Orofino – no longer a distant memory

My first taste of Idaho was on a family vacation to Orofino in July, 1990.
My dad took us here in his blue two-ton van without AC to visit a church that had asked him to consider becoming the pastor.

I remember the town in warm dusty colors, with a rustic feel, kind people, gravel roads that teetered on the edge of ravines, deer, snakes and howling coyotes.

Soon we headed back to our lives on a different planet in Seattle and the trip became a hazy memory.

I decided to journey back to  to see if my memories were still accurate.
For the most part, they are.






Preserving rural America

With the loss of America’s wild terrain,IMG_0713 “I am concerned we are losing our souls.”

“…I think the most important thing we can do today is look at our landscape and figure out what matters, why it matters and how to preserve it.”

— Diane Josephy-Peavey, author and sheep and cattle rancher, at Weippe’s annual Camas Festival.

Weippe, Idaho


My next trek, just an hour or so later, was up a steeper, scarier grade — eight miles of tight twists and turns that really put Rocinante to the test.

I arrived in the small, seemingly forlorn town of Weippe ("Wee-IPE") in time for its Camas Festival – a small but lively celebration of the blue flowered plant that has long been a staple of the Nez Perce diet.

There weren't any plants to eat at the festival, but plenty of native dance demonstrations, speeches and a play.


In Weippe, I also visited my fifth Idaho museum!
They've all focused on Nez Perce culture and the Lewis and Clark expedition, and each has been excellently kept and curated.

Weippe's stood out for its outdoor murals and a walkway detailing native plants (which makes the trip worth it whether or not you arrive by closing time).

I'm getting a kick out of how closely I've mirrored the Lewis and Clark trail.

When they arrived here in the mid-1800s and saw the field of camas flowers, which blooms for just a couple weeks at the end of May, they nearly mistook it for a sea.


Wishful thinking, probably.

When I get on Highway 12, I'll be paralleling part of the Nez Perce retreat of 1877, another terrifying and poignant journey.

Winchester, Idaho


I ended up detouring from Lapwai to Winchester, where I tried twice to visit a wolf preserve and education center.
I was hoping to pick up some info on canine behavior to help me better understand my Armani. She's such a little wolf girl… But each time I made the trip down that long gravel road, the center was closed. And all the legit campsites and RV parks were full for the holiday!

Anyway, here's an excerpt of my diary entry:

Winchester is very picturesque, but I wouldn't want to live here. There are dandelions in every yard.
People ride their tractors through town. The visitor's center is closed at 11:20 a.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day. I get no cell phone reception.
The couple that runs the grocery store let me use their phone but was too busy butchering a cow to talk to me.
I'm having a hard time figuring out how to approach people the further from big cities I get. The word "blog" throws them off. The word "reporter" makes them suspicious. And often they don't use the Internet.
Nice as I am, I may be just a bit too curious, platinum pixie-haired and somehow still 'city.'
But (pretty much for the above reasons), I'm glad towns like this still exist.

The burden and freedom of an evolving identity

Growing up in Portland, "I never imagined myself being anything but a city girl."  IMG_0617
Problems with my husband caused me to run away to a reservation in Utah.
I ended up here in Lapwai with my mom and dad.
"The disadvantage (of reservation life) is everyone knows your business. Everyone gets on you real hard. The upside is it's really close."
"I grew up going to sun dances (annual, four-day long ceremonial events) my whole life.
My kids (two sons living with their father in Portland) don't have that.
I feel they are at loss and wish they could be here with me."
I stopped going to the dances when I got married. I went to one while I was having problems in that relationship and it helped me make the decision to leave. It was a "healing experience."

— Natalie Emerson, 29, Lapwai

The cultural wisdom of our ancestorsIMG_0621 is not gone, but "it's way different now."
"Diabetes is a big problem – everyone eats ice cream and cake… When I was a kid (in Bridgeport, Wash.) we raised rabbits and grew asparagus. I used to fish there."

— Lee Plumley, Lapwai