A Confluence of RiversPend Oreille River, Idaho and WashingtonDays 103-106: Sept. 14-17, 2002
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Dwellers along the Pend Oreille River who asked me the usual questions got short answers. Their voices were lost within the labyrinth of my ears. I was in a speechless mood as I cycled the river banks between Sandpoint, Idaho and Kettle Falls, Washington. The weather was cool, cheerless, and overcast. Three flat tires marked the day I arrived in Sandpoint. Each piercing was a disturbance of the monotony of solitude on the road. The last one occurred at sunset while racing down 6.5 grade slope into the town of Newport. I patched the broken tube, and cycled dully forward like a spinning machine taking little notice of the suffusion of twilight. Whereas in Minnesota a single splash of burgundy in the wood line would spur me on as if winter itself was on my tail, now in eastern Washington I drove forward, relentless, an automaton with pistons instead of legs, a furnace instead of a heart. I saw myself as a rampant consumer. I devoured the landscape with my eyes, and gave little thought to what I saw. Flashbacks from the Mall of America surfaced like worms upon asphalt in a sun shower. In towns with names like Priest River and Lost Creek groves burned with nascent autumnal hues, and were bounded on both sides by peaks with names like Hoodoo Mountain and Rattlesnake Mountain. I went on like a zombie, and the lands passed on in an ephemeral blaze.
Near Coffin Lake, I lodged in a town whose claim to fame bears witness to its Wild West heritage. What is now a pocket of suburban sprawl was once a rough and tumble fur and trade post called Ft. Colville; where in 1862 an army officer killed a townsman, and was acquitted because no one dared testify against him. And in nearby Kettle Falls, where the north-flowing Pend Oreille meets with the Columbia River, the First Salmon Ceremony is still celebrated in an intertribal powwow. During the festival, tribes honor the homecoming of salmon returning from long journeys, and young adult Indians wander into the lonely wilderness on mountaintop vision quests.
That night I poured over my maps and, perhaps like an old explorer of the North West territories shooting stars with a sextant, tried to gauge the distance to Anacortes and Seattle. I figured it would be about 360 miles till I hit Anacortes. At some point before midnight, grains of sand sealed shut my eyes, and voyage down the river of dreams took me back to the green fields of Wildcat football; once again proving the auguries of coaches during half-time locker room rallies that we would dream of days like these for the rest of our lives.