Phil Corless in Idaho

I Like My Four Seasons

Here in North Idaho, "Californian" is a dirty word to some people. Which is ironic since most everyone I meet here has lived in California at one time or another. The recent transplants are the ones who rile the locals. And by "local" I mean a Californian who has been here longer than five years. That's usually long enough for them to lose the attitude and swap out the San Diego State T-shirt for an Idaho Vandal sweatshirt. I don't begrudge all these people looking for a nicer house and a quieter life. It's what most people want for their families, and it's becoming harder to find in over-inflated housing markets like San Diego. Why not sell your 1500 sq. ft. 1960s-era home and come to Idaho, where you can double your living space with a brand-new lakefront house and still have enough money left over for a boat and a college fund? I used to be a Californian, but only because my dad thought he was going to find a better life among the orange groves and open spaces of Orange County. This was back in the early '60s when there were still orange groves and open spaces down there. How could he know he was making a big mistake? So I spent the first 20 years of my life in Southern California, but when I was old enough I corrected my father's error by returning to the land of my pioneer ancestors. Three sets of great-great-grandparents couldn't be wrong. I have roots in Idaho going back to the 1870s, decades before it was even made a state. My ancestors were tough, heading into an untamed territory for the sake of a little breathing room. It's the same feeling I had when I came back to Idaho on my own. It sure felt good to have a little land around me. That was 20 years ago and, unlike Irvine or Laguna Beach, today there's still some land around my little corner of the world... A lot of land, come to think of it. Idaho has more unspoiled wilderness than any state except Alaska.

Strange to think I've lived here for as long as I lived there. My memories of life in the Golden State are as hazy as your skies. There's not much that I miss. Year-round sun? Nah, I like my four seasons. And I'm one of those odd people who enjoys shoveling snow, not to mention playing in it with my kids. Ocean beaches? Nope, up here we are mere minutes from two of the largest and most beautiful lakes in the West: Coeur d'Alene and Pend O'Reille. I prefer swimming without saltwater in my sinuses or fear of riptides and shark attacks. Amusement parks? Sure, you've got Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, SeaWorld and LegoLand. Great tourist destinations, but probably taken for granted by most locals. In North Idaho, we have a folksy little park called Silverwood that has a couple of bone-shaking wooden rollercoasters. My son thinks it's the best place in the world, and that's good enough for me. Silverwood is also the second home to the discarded Knott's coaster, the Corkscrew, which was the ultimate thrill ride to us '70s pre-teens. I rode that thing 15 times in a row with my friend Tony on my 14th birthday. One thing I can't do here is enjoy a world-class zoo and animal park, so I'll give you that one. I did find a moose in my garden one day, but that doesn't count.

Life in North Idaho is too good to get all melancholy and nostalgic about the past. There's too much to see and explore. I'm a big fan of the Sunday Drive where we herd the kids into the van and head down the road to the nearest four-way stop, only then deciding which direction to go -- north toward the resort town of Sandpoint, east into the mining towns of the Silver Valley, west to the "big city" of Spokane, Washington, or South to the gentle rolling hills of the Palouse. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and discover some amazing mountain trail leading to an abandoned silver mine. Other times you have to settle for a simple sandy beach on a pristine mountain lake. That seems to be the way things are here in North Idaho. You just can't miss. Every direction you look, there's something to take your breath away.

I'm not supposed to say things like that. A friend told me to be careful how I describe North Idaho or "them Sandyeggans'll keep moving here and running up our home prices!" I'm supposed to scare you off with descriptions of Superfund cleanup sites and neo-Nazi parades, but I can't sit here and pretend that your quality of life is better than ours. It just isn't. I've seen both places, lived in both places, and I'll always be the first one to welcome the new California transplants as they step out of their SUVs, looking like dazed prison escapees, into the beautiful green landscape of the Gem State.


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