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Why the snowbirds come to Idaho

a guest editorial from snowbird Roger Stoughton



Brigadoon The movie, “Brigadoon,” 1954, starred Gene Kelly, Van Johnson and, sigh, Cyd Charisse. Gene and Van travel from New York City to the moors of Scotland to hunt grouse. They become lost; then through the mist they spy a quaint little village across a small stone bridge. While there, they encounter colorful natives in the marketplace, selling produce and tartans, and preparing for a wedding, all with much Scottish song and dance.

Gene and Cyd, the beautiful, sigh, sister of the bride, become infatuated with each other, and swoon in trance-like song and dance. Finally, Gene learns the amazing secret of the village from the old schoolmaster. Two hundred years earlier the local pastor prayed to God the village people would live forever if he sacrificed his own opportunity to live there from then on. The miracle was granted.

The village only comes to life for one day every 100 years. Thus, the villagers have only wakened twice in the past 200 years. If a permanent resident flees the village, it will disappear forever. If an outsider falls in deep abiding love with a villager, the outsider can renounce the “real world” and live in the village forever. Gene helps the villagers stop a young man, unlucky in love, from fleeing the village. This was the only serious conflict in the story.

Gene is emotionally torn, but finally returns to New York City on the badgering of his drunken friend, Van. Brigadoon memories and songs haunt Gene. Finally, a few weeks later, he breaks his engagement to a NYC beauty and returns to the moor near the site of Brigadoon - just to be near the place where he had fallen in love with Cyd. Suddenly, the village appears in the mist and the wise old schoolmaster welcomes Gene back - all possible because his love for Cyd is so strong. Gene rushes to the village and embraces Cyd standing outside her cottage late at night. Cut to bagpipe music and The End.


My wife, Carol, and I use that label reluctantly. It is factually accurate and often useful at local shops, but I don’t quite like the taste of it. It seems, at times, to connote visitors who are newly rich, flaunt their wealth, lean toward arrogance and condescension, squat in opulent condos that close off sections of lake shore, cause real estate values and taxes to escalate, bring cynical big city values from sprawling megalopolises such as the stretch of land between Los Angeles and San Diego or that large urban blob referred to as the “Bay Area.” (full transparency here: We live other seasons in Sacramento CA, and we mostly like it).

Summer residents include those self-satisfied, plumpy nomads who run their RVs between RV compounds in Yuma, AZ and the lake here, pulling boats, ATVs and jet skis behind them, running compressors or high decibel motors 24/7. I could go on.

Granted: Some of these folks are good people, real people, interesting people. Bottom line: The words, “summer resident,” should be bundled up with other stomach turning words like “stakeholders” and “utilize,” attached to a chunk of concrete and dumped in a deep part of the lake.


Warning: This section includes fawning praise, unexpurgated hyperbole and flattery of this area and its people. It details more than you need to know about “our story.” It ignores political issues and conflicts hereabouts. It describes an idyllic vision. I will explain in florid detail what brings us here year after year.

To begin: In 1960 Carol’s parents, Bill and Twila, were busy in YMCA work in Ventura, Calif. Bill, a rare spirit, now 101 years old, smart and witty, a lover of Pennsylvania woodlands, bought a house on a lot next to Lake Cocolalla - possibly sight unseen. We’re checking.

Bill and Twila came up every August to work on the old house and luxuriate in the surrounding lake and forest. Early on they crossed the Long Bridge and the village of Sandpoint appeared from the vapors rising out of Lake Pend Oreille. We assume at that instant some mystical trance fell over them. They spread the word to their extended family and friends about this northwest paradise.

In 1963 Carol and I married and soon found ourselves traveling up Highway 95. We did not realize it at the time, but by the end of our first visit a mystical spell had been secreted in the back of our brains.

In 1968 Bill and Twila, just retired, moved to an old house beyond East Hope with more rich forest land and a large area for Bill’s huge gardens. They entered the life of the community, revved up an active program for local AARP seniors, made friends extensively, being warm-hearted extroverts, and planted scores of trees.

We brought our three kids up on occasion to this wonderful grandparent haven. They boated, waded, picked berries, chased the neighbor’s cows home, watched the trains, slept in a cozy attic, saw old family photos and heard family stories, ate lots of ice cream and Bill’s garden fare, met the natives, watched the wildlife. Golden days. 

In 1970 Bill and Twila brought Bill’s 89-year-old mother from Philadelphia to a home in East Hope where she lived well over the winter, then died suddenly in the spring. By this time Bill and Twila had 12 acres of land around their house, and split it up into five parcels where some new homes went up.

Around 1981 they sold their house, lived south in the winter, and came to a little house trailer in the summer parked on the last of the five parcels They had a 250-foot well dug, and Bill made breakfasts of eggs and potato hash in a large iron skillet in a fire pit lined by rocks. The trailer had a gorgeous long view of the lake.

In 1986 Carol and I and our three kids stopped there to camp on the way to the World’s Fair in Vancouver, BC. Bill and Twila offered to sell their last three acres for a buck apiece. Our youngest, Dave, 16, was first to whip a dollar out of his pocket and the rest of us soon followed. Within a few short years Bill and Twila abandoned the trailer to stay south.

What were we going to do with our land, 900 miles from Sacramento? We drove up around 1990 and asked Joe the architect to visit our parcel. Bill knew Joe’s wife, from real estate dealings, and thus put us on to Joe’s creative work. We admired his Frank Lloyd Wright kind of designs and knew he was a straight arrow. He proposed a modest master plan with four connected modules that could be built as need and funds allowed.

Two modules are done to date. The first, built in 1992 by Browce and his merry band of superb craftsmen and women, was a 22-square foot stucco building, lavishly trimmed inside with red oak, having an open ceiling under a steep pyramid-shaped, sheet metal roof. No doubt benign cosmic rays are focused down inside, for it has become the Enchanted Cottage to us. Thanks be to Joe!

This plain looking gem (outside) is mounted on a bench of land surrounded by 100-foot tall Western Red Cedars with stands of fir, tamarack , birch and mountain maple. A narrow swath of land downslope was cleared so that we could gaze at the lake half a mile below us. We do not boat, ski, sail, swim or wade in the lake; we just admire it.

In 2000 we had the shell of a Guest Cottage built, the second module, and made a hobby of finishing the inside. It is similar to our cottage but a bit smaller. It houses our kids and our friends when they visit. The past three summers we built a similarly shaped gazebo on the site of Bill and Twila’s house trailer.

So, we have been up here every summer the past 20 years for varying lengths of time. When we first stepped into the finished Enchanted Cottage, we realized that spell in the back of our brains had spread and had us completely in its power. Over time we have come to realize the surrealistic nature of our travels here. In spring we hear a powerful internal voice urging us back to Northern Idaho. 

Now we understand why maps show little habitation in the Panhandle with obscure town names in small print. As we cross the Long Bridge, a string of quaint little villages gradually take form. Perhaps we should call them collectively, Bridge-a-doon! Surely there are more than one Brigadoon-type villages in the world. Just as the world is diverse in unique and magical ways, there must be a variety of villages that sleep for varying lengths of time.

Although the villagers of Bridge-a-doon talk of winter snows, it’s in their dreams. In this particular variation of Brigadoon, the villages of Bridge-a-doon come to life once a year in the summer and appear to some of those lucky spirits who cross the Long Bridge. We guess the villagers built the Byway to reduce the number of visitors to Bridge-a-doon.

We gaze in wonder each successive year to see the same shops, the attractive and warm-hearted villagers, the emerald forests, the multi-hued lake that must be the end of some rainbow tinted vortex, and finally up the hill to our beloved Enchanted Cottage.

Yes, there surely are villages from other dimensions that settle down in this dimension in rare locations. And what causes this mystical occurrence and the magnetic spell it casts? No one knows. Still, here is a possible clue for this location. In Brigadoon Gene and, sigh, Cyd gather heather for the wedding. Webster says heather is of the large genus, Erica, which includes huckleberries. Partake of huckleberries at your own risk, for you may fall under their spell!

These quaint disappearing villages seem too good to be true. Where else do you find shopkeepers so bright spirited and friendly as Harold and Liz and Barbara, or Robin or Merwin’s Hardware Merlins or Ernie, Curt, Jo Ann and Junie, Dale and Rene? Where else can you stop the world for an evening in the soothing night air of summer, sitting in a canvas chair on the lawn, enveloped by music of the spheres, where you can see forever in the clear skies, focused on stars that shined billions of years ago? What other place besides Bridge-a-doon has food so pure and healthful as the local Farmer’s Markets? Where too can you find food fit for the Gods like the raspberries, boysenberries, and blueberries bursting with flavor, abundant on bushes and vines grown wild including some that Bill planted decades ago? What snooty art gallery can compare with the paintings, photos and crafts in local fairs, markets and tours in Bridge-a-doon that are so purely reflective of the natural world, so inspired from some creative muse? Where else are household goods so beautifully conceived and pieced together as quilts like those created by neighbor Connie and friends?

Each year we look again for the wild creatures that live in our Enchanted Forest: The hummers that brave our presence on our little deck; the Steller’s Jays that in years past rang our wind chimes before pecking up sunflower seeds in Bill’s old iron skillet; the wild turkey mom who strutted cheekily past our cottage with her brood trailing behind, cheeping left and pecking right; the does and fawns; the buck we spied asleep near our cottage one morning; the ravens that tour the tree tops sending raucous non-text messages back and forth; the striking pileated woodpeckers we’ve seen only three times; the chattery squirrels that drop cones from on high and chew them up on porch steps; the many colored butterflies and dragonflies; the robins and tiny birds that nest in sheltered spots under our eaves. Even the neighbor’s cow that parked one morning right behind our cottage, blew its horn at 6 AM and levitated us a foot above our bed!

What movies are better than those at the Panida? What other village of 8000 has a library so grand that surely the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, who “could not live without books,” must course through it? What neighbors are friendlier and more help than Sue and Mike? What other place has a sage like Paul who combines grave thoughts and a sly wit? Bridge-a-doon has no match for the pancake breakfasts and Bodacious BBQs to support local facilities. And where else could we find a retreat that allows us to renew our spirits in peace, quiet and privacy?

What modest little church community has such spiritually inspired members as the one into which we have been welcomed by Sue, Paul, Barbara, Alice, Jean, Susan, John, Gerri, Tom, Ramona, John, Joyce, Bud, Kathleen, Jim, Don, Eva, Helen, Stan, Sue and many others.

Our daughter and hubby have been drawn here by the huckleberry spell since their graduate work years in Bozeman over ten years ago. In August 1999 they were married on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.  We have the newlywed’s picture in front of a large sign that says, “BEYOND HOPE.” During the reception a huge storm came up on the lake, and the wind blew down the tent intended to shield us from possible rain. The underside of the tent was well decorated with potato salad and other buffet items. Fortunately, the Bridge-a-doon spell on our kids has generated a marriage that is calm, strong and productive.

Our other two kids yearn to visit too. Now their toddlers are coming to throw stones in the lake, walk the trails, make ice cream with Gramps, hear stories from Grannie, eat outside on the deck. They don’t realize it, but they have been captured like the four generations before them. Only powerful forces of family and friends draw us back to Sacramento the end of September. This is our five generation, fifty-year story.

[We could sing the praises of Bridge-a-doon all day. Sure, like all communities in this world, even idyllic ones, there are a few troublesome trolls, worrisome witches, gnarly gnomes and wounded wizards here and there in the forest. They rarely impinge on our lives. Pray for them.]


We know many who moved here have equally compelling stories and mental covenants never to leave. Likewise, we guess there are many who come here seasonally who have long histories with Bridge-a-doon. Whatever you call us, “summer residents” doesn’t begin to explain the mystical spell that has been cast over us. We only plead that not too many permanent residents leave, or Bridge-a-doon might vanish forever!

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