Category Archives: 2013-01, January 2013 (Elk City)

In a Meadow

I stepped out of the thick, dark, pine forest and into a meadow. As though on cue, it started to snow: big flakes, soft and fluffy, globs as big as daisies.

They fell straight down, but at a lazy pace. Actually, leisurely is a better word, like each one was looking for just the right place to settle to earth. I stood mesmerized for a minute or so, then stuck out my tongue to try and catch one like I used to when I was much younger. I managed to do no more than spot up my specs. I’d guess the open area was about two acres, and pear-shaped, more or less. I stood at the stem end. At the other side, a small grove of aspen trees huddled. Just the place for a deer to spend the day.

I don’t get around in the hills like I used to. I mean, I can’t head up a mountainside just to check out a copse of quaking aspen for a bedded deer. Nor traipse three ridges over and back again in eight hours. But I can still walk through the lower meadows and meanders around Palisades Reservoir. And I do, carrying my ancient rifle just so I don’t look like some old fool, lost after wandering out of camp. Little did I expect that this walk would present me with a life-changing image.
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Posted on by Wallace J. Swenson / Leave a comment

Trafficking

The author, now retired as a decorated regional investigator for Idaho Fish and Game, describes exactly what game wardens do, and how he became interested in a career of undercover work. “Crossing Paths,” the first chapter of his 2012 book, Trafficking, is reprinted here with permission.

I remember the first time I was at Dworshak Dam [near Orofino]. My brother Nick and I were on our way to school at the University of Idaho in Moscow. He was studying architecture and I was struggling with a degree in wildlife management. He wanted to build stuff and I wanted to be a game warden.

Dworshak Dam was being built and Nick wanted to look at it during its construction phase. It was no minor project since it would be the country’s third highest dam when it was completed. It was quite the sight to see.

Twenty years later I returned to that spot near the dam where my brother and I had looked over its creation; but this trip wasn’t as a curious spectator. I was recalling the earlier visit with my brother but thinking about how bizarre this revisit was. I was investigating the illegal trafficking in wildlife. I wasn’t wearing a uniform, badge, or gun-belt since I was working undercover. I was about to initiate my first “illegal buy” of wildlife all while the deja vu of the past trip with my brother was playing though my head.

I think most kids ponder what they are going to be when they grow up. I’m sure I didn’t dwell on the subject, but I do remember my grandmother talking about her brother Hawley and the respect she had for him as an Idaho game warden. I don’t remember meeting him until well after he had retired. Regretfully he passed on before my appointment as an Idaho conservation officer and I never got to talk to him about his career. Hawley Hill attained the rank of Enforcement Bureau Chief, and after I was hired, I found that his troops had called him “Holy Hell” behind his back. It’s my belief the nickname came from a combination of fear and respect. Continue reading

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Posted on by Tony Latham / Leave a comment

Wild Times in the Old Canyonlands

My dad, Ray Armstrong, was a young forest guard at Pole Creek Ranger Station in the Canyonlands of southwestern Idaho during the late 1920s. He didn’t remember ever attending school, but became a successful cattle broker and in his later years served as mayor of Bliss. Like many cattlemen and cowboys of that day, Dad was a gifted storyteller. In 1976, I recorded his tales in a notebook—tales that chronicle escapades typical of forest service activities in early times.

Ray Armstrong was nineteen years old in 1927. His father, my grandfather, raised horses along Cedar Draw on a rocky strip of land near the Berger community south of Filer. Word was that Dad left home at an early age. He herded sheep and served as a camp tender, learned cowboy work, and maintained himself doing odd jobs around Buhl and Twin Falls. On a chance happening, he met “Supervisor” McQueen, who was in charge of both Pole Creek and Mahoney Ranger Districts on the Humboldt National Forest just across the Nevada/Idaho state line. Dad was familiar with the country, having worked at the Diamond A Ranch. He knew Jarbidge, Murphy Hot Springs (known then as Kittie’s Hot Hole) and the Three Creek country.

Supervisor McQueen needed young, tough men as guards for both ranger districts. Following a rigorous examination that included both written and practical activities, Dad was hired for the Pole Creek position along with young Tommy Wells at Mahoney. It was never clear how Dad learned to read, but during the test session he managed to follow the directions for assembling a demonstration crank wall telephone. He was big, tough, and could throw a perfect diamond hitch, meeting all qualifications for the Pole Creek work. Both Wells and my dad were to furnish their own pack outfits, which included fifteen horses and pack equipment.
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Posted on by Terry Armstrong / Leave a comment

Reel Recovery

Cancer is a scary word. Whenever it’s uttered, most of us naturally recoil, if only subtly.

“When people hear you have cancer, they get scared, especially at first. They act like it’s contagious,” Jeff Entringer said last summer, as we bounced in my old pick-up down the dusty roads of Idaho’s spectacular Copper Basin, in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. “The funny thing is,” Jeff said, with an easy smile, especially for a guy battling prostate cancer, “there’s nothing to be afraid of. Being afraid is the last thing you need to be around someone with cancer. What you really need to be is a friend.”

Those words were a reassuring and solid reminder for me, while I spent my first weekend volunteering as a “fishing buddy” for the Idaho chapter of Reel Recovery, a national program founded in Colorado in 2003. For three years now, thanks to the tireless work of Dr. Dick Wilson, Idaho has been hosting an annual fly-fishing retreat, free for men throughout the Gem State who are coping with any form of cancer. Each weekend-long retreat run by the grassroots nonprofit organization hosts about fourteen participants and at least that many volunteer fishing buddies, inspired by the simple motto, “Be Well! Fish On!” In between angling sessions, a handful of Reel Recovery staffers lead the participants in “Courageous Conversations.” And courage is something you learn a lot about when you go angling with cancer patients.
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Posted on by Mike McKenna / Leave a comment

A New Ballgame

I am grateful for a new year. The presidential debates made me feel I was watching identical twins wrestle, grasping for ways to look different from each other.

The too-long campaign season and its hyperbolic rhetoric were exhausting and disappointing. Oddly, it all reminded me of a day in my world, long ago.

On a summer afternoon, my Longfellow Elementary sandlot team ventured from the familiar confines of Tautphaus Park in Idaho Falls and “our” ball diamond near the zoo. We had heard that some punks from the other side of the canal were publicly sissifying our game and hence our manhood.

With mitts slung through handlebars and bats wedged under spring-hinged book racks, creating stubby wings, our convoy of five-speeds, cruisers, and Sting-Rays moved south along the canal, through the graveyard, down Rose Hill Drive, crossing the Seventeenth “Parallel,” into the unfamiliar territory of Hawthorne Elementary.

Men that we were, no obstacle would deter us from proving our game. We negotiated the narrow trail along the canal bank, allowing for brief rests to peek through fence knotholes for bikinied sunbathers. The sun shone brightly—we knew our game was better than, smarter than, those Hawthorne Hooligans. Continue reading

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Posted on by Steve Carr / Leave a comment

On the Cattle Drive

Burdened with Greenhorns, Cowboys Take a Herd to Pasture

By Gloria Jackson

We saw Indians on the hills during the day, so Vike instructs the men to circle the wagons and corral our horses inside the circle after they’ve been given time to drink from the river.

I begin boiling river water for coffee and cooking what little food we have left. The cowboys will hunt tomorrow, the Indians permitting. Eating slows conversation, and we remain alert while one of the cowboys stands guard. They will spell each other during the night with guard duty. Pete, one of the younger cowboys, helps me clean up and put things back in the supply wagon, so the four-footed scavengers won’t think they’ve found an open buffet.

“Okay, but we won’t have any wild Indians on this drive, will we?” I ask groggily as I crawl out of bed. Continue reading

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Married to a Legacy

I married into a five-generation logging family. I’ve always thought this to be impressive, and it makes me proud, even though I’m sometimes bewildered at how the family has stayed so close-knit throughout the generations.

Jake and I married in 2007, after dating for nearly two years. During that time, I learned only a fraction of what it takes to keep a logging business going steady, even while trying to balance the constantly shifting demands of family time and work. I’m still learning, although at a much more relaxed pace than in the early days. I have come to appreciate what has been passed down in the family business: hard work, long hours in the woods, a few more hours at the shop on Saturdays, and the razzing from a brother-in-law who has, well, no filter.

As we head into February, I become anxious about the layoff season for the guys, who include my father-in-law, Tim, his brother John, and Tim’s sons, Matt, Luke, and Jake. I’m getting extremely anxious to spend more time with my husband, Jake, and I know our two boys, Wyatt, three, and Blake, two, feel the same way. The busyness of those little boys is one of the reasons I look forward to Jake being closer to home during winter and spring. They are busy like their father, their uncles, their great-uncle, and grandfather. This busy life of the men, away from home nine months of the year, stretches back decades, to a time when logging was quite a bit different than it is today.

In 1901, Peter and Mary Brown settled in Prairie for roughly eleven years. They had fourteen children, an amazing challenge to take on while trying to make a living in those days. For Peter, making a living consisted of waking early to go with his horses to the timber, where he felled with crosscut saws. He then pulled logs down the mountain and hauled them to the mill, with only his team of horses to help. Continue reading

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Posted on by Ashley Brown / Leave a comment

Artful Mountain Home

It’s not unusual for those looking down from Interstate 84 at seventy-nine m.p.h., or weekend visitors seeking a convenient bed-and-breakfast, or map-loving friends and family who only reach us by email, telephone, or text, to ask, “Why Mountain Home?”(1)

I recently realized that this simple question represents two distinct camps. One wants to know why anybody would move to Mountain Home on purpose, while the other is interested in how the town earned its name. One says, “I can understand if you were stationed there.” The other asks, “Is it maybe irony, like referring to your six-five, three-hundred-pound uncle as Tiny Trev?”

To the naysayers camp, the answer is that Mountain Home, at least to this man, is like the best kind of woman. Since this awkward simile has yet to achieve its demonstrative goal, even though I’ve tried it a minimum of three times, I’m taking the only logical next step. I’m doubling down, putting it in writing, where it can once and for all be justified, seen for the genius that it is, prove my wife wrong, and be redeemed—which will no doubt redeem me.

Mountain Home is not quite front-cover Seattle or Portland or Boise. Those cities force you to dream up all sorts of life-ever-after from across the room, only to disappoint you when they can’t live up to your impossible expectations. Similarly, the best kind of woman is subtle. You notice she’s attractive, but you can still breathe, speak in complete sentences, and use the logic you brought. You laugh at her slightly self-degrading jokes, share chips and salsa littered with cilantro, learn you have the same interests—the Snake River, the Dunes, Bruneau Canyon, religious experiences all. The more you are with her, the more beautiful she becomes; the more you laugh at yourself, rather than going home self-conscious. You love her blemishes, but you keep your head. You become less judgmental, better in general. She embraces you, defends you, calls you her own. She stops you when you’re going too far. She filters you from the world and the world from you. Mountain Home, like this best kind of woman, is redemption. Continue reading

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Posted on by Chris DeVore / Leave a comment

Elk City–Spotlight

Elk City is literally the end of the road. State Highway 14, the only paved road in and out of town, rolls to its stop on Elk City’s Main Street. Driving the curvy highway for the first time this summer, I was struck by the beauty of the Clearwater River’s South Fork and surprised to see gold miners still dredging the river’s waters for the glittering treasure that brought hopeful settlers to Elk City more than a century ago.

I first visited the community last summer for Elk City Days, which included a parade and a “Red John” contest, as well as the popular and highly entertaining Lumberjack Contest. Never have I witnessed axes thrown so well and so accurately. Perhaps the highlight of the day was the couples’ cross-cut saw competition, which tested contestants’ ability to communicate and cooperate, as well as to saw logs. On the beautiful return drive alongside the river, my husband and I stopped to go swimming and scout future fishing prospects.

On my second trip to Elk City, I met Jamie Edmondson, owner/operator of the Elk City Hotel and a sort of unofficial chamber of commerce for the small community, who told me more about the community and its history. I also visited Elk City’s only church, built around 1917 as the community’s school and converted for a different purpose after the new school was built. I took the short drive to the Gold Point Mill, one of the only gold mills in the area that was not “scavenged” for scrap metal during WWII, according to Jamie, and which is now owned by the Elk City Alliance. Later I chatted with Joyce Dearstyne about innovative work she and others are doing, and her belief in the community’s bright future. Continue reading

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Posted on by Amanda Breitbach Ragsdale / Leave a comment