July 25 2005
discovered that if you stand on the very end of our dock, you
can get sufficient cell phone coverage to call Jerry’s Motel and
Country Store in Stanley, Idaho. Despite our isolation, I
silently thank Grandpa Gregerson for selecting this site for his
cabin in the 1940’s, a spot far enough from downtown McCall to
retain some semblance of peace, and set just far enough from the
lake as to not qualify for “lakefront” status. Few cabins
like ours remain on the lakefront anymore; they’ve been replaced
with the million dollar mansions of out-of-staters, and the
government taxes them accordingly. We are happy to still
have this place.
For decades, McCall was largely
populated by folks from Boise seeking an escape from the summer
heat. In the winter, they come for the town’s ice
sculpture festival and a day of skiing at the modest resort of
Brundage. I don’t believe you’ll find more normal people
in the world than those of Boise. Just south of McCall
sits an old Finnish community called Roseberry. You can
imagine how Finnish immigrants felt instantly at home in this
lush green valley, cradled by mountains, dotted with hot springs
to heat their winter saunas. You could say my grandpa, a
Norwegian man who could fix or construct just about anything,
was destined to build a cabin up here.
The latest immigrants to the
area don’t fit in quite so nicely. A notorious millionaire
from San Diego has purchased McCall’s beloved Shore Lodge and
turned it into a private and pricey retreat for his wealthy
Southern California friends who fly in on their personal jets.
And now McCall has Tamarack.
Tamarack, across from
Roseberry, is a new ski resort funded by out-of-state investors
with deep pockets and visions of creating the next Vail or
Aspen. Buildable lots there (without houses) start about
$650,000. We had to check it out for ourselves.
Tamarack constructions trucks
have decimated the picturesque three and a half mile
campground-lined country road into the resort. Now
Tamarack management demands that the state of Idaho repair the
obliterated road, “the #1 complaint of our guests!” During
the building of the massive “member’s only” lodge, enormous
Mars-like domes temporarily house the resort’s hotel rooms and
services. We stopped at the market for a Diet Coke and found an
impressive array of imported wine, Brie cheese and frozen
organic pizzas, “made with soy cheese.”
The only other visitors to the
store were construction workers looking for regular-guy snacks.
They brought to mind McCall’s soaring property values, a crisis
which prices locals out of their homes and eliminates the middle
class. Service workers can scarcely afford to live here;
there aren’t enough people around to clean the hotel rooms and
wait tables anymore.
the jet ski waves, my phone call from the dock got me a Friday
reservation at Jerry’s Motel in Stanley, a place I’d wanted to
visit after seeing my brother James’ eyes light up while
describing its beauty.
Stanley is about a three hour
drive from McCall into some of the most spectacular scenery
around, bordered by the largest wilderness area in the
continental United States. It also routinely ranks as the
coldest spot in the mainland, but that’s not a problem during
mid-summer, and the tiny town (population 100) swells with
white-water rafters. We ate a delightful outdoor lunch on
a deck filled with families, friendly dogs and a few young, fit
raft guides who radiated coolness, without even trying.
Diners and staff held doors open for one another and spoke
sweetly to their children. They had Idaho license plates.
We easily found the charming
Jerry’s (on recommendation of James and my parents) but upon
check-in, learned they’d somehow expected us Thursday night and
had no vacancy. The clerk promised to refund our credit
card, then called the Chamber of Commerce, who located the only
available room in the valley: the Sunbeam Resort, ten
miles down the road. We took it.
I was a bit concerned by the
parlorish upholstered chair on the front porch of our Sunbeam
unit. It reminded me of Zach and friends’ purchase of a
ten dollar garage sale couch for the outside of their rental
house at Oregon State this fall. (“It’s a front porch
couch, Mom,” Zach reassured me. “Everyone at school has
them.”) Perhaps I simply needed to adapt to the local
culture here at the Sunbeam.
Inside we found clean sheets
and towels, but it might tell you something that I elected to
spend most of my time outside on the cushy front porch chair,
reading novels. Jim meandered off to take photos while I bonded
outside with my environment. I eavesdropped as the senior
pot-bellied raft director explained his weekend itinerary to the
retirees gathered in a camp circle, surrounded by their bullet
gulf-stream trailers. (“It’s ten dollars for a trailer
hook-up; twelve with electricity.”) I listened to the
grandpa upstairs, whom I suspect was hard of hearing, ramble on
for hours; the guy was like radio. I watched some kids
build a fire in the nearby pit.
Jim rolled into the Sunbeam
along with the thunderclouds, with a virtual digital roll of
photographs like I’ve rarely seen. (I can’t wait to see
what paintings come from this.) The resort (I use that
term loosely) office was closed for the evening but the manager
offered Jim use of her personal phone to check on our kids
indirectly through Grandma in Salem. The manager also
briefly opened the store for Jim to purchase an Almond Joy.
That night the ceiling and
doors above us creaked so loudly that I thought some river
rafters had entered our room. Later when I got up for a
glass of water, I sniffed and worried that our kitchen was
ablaze, but it was just smoke from the campfires on the
property. Our windows didn’t shut properly so we just left
them all open for the night. We used the fan to drown out
radio grandpa and the squeaks in the building. We had an
infestation of moths. And we slept deeply.
At checkout, the manager asked
how our stay was. I smiled, said it was great, and laughed
about the moths. She said they’d just hatched with the
heat and last night she slept with a bedside candle in her
trailer. The moths’ wings singed in the flame and to her
delight an army of them lay dead on her nightstand by sunrise.
Hairy Chests and
long ago, Jim and I visited a splashy new resort many miles
south of here. One evening while I sat alone in the lobby,
an older man who’d obviously been around the block a few times
approached with two goblets of dark wine in hand. I looked
up at his capped teeth, slicked-back dark hair, silk shirt and
hairy chest with gold chains. OK, I didn’t actually see
the chains, but they had to be there. He purred, “You look
like a lady who would enjoy a glass of Merlot.” And then,
extending his hand, he said, “Hello, my name is Vincent.”
My skin starts to crawl as I
type this, the memory skeeves me so.
Jim later suggested that
Vincent had a thick wallet and was accustomed to getting his
way. (Another wave of nausea overtakes me.)
I thought about Vincent while
sitting on that golden living room chair on the Sunbeam porch,
and then about Tamarack. I thought about the sense of
entitlement that people of extreme wealth sometimes have.
How money teaches people that they can upset the normal order of
society, that they can take what they want without regard to the
local culture. They can bypass propriety in their own
ego-centric pursuits. And I considered how wealth wields
the power to change a small community forever.
Recently, a friend teasingly
suggested that I was something of a princess. I plead
guilty, as far as shopping and salons go, anyway. But the
truth is that I felt infinitely more comfortable at the Sunbeam
with the moths than I did at Tamarack with the gourmet rice milk
And I hope that nobody ever,
ever tells Vincent about Stanley, Idaho.