Donnelly, Idaho - A Rural Jewel Off the Beaten Path
Travel for Cynthia and I is a joy for so many reasons – to experience different cultures and cuisines, to revel in the countless, kaleidoscopically varied land and seascapes adorning our planet (ok, they might be countable, but I’ll leave producing that sum to someone else), to bask serenely in the grandeur of cerebral experience that ought but wilderness imparts to one’s soul. Oh yes, and the connection with people known and unknown to us. This last point, I think, merits exploring more expansively (I was tempted to leave out “more” for the alliterative effect, but the resulting linguistic ungainliness seemed to me too high a stylistic price).
A scant few years ago (2016 to be precise) our yen to travel took us to France. Our itinerary included Paris (duh!), Beaujolais (the sole guests of a delightful winery), Chamonix (pre-tourist season!), Dijon (a marvelous surprise – would return in a heartbeat), and Mauregard (chosen for its proximity to the airport). Before leaving Salt Lake a friend posed what is, unfortunately, a common question: “Aren’t the French rude, especially to Americans?”
I’ve done business pretty extensively in France and assured my friend I’d never had a problem. Then again, I acknowledged I’d always been the guest of French businesspeople and agreed it possible that our experience as unaccompanied Americans might be less pleasant. At the same time, I believed (and have always believed) in what anthropologists call the “reciprocity norm” (one of only two norms found in every known culture – the other being the “incest taboo”). Simply stated, the reciprocity norm means that courtesy, generosity, kindness (or their opposite), etc. tend to be reciprocated in kind.
I had reserved an Avis rental car for our trip at De Gaulle airport. Signs directing us to the rental car desk were confusing enough that, after wandering a bit, we found ourselves in a very large parking garage. From there we searched fruitlessly until I decided I’d better ask for help. A woman passing by, obviously just returned from a trip and on her way to her car, was my first opportunity. “Pardon,” said I, “Ou se trouve Avis, s’il vous plait?” My American accent surely was as obvious as flop sweat to a restive audience. She began to instruct me, but what little English she knew failed her. After a brief, thoughtful silence, she said “Follow,” and set off at a pace mercifully calculated not to overwhelm our luggage burdened selves. As it happened, we’d strayed quite a distance from where we needed to be. Unperturbed, at least in any outward sense, she led us the entire way, politely smiling and shaking her head to decline my offer of a gratuity. Over the course of our trip we were rescued more than once by kindly French people correctly inferring from our behavior that we were lost.
My belief that respectful politeness harmoniously bridges language and borders remains solidly intact.
Which brings me back to our Donnelly, Idaho trip. Driving from Salt Lake City to Donnelly involves no international border crossings, but unlike travel to places where any interpersonal contact will necessarily be with strangers, our Donnelly journey had interpersonal connections at its core. This would be my third trip through that area of the country. The first was in summer, 1978, when I loaded my bicycle with panniers and rode solo from Salt Lake to Coeur D’Alene, a trip that took me to Boise, then north through Cascade, Donnelly, McCall and beyond. The second was in winter 2019, when we mixed our interpersonal element with a desire to ski Tamarack Resort. As that exceptional trip wound down we agreed with our hosts (more about them in a minute) that a return trip in summer should find its way onto our calendars as a priority. And so, voila, the time had come.
The female portion of our hosts, Bonnie, traces a history of friendship with Cynthia all the way back to high school. As too often happens in our cluttered lives, they had lost touch for several years. Then the goddess of friendship exercised her miracle working ability and, shortly after Cynthia and I became connected (get your minds out of the gutter!), subtly arranged a rapprochement between them. The intervening period of years notwithstanding, their bond recoupled as if the missing time had been mere minutes – no more an interruption of significance than a trip to the powder room while dining together. True friendships may hibernate, but upon reawakening the most obvious hallmark of elapsed time is a keenly sharpened hunger.
Bonnie’s husband and life partner, Tom (aka The Captain, in some circles), was as new to the relationship as was I (no doubt our shared first names helped smooth our integration into Bonnie and Cynthia’s long-standing society). He is a dervish of creative industry, a fine skier and an agreeably low key bon vivant – all of which is to say the friendship expanded quite naturally to embrace us all.
Bonnie and Tom’s cabin (a cabin the way a Bentley is a car) sits immediately on the Lake Cascade shore and claims ample shoreline to include beach and boat dock space. Lake Cascade, as I understand it, extends roughly 16 miles from Cascade to just past Donnelly. The area, known as the “Long Valley,” is at an elevation of 4,828 feet and surrounded by stately, thoroughly alpine looking mountains. Summer temps are mild, rarely rising higher than 85 degrees and the entire Long Valley is sparsely populated enough, both with motor vehicles and industry, that pollution is no more than a rumor and night skies are a gourmet feast of celestial extravagance.
Tom and Bonnie are unofficial, unpaid, but persuasively enthusiastic promoters of smallish, little known Idaho ski areas (the previously mentioned Tamarack among them). Another, situated a short drive from their cabin, is Brundage. The snow may be gone, but the area still beckoned and our hosts, knowing our fondness for alpine hiking, suggested we pay a visit. The area operates one of its chair lifts in summer and the four of us rode it to the summit. From there, the view of The Long Valley, Lake Cascade, and assorted smaller lakes presents itself like a fine artist’s arrangement. We walked the ridgeline, taking photos to commemorate the occasion, then walked the roughly 3.5 miles back to the area’s base. The cool afternoon melded with a clear blue sky – a recipe for something aptly described as a perfect afternoon.
My several mentions of Lake Cascade are more than a passing reference. A “wooden boat” show was taking place outside McCall and the occasion required we attend. Chris Crafts were dominant, but other makes I’d not known of before were on hand as well. Maintenance on those crafts must feel to their owners like a nearly full-time job. Obviously though, it’s a labor of love and the resulting beauty reflects the owners’ painstaking dedication.
Not content to simply view boats, Tom and Bonnie thought it appropriate to take us for a spin in their boat – a single screw ski boat powered by a smoothly growling 350 V8 engine. Tom asked if I’d like to try water skiing. My mental arithmetic sprang immediately to action, telling me it had been 30+ years since I last water skied. “Yes,” I replied, successfully (I think) masking my misgivings with a fine show of bravado.
“One or two skis?” Tom asked.
“One,” said I.
“Would you like to start on two and drop one?”
“No. I’ll go all in on one.”
Try number one was a failure. In fact, attempts one through four resulted in little more than me being dragged through the wake like a large, freshly captured fish. By then I was, let’s say, fatigued and said perhaps I should give it a rest.
“Try once more first?” asked Tom.
“Let’s do it!”
The gods of ego-salvation smiled at my 5th attempt and there I was, up on my single ski! Until, that is, we encountered the cross-wakes of two other nearby boats. I nearly survived their onslaught (nearly being the operative word) and found myself again bobbing about like so much flotsam. Oh well, it was genuinely great fun.
Referencing back again to the 1970s, two Salt Lake friends of mine, Tom (another appealing name, don’t you think?) and Karolyn, decided that the city’s pollution, burgeoning growth, crowded highways and other signposts of urban living were becoming, for them, intolerable. Their solution? Execute a plan to amass a stake suitable for restarting their lives elsewhere. They bought, renovated and sold a house near downtown, took the proceeds to Cascade and bought a gas station/convenience store business. On day three of my bicycle trip to Coeur d’Alene I peddled into their parking lot where Karolyn was sitting at their drive through window. Once she steadied herself enough to be sure she’d not fall off her chair from the surprise of my bicycle-born arrival, she greeted me warmly enough that the trip to that point felt like an exceptional use of my time. She summoned Tom, whose embrace eloquently reinforced my sense of having done the right thing traveling there.
After spending two or three days in Tom and Karolyn’s richly bountiful company, I resumed my northward journey. Except for rare correspondence and their appearance at a reunion party I’d held in Salt Lake, we’d not been in contact since. I was certain that Tom and Bonnie would find Tom and Karolyn a relationship worth cultivating. I was unable to physically witness Karolyn’s reaction when I phoned, but I think it safe to describe it as a nostalgic echo of her surprise when I arrived in 1978. Tom and Karolyn accepted our invitation to visit and, as anticipated, proved a simpatico addition to the group (never mind that the redundancy of Toms unfairly gave advantage to the men where name recall was concerned) and the six of us enjoyed lively conversation as the evening’s dusk gave way to gathering twilight.
On Sunday we bade our hosts farewell, reciprocally promising future visits to our respective places of residence and preferred ski areas. Passing through Cascade, we called upon Karolyn’s Tom (the abundance of Toms does make a clarifying modifier useful, I think) and were treated to a tour of the stunning home he has built there, as well as of the many practical additions he’s made around their property.
With that, our hearts buoyed as only sincere connections between people can lift them, we concluded our visit and headed homeward to Salt Lake.