Friday, 5 August 2011

Days 124 & 125: Close to nature in Idaho

On Friday evening, we decided to walk up to the top of our friend's land to look at the 'ham shack'.  This isn't a place for smoking ham!  It's where Chris kept his ham radio stuff and I suppose he was in a good part of the property for sending and receiving messages.  Anyway, I never made it.  There are always a lot of mosquitoes on their land in the evening, but typically these don't bother much.  Actually, they prefer Mike's blood to mine, so as long as I'm near him, I'm likely to be left alone.  I've been rather smug about this, and now I got my comeuppance.  I was walking up the hill with the mosquitoes and myself more or less ignoring each other, even though they were on my clothes.  Suddenly I felt a painful jab on my thigh.  Followed by another and another.  I decided these mosquitoes were just too vicious for me and decided to get out of there.  I headed back to the house at high speed, with the guys calling after me that there were fewer mosquitoes higher up.  Ha!  I went in and inspected three good sized holes in places I'm not sharing.  I was just sitting around feeling dazed when a wasp flew out of the bottom of my trousers!  Not long after the guys came back and Chris had got stung as well.  Mike had fortunately escaped, as he is allergic to wasp stings.  We must have trampled on a nest of wasps or something. 

So, apparently this is called 'being close to nature'.  But actually some strange things are happening in that regard.  Either the Idaho panhandle is much more European in terms of population density and land use, or I'm getting more used to the way America looks and feels, or the lake provides a massive escape valve or all of those things, but Sandpoint is not feeling as weird to me as most of America so far.  There's no doubt that to me, it's all about the lake.  It's hard to turn a lake into private property and neither nature nor society can well stop people circulating on it so it's this big wide expanse of accessible public space.  And to some extent, the banks have followed.  That's what you need in order to be able to get close to nature in the first place.  It's very liveable.  One of Carol's friends took us out on her motorboat across the lake to her house.  We hung out all afternoon, went kayaking from the 'neighborhood' beach and the kids swam.  This house is in practice only accessible by motorboat, though you can also take a 4-hour drive on dirt roads to get there.  This house would be the most amazing place to hide up and write or do art because when you want to be alone you have a fabulous view over the lake and nobody can bother you.  When you want to throw a party, you have a beach, a big fire pit and boats and a whole lot of space.  It's also a really beautiful house, partly built by the owner out of cord wood, which is the kind of wood we use for firewood.  The logs are set lengthways in concrete so you just see the round end and occasionally there are blue vodka bottles, end to end in the concrete letting in blue light.  I can imagine this house would be partly fun to build (drinking the vodka) and partly not so fun (hauling every single thing in on those dirt roads).  At any rate, it's quite an achevement.

I think Europeans would be amazed just how many unpaved roads there are in America, especially considering the climate.  Our friend's driveway is half way down a mile of dirt track along with a whole lot of other houses.  They also built there own house (with help from time to time).  They went from a tiny cabin to a bigger cabin to a small house (keeping the cabin for guests).  Then they've expanded the house twice and have about 3 or 4 other sheds or garages that have various uses.  It's a more traditional construction than the lake house we visited but it all looks nice and homogenous. Both these houses are quite typical of the land development situation here, and that is also why you see so many bits of land with people living in trailers or mobile homes.  Something that's not rare in this part of the country is a trailer with a barn roof built over the top of it.  Presumably that's a good thing with the snow you get here.  So these people own their land and either don't have the money to put up a house, or the skills, or haven't got round to it yet, or find that the trailer/mobile home meets their needs anyway.  I don't quite know which.

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