“But there’s fire, wild fire, in Idaho.”

Idaho was filled with smoke this summer. The haze made our eyes itch and damaged our lungs, but it also created some of the most incredible, mysterious lighting up the Lochsa river.

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Title is a quote from Shook Twins song Wild Fire.

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From Argentina, With Love.

Sometimes I’m reminded of Argentina.

Occasionally and not frequently enough, memories of the time I spent there surface. A story, a photograph, or a couch-host emerging briefly from the online social jungle, remind me that I did spend 110 days in South America. These are trivial reminders though, like one is reminded of a childhood toy. Yes I was there, but who am I now because of it? Have I not been changed?

Some people thought going to Argentina was for selfish means. After all, why would anyone spend all that time and money just travelling? I assured them, this trip would be for personal growth, whatever that means. When I returned I found myself wondering if they were right; maybe the trip hadn’t affected me like I thought it would. I didn’t come back well rounded, worldly or wiser. I didn’t even learn a new language. Maybe all that time and money was just for the accumulation of photographs, memories and lost income: selfish means.

But here in North Olmstead Ohio, as Middle American and far away from Argentina as one can get, I noticed a minor character change. I rejoiced. There! There you are, Argentina! At last, the effect of days upon days of sitting in coffee shops reading, the endless cross-country bus rides, the hours and hours of sipping Maté with kind linguistic strangers, and the wonderful perpetual feeling that nothing will ever get done have surfaced.

I almost forgot how I embraced the unhurried Argentine life back in February. I remember now,thinking who was I to rail against such a passive beast with my all-American productivity? Perpetual efficiency was useless there. I learned quickly that time tables, busyness and worrying would reward me with a consistent feeling of frustration in Argentine society.

Unfortunately, fire feeds fire and back in the good old Estados Unidos I felt the itch of this industrial, hand-held, mobile, on-the-go, work driven country. We are a culture that believes idle time to be a form of laziness, not leisure. I fell right back into pace. I worried that the lessons of Argentina were lost on me.

Then I spent a week with my Grandmother. She lives alone in Olmstead Falls, Ohio. With my current unemployed state I decided that to be a good time for a visit. She’s limited in mobility and capability but manages to live alone with the help of her son and a maid. “I can’t imagine why you’d want to spend a week with an old lady” she warned me “but I’ll be here.”

Before Argentina, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine it either. I would have been bored, anxious and worried about everything I was missing out on back home. There are boys to chase, beers to drink, mountains to hike and all sorts of good times to keep up on back home but none of that seems to matter now. I am here, in this moment, content with reading a book side by side, spending two hours after lunch talking and having coffee in the afternoon. The realization: I had been living with my grandmother for the past week in peace from my other life. In this moment I recognized Argentina.

So finally, my travels in Argentina show. This is what the Argentines taught me to do: to spend extended time with someone who cannot live the go-go-go life. The experience doesn’t add up in any sense of capitalistic economics, but for me, acquiring the maturity to spend a quiet week with my grandmother is worth the lost income of 110 days. And for that, Argentina, I Thank You.

1910 Part Two

My previous post was about my exploration with a friend of the Pulaski Trail and a beautiful ridge above it. I was inspired by visiting these places while being mindful of the history of the 1910 fires.

My friend and I parted ways that evening and I camped out at the base of our second trail. The next day I decided to make the full 1910 tour over Moon Pass, a dirt road that connects Wallace with Avery, two key towns in the “Big Burn” story.

In the spring I traveled this pass when our normal route to the St. Joe River was snowed off. I was in awe of the burnt and dead logs still standing from the 1910 fires. I was excited for the chance to re-visit them this fall in the frosty morning.

Massive stumps, remains from the 1910 fires on the North Fork of the St. Joe river.

The numerous dead trees rise above the marshes of a high-elevation meadow that the young North Fork of the St. Joe river meanders through. They are wooden tombstones, natures’ graveyard that serves to remind us of a forest that once was.

Remains of trees from the 1910 fires on Moon Pass

Before the big burn Idaho’s forests would have matched the California Redwoods with towering white pines and ancient western red cedars centuries old.

Nature took over and erased the signs of the 1910 fires at Placer Creek (see previous blog post), but these logs have survived 102 years now. The fact that they have stood dead this long is a tribute to the pre 1910 former glory of the forest.

If I could go back in time to once place for one day, I would to see the forests of the Bitterroots at the time of Lewis and Clark. 

To cap off my 1910 trip I drove from Avery to St. Maries and visited another 1910 graveyard, that of the firefighters that lost their lives. Pulaski, wounded and half-blinded from his night in War Eagle Mine, personally kept up and funded the grave sites. It wasn’t until recently that all the remains were collected in St. Maries in a memorial.

 

Behind this sign is a plot of the cemetery that has been reserved for Forest Service folk who have not been claimed by family members after death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2010 a new memorial was erected for these firefighters, one I think Pulaski would have liked to see during his lifetime.

It was neat to see the stone for Guecomo Viettone, an Italian immigrant who’s story was told in “The Big Burn.”

If you would like to visit these places yourself…

Read “The Big Burn” by Timothy Egan

Drive Moon Pass, which exits Wallace, Idaho to the South. Don’t try this road in the winter or early spring. 

For further adventuring, drive up the St, Joe river, due East of Avery. There are several great hikes, fishing and old growth cedars to see that survived the 1910 fires. 

1910 part one

It really shouldn’t have taken all summer to read “The Big Burn” by Timothy Egan. The book is an easy read, entertaining maybe to a fault. I finally got through life’s distractions and finished it in August. Maybe I’ll learn to read faster this winter.

What “The Big Burn” did do for me was connect the events of 1910 to what I love so much today: the Idaho Bitterroots.

Here’s the summary: in 1910 the largest forest fire in recorded US history occurred in and around North Idaho. The forest service, only five years old, was terribly unprepared. The forests burned all summer long and when epic, hurricane force winds swept through the Bitterroots on August 20th the fires exploded and burned nearly 3 million acres of land in 48 hours. Nearly 100 people lost their lives fighting the fires while Wallace and nearby towns were obliterated.

So the Fires of 1910: a pretty big deal.

This past week I found myself on a spontaneous adventure with a friend to the Pulaski Trail, right outside of Wallace Idaho. A perfect expedition for having just read “The Big Burn.”

The Pulaski Trail is a quality, modern interpretive site that follows about 2 miles of the West Fork of Placer Creek* to War Eagle Mine. This is the location where Ed Pulaski saved all of his crew but five from the fire by leading them to this mine. Without the efforts of the USFS, this location would be lost to time. That’s the wonderful talent of nature: its ability to reclaim and erase. The burnt logs are gone. The creek has washed its bed clean. Trees have re-grown and all that would be left of this site is a hole in the rock, barely noticeable to a passerby without the interpretive site.

The location where Pulaski and company waited out the fires.

They even had an artist re-create the burnt out logs that framed the entrance in post-fire photos** for further distinction.

My friend and I tried to continue up on the trail but it was too overgrown for our exposed legs and feet. We decided to walk down and see if we could find another trail in the hills around Placer Creek.*** I decided to save my tires from the rough road and we made our way up by foot.

Just ten minutes into the hike an old Chevy truck rumbled up next to us. “I’ve never seen anyone out here walking just for fun!” the man said. We chatted, and he told us about a great ATV trail that followed the ridge up above. He gave us a ride to the top of the road, clearly excited for us and our adventure. I got a thrill out of bouncing around and seeing which ‘line’ he would take in his old truck over that rugged road.

He let us out at the top and we started walking. We followed the ridge due mostly west to a summit which allowed us a 360 view of the mountains.

Here was another “Big Burn” moment. Seeing the wide expanse of mountains and sweating from the hike gives one an appreciation for the folks who traversed these mountains before trail systems were put into place. But getting from point A to point B is all second to orienting yourself in the first place.

With our roads, trails and maps it is easy to wonder why explorers like Lewis and Clark were intimidated by the Bitterroots. Put yourself on top of one of the many ridges, look around, and you’ll feel a little lost and intimidated too.

The ridge to follow

 

One of many. St Joe/Coeur d’Alene Mountains. Not sure where one ends and the other begins, but they are all a part of the Bitterroot Range.

 

 

*Maybe I’m  just super oblivious but I had to go to this here to find the exact name of the creek that the War Eagle Mine was on. It’s kind of an interesting document if you are interested in that kind of extra, dull, enlightening, reading kind of stuff.

**http://m.spokesman.com/galleries/2010/jul/22/historic-photos-1910-fire/ is a great online collection of historic photos.

***I apologize  I don’t remember the name of the side road we took but it’s a right hand turn about a mile up the road from the interpretive site. There is a bridge just about 20 feet from the main road that goes over Placer Creek.

Last bit of Sunshine

I’ve been weathering the shoulder season in North Idaho with my lovely Mom. Weathering may be a bit of an ironic word to use: we haven’t really had much weather at all. The temperatures have been dropping, especially at night, but the days remain clear.

That’s going to change soon, so I’ll be outdoors as much as possible until then.

Please respect these photos and only use them if you have my permission. If you would like to use them, feel free to contact me! I don’t bite. :)