When you are lonely and living in Idaho, there is not much around to cure your suffering. Just mountains and highways. And the highways stretch out long and empty, serving their only purpose of getting people the hell out of Idaho, while the mountains stand there cold and intimidating, taunting, you've got to go through me first.
My grandfather says that the only reason people end up in Idaho is because there is no place left to go. Who would ever dream of coming home to cold mountains
and empty plains.
makes for a perfect triangle top if Boise and Idaho Falls are serving as the other two points. Right on the edge of the Bitterroot Mountains
and sitting on the Salmon River
. This is somehow where I ended up. The mountains are cold and wet, yet smooth. The river is dead. It used to flow out to the sea thousands of years ago by way of Oregon and California, but now it's stuck running out somewhere near Ketchum, Idaho.
We had gone there because of Elliott's
job. Because it paid well and because it was something a little different. A private school for a man who had been taught to teach in Seattle's public school system. I went there because I wanted to follow him, and because I had always wanted to live in the mountains.
For months after we got there, I couldn't find a job. Challis is not a booming center for anything. It was not as if I needed to be employed either. Elliott's job was good enough to cover needs and wants, we didn't need the money. But what I did need was something to fill the lonely hours of my day up.
Elliott had it very much in mind that what I needed was a dog. So when the biology teacher at the school told him that her golden retriever had just had puppies, Elliott was the first to go and snatch one up. I immediately set to training it to not pee on my floor.
It was a love hate relationship between me and the dog until I figured out that she liked to go for walks (because what dog
doesn't?). Thus we began our daily ritual of walking up into the mountains by way of an old horse path and then back down by the side of the river.
Every morning, up and out by 11, back by 3. Sometimes changing the route, mostly just staying the same. Because everyday I could step in the same footprints as I did the day before and yet still come out and find something new. Because that was the way I liked it.
Mrs. Annabella Blackhorse is known throughout Challis as the town gossip. She was older Indian woman who was still bitter because her son, Mr. Jonathan Geronimo Blackhorse had left for the city, Boise, and never came to visit. She was also, somehow unfortunately for Elliott and I, our neighbor. When she found out we were living together, unmarried
, she made it a point to not like us. When she noticed that the dog and I were coming and going at the same time everyday, she became overly suspicious. And loud about those suspicions.
I know where ya goin' up in the mountains. I know what ya been doin'. Folks don't go up there for no reason ya know.
And other assorted hollers would come out from her screened in porch door when I would be coming in or out of mine.
It was a Monday when I decided to hell with it, I am just going to walk over there and tell her off. What I meant to say was, you're an old hag. What I actually said was, Mrs. Annabella Blackhorse please come walking with me today. And she did.
Day after day. At first she just wanted to talk about the gossip. Did you hear Seth Jones went and left his wife? That Ms. Theresa Barrett is engaged to marry Erik Strong? Then it became stories of her son, then of her late husband. Then came stories of the nature that was all around us.
Good I thought, if I can't have silence
on the long walks then I want you to talk about stuff that I like; that I want to hear about. I want you to talk about the horses and the river and what it was like before, when it was all still new. I want to hear about thunderstorms and white lightning
; I want to hear about you, truth, not any of this gossip.
Here is everything you need to know. Everybody has story. And Mrs. Annabella Blackhorse is no exception.
It must have been well into summer when she puttered out one day and sat down on a mossy stone near the river. Didn't say a word. Just sat. And stared. Watched the river trickle out over smooth stones and sand. The water comes down clear from the mountains and you can see straight to the bottom. When we had sat in silence
for half an hour I finally said, you know what ma'am, let's just go in.
And we did. Rolled up our jeans and just waded right out into the water and splashed around. It was warm and it felt nice. The dog was in the water, batting and biting at small fish circling around his feet. And Mrs. Annabella Blackhorse just stood out in the middle and lifted her skinny, wrinkled fists
up to heaven and let out a deep stomach of a yell. When she smiled at me and said, Ah this is how I thought it would be,
I could have sworn she was almost purring
We were silent the rest of the way home. When it was over and she looked at me and said, thank ya, but I won't be going tomorra.
It wasn't a week that passed before Mrs. Annabella Blackhorse's cleaning lady found her dead in her bed, smiling. Crayons, old ones, laying by her bed and a picture of the river scribbled by shaky hands on the nightstand.
And the river pushed a little closer to the sea
. Idaho felt a little less daunting.