Winding Road, Next 99 Miles (8 am at Apgar)

I climb out of Montana only to fall into Idaho

and a sign appears

yellow and black in the late June gloom

like a yellow-jacket warning flying by in the dark

“Winding Road, Next 99 Miles”


US 12, Lewis and Clark Highway

Lolo Pass to Kooskia (leave off the “a”)

the longest continuous paved curve in Idaho

US 12 photoI look for a campsite

Up a fortuitous forest road

a last-minute camp appears

Venus lights the way as I end my day

pitching the tent along Parachute Creek

(without pitching a fit) in the dark

Finally done it enough to know it by heart

and, oh, but it’s good for my heart


Climb in. Notebook the day. Drift off.

Dream and dream and dream

Of lost breath or something like it

indefinable and unsolvable

Waking and drifting, waking and drifting

12:51 — 1:27 — 2:49


Solid sleep arrives in time to be interrupted

by panting just outside the tent

something sniffing me out

I startle. It stomps off in surprise

“Mule deer” I think

but the three moose I saw last night

wade across my mind


I drift into a somnolent eddy

and toss in the tent until light


Now, its 8 o’clock at Apgar

69 winding miles downstream

at a camp along the right edge

of the laughing, lunging Lochsa

I have seen six blue jays

and an equal number of breathless bicyclists

beating uphill toward the long coast to Highway 93

“Just another few miles,” they will tell themselves all day


A Colorado car passes

carrying kayaks and fun hogs

in search of Class IV water

Three dozen cars and trucks

sit empty in wide spots

their drivers, not missing

but visible only as quivering, waving tips of fly rods

Behemoth motor homes labor east, roll quietly west

Green pickups range the highway

looking for forest roads to patrol

garbage to gather and camping fees to collect


The sun warms my back and the river sings

beside my borrowed picnic/writing table


On ridges high above Apgar

ghosts of Lewis and Clark and the Nimiipuu ramble

the white guys impatient, pushing the weather in both directions

while the Nez Perce pick their days and moments

journeying to and from the buffalo country


In water-cut creases between — in the river beside me

phantom salmon clamber through rocks and riffles

running for redds recalled from when they were fry

in Tumble, Whitehouse and Fishing Creeks

and a hundred other contributors

to the song of the river


What was that dream

that whirlpool I was stuck in last night?

Did ghosts come to visit and tell of travails

along those high places

forced passage, starvation, battling nature

Mother and human, across the Bitterroot?

Were the salmon running through my mind last night

looking for someplace to give birth and die?

Or was it just that last quaff of IPA?


Thirty winding miles more

to the Clearwater and Highway 13

The road says “let’s go!”

as impatient as the Corps two centuries ago

I sit in the sunshine instead, throwing down these images

before they escape me like last night’s dream


The Lochsa laughs and lunges past Apgar

clean and green

dreaming of the salmon that used to come

wondering, not if, but when they will return

oblivious to European impatience

moving the Bitterroots toward Astoria

one little grain of sand at a time


Maybe someday, we will learn to live together

Nimiipuu, whites, bicycles, motorhomes

salmon, mule deer, moose, dreams, memory

and the hummingbird rising over the river

laughing and lunging

99 winding miles to Kooskia

sandy compton winding road sign