There’s a trailhead in Post Falls that starts in a visitor parking lot bounded by a well-manicured Q’emiln Park with tall trees, a beach, the picturesque Spokane River and a dam.
Five minutes down that trail, the world suddenly changes — civilization disappears, century old trees cast long shadows on younger offspring, wildflowers, shrubs and ancient rock formations.
Deer, elk, wild turkeys and other wildlife have lived in this relatively untouched wilderness for thousands of years.
Most of North Idaho is like that.
Lewis and Clark would be surprised to see how little has changed since they struggled with Idaho’s rugged mountains and dense forests more than 200 years ago.
Resting on a rock along that Post Falls trail and absorbing the sights, smells and sounds of wilderness right at the doorstep of urban life brings a calming spirit to the soul — and a gratitude that such a natural wonderland still exists.
How different Idaho is from the clamor of taxi-mired Manhattan, of Hollywood Boulevard, the Vegas Strip and Bourbon Street.
Chief Joseph did his best to save ancestral lands for his Nez Perce people, as did the Shoshone, Bannock, Paiute, Palouse, Coeur d’Alene, Kalispell, Salish and Kootenai.
Then in 1877, the U.S. Army chased him 1,400 miles across the northern wilderness until they captured him and most of his band in Montana, just 40 miles shy of safety across the Canadian border.
All the tribes were assigned to reservations — tiny patches of once vast traditional lands.
During those same times, European-ethnic settlers arrived in Idaho bringing different cultural values and forever changing the natural order for Native Americans that had lasted thousands of years.
And it gave birth to an evolving American culture that over time created a unique subculture in Idaho. People moving in from other areas quickly notice the difference.
Boise is not Atlanta; Coeur d’Alene is not Santa Monica — though Carmel might be a little like Sandpoint.
And Wyatt Earp may have found being a lawman in Murray and Eagle City not that different from being a lawman in Tombstone.
How did those cultural differences evolve?
Culture is a product of history. If we’re paying attention to the world around us, we learn from our triumphs and from our tragedies. We find out what works and what doesn’t.
American philosopher and poet George Santayana had it right when he said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Despite how well-known that morsel of wisdom is, many incomprehensibly fail to heed it.
For example, is today’s experimentation in socialism not worth first exploring if it has ever worked anywhere in the world? Or does it take putting a hand on a hot stove twice to learn not to?
But history teaches not only what works and what doesn’t; it also teaches us about traditions handed down from one generation to another that bring social stability, family unity, spiritual strength, moral character and greater success in the pursuit of happiness — or misery.
On the dark side, some cultures obfuscate the difference between right and wrong, or understand the difference yet still choose to do wrong — or they hover in the gray twilight in which attitudes are easily swayed by emotion, environment, mental instability, comfort, greed, envy, hate, peer pressure, political correctness or a cornucopia of other influences.
The fabric of every family, organization, tribe, race or nation is a patchwork quilt of influences from all directions — making people what they are. Egyptian cotton, Chinese silk and Scottish wool make better fabric than savannah grass, hemp or hide.
So where does the cultural patchwork of Idaho come from?
The early Indian tribes are believed to have come from Asia, possibly across a land bridge to Alaska some 12,000 years ago — bringing their culture with them. Then they settled throughout the Americas, each group evolving its own traditions.
When those ancient traditions were invaded by mostly Eurocentric outsiders, the cultural impact was devastating. Idaho tribes could not withstand the technological power of the white man and lost most of their lands before being confined to reservations to watch their traditions melt away.
Today, their only choice is to adapt and learn to survive and prosper in a new cultural environment that includes depleting some natural resources while also developing others.
Hardy Jesuits brought the Gospel, with all its Christian traditions to the Indians — often causing serious cultural clashes with animist beliefs.
Early fur traders earned a living in the wilderness under incredibly hard and dangerous conditions — forging a toughness still seen in many Idaho old-timers.
Then after gold, silver and other minerals were discovered, miners brought their own kind of toughness to Idaho — having to face miserable working conditions and endure strife between unions and owners.
Later, pioneer Mormons brought their rural skills and an American-born faith that promoted a strong work ethic and charity. Soon business people, professionals, teachers and others joined the wagon trains heading west.
With ongoing friction between Indians and newcomers and scant law and order, the U.S. Army sent in troops to keep the peace.
Outlaws and lawmen and their violent world soon made Idaho an integral part of the Wild West — though much less publicized.
Basques are among the most ancient people in the world — perhaps 4,000 years — and known and admired as skilled mariners, fishermen and herders. Those skills brought them first to South America, and then they started north in 1849, joining the California Gold Rush.
Basque family culture in Europe expected one son to enter the priesthood, another to learn artistic skills and a third to go to America to earn money and then return.
When Basques came to Idaho in the late 1800s, they soon found work herding sheep — a lonely job taken mostly by single men. Basque women were few.
Prospering Basques in Idaho sent for more immigrants from Spain to join them — bringing more of the strong spirit of independence, long a thorn in the side of Spain’s government.
Other Idahoans are independent too — just listen to coffee house chatter about splitting the state into north and south, or North Idaho joining Eastern Washington and maybe part of Montana to form a new state.
It’s still just chatter.
The Civil War did nothing to homogenize Idahoan culture — with sympathizers from both sides passionately at odds.
Mexicans and other Latinos have also made their mark in Idaho culture.
Mexican Territory once stretched all the way north to Idaho and Oregon’s southern borders. After the Mexican–American War, it was ceded to the United States with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and the rich Mexican culture became part of America, sharing its music, food, dress, art, language and an admirable work ethic.
So far, there has been little cultural impact in Idaho from African-Americans, but that is likely to change.
The European cultural influence in the state was brought originally by the British and French, followed Germans, Scandinavians and others. The Swiss influence can be found in the mountains east of St. Maries, and Finnish-style homes line the valleys between Kellogg and Murray.
Oktoberfest each fall is a German feast adopted throughout Idaho, dating back to 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig (later King) married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.
Today, Oktoberfest is better remembered for beer, pretzels, sausages and frolic.
But the biggest cultural shift was from white America moving west in search of a new life and greater opportunities.
Those are mainly ethnic cultural sources, and there were plenty more.
But behavioral and religious influences also bring cultural change — now affecting all of America at warp-speed.
Islam’s impact for example would be enormous if it succeeds in establishing a worldwide Muslim caliphate governed by Sharia Law, as mentioned in the Koran and Hadith (sayings of Muhammad).
Could Sharia Law ever replace the Constitution and become part of the fabric of America?
Behavioral signs today that foretell the winds of change include moral values, political correctness, government, ethnic group leadership, disrespect for law and order, rancor in the seats of power, social and economic opportunities, educational curricula, family life, parental failure, communication technology, social media, drugs, tattoos, blings, Hollywood, gender mania, gun control, abortion and climate debates, and many more.
What would George Santayana say?
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Contact Syd Albright at email@example.com.
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The power of ‘Hello’
“Each time a person passes by you and you say ‘hello,’ imagine that person turning into a candle. The more positivity, love and light you reflect, the more light is mirrored your way…Every time you say hello to a stranger, your heart acknowledges over and over again that we are all family.”
— Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem
Leaving a footprint…
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
“To survive in peace and harmony, united and strong, we must have one people, one nation, one flag.”
— Pauline Hanson
“Because all of us believe and understand in the fabric of the common bond of why we call ourselves American is to care for the men and women who wear the uniform; and when they take off the uniform, we care for them when they are veterans.”
— Steve Buyer
Importance of teachers…
“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”
— Abraham Lincoln
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‘Look for History Popcorn every Wednesday brought to you by Ziggy’s.’