River Life: The Pend Oreille river is a flowing gem of priceless value

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  • (Photo by DWAYNE PARSONS) This boat haven near Riley Creek is a common layover for those traveling from Sandpoint to Priest River.

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    (Photo by DWAYNE PARSONS) The public dock at the edge of the Pend Oreille River gives access to newcomers and locals alike.

  • (Photo by DWAYNE PARSONS) This boat haven near Riley Creek is a common layover for those traveling from Sandpoint to Priest River.

  • 1

    (Photo by DWAYNE PARSONS) The public dock at the edge of the Pend Oreille River gives access to newcomers and locals alike.

On the most beautiful day of the summer, my wife and I, along with two other couples, took a trip along the Pend Oreille River on motorized pontoon boat. As we glided along the river, seeing the river in its glory opened a memory bank of once-forgotten thoughts and experiences that I with more people could have.

My time on the river began when my father took the job as a golf pro at the Elks Club. When I was 10 years old, we moved from Spokane to a rented a house just over the dip at the end of Euclid Avenue, right where the city meets the water. Back then, we had no real beach, just a broken bramble of weeds and slipping shoreline eroded by waves; we had no dock, just a view. The water was shallow for a ways out, so seaweed gathered in thick beds, which brought in the perch and sunfish and occasional scrap fish.

On that shoreline, I began fishing. One day, dad brought home a small dingy with oars, just right for boys filled with big ambitions and bigger dreams of catching fish.

My brother and I did all kinds of things in that shallow water, sharing it with our friends and cousins. We built a raft before the dingy came. I pictured being Huck Finn, poling myself around the shallows of the mighty Mississippi River.

I slept outside on the lawn with a black, hairy mutt named Beauty. I saw the heavens above and the moon on the water. I felt breezes and watched storms approach.

One day, a lightning bolt hit the tree just outside our back door and blew us all out of bed in shock. That night, a long-standing Douglas Fir lost its life.

We had an full grown willow too. After 60 years, I swear the same willow we climbed as kids stands on our old lot.

Not every memory is a bright summer day. We lived there in all seasons. Sometimes the river would freeze over from a frigid, persistent north wind.

We could ice skate the old fashioned way and if conditions were right, slide over crystal clear ice in five-to-10 feet of water for miles. Once we skated all the way down to Dover and back.

We iced-fished as well. My grandfather on my mother’s side, who lived in Sandpoint and loved fishing, taught me that perch came into the shallows in very clear water. He would often cut a hole in the ice and watch the perch bite. He taught me the value of eating my fresh catch the same day.

This environment helped me think positively, and that dark days were nothing more than a storm would eventually blow away. Those impressions have never gone away; they’ve become parts of my fiber.

In the pontoon boat, we went from the Long Bridge to Laclede and stopped at the river’s mid-way point called Riley Creek Recreational Area. Riley Creek has an excellent restroom and picnic area, a safe sand beach for swimming and easy shoreline mooring for boats of all sorts.

I’ve also lived on this water at Dover, as caretaker of the Ward Tift Estate. Claudia and I lived in his house, located on seven acres in Rocky Point. Here, I saw thousands of ducks and Canadian geese holding over in Dover Bay. I wouldn’t trade those six years for anything.

One early winter day, I watched a bald eagle swim with its wings at least 100 yards in ice-cold water to the shoreline. It was there where I discovered why it was swimming instead of lifting off out of the water: It had a Coot ­— a kind of fish/duck it had caught by one leg — and wouldn’t let go.

The Coot fought it all the way underwater until it was dispatched on the water’s edge by a determined eagle.

We saw the devastation of sudden windstorms too. On Rocky Point, sometimes the wind was strong enough to knock down a large Ponderosa. But it was usually the smaller Jack Pines that succumbed to these storms.

The Pend Oreille is a treasure beyond measure — not just to the thousands of homeowners who live along either shore.

The river is irreplaceable. It takes sound management and political protection to hold this lake and its long river outlet under the protective vision of caring hearts.

The river is more valuable than gold. It is both powerful and nourishing.

But we will lose these privileges if we don’t watch over the river. There are many interests elsewhere who wish to control it, or even take it away. We can keep it by being aware of its value.

Dwayne Parsons can be reached for comment and suggestions by email at dwaynedailybee@gmail.com.

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