I’m sitting in the middle seat of an Alaska Airline flight from Seattle to Oakland. An hour ago I arrived at SeaTac on a much smaller prop plane that had taken off from Spokane. Before that I was in the backseat of a Ford Explorer “taxi” owned by the Moose Express. I’ve been in Sandpoint, Idaho, for a week visiting friends. Now I’m heading home.
On my lap I hold an ordinary gray cardboard egg carton. But within the box is something extraordinary. Every so often I open the lid and peek inside.
The carton contains a dozen chicken eggs.
But these are not ordinary, run-of-the-mill, factory-produced eggs. These are Northern Idaho Panhandle eggs, or more exactly, eggs from the Arucana chickens owned by Lois Clizer, who lives in the Cabinet Mountains near the Montana border, below British Columbia. These are, in all respects, magic eggs.
And they are blue.
Lois Clizer has homesteaded 40 acres of land along Flume Creek for the past 35 years. She is 74 years old and resides in a cabin once shared by the Hucklebery Duckleberry Commune. Down the road lives her daughter Ann and Ann’s husband, Chris. Beyond them lives another daughter, Janet and her son, Aza. Scattered up and down the mountainside are more relatives and friends. The Clizers are a big clan, composed of eight siblings and a slew of grandkids and great-grandkids. Most of them were involved in the logging business at one time or another. But now that logging is on a downswing, they make livings doing whatever needs to be done. Chris works with metal and engines. Janet cleans houses. Aza is a carpenter and mechanic. Ann writes.
I am coming home from a visit with Ann. We met eight years ago at a writers’ conference on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Ann mesmerized me with stories of her mountains and way of life. For years she lived in a two-room cabin with no electricity or running water. Twenty-one years ago she gave birth to her daughter Maya in one of those rooms. She baked bread from scratch, raised horses, and dozens of dogs and cats. She fought off skunks, cougars, porcupines, and the deer who tried to enter her garden and take off with her tomatoes, peppers and squash.
Year after year she watches the snow fall, the spring ice melt, the summer solstice come and go, the leaves change as fall approaches. It’s a world so different from the East Bay it is mind boggling. The pace is slow. You can hear the roar of bumblebees among the blackberries, the honk of geese migrating down from Canada, thunder claps across the valley above the southwestern Selkirk Mountains. At dusk moose amble in the lower marshes and in the early morning hours a lone grizzly bear has been seen sniffing around the old woodshed and outhouse.
I take another peek at the eggs. Each one is a different shade: pale blue, cerulean, aqua, azure, turquoise, light green, olive. Some are speckled with flecks of brown and gold. They are of varying size and shape, not smooth and perfect like Safeway eggs, but rough and luminous, so dazzling they hurt my eyes.
I don’t usually speak to my seatmates while flying. I prefer to remain quiet, catching up on reading and crossword puzzles. But today is different. Today I hold in my lap a small piece of untamed Idaho, 12 fabulous gems. I want to share their beauty with everyone.
“Look,” I say to the man and woman on either side of me. “Look what I have.” I open the box. Both of them lean forward and stare. “Blue eggs,” I say. “From Idaho.”
“Remarkable,” says the man.
“Fantastic,” says the woman.
“Magic,” I say, and then I close the box, squeeze my eyes shut, and try to conjure up the sweet pine and weedy heat of wild Idaho before my plane sets down in Oakland.