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The Calm After the Storm

August 13, 2014

Mr. Karen and I spent last week at our home away from home on Schweitzer Mountain in Northern Idaho. As per usual for a summer trip, we flew out there, arriving in Spokane mid-afternoon on a Saturday. Instead of driving directly to Idaho, we stopped and had dinner with Mary, a friend of one of Mr. Karen’s sisters. Mary has actually stayed at our condo a few times but we’d never met. It was fun to get to know each other a little bit, and also to pet the dog that “signed” our guest book on at least one trip Mary took to the mountain. It was very nice of her to host us, especially since she’d broken her arm the week before in a hiking accident. Before we left, she gave us some produce from her garden, which was also very nice.

The weather in Spokane was hot (96 degrees Fahrenheit when we got in the rental car) and sunny when we arrived, but as we drove east after dinner, we caught up with a rainstorm. After we turned north and the sun set, the storm continued to move off to the east, but we saw lots and lots of evidence that it had done a fair bit of damage as it passed through. The wet roads were littered with broken branches, and emergency vehicles crossed our path at fairly frequent intervals. The power had been knocked out in a lot of places, including the town near the base of the mountain road. We’d planned to stop at the grocery store before heading up, but since there were no lights on anywhere in the shopping center, I figured we should just go on up to our condo, but Mr. Karen persuaded me that we should see if the store was actually closed. Amazingly, it was not. The aisles were eerie, lit only by a few emergency lights, so we used our phones for extra illumination as we shopped for key supplies, including bottled water and ice, which there was ample stock of since apparently the storm had just passed and not many people were out and about yet. They had enough power from their backup generator to run two cash registers, so we didn’t even have to wait in a very long line. The guy in front of us was apparently a lineman for the power company; he was stocking up on energy drinks.

Shopping by emergency light

The drive up the mountain road was much more of an adventure than usual for summertime. I felt like I was in a tire commercial, powering around the switchbacks on wet pavement, avoiding all the debris the storm had brought down, accelerating past the road maintenance guy when he pulled into a turnout ahead of me. At two different spots, huge trees had fallen across the road; when we reached them, they’d been cleared only enough for one narrow lane, but fortunately there was not a lot of traffic. Of course there was no power in the condo, but we had running water and working flashlights and mostly charged cellphone batteries and the outside temperature was neither beastly hot nor freezing cold, so we were in pretty good shape, considering. We put some ice in the fridge and some in the freezer and got ready for bed, figuring there was no point in staying awake just to see if the power came on.

The power was not on Sunday morning when we woke up, but the weather was beautiful. Opening blinds to get more sunlight, we saw that a tall pine tree on the slope behind the condo had been blown over by the storm. When we walked outside to investigate, we found that it had just grazed the back of the building, knocking some trim off and denting the siding. We got very lucky; a slight shift in angle and it could have come crashing through the window.

Tree down behind the condo

We’d timed this trip so we could attend the resort’s Huckleberry Festival for the first time, but Mother Nature was not on board with that plan. Due to some of the tents blowing away in storm the night before and the lack of power on the whole mountain, the festival was cancelled, but the hotel staff had improvised an outdoor kitchen with a propane grill and was making huckleberry pancakes, so we did get to enjoy those, and that’s what I was mostly looking forward to anyway.

Huckleberry pancakes

You don’t need power to walk or hike or pick huckleberries, so that’s what we did next. We got back to the condo about the same time the power came back on, around 2 in the afternoon, too late to salvage any part of the festival but soon enough that we lost no food in the refrigerator or freezer. Since we hadn’t done a full grocery shopping the night before, we had to go down to town, and as long as we were driving that far, we figured we might as well take a detour to go hike down to some rapids on the Pack River. Part of the trail was so steep that there are ropes tied along the trees to hang onto.

Pack River

The weather stayed beautiful the rest of the week, and we split our time between enjoying all the natural beauty around us and working on projects in the condo.
We picked enough huckleberries to have plenty to eat and also some to freeze and enjoy this coming winter.

The elusive huckleberry

We walked the mountain roads and hiked some trails, including a few that were new to us. There were wildflowers blooming all over.

Flowery trail

We encountered wild critters along the way, including several mule deer, some with fawns. A couple times, the deer peered into our world.

Mule deer in the backyard

On the home improvement front, the old and quirky disposer in the kitchen sink finally seized up for good. Fortunately we were able to arrange to get a replacement installed, though Mr. Karen had to do some additional work to after the plumber left in order to put in a proper switch (the old one did not have an external switch, so there was no wiring in place for that). Our big project was finishing the Murphy bed for one of the guest rooms. Mr. Karen did most of the construction, while I was in charge of staining and finishing and assisting with any tasks that called for a helper in the directions (mostly lifting things and holding them in place while they got fastened to each other or to the wall). There’s still some decorative work we want to do on the cabinet, but that can wait; the important thing is the bed now folds up out of the way so we can use that floor space for other things when no one is sleeping in that room.

Functional Murphy bed

We went into town only a few times. Of course there was the pilgrimage to the Pie Hut, because that is a must whenever one is in Sandpoint, and a couple stops at Home Depot, including one a couple hours before they closed on the last night of our trip to get some longer bolts for the Murphy bed when it became clear that the ones specified in the plans were not going to do the job for our situation. I didn’t get a chance to go down to the nearest big city (44,000 people as of the 2010 census, compared to 1100 in the town at the base of the mountain road and 7400 in Sandpoint proper) like I often do when we’re out there, but I did slip away to visit the quilt shop that opened in Sandpoint a year ago but which I only noticed this trip (wandering around downtown is not something that tends to happen on our winter trips, and since the bypass went in, we don’t have to drive through the way we used to).

All too soon, it was time to head home, where I have a more space to spread out in indoors but a lot less impressive outdoor environment. I miss the mountains when I am away from them, but hanging out picking huckleberries does not pay very well.

All the photos I felt fit to upload to Flickr from the trip are here.

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