Almost nothing marks the turn to a little, forested town between Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint, Idaho. The locals navigate it by tree shapes. A tip from a bartender at the Libby VFW was the only reason I knew to look out for a town at all. It's as though the community almost went out of its way to ensure it stayed under the radar of any tourist or passerby. After the hidden turnoff, the town sprints past in the space of about 2 blocks. Schoolhouse, Post Office and a smattering of one-story houses abruptly run into a rail line. The tracks force the westerly road to split North-South. The road obliges, not bothering to find a way around. And at that, the town is just about explored. It's easier then, to follow the many more roads that lead out of town. Which most do, without a second thought. Naples enjoys its anonymity. For those that don't take the hint, the Northwoods Tavern is the place to be for a drink and a bite to eat. Two locals, Rog and Laurie have owned the place for a generation. Today, as the front door shuts out the heavy summer heat, Teresa is working behind the bar.
The region had apparent wounds from the loss of the industry. The one log yard down the road seems an almost quaint bit of industry, no more than 10-15 people visible working in the yard and log stacks enough to supply maybe a few towns. In Naples, Teresa felt the weight of it, as though times were better back in rosier childhood days even though childhood was anything but easy.
This is a line heard commonly from westerners, not just Teresa, as they look back at their childhoods. Interestingly, child labor laws were born in the US with the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1936. They prohibited industrial work under 14 years of age and hazardous work until 18. Children under 16 years were not allowed to work during school hours, but were otherwise relatively unregulated. Agricultural work ages were left untouched, as they still are in Idaho. What’s revealing is the consistent assumption that the laws weren’t around. This feeling that work was a bigger part of life for kids is a keystone to people’s perspective, and the recurring suggestion that child labor laws weren’t around, speaks to a larger theme. Like with logging, it feels like the government took the right to this part of their identity. It’s an echo of a political message that has been well absorbed in this part of the country: that freedom and good living is where government isn’t. Some things would be better if they were just left alone.
Teresa’s feel for the town echoes that of the dozens of western towns I drove through. That it’s home, and there isn’t really anyplace to be, to live, to raise a family that would feel right. But with a steady feeling of something lost. That the vibrance of memory isn't there anymore, and the upward march has stopped. The similarities are so strong it’s easy to forget that the town was the site of the Ruby Ridge incident, where federal law enforcement sieged a Naples' family home and shot, wounded, and killed members of the Weaver family. Teresa lives next to the remaining Weaver family.
In that bar the world is easy to see from her eyes. The community has lost economic prosperity and luster because of far off regulation that didn’t look at the communities it affected. The only time the government was on the ground there was to shoot a family hiding out in the woods. Meanwhile prices went up, wages stagnated, stay at home parents became rare, and raising kids became an afterthought to putting food on the table. So even the culture that keeps the community together seems under siege by the circumstances that came around because of government intervention or absence. Here it feels it’d be better if the community was just left alone. It’s hard not to be compelled in some small measure to feel that same thing.