Featured

I Come to Campus

I come to campus,
not to work – I can do that at home.

I come to campus
to feel alive.
to see the energy of students, to remember
being one at that age.
to recall moments of the supernatural
and the existential
and pain and sadness, too.

I come to walk
the orderly patterns of brick pathways
among the trees of leaves
and of needles
and to watch the squirrels – hyped up
on junkfood remains,
darting among trees
and trashcans.

I come to campus for College Hall
to see its many gables peaking into blue skies,
the circular windows atop Magnuson Theatre, where once,
guns fired from soldiers in training.

I come to enter the Ad Building
to climb the granite steps and open
those thick, wooden doors and
to enter a sacred space of possibility.
To stare at the stairs
with their crimson velvet carpet and the
ornately carved wooden posts and rails.
To view the light subtly knocking on
the stained glass windows at the landing, and
to hear the hurried voices of students from yesteryear
on their way to classes.
I come to wonder with the thousands like them,
what does the world hold in store for me and where
do I belong.
I come to feel
at home
in the questioning of it all.

I come to campus to see St. Al’s,
to see the morning light reveal the
rose patterns on the windows facing south,
and steeples rising, holding high
the crosses of hope and love.

I come to campus
to embrace it all, to feel
alive, refreshed.

I come to campus to wander back to my car and find
 — again —
a parking ticket.

Time for a Word about Coffee in Spokane and Beyond

Good coffee shops matter as much as good coffee itself. And it’s about time that WordsnCoffee put down some words about coffee.

Here’s what comes to mind as I sip my espresso from my Bialetti moka pot, made with a dark roast sourced from Guatemala, roasted by Evans Bros.

At Home in Spokane

Some people (west-siders, I’m talking ’bout you) may scoff at the idea of Spokane being a great spot for coffee. But while you deal with traffic and parking, and eventually have your venti-skinny-PSL from Starbucks, the eastern residents and guests of the great coffee state of Washington have their choice from a couple dozen locally owned roasters who take great pride in fair trade practices to support the people actually growing the beans – and they exist in myriad styles of shops that are all easy to get to in just minutes from anywhere in the city. Take that, Seattle!

Social vibe: Indaba

While Howard St. is more of the run-in-and-grab type of joint on a popular shopping block, sister locations on Broadway, Nettleton, and Riverside have distinct settings for specific vibes. Broadway: worker bees. Nettleton: retirees enjoying the morning sun on the patio off the trail, and parents taking kids to Hello, Sugar for donuts. My favorite: Riverside, which, COVID-aside, often has local musicians providing chill ambiance for evening outings. Also, owner Bobby Enslow is just a nice guy. (Almost forgot: There’s another Indaba/Hello Sugar partnership waaayyyy out in the Valley on Dishman-Mica. Pink décor is a nice new twist.)

Classic: Atticus

The brick walls, the eclectic shop, the smell of books, the retro poster art from Vintage Prints and stacks of mugs with designs by the legendary Harold Balazs – Atticus just feels like a place you want to sit and stay a while.

Shown here: Evans Brothers | Ladder | Indaba

Commute Stop-worthy: Arctos

Hamilton Street is no fun on workday mornings, and when you can’t avoid it, embrace it. Arctos is a hip place for local college students to study, and its claim to fame for my husband is the sipping-chocolate mocha.

Serious about making it right: Roast House

Deb Di Bernardo is Italian, so … nuff said. I love her mostly for her passion about sustainable production. Roast House’s tasting room is an industrial setting with plenty of room for classes or other groups who want to know about best practices in environmentally sound coffee growing. Also, this is a great source for your home brew supply of what Deb proudly calls “damn good coffee.” The most important two words: Café Fuego. Bottled chocolate-spice cold brew. Oh-em-gee.

Loftspace: First Ave. Coffee

It’s Roast House coffee, but with a coffee-shop feel. Beautiful, long wood tables, a window into Deb’s bakery (keto-friendly), and a cool loft above the rafters.

Thank you from the Valley: Ladder

The flagship store resides in a former firehouse (hence the name) at the edge of Browne’s Addition, and this place is ridiculously cute. You can smell the fresh bread from the baker across the hall, which will put you in the mood for avo-toast. But this Valley girl is most excited about the new location on East Sprague inside the Canopy credit union. Totally different vibe, but a welcome reprieve in the Valley for times we really don’t want to go downtown.

Longtime Service: Rocket Bakery

Rocket falls into the category of coffee shops to note mainly because the bakeries have been a staple in Spokane for a lonnngtime, at locations in Millwood, South Hill and downtown. While the cinnamon rolls and quiches are “to die for” as my Aunt Sharon would say, I honestly don’t even know their coffee story. When I once asked where they source their coffee, a barista said, “I think downtown?” Anyway, I’m listing Rocket because they also have a drive-through option called Spaceship. (Get it?)

Shown above: Roast House | Liquid Planet | Mela

Day Trips

The great PNW has so much beauty, and so many coffee shops to visit while you’re out exploring. Here are just a few.

Moscow, Idaho: Bucers Coffee Pub

This is an iconic spot for a small, rural college town. The walls are lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and the seating is at oversized wooden tables, giving it the nostalgic feel of an old Carnegie library.

Sandpoint, Idaho: Evans Brothers

Charm? Space? Comfort? You can have all of those at the Sandpoint location. The oversized shop has ample room for guests to spread out – none of those tiny tables crammed so close you might as well share your snacks with the patrons around you. There’s a fireplace, and a table always set for chess, and the walls proudly display art by local high school students and teachers. Lemme go make my second cup of espresso with my EB brew …

Glacier Country: Montana Coffee Traders

MCT has locations around the Flathead Valley, including Whitefish’s large shop nestled downtown, and the Columbia Falls shop on your way to or back from Glacier National Park. On a Saturday morning, expect to wait. The Columbia Falls location is the only good coffee around for all the campers and adventurers in their hiking boots, and they will gladly wait in their Northface coats and wool socks to get inside for a tasty (and healthy) breakfast with their joe. Thank you, online ordering service, for those of us leaving our KOA cabin and hitting the road for Spokane!

Missoula: Liquid Planet

My first foray with Liquid Planet was inside the doctors building at Sacred Heart Medical Center here in Spokane, but this brand actually hails from Missoula, where a University of Montana professor dreamed of “raising the culture of beverage to a wholesome new level and to do so in a way that is good for the body, mind, and planet,” according to the website. The quirky college town has multiple locations and they all sport some creative concoctions alongside the best avo-toast I’ve ever had.

Wenatchee: Mela

After navigating the crowded, narrow main drag of this charming town in summertime, stopping in at Mela is a real treat. A spacious setting in an old brick-walled building provides an abundance of good food options, along with their own locally roasted beans.

Further Away from Home

Any travel – whether a day-trip for work or a longer vacation – requires investigating the local coffee shops. Here are a few notables.

  • Arivaca, Arizona: Café Aribac, in the middle of the desert, boasting shade-grown coffee because “migratory birds love it.” I never did learn where the shade-grown beans actually come from, but it clearly ain’t Arizona.
  • Philadelphia: Le Pain Quotidien. Not specifically a coffee shop, but I can’t forget a place that brings you a ceramic coffee pot and matching creamer cup so you can serve yourself an endless supply.
  • Portland: Stumptown. This popular brand is now hitting the shelves in grocery stores throughout the West, which drops it down a notch in my book, where small batches are king. Still, while in PDX (the only city I know that calls itself by its airport code), Stumptown visits are a must, along with visiting Powell’s for endless book shopping.
  • Seaside, Oregon: Seaside Coffee House. Hippie vibe and cool art.
  • St. Charles: Picasso’s. Art and java: the perfect combo, on a cobblestone street.
  • St. Louis: Second Breakfast. Cute corner shop in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
  • Tulsa: Topeca Coffee. Worth bringing home a bag.
  • Venice Beach, California: Intelligensia. Kick-the-sand-off-your-feet, grab your joe and go.

But here’s the drip about traveling: I often have to search high and low, near and far, to find a great coffee option, and it usually requires actual plans in my itinerary to make it possible. That just isn’t the case at home in Spokane. I can visit a great shop on any day, regardless of which direction I’m headed and how much time I have. I think it’s time we boost the Lilac City’s reputation and give the boot to Seattle as the coffee capital.

Here’s a very generic shout-out to the many other Inland Northwest roasters and shops I didn’t name: I’ll come visit soon!

And here’s a very specific shout-out to my co-coffee-loving husband, Jeff, who has introduced me to a number of these great spots. Decades of great joe, coming up.

Shown above: Jeff at Bucer’s | treats at Thatchers (Vancouver WA) | me, who knows where
Featured

Racial Lessons in Place

By Kate Vanskike

Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham.

They’re places we know – individually or collectively – as landmarks in the U.S. civil rights fight of the 1960s. Places where Black Americans put their lives on the line to end segregation and to take small steps toward equality, something their ancestors had envisioned 100 years earlier.

They’re cities I visited in 2017 during a weeklong experience with college students. We walked across that now-famous Selma bridge. We saw the bus Rosa Parks rode. We sat at the kitchen table where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his midnight epiphany. But we stepped into the future as well. At organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Equal Justice Initiative, we saw the powerful undertakings of lawyers and citizens and students to confront racial injustice in the U.S.

The March Continues, read the t-shirt I bought in the Civil Rights Memorial gift shop. After returning home, I wore it occasionally but soon lost it in a pile of t-shirts reminiscent of other times and places.

Montgomery, Alabama: The top portion of this image shows a mural reflecting the Selma-to-Montgomery march with Dr. King. The bottom portion shows an exhibit at the Equal Justice Initiative: Each jar contains soil gathered at the spot where a Black person was lynched. Those jars fill shelves that line a broad wall in the EJI’s headquarters. Today, a new lynching memorial publicly draws attention to the horrors of racial killings in America.

Spokane.

On a Sunday in May 2020, I found that t-shirt and wore it proudly. I intentionally determined what items to stuff in my jean pockets, prepared for the possibility of pepper spray, and carefully selected where I would park my car for an easy exit. My law-abiding husband reviewed the rights and rules of protesting with me, and then I was out the door to join a friend and a few thousand others protesting in Spokane, Washington, one of many cities where people gathered in response to the murder of George Floyd by a cop in Minneapolis.

We were an eclectic group, marching to the courthouse. I recognized former congress people in the crowd, university leaders, teachers. People wore their face coverings or kept safe from the threat of COVID in their cars, creating a parade through downtown. One feisty older white woman honked and pointed out her window to the sign duct-taped to the side of her car: “White Apathy = Racism.” There were young people and old people, white and Black and other people of color, making up the single most diverse group I have ever seen in Spokane.

We chanted and raised our hands in the air: “Hands up, don’t shoot.” And “I can’t breathe” – the famous last words of George Floyd before he died under the knee of a policeman. “Black Lives Matter” and “Our Lives Matter.” “When you can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” We knelt in wet grass, facing officers suited up in riot gear, some also kneeling in solidarity.

Black Lives Matter images, murals in Spokane and Montgomery, a roadside memorial for Michael Brown
Protests, marches, and educational gatherings took place in Spokane, Washington, several consecutive weeks in the summer of 2020. A beautiful Black Lives Matter mural – featuring the talents of 16 local artists of color – adorns a downtown building. It was promptly vandalized with red, white, and blue paint.

I’ve never been a protestor. I haven’t even participated in many marches. For someone who cares deeply about justice, the problem is, I haven’t done much to advocate for it. The extent of my care has been reading and learning more about racism and privilege, following local and national organizations working toward change, and trying to raise my teenager to pay attention and help lead the next generation. But to put myself out there in public, where there could be violence … that wasn’t so much my thing.

I admit it – I eventually moved to the sidelines. When people yelled obscenities at the police, I watched cautiously, looking for any clues that the air of the moment might change. Damage and looting would take place by white supremacists later in the evening, but I would watch that unfold on TV at home, in my unsoiled t-shirt.

Across the U.S. & Inside Myself

Through the summer of 2020, racial tensions still flare and demonstrations continue in cities across the nation – some with increased volatility and violence. The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have resulted in more white activism than any of the previous racial incidents in the last decade or more. I mean, look at the Wall of Moms in Portland – women locking arms, practically demanding that they take a beating in place of yet another Black person.

There’s speculation as to why we are all of sudden angry enough to join the protest. Is it the impact of COVID-19 and months of quarantine? Is it the 8-minute video we watched of that cop with his knee on the neck of George Floyd until the breath of life was extinguished before our eyes? Is it the cumulative effect of the vitriol spewed from our current commander in chief? Maybe it’s none and all of those things.

Regardless, the top-selling books on national lists are about white privilege, white supremacy, anti-racism, and exposing a racial history many of us never learned. Organizations like the YWCA began hosting 14- or 21-day challenges to provide people with daily activities to engage more in the conversation and the learning. In Spokane, there were educational and informative rallies in public spaces over several consecutive weeks. The lessons of widespread racism inherent in our nation’s systems of economics, justice and education (among others) are louder and clearer than ever before. Even mainstream churches that typically steer clear of anything remotely political from the pulpit are now examining what their faith calls them to believe and do. White pastors are gathering with Black pastors and asking questions, sharing ideas, coming to terms with just how segregated the church has been.

I’ve been chewing on it all. The articles, documentaries, podcasts, conversations. I’ve also finally engaged with white friends and family who don’t have the same opinions, and this is admittedly hard. But I continually hear the admonishment of people I respect who are far more acquainted with these tough conversations, people like Raymond Reyes, an educator and champion of diversity, equity and inclusion, who calls this work “productive discomfort.” In talking about race, the discomfort is guaranteed: How we choose to deal with it determines whether it’s productive.

I want it to be productive. I want to ask questions and make comments that call others to share how they came to a certain understanding or why they believe what they posted or shared is true. I want to foster a healthy dialogue that pushes politics out of the way and gets at the heart.

Ah, the heart. It can be such a fickle thing sometimes. We must also tackle what’s in our heads. What has formed our thoughts and opinions? What did we once learn that now we have to unlearn?

This is where it gets personal for me. Wobbly and confusing and emotional and personal to the core.

Perry.

I have great stories of growing up in a small Missouri town during the 1970s and 80s. It was idyllic in a way – a place where kids played in the streets and parents never worried where they were, and we left our houses and our churches unlocked. When I speak of childhood memories, it has always been with fondness. But …

Me. Just a small-town girl.

I had been oblivious to the inherent racism. I had no understanding that Black students generally were expected (or at least assumed) to be good athletes, and I wonder now: Was that because it may have been considered their primary opportunity to excel, despite also doing well academically? In our friendly town, neighborliness was a staple, but clearly meant for whites only. There were no Blacks from Perry in my county-wide high school; they lived in one of the other two towns, and they knew that Perry once had an ordinance forbidding “colored people” from staying after dark – what we refer to today as a Sundown Town. One of my brothers recalls how a Black friend was scared to come to our home for fear of staying too late, because that old ordinance* had never been forgotten. During the development of the local lake, several St. Louis families purchased homes in this cute little rural setting as a get-away from the city. I distinctly recall hearing someone say that the lone Black urban couple wouldn’t last one year in Perry. That proved to be true.

St. Louis, Compton Heights

From Perry with its 710 white people and one adopted Hawaiian, I spent the summer of 1991 in an inner-city section of St. Louis where, one block away from a perfectly manicured boulevard of stately old homes was “the hood.” In Compton Heights, there were rows of brick apartment buildings, every-other one with boarded up windows and spray-painted graffiti. The residents were 100% Black and 100% poor. Mothers sat on the concrete porches and their children kept cool playing in the spray of a fire hydrant. We offered to take their children to the church to play and have snacks, and they gladly let us walk away with their kids. Sometimes we visited with mothers inside their hot apartments, and choked back the sights and smells of abject poverty. This was my first up-close and in-depth encounter with a Black community, and now I ask myself:

How did that shape my racial views as a teenager and into adulthood?

A couple of years later, I had the fortunate experience of living for a summer in the Philippines, in a remote barrio where I was the only white person present and the only white many of the local residents had ever seen. The following summer, I lived in Chad, West Africa, and while I was by no means the only or first white to be seen, there was a distinct mistrust of whites (specifically, anyone who could be mistaken as French). These were fortuitous experiences that helped me – without me even recognizing it – to reshape race in my head.

North Idaho.

After moving across the country to the Inland Northwest in 1998, I married a proud redneck (his term) and relocated with him to North Idaho. I had no understanding the history of Aryan Nations prevalence there; the name Richard Butler meant nothing to me. But there I was, living again in a predominantly – and proudly – white community, one year after Butler’s final white supremacy parade took place and his compound shut down.

The family I married into had relocated to North Idaho from Southern California, in part because of racial mixing that occurred when schools began bussing in members of communities that had been segregated. I was in the car when my father-in-law pulled into a turning lane to get out of traffic for the express purpose of demoralizing a person of color very publicly. I was horrified. That traffic incident still haunts me today, not only because of what I witnessed but because I never felt safe enough to speak up or to question this behavior. It further reviles me to know how racism seeped into (or out of?) me; on one occasion in my professional setting, I uttered a slur related to people of the Jewish faith. Gratefully, a colleague called me out on it.

As soon as I divorced and returned to Washington, I felt as though I needed a cleansing – not just from the influences of North Idaho, but, I realized over time, a mental, social and spiritual purification from ALL experiences that contributed toward my implicit biases.

Inside.

The greatest work to take place in me along those lines has been fostered by intelligent and thoughtful people who are educators by trade and by practice. They challenge and push and inspire, they offer guidance, and they demand personal accountability, which is admittedly painful.

As an editor of a publication that represents an institution of higher education, I have the great joy of telling stories of such educators and those they teach. It never occurred to me, however, that this role would be considered by some as a position of “power.” Me, a lowly writer, in a position of authority? This was incredulous to me, but not to the person of color who called me out for abusing that power to tell a story that was not mine.

Being the named party in a bias report was the most devastating experience in my 20-year career as a writer and editor. But … as I am still exploring the various manifestations of white privilege, I’m learning to accept the fact that I am white and that I publish a publication reaching 50,000 homes indeed carries an influence others may never have.

And who am I, anyway, that I should deserve to have more influence than them?

Also – true confession – I rewrote this section after realizing that my original version had cast me as the victim of the bias report. Some lessons take more time than I’d like to admit.

Everywhere.

On March 31, 2020, thousands of Spokane area residents joined together in a peaceful march to bring light to recent hate crimes and to demand change in law enforcement policies and systems. That’s me in gray; what doesn’t show is my t-shirt reading The March Continues.

And so, whether I deserve it (I do not) and whether it is easy (it is not), I must stand with and for Black lives and Latinx and Native Americans and others.

Amid the riots and demonstrations – even the looting and destruction – more white voices must speak up in solidarity with those whose skin tone is darker, more white fists must be raised alongside others. We should shout until our voices are gone, until people of color are free of being targeted, free of danger in traffic stops, free of unnecessary retaliation, free of the obligation to teach their children how to protect themselves from white people in positions of authority and influence.

For many of us, that requires a willingness to deal with the uncomfortable realities of bias in our own hearts. It may unfold through more uncomfortable conversations, or giving up long-held beliefs that simply don’t stand the test of truth anymore. It necessitates asking why our history lacked the richness of diversity in places of power and authority. For us to be the kind people many of us believe ourselves to be, it’s time to dismantle the stronghold of prejudices that stand in the way of justice. Or if justice is too hard a fight, then for the love of all that is good, let’s start with simple dignity for all people.

It’s time for more productive discomfort. Because The March Continues.


Kate Vanskike is an occasional blogger and full-time university magazine editor in Spokane, Washington. All views expressed here are hers alone and don't represent any named or unnamed organizations involved in her story. She has future hopes of running a coffee shop that only serves fair-trade, sustainably made java, and maybe a limited selection of ice cream for making cafe affogato. Or maybe she'll be a "jammer," driving old-timey shuttle busses full of tourists gawking at mountains inside Glacier National Park. Or maybe she'll be an old hippie woman chaining herself to trees and city hall doors, protesting for positive change.  

Ferguson, Missouri. In 2014, Michael Brown was shot by police and left dying in the street in a St. Louis suburb called Ferguson. During a 2019 trip to my home state of Missouri, my husband and I visited the site. Just past the market from which he fled, there was a beautiful, shiny, modern Boys & Girls Club to serve the local population. We were impressed: This, we thought, heralded positive change and growth. Then we turned on to Canfield Avenue through a set of apartments and saw the makeshift memorial on the sidewalk. Teddy bears and stuffed animals and artificial flowers, all faded and dirty. Why wasn’t there a proper, “official” memorial? A plaque with Michael’s name and a brief story or a mention of his death as another unnecessary incident of lethal police response?

basalt rock formations over the Spokane River, Riverside State Park

20-Year Spokanniversary: Adventures Along the Way

I arrived in Spokane, Washington, on Mother’s Day 1998. It was a beautiful day with blue skies, warm enough for me to wear light pants and a short-sleeved shirt as I roamed around the downtown of a city that would eventually feel like home. My first stop was the visitors center, a small brick building on Main and Browne, for maps and information. I wandered Spokane Falls Boulevard to see Riverfront Park and then Howard, where I found an interesting little hippie shop that seemed like a place where I might connect with other young 20-somethings.

But that isn’t where the adventure starts.

1998 1 - journey to MT
Heading west on an Amtrak “Empire Builder” (March 1998)

Empire Builder

It began on an Amtrak two months earlier, trudging north from St. Louis and then branching off to the Empire Builder across the flat, snowy plains of North Dakota and eastern Montana. I journaled, I slept, I snacked. I disembarked in towns where that was allowed, to stretch and inhale fresh air. I sat in the windowed car where seats face out the walls of glass, and took in an unobstructed view of the landscape – a landscape that never seemed to change after 10 miles, 100 miles, 200 miles.

As my luck and Amtrak’s schedule would have it, the short March day would wind up for nightfall just as the terrain swelled and rolled, where brown, barren trees morphed into green conifers that trekked up hills and alongside rivers. The train meandered through mountains on high trestles over frozen creek beds, hugged the hillsides, swooped through tunnels. The sky grew darker and the engine chugged ever higher until the Whitefish train station appeared and there were aunts and uncles waiting to greet me.

It was Montana, and I loved it. A week there, with my dad’s sisters and their husbands showing me the local lakes and ski resorts, driving me as far as winter roads would allow into the outer reaches of Glacier National Park, and I was hooked. I didn’t know the grandeur that was hiding behind the fog and clouds, but it didn’t matter. Montana felt right to me. My grandmother, years after moving from Montana to Missouri, had said she could still sense the mountains calling her. I thought they were calling me, too.

But alas, that is not the big adventure either.

Me and My Ranger

After the train ride back through the mountains and across the prairies and down alongisde the mighty Mississippi, I returned to my job and put in a notice: I’d be moving. Starting a new life. Having an adventure. Recreating myself. And I’d be doing that out West.

In 1998, the great World Wide Web was still in its infancy. Google Maps didn’t exist; nor did LinkedIn or even Monster.com. Job hunting was more manual, even a little old fashioned. It didn’t take long for me to realize that finding a job in the Flathead Lake area of Montana would be next to impossible — that place was chock full of writers who were successful as freelancers and wealthy enough to live there without concern for regular work. That wouldn’t do for a young professional just two years out of college.

I spread out a large U.S. map on the family dining room table and announced to my dad, “I’m moving to Spo-KANE.” He replied, “Well, then you ought to learn how to say it: Spo-CAN.”

That was about the extent of the conversation as I remember it. My parents weren’t overly worried about me moving across the country or resettling on my own. I would box up my belongings in the house I rented from them, pack only the essentials necessary for settling once I found an apartment; the rest of it — and my dog — my folks would load into a U-Haul and drive out to me a couple weeks afterward.

The first of May came and, having said all goodbyes, I left my little white house in Hannibal, Missouri, and pulled out onto Highway 36 heading west in my 1996 Ford Ranger. It was turquoise green, a dogged 5-speed stick-shift that had never traversed mountains. It had an extended cab, which allowed me to lean back my seat when I needed to pull over for a snooze. My belongings, packed in Rubbermaid totes, were secured in the bed and covered with a blue tarp that would flap incessantly until it eventually ripped to shreds.

I had been on that familiar stretch of Highway 36 for less than 10 miles when I found myself daydreaming. What would it be like to just hit the road for an adventure and not go back to Hannibal to my daily routine? The thoughts lingered and rolled around in a familiar pattern before the neurons fired and I realized that I was hitting the road for an adventure and not returning to a normal routine.

A burst of energy and excitement shot through me — I felt it in my bones as much as in my heart. I screamed with joy and laughed aloud, rolled down my window and waved my arm back at Mark Twain’s boyhood hometown, far in the rear view mirror.

If I had kept a journal of what I ate and drank along the way, the record would likely show my penchant for Barq’s root beer, Pringles, M&Ms, peanut butter sandwiches, and an occasional burger or taco from a fast-food joint.  I’ll bet mom sent me with chocolate chip cookies, too. My Sony Walkman was plugged into my truck radio with a cassette tape so I could listen to essential CDs: Lynyard Skynyrd, Pink Floyd, The Wallfowers, U2, Steve Miller Band, Tom Petty, Tracy Chapman and the Indigo Girls. There may have been more, but these I know for sure.

mountains in Rocky Mountain Park, Estes, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park (May 1998)

Scariest Night of My Life

There would be plenty of less exciting moments in that six-day trek. Kansas, for example. Plus the hail storm and pouring rain that prevented visibility, then blinding snow in Colorado and the Ranger’s struggles to muster the strength for slippery surfaces on winding, elevating mountain roads.

Each night I stayed in a different type of accommodation. In Kansas, it was a cheap chain hotel along Interstate 70. In Colorado, a lovely little cabin on a creek near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. In Wyoming, I pitched a tent in Yellowstone, and that became a night to remember.

In early May, campgrounds in Yellowstone are nearly vacant; the one I chose had maybe two other campers, one of whom helped me put up a tent that was far too large for one person. I hadn’t camped enough to know the value of small tents, and I had never camped outside Missouri, which means I knew nothing of bear country precautions. I was bewildered by the sight of “bear proof” garbage cans and signs about keeping food inside vehicles. Every warning I saw sent shivers through my body, and each of them reverberated in my mind for several hours as I tossed and turned inside a tent large enough for three of the feared mountain mammals to come join me.

It sounded like that was about to happen. There were scuffling sounds in the campground, near my truck, closer and closer until at last I swore that claws would come ripping through the thin nylon that served as a wall between me and the wild. I had nothing to offer as a deterrent or a defense. I only had my vivid imagination and fear, which I was sure the bears could smell just as well as the package of lunchmeat in the cooler inside my truck.

After an exhausting period (an hour? Three hours?) of envisioning my pending death, I told myself it was ridiculous to assume there were bears out there. The scritch-scratching was probably the movement of bare limbs on nearby bushes. Just as my heart rate slowed by and imagination shut down for a bit a sleep, one of the two other campers down the path fired off a single shot from his rifle. A warning shot to scare the bears away, I was sure of it. Sleep would never come. I would simply wait for morning light, pack up my belongings and hit the road. At the Gardiner, Montana entrance to the park, I’d comfort myself inside a rustic restaurant with biscuits and gravy, eggs and toast, and then push north toward Livingston.

writer Kate Vanskike atop a mountain looking over the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park
Me, enjoying views in “The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone” after surviving a night with bears (May 1998)

I was back in the land of enchantment, the backdrop of mountains among the wide-open ranches where the deer and buffalo roamed. Heading to Kalispell for a visit with my aunts, I knew that while I was making a home in Spokane, Montana would continue calling me back.

After a couple of days to recuperate from driving, I hit the stretch of I-90 that was then and remains today my favorite section of any interstate in the U.S. Lookout Pass, a stream running alongside the curving highway, the marshy meadows near St. Regis, the basalt walls of Fourth of July Pass, the elevated views above Lake Coeur d’Alene; the scenery is almost distracting, particularly for a flatlander unfamiliar with mountain passes.

The Lilac City

writer Kate Vanskike with her Ford Ranger, trekking to Spokane
Mother’s Day 1998, leaving Kalispell for Spokane

It was Mother’s Day when I drove into the city named for a flower that smells of nostalgia, memories of my grandmother who said the mountains called her. I was only downtown a short time when the area map I now held pointed me to Riverside State Park. That was more important to me than learning the pesky one-way streets or even finding the right place to stay the night.

In retrospect, I could have made accommodations a higher priority. I spent my first night in a very seedy hotel at the corner of Government Way and the Sunset Highway. The activities at such a location scared me nearly as much as the night in Yellowstone, and I spent my nervous moments searching the yellow pages of the three-inch thick phone directory for a hostel.

Spokane’s only (and no longer operating) hostel — The Brown Squirrel — became my first “home” in the Inland Northwest. I sheltered there with a couple of others who were long-term visitors and two girls from Seattle who were just in town for a few days. It was at The Brown Squirrel that I joined the throngs of Seinfeld fans along with fellow hostelers, to unwind in front of the tube after a day of driving around, learning the lay of the land, scouring newspapers for job openings, applying for jobs and searching for a suitable location to apartment hunt.

Within a week, I received a call at The Brown Squirrel from my first employer, and with a job, I could tell a prospective landlord I would actually have income. I became the first occupant of a corner unit with vaulted ceilings, an open floor plan, two sets of sliders linked to different patios in a brand new Bavarian-looking apartment complex that was still half empty. It had only a small stretch of grass, but my dog would be allowed, and the rent was only $495. I quickly came to know my next door neighbors: they were members of what I would soon learn to be a notorious family of gypsies in Spokane. (Does the name Johnny Marks ring a bell?) The matriarch would ask me to drive her to Tidyman’s, which was literally straight across the street, and I obliged the first time or two, trying to be neighborly. Hans, our German landlord, booted them after two months.

writer Kate Vanskike with her dog on a rock overlooking Spokane Washington
Me and my faithful companion, McKenzie, at the Cliff Drive overlook on Spokane’s South Hill

Claiming Spokane

Over the last 20 years, I have lived in one apartment on Sprague (not the redlight district of the 90s), one super crappy duplex on 16th (it had a big yard for my hole-digging dog), one much nicer duplex on Best (a place of wonderful memories), a newer home on the South Hill (with the best kitchen ever), and now a more permanent residence off Upriver Drive. There were five years that I lived in North Idaho during my first marriage, but that’s a different story.

Over the years, I have remained unsure how to answer when people ask, “Where are you from?” Can I call myself a Spokanite? What length of time is required to claim the city and have it claim me?

I’ve decided: I cheer on the Zags, know all the great local coffee joints, support local independent bookstores, have ridden or walked all 40 miles of Centennial Trail, completed Bloomsday, watched a Lilac Parade, marched on MLK Day, planted trees with The Lands Council, read Doug Clark’s column, complete “the Best of” polls with The Inlander, and attend the Trees of Elegance every Christmas season without fail. At this, my 20-year Spokanniversary, I’m claiming it: I am “from” here.

sunset on the Spokane River in Spokane Valley Washington
The Spokane River, near Upriver Dam (2017)

Kate Vanskike-Bunch and her family make regular trips to the Montana mountains that call her, but they definitely feel at home in Spokane. She and husband Jeff have a daughter entering high school, three elementary-aged kids, a dog and two house rabbits. They live near Millwood, love the arts community, and contribute to the financial success of local coffee roasters.  Follow Kate on Twitter.