When We Met
I sat in Jane Howell’s sitting room, facing the Snake River. Howell was in the kitchen pouring me a cup of coffee and herself some tea. Through large windows I could watch steam rising from the blue waters outside. Ducks floated next to the riverbank, and once in a while one would dive under the water.
The sitting room is where Howell likes to read — her orange cat curled up by her legs — books by Latino writers and novels that feature herbs and bees. I loved this room because there was so much to look at. Every trinket or picture had a story and a reason to be in this room. A large basket of gardening magazines sat near my feet, and I noticed butterflies in frames on the walls.
“Water is important to me; wherever I land I’m near a river or a stream,” Howell said. Howell has lived in Hagerman for 32 years in a log cabin next to the Snake River. Howell grew up in Virginia along a coastal landscape.
“Sometimes I look there and forget where I am,” Howell said.
She took a sip of her tea, the early-afternoon light on the left side of her face, illuminating her ice blue eyes.
After graduating from college with a degree in deaf education, Howell and a friend decided to visit every person who ever told them to visit. So they made their way across the United States. In Seattle she met her future husband through mutual friends, they had twins, and Howell never returned to the East Coast. They lived in Montana for years before moving to her husband’s home state.
“He said, ‘Do you want to live in Hagerman?’” Howell said.
I asked her: Did you ever think you would live in Idaho? I also moved from
Montana, and if you would have asked me five years ago whether I thought I would ever call Idaho home, my answer would have been the same as Howell’s.
“Never,” she said.
How You Might Know Her
Howell has a master’s degree from Boise State University in English as a second language. She’s retired but works part time, twice a week, in the Shoshone school district as director for the migrant and ESL programs. She has been working there for five years. Howell has also worked in the Twin Falls and Jerome school districts. She said she was the first ESL teacher in the Twin Falls district.
“I still hear from students I had 20 years ago,” Howell said. “I really enjoy working with different culture groups.”
Howell became a teacher because she remembers when her school in Virginia was first integrated.
“I was so touched to see how people were treated or mistreated because of the color of their skin,” she said. “I thought it was a way to make a difference.”
The other day Howell came across a copy of the Cambodian alphabet that that one of her students had.
If that student ever calls her, she would like to give it back.
When We Said Goodbye
When Howell leaves work in the afternoons in Shoshone, she said, people often ask what she plans to do with the rest of her afternoon.
“I make soap,” Howell said.
Howell owns River Sage Gardens, a business that specializes in handcrafted soaps, bath salts and herbal products. All of the herbs she uses are grown outside her house. Howell learned how to make soap from a woman in Jerome.
Howell gave me a demonstration of the process before I left.
“There’s a chemistry to it,” she said, wearing yellow rubber gloves, protective eyewear and an apron.
On her counter sat a tray of soap bars that looked like blocks of mozzarella. One of the final steps, she said, a soap block in hand, is to trim the sides with a vegetable peeler.
Tell Tetona Dunlap whom she should meet next for her weekly column: 735-3243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.