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Family Ties

Coffee connections around the globe

A company whose name includes “brothers” is obviously about family. But for Rick and Randy of Evans Brothers Coffee – Sandpoint’s most popular coffee joint – that bond extends beyond themselves and all the way to the fields of El Salvador and Colombia.

When the two “military brats” discussed building a coffee company together, they knew they wanted to do things differently than other small roasters. Rather than relying entirely on partnerships with coffee buyers, Rick and Randy sought to know the families running the farms from which they buy their favorite beans.

“From the beginning, we were traveling to countries of origin more than most,” says Rick. “We really wanted to know the story of the coffee – the farms, the producers – because they’re doing 90% of the work.”

They’ve enjoyed their longest direct-trade relationship (about 10 years) with the Menendez family in El Salvador, which has seven small farms. Rick and Randy spend time with the family, learning every step of their process, and cupping samples from 40 to 50 lots of beans that represent variations in shade, elevation, soil, varietal, processing and other factors.

Rick (left) and Randy (right) with a member of the Menendez family in El Salvador.

“We’ve always wanted to have full transparency with our coffee,” says Randy. “It’s important for us to know the producers and for them to know the roasters, to have continued dialogue – it keeps the motivation and the passion going.”

For the last seven years, they’ve also bought coffee from Maria Escobar in Colombia, where the brothers discovered her coffee after it placed in the top 15 in Colombia’s Best Cup auction. They participated as judges and buyers, along with 15-20 other coffee buyers from around the world, sampling hundreds of quality submissions from farmers in Colombia. Over a 5 day period, the judges tasted and graded Colombia’s best lots of coffee, narrowing down the field to the top 15 highest scoring, which were then put on live auction – an event that turns into a community-wide celebration. Here, coffee buyers like Rick and Randy are willing to pay more, knowing that the extra proceeds directly benefit the producers so they can re-invest in their farms.  For the brothers, it’s an investment to ensure quality.

“The families are so overjoyed – it’s life changing for them,” shares Rick. “We have meals at their home. It’s such a sweet experience and really just an invaluable part of our business. We feel honored to share those moments with our producers”

At left, Randy samples coffees for the Best Cup auction; at right, Rick celebrates with producers.

Even the coffees that don’t make it to top 15 sold at the live auction still yield a greater profit to the producers than they’d otherwise see. Plus, the farmers receive input from agronomists on how to improve their outcomes.

For Maria, a relationship with the Evans brothers is like free insurance. They purchase her entire crop of  approximately 30, 60 kilo bags every year at a price premium, whether or not her beans make it back to the top 15 in the annual auction. For them it’s about long term relationships and commitments to the producers they work with.

The brothers have also traveled to Guatemala, Costa Rica, Brazil and Ethiopia to source coffee, and they’ve treated a number of their most interested baristas to the experience as well. For Randy, who does most of the traveling now, Ethiopia (the origin of coffee) is a favorite destination.

Bringing it Home

Once those selected beans arrive in the panhandle, it’s up to Randy and his roasting team to develop the roast profiles that showcase the highlights naturally present. 

“Roasting is a craft, for sure,” he says. “There’s a lot of chemistry going on and much to understand about time and temperature, and how that relates to developing flavors in the coffee bean. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and I’m still always learning.”

There’s chemistry between the flagship Evans Brothers Coffee shop and its Sandpoint community, too, as residents consistently name “EB” a favorite destination for both coffee and environment. The old grainery on Church Street has a rustic presence and a funky vibe where young artists display their work and old men play chess. Now over a decade old, the original Evans Brothers shop is a staple in Sandpoint.

In 2017, the brothers expanded to Coeur d’Alene, ultimately partnering with Bean & Pie on the buildout of an in-house bakery, which matches quality hand-pies and other baked goods to the coffee. More polished and urban than the northern sister, the CdA location also features live music and is a popular spot for people to work away from home.

The third location is in Spokane, inside the newly remodeled Wonder Building on the north side of the river. Life is just now hopping in the rebranded Wonder Market, which faced plenty of fits and starts during the COVID-19 pandemic. With other new restaurants and a family-friendly game center in the building, Evans Brothers Coffee in Spokane is finally gaining some traction.

Getting Here

They were brothers first and best friends next. How would life as business partners be?

Rick, the elder sibling, had been in resort real estate and marketing for luxury properties in Maui, where Randy got his start in specialty coffee, before each headed separate directions to continue honing their career skills. Eventually, both began thinking about wanting to raise their kids together, and looking for an ideal location, which they found in Sandpoint with its skiing, lake and small community.

The brothers were settling into their new hometown as the 2008 economic crash unfolded, providing ample fodder for conversations about what to do with their lives.

“We were riding Chair 6 at Schweitzer and I asked Randy what he wanted to do with his life, and he said, ‘I just want to work in coffee and I want to do it here,’” says Rick.

And so Evans Brothers Coffee was born, with Rick handling business development, wholesale relationships, sales and marketing, and Randy as green coffee buyer and roaster.

“We found our groove,” says Rick. “It was harder than I thought it would be. We learned things about each other that we didn’t know. Being business partners was very different than being best friends, going to concerts and skiing together. It’s nice to have come through, and to be in a place where we each respect what the other one brings to the table.”

Randy shares the sentiment. “I’ve grown to respect my brother even more through this business. I truly couldn’t do it without him.”


Founders’ Faves

Rick and Randy both favor the fruity, bright, floral flavors of Ethiopian coffees. Randy’s current choice is Dame Dabaye and Rick’s is Kayon Mountain.

If those delicate tea-like qualities of an African roast aren’t your style, and you prefer deeper flavors and richer bodies, you’re still in luck.

“That’s the beautiful thing about coffee,” Randy says. “With more than 700 flavor compounds identified in coffee, there’s something for everyone.”

Author’s Advice

Don’t be afraid to ask the barista what beans are in the grinder for making your espresso-based drinks. At Evans Brothers, there are usually two options – one house blend and one seasonal single origin option. I enjoy “testing” the flavors with a traditional macchiato (not to be confused with the contemporary macchiatos full of milk and sugar), and found that my palate preferred the Kayon Mountain Ethiopian over the house blend. You never know unless you ask!

Also, try something new. I followed my stout espressos with a vanilla-mint cold brew – delish!

Pictured: a traditional macchiato at the Spokane location, inside the Wonder Building.

Locations

Sandpoint – 524 Church St.

Coeur d’Alene – 504 E. Sherman Ave.

Spokane – 835 N. Post St.

What I learned about @evansbrothers #coffee: relationships and quality go together like cream and sugar. Via @wordsncoffee.

Featured

Come As You Are

Originally published in “For the Love of Coffee,” Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living, August 2021

By Kate Vanskike

This year, amid the chaos of ever-changing guidelines for business during COVID-19 restrictions, Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasters opened two new locations, bringing the company total to 19. After 28 years as a local independent roaster, its crown jewel, a community coffeehouse, opened on the South Hill.

In bold, black brush strokes on a white wall, lyrics from Kurt Cobain call out: “Come as you are.”

That message was an important distinction for founder Tom Hammer, who wanted to build an actual coffeehouse, harkening to the 1960s metropolitan gathering places that fostered conversation and the exchange of ideas and beliefs. “Especially at this point in our country, we need a place to get together and hear each other,” Tom adds.

He’s always wanted a shop on the South Hill, but the right space was difficult to find. He knew that when he finally got there, he would bring everything he had dreamed. “Like a celebration,” he says.

It would have a variety of good, quality food and a selection of beer and wine. It would have a blend of comfort and elegance. It would offer an elevated coffee experience not available at his other shops. It would be a place where people wanted to stay a while, a place for community.

The Right Place and People

The ideal arrangement came from Washington Trust Bank, which wanted a partnership for property it was developing on Grand Boulevard, and for almost three years, Tom’s team collaborated with others to make it the coffeehouse of his dreams.

For the food inspiration, Tom reached out to Merrilee Lindaman of the longtime favorite South Hill restaurant, Lindaman’s, less than a mile away, for collaboration on his menu. “I wanted to pay homage to them even before we knew they were closing. We were fortunate to have had Merrilee’s touch and her validation.”

He adds, “She’s a passionate, soulful person and if I can carry a portion of that along, I’m doing my job and the community right.”

For the coffee, Tom borrowed from the concept of Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery, calling his line “LTD Reserve coffees,” which he finds a perfect match for the new space.

That space – designed by HGD Architecture – accomplishes what Tom describes as an “elegant Palm Springs” vibe, layering lines and textures with warmth and regality. His favorite elements: the door, a tree bar, and lots of unique pods of seating.

For sure, the door is a statement piece. At 12’ by 6’, the massive wooden entrance sets the tone for customers, says you’ve arrived somewhere special. A live tree grows in the middle of a square-shaped bar with chairs. Customers can choose from cozy spots and small tables, a glass-enclosed coworking space, a counter with an up-close view of the action, or outdoor seating.

Separation & Duplication

The aesthetics are amazing, but the real genius of the design at the Grand Avenue coffeehouse is a completely separate service area for the drive-through.

“Drive-through is just critical today, but I didn’t want people to come through the front door and have the experience clouded by baristas wearing headsets and talking to someone out a window,” says Tom. It was a serious financial additive, as he had to replicate all the equipment and utilities to create that separation, but it was a gamble he was ready to take.

“I like to think that after 35 years, I had one really good concept,” he says. “It’s been a cool project. And there’s a lot more coming down the pike.”

Continuing the Magic

It’s been quite the journey. At age 18, Tom was slinging joe at Nordstrom’s coffee bar, then working at Four Seasons, and driving around with bags of coffee in his car, trying to get businesses to buy wholesale. While an M.B.A. student at Gonzaga, the dean of the business school, Bud Barnes, took interest in his projects. Today, Bud is still a strategic partner, who Tom calls the ultimate mentor in professionalism, business ethnics, being community minded, and having a work-life balance.

“Three decades of tutelage from someone like that is pretty special,” says Tom. “He’s always concerned about the quality of business, not quantity, and that’s led to where we are today. We have more than a dozen crew members who’ve been here more than 12 years because there’s a culture that people like.”

As Tom thinks about the next steps in his business, it’s actually more of the same. “We’re a customer service company that roasts coffee,” he says, clarifying that he tends to avoid the latest trends that  highlight the precision technical processes.

“Coffee has traveled so far and been touched by so many people,” says Tom, “including the barista who was up til 2 a.m. studying before coming in to work. So a little artistic expression needs to be expected, with a smile.”

He adds, “At the end of the day, it’s just a cup of joe. That’s the beauty. Just enjoy the drink, and the connection with others.”


Founder’s Faves

Blend: “I love the LTDs (limited releases) because they’re simply different. But I also love the Signature blend because it’s been with me since 1987. It works for espresso and it’s balanced in drip and pour-over. It’s like a Swiss army knife. I’m proud of it and it’s value priced.

Drink: “When I’m not having a cup of black drip, I’m having a double espresso with a micro dot of chocolate, topped with some milk, so small you almost can’t see it. And always an 8-oz. It’s the exact right recipe for the 2 shots of espresso and some milk.


Thomas Hammer Locations

  • Spokane: South Hill, Downtown, North, Valley, Fairchild
  • Idaho: Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene, Hayden
  • Malls: Northtown and Spokane Valley
  • Medical Centers: Sacred Heart, Deaconess, Rockwood, Providence (Valley)
  • Colleges: Gonzaga, EWU (Cheney), WSU (Pullman)

Featured

Good Food, Great Vibes, Chill Time: Moscow, Idaho

The hubs and I have a knack for experiencing much in a short bit of time. Here’s our scoop on a quick overnight getaway to Moscow, Idaho: heart of Palouse farm country, home of University of Idaho, haven for quiet evenings.

First things first: Where to stay.

Jeff is becoming a bit of an Air B&B master. He selected Paradise View Bed & Breakfast – a lovely home in the country, with a peaceful view, friendly hosts, even friendlier dogs, and perfectly private accommodations. Our suite had its own separate entrance with great views from the inside and outside alike.

Paradise View B&B
The friendly critters at Paradise View B&B

Second: Where to go for dinner.

The maître D and hosts at Lodgepole know my husband by name and seat him in his favorite spot along the brick wall. But Lodgepole has done an amazing job creating beautiful outdoor spaces as well. And it doesn’t matter where you eat your meal, because the menu is phenomenal. We had the braised beef rigatoni with Cougar Gold cheese and the linguini with clams for the main course, following a tasty, fresh seeded bread with whipped honey butter. For dessert, a triple layer ice cream cake with a swipe of thick fudge and sea salt on the side. The Moscato from Willamette Valley and the espresso from Evans Brothers Coffee (Sandpoint) finished off desert with perfection.

Braised beef rigatoni with Cougar Gold cheese; linguini with kale and clams

Stuff to do.

Besides sitting on the patio, reading and visiting with the dogs, and watching the endless activity of birds and hummers, we found plenty to do on a summer Saturday. First up, a visit to the NRS headquarters – a must for anyone who loves to paddle the lakes and rivers of the Pacific Northwest. They have an amazing in-store selection of dry bags and boxes like you’ll never see in another recreational outfitter.

NRS headquarters

Saturdays in Moscow are market days, with the main strip closed off for foot traffic only – the street lined with white tents and vendors selling a wide variety of wares from food and drink to home décor and clothing. If you’re still needing a second (or third) cup of joe to keep you going, Bucer’s Pub is always a good option for a local brew. But on this day, we opted for Panhandle Cone and Coffee, because … ice cream and coffee in one shop?! Yes please! I had an affogato (espresso poured over ice cream) with salted caramel ice cream and the Evans Brothers’ house blend.

Ice cream of dreams, and affogato.

Returning to Spokane.

The Palouse Scenic Byway is a treat to drive, dotted with small farming towns amid the fields of wheat, lentils and garbanzo beans. There’s plenty of history in the area – part of which serves as the reservation for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians. We opted for a solemn stop at Desmet, Idaho, named after Father Pierre DeSmet, a Jesuit who established a number of missions among the indigenous peoples of the Northwest in the 1800s. But another, longer option, is to drive the vista road of Mary Minerva McCroskey State Park.

Now: Where to next?

Yes, This is Hate.

The Hanging of Qualchan, Spokane County

I’ve always enjoyed driving the country roads through the Palouse territory south of Spokane – especially in summer when the wheat is growing and blowing in the breeze. On one such trip, I came upon a spot at Hangman Creek where a brown historical marker bid me to pull off the road. It was the monument marking the hanging of Qualchan and 6 other Indians by Col. George Wright during the Indian Wars of 1858. At the time, it was news to me, and disturbing.

At least a decade later, I left home on another summer evening to go find that spot on purpose. It’s not necessarily easy to find – either digitally or on a printed map. I was fairly certain I’d find the way, and as the remaining sun left for the day, I did. We pulled in as the horizon was pink behind the pine trees, and the first thing we noticed was the flowers – two pots of red and white geraniums. I was surprised to discover they were real; someone is visiting regularly with water to keep them alive. Behind the stone was also a small trash can and a bag in it, convenient for tidying up the area after careless people leave their traces behind.

But someone has left a number of thoughtful gifts at what had become a memorial at the base of the monument. Lying on a tapestry were sage, feathers, jewelry, a cigarette, rolling papers, beads, and carefully arranged pinecones. We search the car for anything appropriate to leave as a token of our respect, and found a beautiful rock we had picked up on an earlier drive.

My teenager wanted to know more of the context for this event, and pondered aloud why it is that people have historically been so eager to assert authority over others. We discussed those tough topics on the eave of the fourth of July when so many Americans will celebrate the nation’s independence from the control of another. Ironic how eager the colonial settlers were to establish freedom for themselves and so quickly take others captive.

Before heading back toward civilization for late summer-night ice cream, I stopped at the creek and simply listened. I heard an owl, a bullfrog, a marmot, and a few varieties of birds. It was a perfectly peaceful moment tied to a moment wrought with hate.

And that brings be to the title of his course: “Contemporary Strategies for Countering Hate.” I must admit that I thought it was a misnomer – “hate” having become a term used freely in the last few years of social activism around racial injustice. Would it really be about “hate”? I wondered. But after six weeks of throwing myself headlong into research of the Native American community in Spokane – the Jesuit archives, state records, countless history sources, missionary diaries, and contemporary research on documents written more than a century ago – I conclude that yes, it is about hate.

Nothing but hate could propel a man like Col. Wright to commit the atrocities he did. And while missionaries, Protestant and Catholic alike – certainly would have avowed to do what they did out of love, there was hatred for what they believed to be repulsive customs of the indigenous people. What could prompt Governor Isaac Stephens to befriend chiefs like Spokane Garry, to the point of writing friendly letters back and forth, and then to turn his back on them for the sake of property lines? What would cause the wealthy businessmen to commercialize a beautiful riverfront already inhabited for centuries by other people? One could argue that greed was the impetus, not hate, but what is greed other than hating the very idea that someone else could profit from something you want?

I’m grateful for the incredible learning that has taken place through this course. The texts, the honest discussions with classmates, the vulnerable discussion board posts, and the depth of research I was able to do with support from a research mate and a liaison from the Native community. The learning has been intellectually challenging, emotionally taxing, and socially demanding. There is no way to unlearn what has been grasped, no way to erase the truth exposing all the partial perspectives in the American story we’ve grown up believing.

There is no going back. Only forward. The walking meditations to the site of Spokane Garry’s school at Drumheller Springs, the kayaking meditations on the Spokane River, the drives and walks to breathe in the air at the locations of atrocities all around my city – these will continue.

I hope some day there will be more makeshift memorials with gifts of respect at the locations where current-day monuments only tell part of a story. Onward toward truth in place of life, toward love instead of hate.


This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

Beware of Suspicious Activity

Trespassing at Muir Hill

Finding Chief Garry at an Urban Spring

The River Speaks

I Know You Broke the River

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White Coffee and Wise Community

Published in the July 2021 issue of Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Living magazine

A few blocks north of Gonzaga University on Hamilton Avenue sits a small coffee shop with two garage doors indicative of a previous automotive life. Permanently parked in front is a classic 60’s VW Beetle, black, with the Arctos Coffee logo (a bear in the woods) painted on the door. Given its proximity to the college campus, Arctos is a hot spot for students, furiously studying or simply hanging out.

But there’s another kind of customer who’s usually first in line any day of the week: a septuagenarian named Kent Ross, who orders a mocha every time. Several times a week, friends meet him for conversation; other days, he passes the time in a bit of small talk with students and other regular customers.

“I like getting to know the owners, and Jason here is a good guy,” Kent said.

Having worked for and then owned his father’s trucking business, Kent knows the value and challenges of a small business in Spokane, where he’s lived his whole life. Once an adventure runner who trekked the mountains of the Northwest and completed 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, life following a major stroke isn’t as active as he might like. He traveled to Europe, enjoyed hearing authors at Auntie’s Books, and volunteered for the food bank. But things are slower now and showing up at Arctos when the doors open is what keeps him going.

“When they had to change things during the pandemic restrictions, I asked if they could open at 6:30 instead of 7:00, and they did,” Kent said. “That’s why I feel like I should be here every morning.”

Owner Jason Everman created Arctos in 2018, with the help of his dad, Jim. His business focus would be on a small selection of beans for a standard blend that can be roasted to consistent perfection. The Arctos staple comes from two South American beans roasted separately then blended. He also has made white coffee a standard, which offers an extra boost of caffeine with a unique flavor.

“White coffee is a very beautiful alternative to your traditional espresso-based drinks. It tastes completely different,” Jason said. Roasted for half the time of a regular medium roast coffee, these beans are dropped into the cooling bin soon after they lose their green hues, producing results he describes as “beautiful golden beans that smell and taste nutty, and are less acidic.”

Visitors to the flagship café see the tiny roastery upon entering the building, often with Jason seated at the console. In the service area, the ceiling is lined with the burlap bags from around the globe that once held beans, and flags from Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, Washington State, and Whitworth universities add a bit of a campus vibe.  

But it’s the community atmosphere created by customers themselves that Jason appreciates most.

“Kent sitting in Arctos every morning sipping his 12-ounce mocha and chatting it up with the baristas and customers is a perfect example why coffee is so amazing.” Jason said. “It helps us get out of bed every morning. It brings us together. It’s comforting. It’s community.”


>> Author’s Choice: The Logan Latte – caramel, brown sugar cinnamon, and Irish cream

>> Drive-up service: Arctos partners with the Joe Coffee app to provide online ordering for a quick pick-up from the counter. Or, you can stay in your car and visit Grind Central, a drive-through coffee stand located near Millwood, 8015 E. Trent Ave.  

>> Credit where credit is due: It’s my husband, Jeff Bunch, who learns the stories of every business he visits, from the owners to the customers. He’s forever a connector; I’m just the one who whittles down the stories into pieces you can savor with a cup of coffee.

Beware of Suspicious Activity

It’s almost dark and I’m trekking down a riverside path I do not know, anxious to get to the water’s edge at a clearing – a spot close to the horrors that took place 163 years ago as the U.S. army battled to claim the land already inhabited by Native Spokans. In my haste, I leave my phone in my car, and decide I don’t care, although I know I will want it for taking photos. A brown post in the trail through riparian bushes and low-hanging trees has a ripped notice posted from the Sherriff’s office: “Be alert of suspicious activity. Watch out for one another.” I contemplate returning to get my phone, but the full moon is rising and I don’t want to waste time.

The opening in the trees yields to a horseshoe bend in the river. A wide section of dry riverbed is covered by rocks scattered across a cracking earth, thirsty plants dotting the otherwise brown and gray landscape with sage-green accents. Across the river, the other bank is treelined, and beyond that is a steady flow of traffic on the interstate, and semi-trucks pulling in to the weigh station. Above it all, the full moon rises still, over purplish hills, peeking over the trees and dancing on the water.

I can’t properly pronoun Spokane in Salish (“Sp’q’n’i”) but I try. “Spo-kah-NEE,” I whisper at first. Louder, “Spo-kah-NEE.” Then yelling, “Spo-kah-NEE.”

I find myself talking to the spirits of dead Indians, and I’m wishing for some mystical connection, knowing that I simply look and sound like some crazy white woman who needs to go home. I thought about how the Spokans came to this spot to protect their land and way of life, and here they watched the brutal torture and slaughter of their horses by white men, some of whom were repulsed by carrying out the orders. How long must they have heard the cries and moans of suffering as they tried to sleep? A sign saying “Be alert of suspicious activity,” – had it been posted in Salish as a warning of the white man’s ways – couldn’t have prevented what ultimately took place.  

With that realization, I begin the trek away from the water, back through the brush, picking up the pace.

“Watch out for one another,” the poster also said.

Yes, I say to the Spokan spirits, “Watch out for one another.”

This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

The River Speaks

Trespassing at Muir Hill

I Know You Broke the River

Finding Chief Garry at an Urban Spring

Top 10 Lessons From Dad

It’s clear Dad has had a lot to put up with from this gang.

Father’s Day 2021

Like so many dads, my dad taught from the never-published-but-universally-known Fathers Book of Wisdom, which included these standard questions: Does money grow on trees? Were you born in a barn? Are we heating/cooling the outdoors? If so-and-so jumped off a cliff, would you do that, too?

He added his own insights, which my siblings and our kids have grown up hearing. One of our favorites: “It’s all going to the same place.” That’s what you’ll hear if you question why he’s mixing together all the food on his plate.

This year for father’s day, I want to share some other fun lessons from Tom Vanskike, whom we all called Daddy until we were raising kids of our own.

  1. Help them pack.

This is an old-school parenting hack, for you newer parents out there. Your kid threatens to run away? Okay. Help them pack. I said I was running away when I was about 8, and dad got out an ugly old flowered green suitcase for me. That came to mind almost 30 years later when my own kid needed some space, and I followed dad’s example.

2. If you can’t beat ’em, hide from ’em.

When my brother Andy and I were adolescents and stuck together too much during the summer, we fought like cats and dogs, usually over control of the TV station. In rural Missouri in the early 80s, this required going outside and turning the pole that held the antennae, to change the direction it pointed. After a particularly long battle and multiple trips outside to turn the antennae, we just pummeled each other. My brother was shirtless, and when he walked away from me, I raked my fingernails down his bare back from his neck to his hips. Immediately afterward, I needed protection from the oncoming assault and suddenly wondered where Dad was. After several trips through the house, calling for him, I found him: Lying on the floor on the side of his bed where I couldn’t see him from the doorway, his eyes closed, his hands folded over his chest. “Daddy? What are you doing?” “Just waiting for you two to be done,” he replied. It was just spooky enough to silence my brother and I both.

3. Don’t let your brains fall out.

This one may have only been said once, but I’ve never forgotten it. He’s a little skeptical of people being “so open minded that their brains fall out.” I mean, I like being open-minded, but this is still a killer phrase that deserves some points.

4. Question what you really need.

You “need” some cute new shoes, or you “need” a newer, shinier, fancier whatever? When Dad ponders how necessary something isn’t, he says, “I need that like I need another hole in my head.”

5. Take care of what you have.

This is probably demonstrated most with anything that has a motor, be it the vacuum cleaner, appliances, or automobiles. It’s the reason Mom and Dad have had the same washer and dryer over 30 years. Name another guy who has a power-washer adapter for the blade on his riding mower – and uses it after every mow?

6. Never assume tomorrow will come.

Here’s a classic Tom Vanskike phase: “If the Lord wills.” We hear it a lot. Sharing plans for next summer or next week, or tomorrow? You can count on him to add, “If the Lord wills.”

7. Enjoy eye fatigue.

This is not about screen time. Dad’s a sucker for the natural beauty around us – not just the mountains and streams, but rolling farmland and the wide-open plains, too. He and mom enjoy driving through the countryside, getting what he calls “eye fatigue” from all the sights.

8. Ask people’s names.

Before it was common for servers at restaurants to say, “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I’ll be your server today,” Dad would, and still does, ask for their name. And if the place isn’t crazy busy and the server appears to have a moment, he’ll also ask how he can pray for them.

9. Relax.

Anyone who knows Tom Vanskike knows this is his M.O. in life. It does not matter the situation or context. If you’re getting worked up about something that’s clearly beyond your control, his one-word response will be “Relax.”
*Exception: potholes and politics

10. Put others before yourself.

For him, this applies everywhere, every day, all the time.


Thanks for it all, Dad.
Kate

The River Speaks

… But the people hold their tongues

The June evening is warm, the sky clear, the Spokane River calm. Near one of the tributary’s seven dams, I put my modern, carefully engineered craft into the water, its greens and purples jumping off the river’s blues. I, in my matching purple PFD, couldn’t be further from the realities of the indigenous people who lived along this river. Just pointing out the obvious.

As I drift lazily along, watching the sun’s final rays touch the day lilies on the banks, I ponder that. On separate journeys, I’ve visited the markers along this river’s edge that tell a story of Indians and of white settlers, of chiefs and colonels, braves and majors, vying for rights to the land. One glorifies the miners who joined the troops, not far from the graveyard of 800 tortured horses. An installation downtown portrays fishing as a way of life for the Native people, and the suffering they endured after settlers dammed the river. I rest on the water between those two locations, listening for the stories the river could tell.

The Spokane River’s banks have seen bloodshed and destruction. They’ve hosted conversations and heard edicts. They’ve held logs for an old, tired, displaced leader to rest on, weary of the struggle to protect his land, burdened by letting his people down. The water has given life to the flora and fauna, has washed wounds, cleaned hands, cooled burning skin. But those stories could be lost – forgotten as new tales emerge from the tides of summer play, paddlers with coolers, youth jumping from rope swings, boaters hauling skis, lovers watching the sunset reflect on the evening glass.

But more than the fear of the stories being lost of the indigenous people who’ve already passed to the next life, I worry about the silenced stories of the people who still live.

Three times in one week, I looked into the eyes of individuals whose skin is darker than mine, whose ancestors are not colonists, as they shared how often they do not speak, how many times they hesitate, how many times they don’t say clearly what they want because it may provoke a white person. They are South American, Black American, Native American. Each, in their own way, suffers from questioning the validity or the potential repercussions of what they want to say.

There is no monument on the river for these stories. No inscription carved in stone, erected on a hill, marked on a map.

I exit my kayak clumsily. Haul it up the embankment, load it on the car, drive home. And in bed, I sleep fitfully, the stories broiling, wanting to be screamed into reality for all to hear.


This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

Beware of Suspicious Activity

Trespassing at Muir Hill

I Know You Broke the River

Finding Chief Garry at an Urban Spring