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Love Notes

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Students added to the enjoyment of a visit to the Huckleberry Capitol of the World

I had a wonderful experience at Trout Creek recently. Actually, I’ve always enjoyed my visits to Trout Creek, Mont., which lays claim to being the "Huckleberry Capital of the World." This particular visit involved spending a couple of hours talking with staff and students at the Trout Creek Elementary School about writing, childhood and humor. All are definitely interrelated in my life, and I was thrilled to observe the same enthusiasm among the students in my two audiences.

Mona Heath Scouller, one of my former students who teaches second and third graders at Trout Creek School and is coordinator of student writing activities, invited me many months ago. I’d seen Mona maybe once since she graduated from Sandpoint High School in 1977. While attending SHS, she served on my yearbook staff and marched in the Ponderettes Drill Team.

Mona and I reconnected a few years ago at a local Christmas craft sale. She was teaching in the Reno area and looking for an opportunity to come back home. She apparently found it and has been teaching for the past two years at the Trout Creek School, which serves 50-plus students in grades 1 through 8.

The thought of visiting Trout Creek rekindled a host of fond memories for me: Sunday drives to Montana, sitting on the back seat "hump" between my two brothers in the Ford ranch wagon back in the ‘50s, for one. In the early ‘70s, my friend and colleague Chris Moon often traveled to Trout Creek to conduct two-day, 12-hour Forest Service traffic surveys on the Vermillion River Road. We always enjoyed our visits to Flo’s Eat-a-Bite Cafe on Trout Creek’s main drag. I even spent a weekend working alongside my mother as we peddled our books and art at the Huckleberry Festival back in the ‘90s.

The last time I stopped for any amount of time in the picturesque little community, intersected by Hwy. 200 along the Clark Fork River, was about six years ago during a late-afternoon meal at Katy Jack’s Restaurant. At the time, several of us family members were returning from a Thanksgiving visit to Frenchtown. We enjoyed more than enough homestyle food and an even richer helping of hearty laughs, thanks to the colorful lore fed to us by Gary, the "one ugly waitress" at the cafe. I was disappointed to learn recently that Katy Jacks is no longer open.

Happily, however, I learned during my recent visit with Mona in her classroom and from observing her reactions during my presentation that my published stories stirred up a few precious memories for her too. Like me, she’s a farm girl at heart who can lay claim to some fascinating local tales from her own childhood, which involved attending elementary school at Southside and living on the family farm established by her great-grandparents and grandparents. Unlike me, she’s much more connected locally, thanks to a large network of Bonner County family roots dating to the mid-1920s.

Heath Lake and Heath Lake Road south of Sandpoint received their names, thanks to Mona’s family. During our visit in her classroom, she told me a few tidbits about her grandfather, Orville Heath who contributed his share of history to the area after coming north with his wife Bessie from Gooding in southern Idaho. The fact that they were part of a large migration of transplants finding their way to North Idaho to farm Humbird Lumber Co. land during that era is fascinating enough, but their mode of transportation while moving here adds a touch of true pioneer spirit.

Along with his parents, Orville, Bessie and their two oldest children came up through Idaho with their herd of Shorthorn cattle via covered wagon and horses rather than paying for train transport. Took ‘em three months. They had some memorable experiences along the way, as noted their family story in the first Beautiful Bonner history book.

The Heath family left the Gooding area in April of 1926 so their cattle would have grass for grazing along the way. They received a special police escort while traveling with the herd through Boise. In central Idaho, Orville heard a radio for the first time, and family members recalled passing through a white-pine forest so thick in the Boville-Clarkia area that they never saw the sun all day. According to the account written by Irene Henderson, the Heath family contingent also angered a Coeur d’Alene lady when their cattle scattered and ran through her flower garden.

After arriving at their destination, the Heaths established their farm but not without hardship. Three horses ran off to Blacktail Mountain, and Orville finally had to give up hunting them down. Finding hay at $25 a ton was not easy. Orville made ends meet for his family by selling beef for 4 to 5 cents a pound and cutting wood. He worked outside the farm for the Idaho State Highway Department and the Idaho Fish and Game.

In the mid-‘50s, Mona’s grandfather hooked the lake’s biggest Kamloops, a 28-pounder on his wife Bessie’s birthday. The catch earned him recognition in Field and Stream magazine. He loved to go trail riding and taught himself to spin wool after retiring. Many items reflecting his life and interests, such as spinning wheels, a homemade chair, a branding iron and arrowheads now reside in the Bonner County Museum.

Orville also passed on his values, including a strong work ethic and love for the outdoors, to his children, including his son Louis (Mona’s dad) who now owns a piece of the original family farm. The day of my visit to Trout Creek, Mona appeared wistful while reminiscing the Laura Ingalls Wilder-style life she enjoyed on the family farm out there in Algoma.

She shared a few stories with me and her students. I especially enjoyed the one about the times when Mona and her brother Kirk put their "ugly galoshes" in the mailbox before boarding the bus so the boots wouldn’t have to be seen by other students. Kinda reminded me of my "pocket girdle" days. It’s obvious to see that those tales of family and the farm are brimming over within her mind and definitely ripe to reach the pages of printed permanence.

I went to Trout Creek to share with young people a few of my own childhood stories. During my presentations, they eagerly shared some of their own similar experiences with me. Mona has worked hard throughout the school to guide these students through production of their own impressive book projects, complete with covers, art and words to capture what’s important in their lives right now.

As I was preparing to leave, I could tell she’d like to follow suit with a memoir of her own. From what I learned during our visit and from additional research and questioning about her family, I’d say she’s got some rich material. Go for it, Mona! And, thanks to you, your students and staff for an enjoyable visit. Now, I can add one more good memory of Trout Creek, Mont., to my collection.

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Author info

Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

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