View of St. Joe Valley, a mile west of St. Maries, from surrounding hills in November/Ralph Bartholdt
I crossed the borders of dichotomy yesterday -- at least by North Idaho standards -- when I traveled to Sandpoint and St. Maries on the same day.
In our area, Sandpoint on the north shore of Pend Oreille Lake is the picture of progressive with its coffee shops, wine bars, galleries, car dealerships and aesthetic developments blending into the woods above Sand Creek. A flotilla of sailboats bobs in the harbor during summer and anglers still come from around the continent to catch the big rainbow trout the lake is known for.
Aside from places like Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint is one of the few destinations in the Panhandle where construction hasn't stopped. It has slowed down, a builder told me, but his business remains steady with a stream of orders for the custom homes he specializes in.
Two hours south, St. Maries, which is tucked into the St. Joe River valley not far from the river's confluence with Lake Coeur d'Alene is more retrospective.
The log trucks that once dumped loads of fir, cedar and pine into the river, so they could be wrapped into brails and pushed by tugboats to the mills at Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls are fewer than ever.
The town seems to shrug its shoulders at the fading timber industry and the resulting outward trickle of its populace. Not because it doesn't care, but more likely because it is hard pressed to offset both the job loss and industry's wane.
Two sawmills and a local trucking company are among the biggest employers in this town that boasts a handful of burger joints and a reputation for its place at the gateway to the St. Joe River Valley, an elk hunting and cutthroat trout fishing paradise relatively untapped.
I have lived in both communities and juggle them for their amenities: There is more for the visitor to do and see in Sandpoint, but when your doing and seeing longs to be replaced with some solitude and the rush of good trout water trumped only by an elk bugle in the hills, St. Maries is where you want to be.
After meeting with the publisher and editor at Keokee Press in Sandpoint -- a company known for high quality guidebooks and its well-tuned literary bent in everything from the magazine it publishes to the books it produces -- I sat in Marsha Meury's Mad Mike's Java Joint on Sandpoint's main drag with the sun in the windows and classical music in the sound system.
"What is that music?" I asked sipping an Americano she made from beans roasted in Sandpoint.
"Mozart, I think", she said.
Meury is a former school teacher and the music wasn't rock-a-billy. Although she has that as well.
We watched people trundle by on the sidewalk outside with Starbucks cups and a straw in their mouth, mulling why they didn't support a local business that served locally roasted Java in an environment that includes good gab, Wi-fi, music and wonderful art (My photographs are among the wall decor).
"Starbucks...That's like from the far coast, right? Like, See-atle?"
Ninety miles south and a few hours later the roads heading into St. Maries wore a skin of ice, sun-melted for a while, but firming up again.
The sun was warm still in the afternoon, its rays flickering in the roadside trees.
I stopped at the Handi Corner cafe on Main Ave. across from the tire shop and talked with a friend about the economy.
Low interest rates, home prices holding steady, buyers and sellers both have an advantage in this market.
He shot a spike bull elk during the October elk season, he said.
I was flanked by a full moon on my way back to Coeur d'Alene.
Here's the travel route: