Sunday, February 26, 2012

Idaho City

A nugget of summer warmth from the ol'travel log for a cold end-of-winter day...

Pungent, familiar earth and pine fill my nose. The coolness of morning is breaking, a hint at the day’s oncoming heat. Yesterday, temps in this dusty town crept above 100F. It’s only ten in the morning and already pushing the mercury, a far cry from the night before when I closed my eyes under the watchful gaze of a familiar moon and cool mountains a few hundred miles back up the highway.

Dogs search for nap spots in the shadows cast by trucks on Main Street. Under a sliver of shade from the porch roof, I watch two men across the dirt road hawk raffle tickets to out-of-town passerby in support of some community fund. I can only make out a few words, the rest I learn from a hand-painted, butcher paper sign; winner walks away with a hand built table.

Four hundred and fifty eight, give or take a few. That is the total population of once bustling Idaho City, a former mining mecca. Like so many other towns that dot western hillsides, it misplaced its hustle and bustle somewhere along the way morphing into a blink-and-miss-it trinket stop. This map dot now survives on gold from the pockets of accidental tourists who stumble upon it. Candles, knickknacks, quilts, jam. Get yourself a piece history before its fully lost to progress and time. Who but locals and tourists who stop long enough to read placards on buildings would remember what was once a hub? Does anyone ever send a postcard from Idaho City scrawling “Wish you were here!” across the back?

My souvenir is a small burn on my chest from where the sun heated my jacket zipper while sipping my coffee on this porch. Maritime city girls like me aren’t used to solar heated branding that comes with summertime in the West.

High clouds. Birds chirping. What was it like to be a woman here during the heyday 140 years ago? Sweating in jeans and a tee, I think of the dresses and petticoats women wore and how the heavy fabric would’ve stuck to skin, an unrelenting reminder of gender rules of the day.
A door slams pulling me to the present. At the far end of the porch, a silent group of men in front of Calamity Jayne’s Restaurant collectively endure the heat. Their intimidating presence blocks the way I intended to go in search of breakfast. Would it have been this way in the 1860’s too or would I have found stubborn gumption under all those layers of fabric and hard-worn skin to go into that restaurant anyways?

The heat holds the real power. It’s not quite worth it to get up and move, skin sticking to denim and cotton. Today’s meal will consist of coffee kept warm in my aluminum mug by the blazing morning sun.

This is a town of hard work. The kind you cant wash out of the creases in your hands or from under your fingernails despite suds and hot water. A man at the other end of the porch moves through the heat, his shirt clinging to sweaty skin, outlining an oh-so-touchable back. That sinew and muscle is more likely from hard labor rather than a desire to simply look strong like some of my city-dwelling man friends.
In my distraction, I didn’t realize that the drips running down my back and between my breasts had turned into a river.

Dusty and quiet. It’s time to hit the road. I pour out my overheated beverage, slide back into my truck, and crank the A/C to full capacity. Idaho City disappears from my rear-view mirror into the quiet silence of its long-ago history.