Story and photos by Ben Olson
Photo assistant Erin Brannigan
These are my friends’ fathers; the “common men” of Sandpoint who raised my generation. They turn screws and wield brushes. They awake early with boot heels worn, hands cracked, nails blackened by errant hammer smacks. They teach our children. They own one suit and wear it only when someone dies or gets married. They sail alone on the lake and fish for the big ones already fished out from decades passed. They live up the mountain, at the end of rutted roads impassible during spring break-up.
They’re real men. There isn’t anything pretentious about them.
These are the men who understand how to live in symbiosis with their surroundings. They found Sandpoint to be a town to settle in, to raise a family their way, to escape the budding crassness of a society hooked on progress. They never wanted too much and never complained about having too little. They made do with what they got, and felt damn lucky to have gotten it before things changed.
Things have changed. This isn’t the same town in which they raised us. Shades of what Sandpoint used to be is in their eyes, when they talk about the destruction of old buildings and new ones going up, each like a square, neat, pastel mushroom – blip! There is real loss in their voices when the local golf course goes private and climbs out of their income bracket, when their neighbors become strangers with giant houses and gates, only showing up for two weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter. They scratch their heads and try to recognize their town with all the new sidewalks, all the new people, so much growth, so many orange cones. Most of them escaped a town like this in the past and now find themselves stuck again in the wheel of progress.
To me, they represent the spirit that once inhabited this town – a Western spirit, slowly evanescing as our town gradually becomes just another resort town. That is why I’ve photographed these men. They deserve to be recorded, for their days are numbered. Soon, like the buffalo, like the cowboy, like the West; they will fade away and the new people will take their place.
I respect every one of these men, these fathers of my friends, and offer these portraits and notes as my part to capture a part of history, before it becomes history.
(Green Rainbow, or real name Edward Mulhauser)
Green was born in the East and didn’t make it out West until midlife in 1988. He never looked back. “I came to caretake a friend’s place. I was seeking a less crowded situation to raise my son and daughter, bought property, and I don’t have the energy to go elsewhere,” he says. “I’m here. I never intended to settle here, though.”
He lives up on top of a mountain, in a series of solar-powered buses and self-built structures. He claims to be a “writer, copy editor, justice advocate, father and earth human.”
Green lives alone, in semi-isolation for many reasons, namely that he takes a dim view of society and what it has done to the free man: “There’s no future in destroying what we depend on for life.” Green is an activist: “Those who disobey wrongful laws are heroes, not criminals.” Green is a counterculturist: “We live in a world of spin, where everyone takes it as given … the truth is strange to most people … our posterity is being sacrificed to the big lie.” Green is an environmentalist: “In the long run, life for an intelligent species on a finite planet requires some responsibility.”
Green is a fascinating man, full of insight and intelligence. He represents to me what Old Sandpoint used to be; a collection of people who wanted to escape paradise being lost, to raise a family and live somewhere free. He currently tends bar in Sandpoint and remains a conscientious thorn in Bonner County’s side.
Ted is a woodworker, a father, a musician and a humble man. “I first moved up to Sandpoint from Aspen in ’74, when all the hippies were escaping what was happening there.” When asked if he sees similarities between Aspen then and Sandpoint now, he replied simply, “Greed always has the same heart, just different faces.”
When Ted first moved to Sandpoint, he was hired by an old-timer named Earl Boles. “I see all these parallels between me and Earl now,” he said. “When I met him, I remember shaking his hand and feeling a finger missing on the right hand. Now I’m the old-timer, and my town is changing and I’m missing the same finger on the same hand.”
Ted lost the finger not on a saw, as assumed, but during a boating mishap: “I was backing my boat into the lake and didn’t have an emergency brake, so I had to prop a rock under the tire to stop it from rolling. Well, I wasn’t quick enough and the truck rolled over the rock with my finger underneath it. There I stood, clutching my bloody hand, watching my truck and my boat roll into the lake.”
Ted raised his family in Sandpoint and spends his time building quality wood structures the old way – with talent and ability. He plays a mean stand-up bass and occasionally accompanies The Shook Twins and other local artists playing around Sandpoint.
Dan first moved up to Sandpoint from Aspen in 1977. “Aspen had gone haywire. It was going through what we’re going through now ... this growth. It changed from an ex-mining mountain town to a ski village and has never been the same. I escaped like a lot of others did. I was just a ski bum and an artist when I first moved here.”
Dan teaches art at Sandpoint High School and creates it on his own time. He went to the University of Idaho and studied art most of his life. “There’s an antipathy for organized religion in my art. I like to explore why human beings need spirituality, which is funny because I’m constantly seeking the same. I used to say that spooks had control of my hands.”
The two pieces of art depicted in the photo are called “Summer Rain” and were inspired by a hot summer day when a storm blew in. “Half of the lake was bright and sunny, and the other half was dark and gray, spilling rain, and the storm came and bounced off the Cabinets, and there was this triple rainbow. It was beautiful. I had the image of a couple working outside all day, blistering hot, and how the rain came in and cooled them off.”
Dan is the proud father of local musicians The Shook Twins and continues to create art at his property on a slough in Bonner County.
“Specialization is for insects,” he says, cryptically.
Randy moved up to Sandpoint in the mid-’90s “to escape from Pugetopolis.” Prior to living out in the country toward Priest River, he raised his family in the Puget Sound area. “What was happening in the Puget Sound was an indicator of what was happening to the whole country,” he said. “I see cities like Los Angeles as an entity America is primarily influenced from. I think that’s wrong.”
He first came through Sandpoint while hitchhiking in the ’70s. “I hitchhiked all over, just to experience it and to see the country. When you hitch, you just go in whatever direction you want, and that usually seems to be the right direction. People had no idea who you were or why you were doing it. You had a clean slate.”
Randy remembered passing through Sandpoint then and decades later moved in order to “raise my kids within the safety of the mountains.”
A carpenter most of his life, Randy is the father of local folk musician Josh Hedlund. He and his wife, Margo, can usually be seen at Josh’s shows in Sandpoint and surrounding areas.
Harv is a fisherman, a sailor, a teacher and an activist. “Growing up an Irish kid in Chicago, it was impossible for me not to be political. 1968 saw the murders of MLK and Bobby Kennedy, war in Vietnam. There was a worldwide brutalization of dissent. Students were in the street, refusing to be intimidated by the police. They gave the world a sense of hope. From that point on, I mistakenly believed that future generations would follow suit, trying to expose injustice and make positive change in the world, disregarding their personal safety. What happened?
“And so, 40 years later, we are again fighting an unpopular war, and we will probably see neither party choose a candidate that represents the people’s wish to get out of the Middle East. What have we learned?”
Harv has worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, is an avid sailor and lives in a modest cabin in Bayview. Never one to shy away from an argument, he is active in keeping the spirit of the small Western town alive.
“Bonner County is being turned into another sanctuary for the rich. Our politicians are being led around by (real estate agents) feasting on the transformation of our old community with all its foibles into a California suburb. Little or no thought is given to segments of the community who will no longer be able to live here. These people are impervious to the fact that they are destroying a way of life, a community that represented what America is all about; off the beaten path, accessible to people of all tax brackets, a heterogeneous mix of ages and backgrounds sharing a special place, a place we love, blemishes and all.”
Harv currently works as a teacher at Bonners Ferry High School: “Most learning is an acceptance of another person’s ideas. Very few people think for themselves. People grow up in a community with a certain ideology. Community leaders teach that acceptance of the established ideology and traditional beliefs will guarantee a wonderful future. Lacking that, leaders force acceptance out of fear. When they see doubts about accepted ideas, they warn that everyone needs to conform, or some enemy will surely get us all.”
Harv will tell you anything you want to know about the Irish or the Mariners, and he’s always down for a day of sailing. He doesn’t compromise his opinion – ever – and his opinion is always backed by his intense knowledge of the human condition and our lack of understanding.