Monday, March 28, 2011

Life in North Idaho Part 1 - A Little Geography and History

So we've officially been in North Idaho for a year now, and that requires some updating.

Bonner County is an interesting place to be. The county has all of 41,000 residents spread out over 1738 sq miles with the majority of residents living outside of incorporated areas. The county seat and center of the county is Sandpoint, with all of 8,300 residents. Sandpoint has a few other incorporated cities attached to it (Ponderay, Kootenai, and Dover) but mostly incorporated areas are few and far between.

Bonner County is home to a huge-ass lake, Lake Pend Oreille, the surface area of which is 148 sq miles. Other than the southern tip (which Kootenai County claimed for one reason or another) the vast majority of the lake is in Bonner County. Most of the incorporated areas in Bonner County are either on the lake itself or on the Clark Fork River (the major feeder river from Montana) or the Pend Oreille River (the outlet which winds its way to Washington).

The rest of the county is a mixture of valleys and mountains and plains, with a mixture of meadow and forest.

(a horribly stylized map, but it will do)

Those mountains happen to be very important to the history of North Idaho, and to why Idaho has a Panhandle in the first place.

See, the Idaho Panhandle has always had two different problems; a bunch of mountain ranges, and the people drawn by mountain ranges in the West. This second group included a whole bunch of "independent" types; displaced Southern Democrats (Confederates), polygamists up from Nevada, other minority religious groups (including Anabaptists), loggers, millers, miners, railroad workers, and their entire service industry.

These groups are, shall we say, rather difficult to govern.

So when the Idaho territory was split between Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming along geographic features like the Bitterroot Mountains and other mountain ranges and rivers, a proposal was floated to split Idaho in two. The northern half would go to Washington and the southern half to Nevada. It's said that Idaho was kept whole as a personal favor to then-governor Edward A. Stevenson, but in reality Washington didn't fight too hard to claim the northern part.

The reality is, the Panhandle in 1887 was (and still is) extremely difficult to govern. Too many mountains, too many independent types, too much distance to travel. Even now the Panhandle is pissed at the southern part of the state for moving the capital from Lewiston to Boise, and even now people refer to Boise in the same ways that the rest of the country refers to D.C. (i.e. not very flattering).

Sandpoint, for all of its pretensions of being "Tahoe North", started its days as a port on the rivers and lake for the mills and mines, a railroad junction, and a tavern and whore town for all of the workers.

In certain ways it still is, just don't remind them. To this day there's 10 bars within Sandpoint city limits alone (only 3.9 sq miles) and many more restaurants that sell alcohol.

But anyway... in order to understand the culture of the area, you need to understand the roots. North Idaho is rooted in independence, self-sufficiency, and general distaste for too much government. The rural life is strong here, whether farmer, rancher, logger, miner, hunter, or fisherman. Property rights are strong here for that reason; almost everyone who buys land outside of city limits here is using it for at one of those purposes; those who aren't buy the land for the waterfront or the ability to do whatever they want on their own land without anyone complaining.

That's not to say that's the sum of economic activity; Bonner County is home to many businesses looking for cheap land, low taxes, and good workers. Coldwater Creek and Litehouse are both based in the Sandpoint area, as are many other businesses.

Still, at the end of the day, most of the workforce in Bonner County goes home to a house outside of city limits. All of this is what makes the culture of where we live.


The snow is gone from the yard. The hot tub is filled. The bald eagle is back, along with the gulls. The robins are singing in the morning. I'm breaking in a new pair of riding boots so I can get on the back of a horse within the next month of two. My seedlings are started. There's patio furniture on the deck.

It's officially spring in North Idaho.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Our Next House #1

Our next house will have exactly one doggie door. It will lead to the mud room. This way, when Spring hits and coonhound mix digs a hole under the fence for doberman mix to sneak out through, both of their muddy little bodies will be effectively barred from the house until they've had a date with the detachable shower head.

This mud room will not be ceremonial, no sirree. No pretty hard woods, carpets, and paintings for us, that's for the entry. The mud room will be entirely tiled with a drain in the floor. The coats and shoes will live in a freestanding coat closet and shoe bin that can be closed when the shower head comes out. Every bit will be washable and/or bleachable. The shower head will have sufficient hose to reach all around the room and sufficient water pressure to reach the farthest wall. The mud room will include a shower/bath and a utility sink.

The mud room will be separated from the main house by the pantry and laundry room. Both will also be tiled and bleachable. This will be for ease of unloading the Costco bounty (without taking shoes on and off eternally) and washing off whatever the muddy dogs did to my poor work clothes.

The "Our Next House" Series

Custom designing and building our permanent homestead has always been the plan. We moved to an area of reasonably priced, farm and forest suitable, undeveloped land for a reason.

For one thing, we don't plan on running a normal farm. I used the word homestead for a reason. A farm is a place where you practice agriculture. A homestead is place where you live. In our case it's also a place where we work.

Our eventual homestead will look something like this:

  • Main house, at least 4 bedrooms, a large pantry, 2 living areas, and an office.
  • Grossdaddi house, as the Amish call it. For years we've been calling it "Dad's" house because we expect my father to spend quite a bit of time there. It's also the place we're building for our eventual retirement. The term grossdaddi  house in particular refers to a house built on the farm where the parents retire to in their old age, letting one of their children take over the big house.
  • Garage, for the ACTUAL storage of vehicles.
  • Barns, for various reasons.
  • THE SHOP. Aka where Chris plans on spending most of his time. There's a variety of specifications for the building which I'll leave for him to explain.
Except for the barns, it's a pretty safe bet none of these will come from a standard plan.

Currently my best friend for the last, oh, 16 years is working on her master's in urban planning. Given that she's already stated she'd like to use our property for her portfolio, and the fact that we've been planning this place for the last 16 years (common source of amusement between us) she will be giving us a hand with the planning.

Talking about plans is one thing. Living them is another.

In a way, I'm glad we weren't able to buy a place before we moved up here. The experience we've gained in this particular climate is invaluable.

Thus, the "Our Next House" series. Bits and bobs of what life has taught us about living in the mountains and valleys of North Idaho.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Thaw

The birds are singing, parts of the lawn are visible again, and I didn't use 4-wheel-drive to get back down the driveway this morning.

It's also raining like mad, the heating oil truck almost got stuck in our driveway yesterday, and there's "road closed" signs all over the place.

Spring is officially here, and the thaw has begun. First the snow on the side of the roads went (and private driveways), then the yards, and now the snow berms are starting to disappear. By the time the snow melt reaches the top of Baldy Mountain all low-lying areas will be a sodden mess and, according to local wisdom, it will be time to plant and seed outdoors.

One thing's for sure; unlike Phoenix where the only seasons were hot and not-hot, North Idaho has the full set of 4 distinct seasons.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Reason to Live Off the Grid #1

Reason to live off the grid #1: not being reliant on unionized workers to restore electricity.

Hawaiian Electric Co. used managers and outside contractors to repair storm-damaged power lines yesterday after its unionized work force walked off the job over a contract dispute.
HECO executives said the strike would slow efforts to restore service to about 8,000 Oahu homes and businesses, mostly in the Ewa Beach area, that were without power last night.
I don't see solar panels, battery banks, or generators developing the ability to unionize any time soon.

Age Ain't Nuthin But A Number

Which is how I think, most of the time.

This is probably due in large part to 1. being married to someone who due to intelligence and experience "feels" older than he is and 2. being part of a community full of all ages. I likely wouldn't feel the same way if all of my friends were within 5 years of my own age.

So most of the time I don't think about how old I am until it's time to fill out forms or renew car insurance. Also, if I think about my age I just get depressed. My youngest brother almost died from a kidney infection when I was 23 for example, and he's still on dialysis. I gave my father a second opinion on whether or not to take my mother off of life support and was at her side when she died; I was 27.

Last November I turned 30, and yesterday my age got shoved in my face in a very unpleasant manner. While Chris seems like generations older than me he by no means robbed the cradle. He doesn't admit his age in public forums, but he kept within the rule of half his age plus 7.

So when the surgeon stared him down Tuesday and said "you're too young to be an old man, and too young to die on my table" it hit me. My husband most likely has cancer and has to go under the knife to save his own life. He's disabled and can't do the things he wants to. He can't act like a man his age normally would. He's too young for this.

I'm too young for this.

This is the problem with thinking about age. It's too damn depressing...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mel's Photo of the Day 3-2-11

Approaching snow shower. I've always particularly liked that house up on the hill. (click to embiggen)