Paul Bunyan Days
St. Maries. Benewah County. Idaho. This small logging town of North Idaho sits on the banks of the St. Joe river, that flows west and dumps into Lake Coeur d'Alene. Around 2800 people call this place home; their local economy is a mix of timber, mining, and farming.
Paul Bunyan Days is an annual celebration that last four days in this little town. The town boasts to have "The Biggest Topless Bar in Idaho" called 'The Blue Ox'. This bar has no roof. Another proud boast: one of our country's largest firework shows. Paul Bunyan Days is always on Labor Day weekend, starting on Friday and ending on Monday with their Labor Day parade, complete with a carnival.
Driving from Coeur d'Alene east on I-90 and over the 4th of July Pass, we exit and continue south. The winding road wraps around the countryside as leaves change from green to shades of yellow and orange; Autumn has begun. The kids sit in back working on school as Erin reads and I listen to digital tracks that spin and shuffle while the drive winds and straightens, back and forth. The sway of the highway country road shifts and pitches, climbs and drops as it directs us toward the timber town.
Off the highway and through the city center, we find a parking spot and slide in, park, and unload. We grab some blankets and walk down to the mouth of the carnival, an open chain-link gate welcomes us, with a carousel to our left and a ferris wheel to our right.
Vendors share tarp-like cubicals that creates a maze; dirt, gravel, and grass lay underfoot. Solving the labyrinth of sellers allowed us entrance to a set of stairs that led down to a football field; a ‘track and field’ dirt track runs the perimeter of the field. Blankets spread out, saving people's plots of land, weighed down with canned goods adorn the field. Two rows of portable toilets are easily accessible: the uppers and lowers; the fresh scent of peppermint overpowers the smell of the PortaPotties, which is a welcome relief.
“This looks good; what do you think?” asks Erin. In agreement, we lay down our blankets; back through the maze and retrieve our red Igloo filled with a picnic dinner. Another trip through the maze, back down the stairs and to our spot.
As we wait for darkness to fall, we play UNO; shuffle and deal. The sun drops down toward the horizon as we play another hand. Sunset begins its slow crawl across the sky in the west. More cards dealt; another UNO called. People walk down the stairs with paper plates filled with bricks of deep-fried curly fries. As darkness falls, the field lights burn bright; carnival rides bathed in neon.
The first of many stars come out of hiding while The Big Dipper makes an entrance. The empty field of blankets soon swarms with excitement. A woman speaks on a PA system that leaves her voice garbled and distorted. We look at each other asking “What did she say?” Football players and Rotary Club members walk around with buckets and ask for donations. Others walk with cardboard boxes filled with bags of popcorn. “POPCORN! GET YOUR POPCORN HERE!!
Soon, the excitement drops to a dull roar and the show is about to begin. Everyone stands as the National Anthem is sung. In the distance, on the hills overlooking the field, a single cross burns white with electricity. The field lights are shut off and the first mortar shell is sent sailing into the night's air. A brilliant flash of red explodes overhead, a bassy report is felt deep in our chests.
Double mortars are next. Another. And another. Pyrotechnicians send a barrage of mortars continually in the smoking black sky. The Big Dipper choked out by gray fog. Hundreds of fire flowers burst into shades of reds, blues, yellows, and whites. The reports dance upon our chests and ring in our ears. A lull of fireworks exploding leads to a finale that outdoes itself every year. The atmosphere decorated in fire and light. A thousand cheers converge as one. The field lights switched back to the ON position as everyone stands, stretches, and collects their belongings.
We gather our family and such and walk up the stairs, through the dark labyrinth and the gaping chain-link gate towards our parking spot. Working our way back to Highway 3 in a line of headlights and brake-lights. The timber town sits in our rearview mirrors. A late summer night sits at 63°F as we drive back to Coeur d'Alene. A non-existent waning crescent moon shines somewhere above, unseen, as the line of vehicles we are a part of etches the dark night with light.
We pass a SNOWPLOW TURN-AROUND, then find ourselves coming up to a SCENIC OVERLOOK. I flip my indicator and turn off the highway and stop. Getting out, we all look up.
The Milky Way shines down upon us. The fireworks were great; this is spectacular — “When I look at the night sky and see the work of Your fingers — the moon and the stars You set in place — what are mere mortals that You should think about them, human beings that You should care for them? Yet You made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.” [Psalm 8:3-5]
A mass of stars placed by the One in the heavens above — “He counts the stars and calls them all by name.” [Psalm 147:4] A black canvas shining with yesterday's ancient light. As cars speed by, we stand in awe, in wonder, in amazement at the creation that lives above us, created for His glory.