It is still dark as the first guests emerge from their rooms, look down the hall, scratch their heads. Even on a small boat like ours, the first morning aboard can be disorienting. Which way is the lounge? What level am I on? Where’s the coffee? When the floors count down instead of up, and there is no visible reference for port and starboard, it can feel like we are aboard SS Coyote –Trickster of the River – rather than National Geographic Sea Lion.
The wily one’s spell does not last long, though, and one by one people smell their way to the coffeemaker. Steaming cups in hand, the library is a popular second stop. One guest chooses a book on Lewis and Clark. Another picks up the New York Times Digest. Most fetch caffeine back to their rooms to waken in private. There is no reason to hurry this morning. Breakfast is not until 7:30.
Following our morning meal, we are joined by Nez Perce storyteller JR Spencer. Wearing his Sunday best that includes an ermine hat, and braids wrapped in otter fur, JR certainly looks the part. But what stands out more than his dress is his mastery of his craft. By the time he is finished, I am convinced that not only did Coyote create the world, but that we were in his presence this morning. Who but the Trickster himself could have such a twinkle in his eye as he weaves Oreo cookies and Mighty Mouse into ancient chants?
It is hard to imagine a better introduction to the Snake River Valley than time-honored tales of endemic people. And I can think of no more appropriate compliment to those immemorial stories than a celebration of modern fruits of the land. To that end, we boarded buses and headed out for local wineries with our host, Miguel.
On the bus, Miguel regaled us with Nez Perce history sprinkled with tales from the Corp of Discovery. Cool fall sun over scattered high clouds accompanied by a modest breeze made perfect conditions for wine tasting, picnicking, storytelling and laughter overlooking the Clearwater River Valley.
We returned to SS Coyote warmed by wine, stimulated by story, enlivened by new friendships, and feeling full, but Trickster wasn’t finished with us yet. Coco Umiker of Clearwater Canyon Cellars was already onboard, and her engaging and educating talk left the room not only asking for order forms, but oddly interested in cork taint. Trickster, indeed!