In the middle of my sophomore year at Bible college, 1989 Oklahoma City, I’m not sure where it came from, but I was suddenly inspired by Idaho.  It was a late night, balancing work and studies, and I was feeling restless.  I wasn’t inspired by Idaho’s familiarity or probability, but by its mystery and irrationality.  All I knew was that it was a funny shaped mountain state beyond anywhere I’d been, completely different from where I was, and the unfounded idea that I could go to school there invigorated me as a young man who felt like the trajectory of his life was as mundane as the surrounding plains.

I followed up the inspiration with some practical research, checking out colleges in Idaho, and the vision just wasn’t logistically feasible, but what it did do was plant in me the belief that I had other options; I could create new options; I could take a different path.  I didn’t make it to Idaho, but the idea of it opened door such that I sure went to a lot of other places even more extraordinary.

So until now, some 25 years later, Idaho has remained more of an idea than a destination.  Part of me didn’t want to go to Idaho because I knew now that the actual place wouldn’t compare to the metaphorical meaning I’ve attached to it in my life.  I almost preferred to keep it a mystery.  But there it was, right ahead of me on my route West.  As I came upon the border at Lookout Pass, I pulled over and took some photos to commemorate the occasion dreamed about so long ago.

This was the northern panhandle of Idaho, a relatively skinny stretch of geography.  I could have passed through it quickly if I stuck to interstate 90, but I wanted none of that.  I studied my atlas for a more creative route to fill my day.  Unlike the rest of my trip so far, where it was pretty easy to find flanking highways that pass through small towns and open land, the roads off the interstate were mysterious backroads that couldn’t make up their mind which direction to go.

So I promptly got off the interstate at Wallace and took a walk around the historic – now touristy mining town and had a pint at the local dog-friendly microbrewery, before hitting the road into the winding interior of Coeur d’Alene National Forest.  One specific fantasy I had as part of my vision of Idaho was that I would have a jeep where you can take the top off, and I would drive through mountain highways with Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” blaring.  Every vehicle I’ve owned has thus been named a Valkyrie: Vinnie, Vivian, van Jeep, Vicente, Vern, and now Val the Valkyrie, my Prius.  So I rolled down the windows, pulled up “Ride of the Valkyries” from my Classical Power playlist and blasted it as I drove through the mountains.

It was a beautiful drive, first over ridges, and then along a beautiful river valley.  But then I turned onto a road that cut north through the forest, just a thin line on my map.  It started out as paved, but soon turned to wide gravel, and as it got further it narrowed and turned to bumpy gravel in places.  My map showed me that it would eventually drop me off in a town on the other side, but I began to doubt it as I seemed to be in a remote area.  The mountain scenery was very nice, but it was a much longer and slower drive than I had expected and the few vehicles that passed me, stirring up the dust, were NOT Priuses.  They were trucks and SUVs and I think some of them were in service to contain the forest fires in the area.  The road did eventually lead me back to pavement and discernable towns and highways, but Val had taken a dirty beating and my day was nearly spent.

I did cursory drive-thrus of Bayview and Sandpoint and picked up my pace on more direct highways headed west.  I wanted to make it into Washington and the Columbia River before I found a place to park and sleep.  I was only in Idaho for around 7 hours.  I do plan to get a more thorough Idaho experience when I pass back through the southern part on my return trip, but for this initial crossing of the upper panhandle, I got what I wanted, and more – A scenic drive through the mysterious mountains of Idaho, to say I’d finally been there.

Some years after my initial Idaho vision, when I was living in the Marshall Islands as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I often asked myself, “How is it that a small town Oklahoma boy ended up in a place that could only seem like a fantasy to my youth?”  Of course, many decisions and variables send a person on their course, but thinking back, I did see a moment above the others that I could pinpoint as when I hopped off the conveyor belt and started a new and different direction that has led to everything since.  The night I had a vision of Idaho.  There on that remote Pacific island, I wrote this song to commemorate what it meant to me:

“Idaho” 1996

The mid-western plains seem all the same, and this student’s life blends in.

I gave my time, my funds, to stay safe in the old ways.  Alas, I’ve seen it all before.

I look down the conveyor belt, the assemblance of me.

The end’s too easily imagined, the way, formality.

I need a change, please make it strange, non-sense feels good on me.


Then the mystery of Idaho whispered my name.

Like a vision of the promised land yet seen.

Where the landscape and my battle cry echo I’m not the same,

In the liberty that the old slate’s now clean.

Oh Idaho…. Beckons I to go.


So I made haste to have a taste of this kinetic energy.

I found open doors to distant shores I thought I’d never see.

But greater than all I’ve seen and done.

Is to know and smile, of this child, the Lord made only one.

And I look up into the heavens, my God smile back warmly.

‘Cause I bear witness to his creation by simply being me.

Oh when life’s scenes are bland routines, his nudge can set me free.


When the mystery of Idaho whispers my name,

Like a vision of the promised land yet seen.

Where my spirit longs to celebrate the pristine private fame,

To sing and dance through secret scapes of green.

Oh Idaho…. Beckons I to go.


Well, wouldn’t you know that Idaho’s a place I’ve yet to be.

And I don’t know if I’ll ever go and ruin the mystery.

See, Idaho, it’s a state of mind.

Where passions peak amid the seek, not so much in the find.

And the call is not riches to claim, but to enrich the world ‘round me.

‘Cause I have faith that all our lives hold more than what we see.

I’ll quest for change, out on the range, and I’ll take some company.


‘Cause the mystery of Idaho still calls out my name,

Like a vision of the promised land yet seen.

It’s a song for the deaf, a view for the blind, and dancing for the lame.

Come sacrifice your borders for the dream.

Oh Idaho…. Beckons I to go.