August 25, 2008

About that eye

Why did I stop in Riggins? Well, it was getting late in the evening. I had got a late start, had stopped along the way, was nowhere close to where I originally wanted to reach tonight, and was constantly revising that target backwards, but even those spots were looking dismally distant.

Then I found myself shooting through a little town with dramatic hills to either side, small clapboard houses and a generally rustic appeal. And a pleasant-looking motel at the southern end. No brainer. In a matter of fractions of seconds, I took the decision. Braked, turned into the motel's parking lot and checked in. Tiny room, spotless and neat, two iron chairs and a glass-topped table outside. Easily topped various chain motels I've graced with my presence and dollars.

Walking through town as dusk sets in, I nearly bump into a long-limbed girl who gets out of a pickup wielding a rod twice as long as either or the taller of us. Just as I think of ducking, she turns to a high school notice board placed high atop a thick pole. She has to change whatever it says, something about an impending football game. The pole in her hand, I now notice, has a sort of suction cup at the end, and she's trying to use that to move the letters about. Not the easiest of tasks, especially with this most unwieldy of tools, and not surprisingly, she makes very little progress.

I offer to help, thinking naively that my few extra inches will make things easier. She says "Sure! It's my first time doing this, anyway!" Mine too, I think, and I quickly find just how hard it is. I make even less progress. The "F" of "football" is especially recalcitrant, flopping face down. Then it falls off the board into the lawn beyond a chainlink fence.

That doesn't bother her. She simply leaps onto the fence, meaning her belly is lying on it, and reaches down for the "F". Looks painful to me, but she is not fazed. I stick the "F" on the suction tip and reach up to put it back. Still no luck. It falls again.

Eventually, I give up and give her back the rod, somewhat abashed. Walk on, photograph an old car mounted on a trailer, get myself some dinner -- and when I come back past the sign, it looks complete. Or at least, she's not there any more. But wait a sec. I look up at the sign, and I could swear it says the same thing it did before she showed up.

Riggins: that kind of town.

Further along, Clyde Hirst is crossing the street and turns to say hi. "Want to come take a look at my place?" he asks. He walks over with me. Clyde must be 60, deeply lined but square-jawed handsome face, softspoken and curious. He used to build houses in California, and retired here in Riggins. He owns some land right alongside the road, part of which is rented out to Salmon River Photos. We walk past the houses to the sheer drop at the other end of the property, from where we look down at the gushing, bubbling Salmon River, the hills beyond. On the banks, Clyde has set out a few tables and chairs, and there's a path to get down there.

"It's my little hideaway," he says with a smile. "Now you know why I moved here from California."

Riggins: that kind of town.

Up the street is a small noticeboard with some historical information about Riggins. It's about the "Gouge-Eye Fight", and here's some of what it says:

"Homer Levander and Big Markham ... got into a fight over comely Daisy Trumbull ... The vicious fight started in a nearby dance hall and ended up in the yard under the [nearby locust] tree. Big Markham's eye was nearly gouged out, and the town became known as Gouge Eye or Gouge-Eye Flat for several years. In 1901, Dick Riggins applied to the US Government for an official Post Office for the community, but the name of Gouge-Eye was rejected because of its violent nature."

Riggins: that kind of town. I wondered why I stopped. But I'm so glad I did stop.

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