tells Donnelly people he’s coming back for a few more buildings that "don’t belong" there. “I admit it, I love history, I love buildings, and I’m happiest when working on a building.” He grinned again, “I think some of my happiest moments are during the music festival, when I see the people here. That’s why I do this, so everybody can share this.

            “My philosophy,” he added, “is that we need our history books and original documents, but the only place you can experience history is in a restoration.”

            If you ever need to find a little sisu within yourself, Roseberry is the place to visit. Despite all odds, it’s quite alive, the very essence of sustainable courage and perseverance.

            “To the Finns, sisu means tenacity," Frank said. "To the non-Finns, it just means stubborn.”

            All I have to say is, “Long live Roseberry.”

 *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!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Lava Hot Springs: The Legends


The Legends of Lava Hot Springs

A Returnee Has a Really Strange Day

By Amy Larson

            I thought I knew all about Lava Hot Springs. Although I live in the Treasure Valley now, our family moved to eastern Idaho when I was ten, and I’ve been to the resort town numerous times. At seventeen, I jumped off the high dive at the Olympic Swimming Complex. Ten meters doesn’t sound that dizzying, but it converts to almost thirty-three feet. Here’s a tip on that one: don’t have your friends cheer you on from below, and make absolutely, positively sure your hands are at your sides when you hit the water. Second-degree burns on your palms from a “water burn” can be hard to explain. 

           About eight years ago, we tented in Lava during Labor Day weekend when the town was full of last-chance campers. We spent all day floating the hot springs-infused river and got second-degree sunburns that day, too. Recently, I sighed happily in the car at the thought of finally returning, and my heart rate increased as I saw the blue “Interstate Oasis” sign. Taking exit 47 off Interstate 15, I drove towards Inkom, McCammon, and Lava. Though it was well into spring, snowflakes fell. So very Idaho.

            Bright-colored dogwoods framed the nearby river as the sun set. This bold display of crimson, with the blue-gray water in the foreground, caused me to stop and try to capture the scene in a photograph. The Portneuf River meandered back and forth, leading mesmerized travelers like me right to town. I saw the swimming pool, the infamous high-dive, and the arches announcing Lava Hot Springs, surely one of the only welcome signs for a town that has a real waterslide built into it, which spits you out like a cherry pit into the splashy pool below.

            The Community Center touted bingo on Wednesdays and weekends, and kitty-corner from that, right before the bridge crossing the Portneuf was a great bronzed animal with a sign below it that read, “Please do not ride the bull.” Lava has been holding “Bulls Only” rodeos every August for many moons, justifying a bullish greeting to those about to enter its gates. The dark, rough lava rock was everywhere I looked, incorporated voluntarily or otherwise into the landscaping and architecture of yards, buildings, and walkways. One campground had a large, curving natural lava wall around it that protected campers from the elements.

            I had no real agenda, and purposely so. My sister, who lives in the area, clued me in to Lava ways. First off, you call it Lava, like lavender, not Lava like “lawva.” Natives might graciously tell you it’s fine to use either pronunciation, but pulling a “lawva” is a giveaway you’re an outsider. Second, this is a lax place. In summer, people walk through town in flip flops, swim suits and beach towels, and it’s okay. Crystal-wearing karma seekers coexist with farmers, and for the most part, everyone gets along. A big old mellow melting pot. Hence my desire to be Lava-like and have no time frame, no list of to-dos, no worries.

            While Lava comes alive on the weekends with soakers and such, it’s a fairly sleepy town of around 400 on weekdays. Tuesday afternoon found me moseying along Main Street, peeking in shop windows, some of the shops open, some closed. I stepped into a business, and after looking around for a few minutes, struck up a conversation with one of its owners, who told me that Lava has a lot more going for it than just the soothing mineral water. He said there were two main geological faults within this very small town, one running almost right along the lines of the old Blazer Highway, (the source of the hot water) and another coming right through the town’s neighborhood. 

            The shop owner said the Shoshone-Bannock (Sho-Ban) tribes who originally dwelt on the land understood the area to be singular, that they’d embraced and revered its properties. The tribes wintered there, performing ceremonies to express appreciation for the water, something they still do to this day. When two tribes that were typically at odds met in that location, it was understood to be a neutral resting ground. They called the land Poha-ba or “Land of Healing Water,” and believed it was a sacred location of increased spirituality.

            Others who later took over this extremely geothermally-blessed land ensured that the tribes still had access to it, which still pertains. Should someone from a local tribe show their Indian ID Card, entrance to the hot pools is, for them, free of charge.
In 1902, the springs and Portneuf River were deeded to the state to make this healthful and recreational place available to all. The town of Lava Hot Springs began to naturally form around it. Building a natatorium in 1918, the state of Idaho currently oversees the operation of various swimming pools and hot baths, via the Lava Hot Springs Foundation.

            “If you really want to get some good information, talk to Kathy,” the shop owner told me, “She’s the director of the museum here.”
            I thanked the man for the conversation.
            “My name’s Jared,” he said.
            “That’s my son’s name,” I told him, adding, “My name’s Amy.”
            “That’s my sister’s name,” he replied, and we both smiled and shook our heads.

            I walked over to the South Bannock County Historical Center, but didn’t see anyone who looked even remotely like a Kathy. Wandering around, I took photos of fur samples, Indian portraits, and a cowboy mannequin I named “Red.” I stopped for a long moment at one curious display, the Legend of the South Bannock County Goat Bird. According to the plaque, this bird’s existence had been confirmed just that year by scientists who’d discovered a multitude of bird skeletons in a mine once sealed by an earth tremor. That mine had now been uncovered through yet another tremor. The skeleton of a man, John Taog, said to have been an entrepreneur, had also been found. The goat birds, or Avis caprinus oro, were creatures with goat-like horns. If that wasn’t odd enough, the birds also produced droppings of pure gold. Seeing an opportunity, Taog hired a few Sho-Bans, who supposedly didn’t know the droppings’ market value, to harvest the valuable excretions. The pile of bird droppings found were said to be safely stored in the museum’s vault.

            “No way,” I laughed. “Gold poo?”

            I gazed at a wooden carving of the abnormal feathered friend, with its horns and what appeared to be a tuft of a goatee beard, as I oscillated between a couple of different thoughts. First, why would they put ‘legend confirmed’ in a museum? Museums don’t lie, right? The other thought was that the carved bird looked suspiciously like a joke. If the species was real, why not display the skeleton, or even one or two of the real droppings? Still, I’d heard of some pretty weird things in the past that I’d balked at, and then later discovered to be true. I just plain didn’t know. Instead of looking gullible while in town, I decided to ask my sister about the goat birds later on. She’d probably know.

            Leaving the Historical Center, I walked up the street past the resort’s steaming water to the Sunken Garden. After hearing random talk of its spiritual healing, I wanted to try the place out. Crunching onto the gravel path leading through walls of lava and travertine rock with its built-in benches and naturally occurring caves, I touched the rough and scratchy surfaces, thinking of the individuals who must have done that long before my visit. I wanted to sit in the gazebo and take some quiet time to contemplate, ponder, meditate.

            Finding a rocky bench under the shelter facing the intricate lava walls, I closed my eyes and waited. At first, I thought I was the victim of an active imagination, which wasn’t much of a stretch after recently reading about birds that dropped gold out of their backsides. But no, there it was, a definite hum, a vibration. Over and over again, I felt waves of it. It was cool, yet slightly disturbing. What could it mean?

            I left the Sunken Garden feeling certain I’d just experienced something profound. Turning back into town, I walked to a diner. Mounds of onion rings and finger steaks with Idaho-style special sauce were hard to resist, so I didn’t. Planning to take a soak, but recalling one should never swim on too full of a stomach, I decided to walk up the other end of Main Street to the hill up yonder. Quaint rental cottages and the home of Charlie Potter, one of the town’s founders, lined the sidewalk. I heard a tomcat howl, sounding like a small child wailing, then saw the tom and another cat facing off on a nearby lawn. I stopped, watching the animals prepare for a battle that never happened, no matter how long I lingered. Perhaps the animals, too, were aware that this was a “neutral resting ground.”

            Just over the hill, I saw it. The sign indicated a splendid manor one-half mile to the left. I wanted to see it, and a half mile was no big deal, until I realized it was all uphill. In the midst of labored breathing, I thought to myself, “This had better be worth it.” At the summit, I expected to see a dramatic estate, but there was nothing other than endless hills and valleys beyond. I spotted another sign in the distance, pointing to the left. I began to grumble, yet laughed at intervals when the occasional vehicle passed by. I wasn’t dressed for a hike, I was dressed for the mall, complete with silver-studded handbag. They’d wave, I’d wave.  Thankfully, no one stopped or asked any questions.

            I turned, about to hike up yet another hill. It all began to be more worth it when five large deer crossed my path, leaped into a stand of trees nearby, and shyly peeked out.
“I can still see you,” I told them.

            Five inches of pea gravel made traversing technical, with the peas threatening to pop into my shoes. I saw a gigantic log cabin estate. “That must be it,” I thought thankfully, but it wasn’t. The driveway was chained off. The only other house looked like more of a residence, not a manor. When I walked up to it, I saw the manor sign. I snapped a picture and began to walk away, just as I heard the front door open. Spinning around, someone waved at me, inviting me in for a free tour. Why not?

            The manor housed creatively decorated, royal-style theme rooms. The high-backed, hand-carved chairs at this bed and breakfast gone medieval were surprising. The kicker, though, was in the basement. Moving the bookshelves out of the way and dramatically sweeping aside a purple, crushed velvet curtain, we descended a winding metal stairway into the depths. Phantom of the Opera music suddenly began to play. Thirty minutes ago, I’d been eating onion rings in a relatively normal, small-town diner. Now I was in the basement of a mountain house in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by flickering candles, red roses, a mirror with the Phantom himself looking at me from the other side of the glass, and Box Five, complete with an old-time organ. This was turning out to be a really, really strange day.

            As I trekked down back down the gravel road, I noticed the deer had disappeared. The sun was setting and I had visions of a) walking in the dark along the highway with my non-hiker clothing and silver-studded purse, looking kind of ridiculous, and b) being eaten by a passing cougar. Mind wandering, I remembered how in 1995 this was the town where lions, ligers (a lion-tiger mix) and hybrid wolves escaped nearby Ligertown when owner Robert Fieber was attacked by one of his own animals, and the rest got loose. I shook my head, knowing that was a long time ago, and that because of the ruckus, Ligertown had been disbanded.

            Taking what I thought was a short cut, I crossed a narrow street just in time to see two black shadows bounding towards me, barking ferociously.  I assumed I would soon be a goner, not at the claws and fangs of a cougar or even a liger, but of two black devil dogs. “Bulldozer! Shadow!” a woman’s voice called. The names didn’t make me think they were heading my direction for a friendly pat on the head. Miraculously, they stopped, and then nuzzled my hands.

            “Do you have a dog?” the woman asked. “They probably smell your dog on your jeans.”

            There was no denying at that point that I did, in fact, have a dog. A neutral resting ground, I thought once more, happy I hadn’t been devoured after all.

            That evening, I asked my sister about the goat birds, the golden droppings, and the manor. She’d never heard of the goat birds or their golden droppings, but her husband had installed some flooring in the manor.

            The next day I arrived back in Lava with a list of questions, among them:
1. What’s the deal with the goat birds?
2. Did the waters really heal people?
3. What was that humming I’d felt in the Sunken Garden?

            I went into the first shop that caught my attention, and struck up a conversation with the lady at the register. She’d never heard of any goat birds, either. I showed her the pictures I’d taken of the write up in the museum, briefly told her all about John Taog, the cave, the skeletons, and the pile of golden poo in the vault. She told me to ask Kathy at the museum, which I fully intended to do. Right then and there, a large wave of doubt washed over me.

            “If that’s some sort of town joke, I’m going to laugh really hard,” I told her, already laughing. Seconds later, the cashier’s husband walked in.
            “Hey,” she said, “Do you know the legend of the goat bird?”
            “Yeah, the one about the bird that lays golden droppings,” he replied.
            “Why haven’t I ever heard about it?” the cashier asked.
            “Because it isn’t true,” her husband said.
            “I knew it,” I said, semi-honestly.

            I was soon seated across from Kathy Sher at the South Bannock County Historical Center. She too, had become fascinated with Lava Hot Springs. After what she thought was a temporary move to Idaho, the state worked its way into her heart and a few years later, she bought a house in Lava on a whim. The people were so wonderful and accepting, she says, that she’s stayed for thirty years and counting. Jumping in with both feet (sort of like my pencil dive, but I’m sure Kathy had much better form), she now sits on the City Council.

            Her fondness for the area is evident as she tells of Lava’s history, something she does daily at the museum. When I asked about the varied demographics of the populace, she nodded. “Lava was built on diversity,” Kathy began. Mostly inhabited by Native American Indians, trappers had discovered the area as far back as 1812. Several others in the trapping business traversed the land in the 1830s, but really by the 1860s, most people were still using the area as a pass through to elsewhere. The entrepreneurial trapper Bob Dempsey saw opportunity around the time of 1851, providing traveling parties with fresh horses. The land offered a natural draw for travelers with its water, timber, and good grazing ground.

In 1862 when gold was discovered in Montana Territory, multitudes of miners passed through, moving along the Portneuf. Enterprising individuals turned a profit from being able to provide stage stops and feed. It was estimated that by 1875, many who’d pioneered across the country had gone through South Bannock County.

Historically, the town was created through a good deal of cooperation. There are wonderful stories about the founding settler, Charlie Potter, who had a large family with lots of children. One winter, he gave one of his few hogs to new homesteading neighbors, so they could make it through the cold months. His wife, understandably worried, became very upset with him for donating the food. Charlie put his foot down, telling her that was just the way it was, that a person helps their neighbors, period.

“He was a very good community leader,” Kathy said.

            I admitted to the museum director that they’d gotten me with the goat bird thing. Kathy laughed so hard, she started coughing. It seems Don Worthylake, a retired journalist and obvious humorist, conceived the goat bird story. As a former volunteer for the Museum of Natural History in Idaho, and a recently retired Board President, this also-woodcarver hand made the goat birds to sell, raising money for the museum. Goat birds were marketed in the eighties and nineties, delighting and mystifying visitors (like myself), much like the well-known Idaho jackalopes. 

            Lava, it appears, is a town with a sense of mirth, and it has influenced Kathy. She showed me around the museum building, which was once a bank. When we got to the vault area, she leaned over towards me and whispered, “This is where we keep the golden droppings.”

            Next stop: the water itself. The sixteen beneficial minerals were permitted to go to task on my bad shoulder. After one hour of soaking, I felt better. Not scientific at all, but for me, it seemed to work. Kathy told me there were people who swore by the stuff.

            Last stop: a return to the Sunken Garden to get to the bottom of that hum. I walked along the path, touching the rock walls as before. I took the same route back to the gazebo, sat, and waited expectantly. Hum. Hum. Hum. What on earth could that be?
I looked up in time to see a semi-truck passing by on the highway above. The entire hillside was one big piece of lava rock, so it only made sense the vibrations from the highway made their way down to the concrete bench where I now sat. Hum. Hum. Hum.

            Some are historical and some are homemade, but there is no doubt about it: Lava is chock full of legends.

*For more Appetite for Idaho, visit me on Facebook and Twitter.
Oh, and watch for the Appetite for Idaho book, due out soon: Part memoir, part anthology, part foodie heaven with recipes from Heather Lauer, Vickie Holbrook, Randy Scott, and Larry Gebert.

 *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, October 25, 2013

Idaho Gold Prospecting: with Hinsel Scott

Hinsel Scott is someone who is hard to explain with mere words. He’s an interesting mix of so many things. Businessman, friend, social media and PR genius, graphic and web designer, and chief of reciprocity. I have a picture in my mind of Seinfeld’s Kramer, (given all of the pies he has his fingers stuck into) but in Hinsel form.

He’s sort of like that.

I’ve learned not to be surprised when some new Hinsel facet emerges, but when he mentioned gold panning and mining, I just had to ask.

It seems this Southern-born boy, an Idaho resident for over ten years now, thinks there’s gold in them thar hills. No…he knows there is.

His area of origin was flatland, without a ton of mountains, so the fascination for rocks and digging was already present, then fed by a friend in the process of building his first little gold dredge. That friend invited Hinsel to join him for a prospecting trip. Up in Boise County, Hinsel was shown how to pan, and found his very first flake that day while just kicking around at Grimes Creek.

“My first piece of color was really small, the size of a grain of salt, but it didn’t take long to find it.”

Hinsel got bit by the gold bug.

“I was pretty excited when I saw the real thing for the first time,” he says, “That’s happened to me, and everybody I’ve ever taken out. They see all of the sparkly, shiny stuff in the creek, think it’s gold and that they’ve struck it rich. But most of it ends up being either mica or iron pyrite, Fool’s Gold. Once you see the real thing, you’ll know nothing else in the river looks quite the way gold does.”

Hinsel passes on Gold Panning 101 tips he got from his friend, and things he’s learned himself during his own five years of prospecting:

“Always remember that gold’s going to be about nineteen times heavier than anything else in the river. It’s over nine times heavier than lead, so concentrate on taking your dirt, your material, and getting it as liquefied in your pan as possible with water. Don’t let it ‘rock up’ on you. When it’s all liquid and aerated, the gold naturally drops into the bottom of your pan, due to gravity. Pick out the bigger rocks, because if you have a ping-pong sized rock in there, despite gold being so heavy, a small flake of gold can get displaced by that bigger rock, just because of its size. Keep it liquid and work the material back and forth, so the water washes the lighter material off the top. What’s left at the bottom is the heavy black mineral sand…and gold.”

He adds, “Take a shovelful of dirt, pan it out and work it down to just a couple of tablespoons. That’s where you’ll start to see your color show up.”

Although looking for gold of any kind, Hinsel says he prefers going for the gold flakes, yet he wouldn’t turn down a nugget if he found one.

“We didn’t find our first actual nugget until last year,” he told me, “It’s not like in the movies where you see people pulling fist-sized nuggets out of the river. Nuggets are rare. For the prospectors back in the old days, and these days, too, your bread and butter’s going to be the fine gold, the ‘flour’ gold. You can pan and sluice, getting the small stuff all day long. That adds up a lot faster than any nugget you might find.”

I wondered how much money we were talkin’ about, here…

“Enough to support the habit,” Hinsel laughs.

When a nugget was located last year, weighing in at around a quarter of an ounce, a lot of hooting, hollering, and high fives were exchanged.

“We’re definitely making more than enough to pay for beans and gas,” he happily states.

How severe is this particular case of gold fever?

“I’d pretty much go up every weekend if I could,” Hinsel admits, “Just about every weekend during the summer months, I head for the hills, with a few days off to go up here and there during the week.”

As in the old gold rush days, Hinsel is subtle about the exact location of the claim.

“We’re pretty secretive about specifics,” he says, “People ask where we’ve been going to find all of that gold, and we’re sort of like, ‘Oh…you know…somewhere around Idaho City’, or, ‘somewhere in Boise County.’ You don’t want everybody knowing where your sweet spot is.”

It’s the opposite when it comes to being an evangelist for the hobby.

“As far as letting people know I’m into it, yeah, I’ll be glad to talk about that. When my dad visited from the South a couple of years ago and I took him up, he caught a little of the fever. It was all he could talk about for the whole next year,” Hinsel relates.

Hinsel’s dad isn’t the only one. Thanks to the appearance of tv shows like Discovery Channel’s “Gold Fever” and “Gold Rush”, hunting for yellow ore is more popular than ever. The shows were what fueled Hinsel and his friends’ already-present prospecting passion.

“We watched the shows during the week, which sort of fanned the flames, then got all excited to go out on the weekends,” Hinsel says. He credits his friend, Trent Starkey, saying that he wouldn't be getting out nearly as much, or finding as much 'yella' stuff without him.

Trent started the business Idaho Gold and Gem Outfitters, which Hinsel and another mutual friend are also now a part of.

These days, Hinsel and his ore-seeking associates are hard core miners, with a claim and all of the legit, legal paperwork. They now run a few ‘high bankers’, which are portable sluices and dredges, and a five-and-a-half inch dredge.

“It’s definitely gotten bigger than just panning and buckets,” says Hinsel.

The Gold Prospector’s Association of America is big on getting people involved, with an emphasis on families. The Idaho Chapter of the GPAA is based in Nampa. Once generally hosting an older membership, thanks to the aforementioned TV reality shows, that’s quickly changing. People of all ages are now on the search.

Although a person can pan during just about any time of the year, for most, the Idaho cold is a deterrent. That doesn’t stop Hinsel and Co. from playing in the dirt. During the summer, they plan ahead, filling buckets or Rubbermaid containers with dirt they suspect to be gold-rich. This provides something to sort throughout the long winter months.

According to Hinsel, waiting within just about any river in Idaho sits some type of gold.

“Gold is abundant,” says Hinsel, “You can usually find flakes anyplace you go, especially in Western Idaho.”

*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!