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Another family moves away

This morning I walked down to the Noxon Mercantile to grab a few items, and to pay up on my charge account. Chris and Betty, like a lot of business owners here, will let many of their customers charge for stuff rather than always paying up front. It’s a cool thing that folks in bigger cities rarely enjoy, and in a town like Noxon, it’s a good way to do business - so long as your customers eventually come back to pay off the debt.
    When I went into the store Chris was behind the counter and we talked about the big wind the night before, the trees that were donated to Noxon’s Bicentennial Park by Jenkins and Son way off in Elmira (that shows just how connected we really are in the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille Valley), and we delved into a brief conversation about life and work and hopes and fears for those of us who live here in the lower Clark Fork.
    He mentioned that another family moved away this past weekend and I couldn’t help but think of the Noxon School report a month or so ago revealing that something like 30% of the kids in that school have left or moved away over the past five years.
    I don’t know what the 2000 Census showed for Noxon or for Sanders County, but from what I hear, people are leaving this area in droves. I think there are less people in this valley now than there were in July 1910, just before flames roared through and burned everything in sight. Back then there were hope, plans, excitement, anticipation. It was a new world for a lot of settlers. There must also have been dismay and fear, anger and despair as the native people watched their land and their homes taken right out from under them, by force, with no regard to their claims to hope and a future for their offspring.
    What’s done is done and you can’t change the past. You learn from it, hopefully. Maybe that’s the greatest hope of all - that we learn from the past, from its mistakes, its conflicts, its animosity, the wrong decisions, the missed opportunities. What mistakes are we making now that would cause a family - maybe a mom and dad and their kids who were perfectly happy here and wanted to stay but couldn’t - to be forced to move away? Is it the economy? Bad neighbors? The remoteness of our communities to mainstream America somewhere out there where we know there are other ways of life we deny ourselves by living here?
    Maybe people move because of conditions beyond their control: the late winter snow, the long cold spring, days of rain, clouds obscuring not just the sky but that hope for a better day, a better life, someday, somehow.
    Who here had placed some level of hope and anticipation in the prospect of having a mine in Rock Creek and thus an influx of money the likes of which this valley has not seen in five decades? Have some people moved here and others stuck it out because they’ve been waiting for those good paying jobs to suddenly appear, only to have their hopes dim and disappear as the wrangling over whether that mine will ever go in continues over matters - important matters - like water and animals, holes in the wilderness and how on earth we’ll ever accommodate all those new people that will move in here?
    I can’t possibly see how any one thing, any one event, any one economic boost, will be any kind of lasting solution to the hopelessness and dread we seem to have for the future. But even if that is true - no, especially if that’s true - shouldn’t we then be working together to figure out how to turn despair into some sort of confident expectation that as a community we can share hope and shape our destiny into what could become a success story beyond our wildest imaginations?
    Meanwhile, another family has moved away and now I wonder who will be next. Maybe the extremists who think there are those who want all people out of this valley so it can become a haven for wildlife and wilderness are right. I don’t really think so myself, but we sure have made it hard for the few of us that still cling to hope here to keep that hope alive.
    What will dispel our fears and nurture our hope, I think, will be ingenuity, open and honest communication and cooperation. With each family that moves away, the pool of fresh new ideas shrinks and stagnates. It’s kind of like charging something at the store and never going back to pay it off. Our problems are connected. So are our hopes, and so are the solutions. 

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Author info

Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

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Noxon, lifestyle

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