Sunday, June 28, 2009

Idahoans Stand Their Dusty Ground

The little sign on I-90 invites us, so we go: Historic Route, turn here.

We time travel up a narrow, scarred canyon in northern Idaho, where
dusty little towns with names like Gem, Yellow Dog, Black Bear and
Burke holler at us as we drive by. "No Trespassing!" "Stay Out!"
"Keep Out!" The signs populate trees, fences and door jams.

Don't know why everyone's so miffed, but we get the message. We keep
moving. And we pass a lot of abandoned old wooden houses, actually
shacks, along with a handful of inhabited, well tended, but tiny
houses, most dating back to the turn of the last century. Almost all
have tiny yards and large gravel-covered driveways and gravel-covered
storage areas. There's more gravel in this historic little area than
grass. Which is why the dust. I imagine.

Further up the creek-lined road, we see why the towns exist, or,
rather, existed: A tangled web of ore mining facilities lie in decay.
The industry sucked silver, lead and even gold out of these mountains
for years (a timeline). And when it left town, with millions of
dollars in its collective pockets, it left behind hillside after
hillside scarred with monstrous slag piles, decrepit metalworks,
rotting wooden walkways, and cement foundations holding up nothing
more than memories.

The EPA says the mining industry left behind a whole lot more: water
so polluted with heavy minerals that it kills fish. And maybe makes
people sick. So the EPA wants to clean up the area. But the area wants
the EPA to mind its own business.

It's a soap opera of a story.

When the EPA came into town to fix things up, the town threw the EPA
out. And said never come back.

OK. I get it. Those menacing signs? Not meant for us. It's the canyon
people telling the big-city people to leave them alone. To "Keep Out."
To "Stay Out."

They want to keep their way of life for as long as they can, in
sickness or in health.

Here are more pictures from this potentially polluted, definitely
decaying slice of America.

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