Labor Day Monday
There was a day last week in Sandpoint, Idaho, when I realized I was in Paradise. I had gotten back from a bike ride through the City Beach Park. There were few people at the park. But one family was a little group of two sisters and a mother and father from Alberta. The two sisters were pretending they were estheticians and were giving each other massages with mud from the beach.
The parents were grilling me about whether they should buy a home in Sandpoint. They were amazingly friendly people, as most Western Canadians are. The very friendliest people I met all summer were from Calgary. They had seen the movie, Expelled, in which I play a part. The mother and father and the children were amazingly polite. There was a stunningly beautiful 14-year-old daughter who kept asking me if I needed help parking my bicycle. These were religious, God-fearing people and I loved them a lot.
Anyway, after my ride through the park, I got into my car and drove to Vanderford's Book Store, where I bought the Wall Street Journal and the Bonner County Daily Bee. Then I went home and took a nap.
The lake glittered outside my window. A dozen or more sailboats were arranging themselves in a circle for a race.
My wife and I read some prayers, and then we met Tim and Penny Farmin on the dock for a run out to Hope to eat at Ivano's.
There was a freshening southwest wind, and we hit too much chop. The boat bounced too much. My wife went into the cabin to feel safe.
Then we got to Ivano's Del Lago. Dana Martin's pier area was sheltered and I parked the boat with ease. Then we clambered up to the eating platform. We had pasta and salad and chicken while we watched the sun set.
Sandpoint has many great restaurants -- Ivano's in town, the Trinity at the City Beach, the Loading Dock. But the one that caught my soul this summer was Ivano's Del Lago. It has a simply perfect setting sun view, and an open, uncluttered table layout.
The sun sets early at this time of year and it was dim by the time our dessert came. There are only about fifteen tables out on the deck but the diners are friendly at all of them. We all talk among ourselves and laugh. Most of us have gray hair or white hair, but we still laugh. The air is a bit chilly but very pleasant. The water is hypnotic. The food is perfect and the service is miraculous.
If there is a better place to eat on this earth than Ivano's Del Lago, I don't know what it is (although Hill's is just as good). If heaven were as good as Ivano's, it would be good enough. I stood inside the restaurant lit by lamps by the bar, flaring out into the friendly air, looking out at the darkling water. As we left, almost everyone on the dining deck said, "Good-bye," and one kind man shouted out, "We love you, Ben!" This is superb. I love being loved.
On the way back, the lake air was distinctly cold. Alex huddled in the cabin under a Pendleton wool blanket. Penny and Tim sat above board, Tim wearing only shorts and a sweat shirt, Penny wrapped up in layers.
It was dark and I got home only by Tim's fine guidance across the waves. I could not make out the peninsulas and islands in the lake. Their forms, once clearer to me, tonight were indistinct. Still, with Tim's guidance, I was safe.
But what feeling it is to travel at speed across open water in the dark, racing towards the lights of my dock. Boating is exhilarating at any time. Boating under countless stars on a clear late August night with the wind whipping into my face is close to nirvana. If the general population realized how much glory was in motor boating, these lakes would be much more crowded.
From about ten miles, we would see the lights of our condo, The Seasons, and we raced to port. Alex was being buffeted by waves, and Tim signaled to slow down. That made the view of the crescent moon and the stars even more spectacular.
When we got to our dock, Tim buttoned her up with my fumbling help. I couldn't do much in North Idaho without Tim's help. He is beyond a friend, beyond help. He's absolutely necessary. Then, we all stared up from the dock at the stars painted on the Idaho Panhandle sky, and then Tim and Penny went home, and Alex and I walked into our building.
Now, as we walked down the brightly lit hallway, an immense Burlington Northern Santa Fe train hurtled along the tracks not fifty feet from where we stood. The building vibrated and shook with that magnificently reassuring sound we hear all day long, that sound of travel and power and speed and adventure.
That was when I had the thought that Sandpoint is so perfectly made for me -- the smiling kids at the beach, the giggling girls at the refreshment stand, the friendly people at Vanderford's, Ward, my picture framer, Bob and Linda and the whole crew at the Alpine Shop, the UPS man, a cute girl at the bank, the trains, the milk shakes at the Dairy Depot, little wizards at Starbucks, the perfect food at Trinity and Ivano's and Ivano's Del Lago, Tim and Penny, my old girl pal Sue, that it's as if The Almighty had made this place just for me.
That's a great feeling, too.
Now, we are back in LA. We have bills to pay. The women I see at stores and at the gas stations look away when I smile at them. They don't smile back the way they do in Sandpoint. At LAX, it is a simulacrum of what Ellis Island must have been like 120 years ago.
I have my pool and my warm aquamarine water and my palms trees and I am a happy guy. No one deserves all I have.
But I miss Sandpoint. This has been a devastating summer. I lost my Brigid, the lover dog of my life. We lost our beloved Barbara Duke, the hostess with the mostest of Midland and Indian Wells. We lost our indispensable helpmate, T.D. Bicket. These are all irreparable losses.
Even so, this summer in Sandpoint is life the way it is supposed to be lived. As my pal Jane said long ago about North Idaho, "This is the America we pledge allegiance to when we pledge allegiance to the flag."
We cannot wait for next summer.
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