To Russia With Love
my own private Idaho
Each time you set out with a plane ticket in hand and your passport in your pocket, surprises await you. Sometimes the surprises greet you at the airport, sometimes the surprises wait for you at the front desk. Sometimes the surprises linger yet longer to reveal themselves to you and may even materialize on the last night of the trip as the most amazing sunset yet. Always there's surprises. You just don't know where. That's why they are surprises.
I grew up in North Idaho. It is beloved to me still and my childhood on Lake Coeur d'Alene, the St. Joe River, Marble Creek and the north fork of the Coeur d'Alene is a golden cherished relic to whom I regularly pay homage and adoration and for which I always, always whisper a thank you as I pass the altar. I have many, many, many memories of hot summer days in the water; walks in the woods after the tamarack turned; of the birches silent in winter, brilliantly leafed in spring. I remember the first time I caught a really big fish, remember how the soft underbelly puckered as I slit the knife in to clean it, and after that how I would always search the waters to see if I could see another big one waiting down there for me. We picked the huckleberries, tramped up and down the hills like billy goats, prized ourselves on spotting the absolute perfect Christmas tree in the snow and frozen air of the winter forest. My own private Idaho.
It was then, an emotional, deeply moving experience to find that very same Idaho again; the Idaho of the Coeur d'Alenes, the Idaho before the woods and the mines shut down, the Idaho of my youth, as I floated down a series of rivers and lakes on my way to Moscow, Russia from where I got on the boat in St. Petersburg. Surprises, indeed.
Russia is the biggest country in the world, covering 10 million square miles and 11 time zones. It has a vast inventory of natural resources that are yet untouched. It has gold, it has silver, it has uranium. Lead and coal; world's biggest oil and gas reserves. Diamonds and platinum. It has the two biggest lakes in Europe, both of which feel more like oceans than lakes when you ride them. Floating the waters of Russia, I saw stand after stand after stand of virgin timber growing right down to the banks of the rivers and lakes. Little, very little, of the waterfronts are developed. It's the Land That Time Forgot. It's Idaho, back in the day.
I saw old, dusty crummy cars parked down near the banks of the river. Dad was standing shin deep in the water, casting with a boy or two and Mom was cooking over an open flame as the other children played nearby. Mom wore a bandanna tied under her chin. How they got that old car down to the river remains a mystery to me. There just aren't many roads in Russia and many in the north are unpaved.
It was not like reliving my childhood and those endless summers; it was like watching them on DVD from a deck chair and remembering so many things you'd forgotten, but so many things you remembered, too. Slapping mosquitoes at dusk just before the campfire. Splashing, swimming and diving for rocks and beer cans. Flat bottomed fishing boats with outboard motors chugging around the lakes. And absolutely nobody but us and the water and the trees, as far as the eye could see.
So this is how it was. Two weeks of it. There was a surprise every single hour we were there.
The 'Kan EWA