writing trips

Talking to strangers in Idaho

OK, everyone keeps asking me why I was in Idaho and Montana for the last 8 days. A section of the novel I’m writing takes place on a wildlife preserve in Northern Idaho. In the story, there’s a conflict between the local hunters and the conservationists, and since I’ve never been to Idaho and I’ve never spoken to someone who hunts, I thought it was about time to check both of those off my list.

I flew into Spokane, Washington, rented an amazing Subaru, and then drove 700 miles, stopping at every dinky diner, every remote visitor center, and every tiny museum. I even interviewed people as they scraped snow off their cars. What I lacked in a plan I made up for in chutzpah.

On the fist day of driving, I followed signs for The Museum of North Idaho. It was snowing hard (with already a foot of snow on the ground), and when I arrived at the museum it looked closed. Hilariously, there was a sign to pay at the “parking machine” which was a stack of envelopes for people to send a dollar to the city. The door of the museum was locked but a kind gentleman said I could come in just to get out of the cold. I started telling him about my book, and it turned out that he was the leading historian on Northern Idaho. He spoke with me for over 2 hours about Idaho and why the people don’t like government control, how hunting is a part of the culture, and what originally brought people to that region. It was fascinating. I’ve read a lot about Idaho, but his knowledge was so much more intense and nuanced. 

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Gil and his animals

A few days later I talked with Gil Mangels, owner of The Miracle of America Museum and Pioneer Village. He killed all the animals in the picture above and had a story about each one. Before coming on this trip I thought hunting was the dumb man’s sport. I had a picture in my mind of guys getting drunk on bud light and shooting whatever moved. Gil, and every hunter I spoke to, loves animals, loves being out in nature, and loves the fine craftsmanship and history of guns. He can tell you about every species of plant, the difference between a white tail deer and a mule deer, and the year and make of practically any rifle. His aim is a point of pride because he knows he will hurt the animal more if he’s not well-practiced. he eats all the animals he kills and even says a prayer for them after he brings them down. Gil and the other hunters I spoke to gave me such great insight for my story. 

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I never thought I’d get to hold a gun.

I realized half way through the trip that my main character was going to have to shoot a gun at some point in the story so I should know what it’s like. I found a gun and rifle club in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and introduced myself. I spoke with the NRA representative who couldn’t have been nicer. I was a little scared of talking to him because I don’t think people should own guns, but he believes as long as people want to own guns it’s his responsibility to teach them how to use them safely. He taught me how to shoot a 9mm hand gun and holy camoly that thing is scary. I could feel my arm shaking for a few minutes afterward. I cannot ever imagine pointing that thing at a person and I don’t know how anyone could carry it on their body, but to each their own. I’m glad I got to try it out, and meet so many people I normally would never come across.