It's the first full moon of the summer. Normally, this would be a deadline night and Amy and I would be trapped at our desks, with me writing or editing and her doing layout or chasing down a last-minute photo. But right now, we're cinching up life jackets, listening to our water guides and wondering which of the dozen or so kayaks waiting on the beach will be ours. It's a balmy 72 here on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, the night is clear, and as we dutifully swivel our paddles around in a variety of "go forward," "back," "stop" and "don't swamp me" motions, Amy and I look at each other with "Can you believe we get paid to do this" grins.
The first in the four-part "Full Moon Paddle Series" took place on June 24, and The Inlander had the good fortune to go along. The second, featuring Ann I. Clizer (second-place winner in the last Inlander Short Fiction Contest), takes place Wednesday. The August trip is centered around a talk with 2002 Brenda Ueland Prose Prize finalist Renee D'Aoust, and the series concludes with a Harvest Moon paddle featuring poet Dennis Held. The brainchild of Christine Holbert, founder of Lost Horse Press, and Josie Merithew, owner of Full Spectrum Tours, the Full Moon Paddle Series originated as a conversation between two people who are in different lines of work but share a deep love of the Lake Pend Oreille region.
"We were just talking, kicking things around, and you know how sometimes that kind of intense flaming dialogue generates creative ideas?" says Holbert. "Well, we thought that maybe what I do [literary events] and what Josie does [paddling tours] might be fun to connect in some way."
Holbert is no stranger to making occasions out of what would otherwise be an ordinary literary event. She and EWU Press editor Scott Poole founded Get Lit! together years four ago, and since moving Lost Horse Press to Sandpoint a few years ago, Holbert has offered workshops honoring Inland Northwest women writers, staged events in a little schoolhouse on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille and even launched a three-day writer's conference.
"This is the first time anywhere, as far as I know, that a collaboration of this kind has been presented," she says. "With the addition of writers and pastries to the Full Moon Paddles, the trips have become remarkable, original events.
Tonight's presenter is journalist and historian Sandy Compton, whose articles have appeared in Ski and Sandpoint Magazine. The outdoors are as intrinsic to his work as they are to the efficient three-person crew from Full Spectrum Tours. Merithew and her helpers Todd Cotes and Jody Renfrew are consummate professionals who take great pride in their work, a quality that will be tested and proven throughout the duration of the trip. They even handle an inexplicably nervous reporter with ease. Within moments, Merithew is at the side of our craft. No judgment. No ridicule. She's just going to make sure we have a good kayaking experience.
For Merithew, running a company that gets people out on the water is a natural pairing between her own interests and her concern for the environment. "I was looking to start a business that would incorporate the outdoors, and I'd already done some work along that line; I worked as a tree planter and did some other things like that," she says. "I've always been an environmentally concerned individual, and I decided I would rather do something that contributes to the environment rather than something extractive, like logging. I've been boating since 1979, and I started to see how it really puts people back where they live. And it's fun and healthy. So I just took it from there."
Merithew was the first touring-kayak instructor in the state of Idaho and opened her shop in 1994. Although at first glance it might seem strange to combine poetry or prose with kayaking, for this outdoor enthusiast it's a natural outgrowth of her own philosophy. A visit to Full Spectrum Tours' Web site shows that a variety of trips are available, including "Yoga on the Rocks," "David Thompson's travels" and (our favorite) "Goat-n-Boat."
"I've always been a firm believer in experiential education," she says. "As much as possible, I like doing tours that involve some hands-on participation. We have 'Dancing on Water' tours, and I've had trips where we bring along a historian or a photographer. People seem to really like that added element."
The guides ask us to gather around a huge floating log, where Sandy Compton will give the first part of his evening talk. He talks about a drop of water, and how it flows into a stream, which flows into rivers, which flow into the lake. He names -- from memory -- what seem like the hundred or so tributaries of the Clark Fork River. He describes the lake's awesome dimensions: about 45 miles long and as much as 1,200 feet deep, and talks about the mountain ranges -- the Selkirks and the Cabinets -- that shape the area. While he talks, our pod of kayaks -- about a dozen -- bobs quietly on the water. As he finishes, the moon is beginning to rise and we all marvel at how enormous and pink it is, like a giant, radioactive peach.
Sandy Compton comes by his love for the area naturally. He lives in the house he grew up in, a log-and-frame structure near the Clark Fork, 12 miles upstream of the lake and just inside the Montana state border. As a frequent contributor to both local and national publications, Compton has most recently parlayed a lifetime of living in the Pend Oreille region into a script honoring Sandpoint's centennial (a project helmed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Erik Daarstad). He describes the outdoors as being integral to his work, not only as inspiration but as a place to get the work done. The work-in-progress that he reads from on the night of the paddle trip has been written outdoors in a three-ring notebook.
"The out-of-doors, and particularly the remote out-of-doors are of great value to me and I believe to all humans if we can take care of it," he says. "I can't think of more than one story that I have written that isn't based somehow in or includes an outdoor experience."
We approach the larger of two small islands, parking on a narrow strip of sand. Christine's silver bracelets jingle, and the scent of patchouli mingles with the wonderful smell of the island's cottonwood trees. We unload folding chairs, lanterns, tubs of pastries and carry them up to our campsite, where it's too dry to light a fire. It's a chance to get to know our fellow kayakers a little better, and the youngest member of our group, a sixth-grader from Seattle, regales us with all sorts of "there's this kid in my class who..." stories. Behind us, Josie says "we've got plenty of cheesecake, chocolate chip toffee bars, cookies..." Amy quips, "It sounds like she's trying to lure us into a car." I laugh, happy to be on dry land and pleased to know there are many varieties of sweet carbohydrates and plenty of coffee waiting nearby. Sandy resumes his presentation while some of us listen, and others are distracted by shooting stars. The paddle back will be chilly, but our way will be lit by a full moon.
There is a sense in the air, and not just on this particular night, of just what's possible in some of the Inland Northwest's more arts-friendly small towns. It's hard to say exactly what predominates in such an unlikely alchemy: Is it the overwhelming scale and beauty of the natural world here? Is it that the ratio of artsy folk is just higher in places like Moscow or Sandpoint? Or is it that the efforts of a few dedicated individuals are finally turning some things around?
"There are big changes taking place in Sandpoint and the communities surrounding the mammoth, mystical Lake Pend Oreille," says Holbert. "This is a place that inflames the imagination, and I expect significant and wonderful collaborations are on the verge of erupting. Not only is Sandpoint rethinking its image, but artists and activists and scientists and visionaries of all sorts are coming together. You never know what will result of this uncommon correspondence."