Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Elmira Schoolhouse

View of Elmira Schoolhouse From My House
Working on the Railroad in Elmira
A Ghost Town
View of Elmira Schoolhouse From Across the Tracks
Wood Shed in Old Elmira?
Nope! The Original Elmira Schoolhouse!
Tucked on a knoll above my north pasture is a cement block schoolhouse built in 1910. Its south windows face my house, and if its front doors were still open to children I'd have kids scrambling across my place at recess.

The Second Elmira Schoolhouse
The property includes three operational outhouses. Not that I've used them, but I have peeked into the doors. One for boys, one for girls and one for Teacher. Yes, Teacher deserved her own. The student privies are double-seaters. So much for privacy!

Elmira was once a railroad town. While my research is incomplete, two major railroads built through this valley and its mountain passes around the mid-1860s. By 1900, Elmira employed a sizable group of Italian immigrants to maintain the tracks.

This valley is framed by three mountain ranges--the Cabinets, Purcells and Selkirks is called the McArthur Corridor. It is a natural pass and a perfect launching point for railroad crews.

The railroad companies created a stop-over here to house workers, equipment and supplies. To this very day (because I saw a BNSF crew pass earlier this morning) this area remains a hub for railroad crews. No longer do they live here in homes between tracks; crews bus to hotels 15 miles south in Sandpoint.

Elmira is a ghost town, no longer a point on a map. Only a few houses remain--my place was actually a ranch and at one time a rollicking inn that passed out moonshine. A sign marks the establishment of the official town-site as 1909, just one year before the stone schoolhouse was erected. It's across the tracks.

In fact, if you look at the Elmira Schoolhouse from that vantage point across the tracks you will find a collection of abandoned buildings typical to a ghost town. Made of wood, they resemble sheds if anything. Yet, the town housed families before 1909. So there was actually an original school.

After researching local records at the Bonners Ferry Museum, I've been able to identify one of these shed-like structures as the original schoolhouse. Somewhere in this cluster is what remains of the original teacher's house, outhouses, post office and yes, a wood shed.

So next door is the second schoolhouse. Abandoned after WWII, historians say that many of these one-room schoolhouse were often moved or dismantled. To have two originals in a town that no longer exists is unusual.

I must live among well-schooled ghosts!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ranch Royalty

Do You Know This Joke?
Ranch King, Indeed
Cupping Wind
Fledgling in the Pine
Ranch Royalty
The Fly-Catcher & The Horse
Normal rhythms feel comforting. But rhythms are dynamic--the same song does not play over and over.

There's always new music to take its place.

It's sunny, pleasant and dry. The basking log holds three companions this morning, aligned across the gray wood. It makes me think of a joke, "So a turtle, merganser and mallard walk into a bar..." Only, I don't know the punchline, so I contend myself with watching.

The king bird is pipping noisily this morning, hawking insects as I sip coffee. Sometimes, on warm days like this, I like to go for a drive with the windows rolled down, arm extended outside and hand cupped so it glides over the moving air.

That is how the king bird flies--like a feathered hand cupped over pockets of air, flapping to make his own speed. He flies past the gate and I notice the brand reads, "Ranch King." How appropriate. For now, he carries the title.

But often, as is the way with me and birds, I'm mistaken. "He" might be "she." Part of the colorful pipping this morning is because there are two king birds. One has stepped out onto the swinging branch of a towering ponderosa by the horse barn. It might be a fledgeling.

Eventually, the second bird in the pine drops down to the hanging electrical wire that crosses the pasture to give light to the barn.

Side by side the two sit as one feeds the other caught insects. that seems like a motherly act, though father's can feed young ones too, but the kids always seem to prefer mama's cooking.

The queen version of the king bird, flits off and lands on the wooden fence posts. She (or he) seems regal as the horses wander by, munching and moving, flipping long tails at flies no doubt this bird would like to eat.

Please do. And eat some mosquitoes while you are at it, my Ranch Royalty.

Monday, August 4, 2014


Cloud Whispers
Emerging Sand Bars
Brown Bird Among Browning Summer
Might Not Be Much
Looking More Ominous
Electric Pink
Blowing Dirt
And It Rains
Woman Has Grill  & Broken Truck. She Will Survive.
Clouds pile behind the Elmira Pond ridge. I hesitate, check the weather on my phone which tells me it's sunny and continue to load briquets into the chimney. I'll be grilling a marinaded chicken breast and baking a foil-wrapped Idaho potato.

Lately, only wispy clouds have whispered across blue skies. It's bone dry. The grass is crisp and the dirt like powder. The mares crop the grass low and drink from a shrinking pond. Sand bars emerge like tiny bald islands. Blackbirds  hawk for grasshoppers the color of desert.

Coals glow as the first splat of rain starts. The clouds have thickened and pop charges of lightning like teenagers popping firecrackers. Grabbing my potato I go inside.

The air doesn't cool. I wonder if the clouds are going to rain or just sweat over Elmira Pond. As the sun retreats the sky turns an electrified pink. My potato bakes in the oven.

As the rain cuts loose in a drenching sheet, the lights flicker...once...twice...out. The oven fan whines to a stop and overhead fans slow. I watch the rain and the pink. And wait. At 30 minutes I call in the outage to Northern Lights and notice my phone battery is low.

Groan...let me groan again...groan.

Just how unprepared can I be? Well, dinner is half-baked and I can't recharge my phone. It's an evening for Kindle and candlelight, though my tummy rumbles for that potato and chicken. Despite the rain, the coals are still hot so back on the grill goes the potato!


No electricity. Without the fans the house didn't cool and I'm hot. I can't flush the toilets because my well works on an electrical pump. I power up my phone which is now at 10 percent battery. I call Northern Lights.

Recorded messages is grim: due to severe storms, power outages will be two days.

Two days?! Just how unprepared can I be? I have no potable water, no back up for my refrigerated food and I'm a cook! I only have food that requires cooking...okay, I have a grill. I'll grill meat as the freezer melts. I can caveman it for two days. Suddenly, I feel thirsty.

Like someone on a deserted island writing out her last thoughts, I pen a plan. With remaining battery I'll call the Geologist and Radio Geek. I need updates. I "might" be able to fix the Blue Goose and make it to Samuels for gas, water, a meal and a charge for my phone. But not if they're closed due to the outage.

Okay. I got this. My mouth is dry. I power up the phone and call. No answer. Okay. Call Todd in Boise. Tell him it's not an emergency; not like he has to drive 400 miles to deliver water, but he can look up statuses, too.

With my final blip of battery, I receive my final text from the outside world..."Dispatch will bring water."

What? You mean the same dispatch I couldn't convince that there were two fires in Elmira, not one? The same dispatch I thought about calling to report obnoxious birds at 2 a.m.? I'm not hopeful. No one comes. It's silent as I eat my second grilled steak. Not even the trains run.

Then, a whirring noise, the sound of a miracle--24 hours after the lights flickered, they beam with blessed electricity!

My phone has a message from dispatch: Call us if you need assistance. Uh-huh. Thanks, dispatch, glad you understood my phone was dead I mumble as I draw a deep drink of cold water from the well.