“I know that I’m a prisoner
To all my father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years.”
—“The Living Years,” Mike + the Mechanics
My mother asked me to help her change the batteries in her bedroom wall clock. “Look.” She pointed to the limpid timepiece, with its prominent caduceus tattoo—a “gift” from a drug representative, rescued from Dad’s office after his retirement. The second hand pulsed, steady but weak—determined, but tethered—at the bottom of the hour.
“Do you have the time?” she asked, hurrying to the kitchen. “I know you’re busy.” She was afraid I’d follow her, and leave the chore unfinished. “I know there’s some new batteries here in Dad’s drawer,” she called over her shoulder. I knew the drawer. Everyone does, it’s an Idaho country kitchen staple. So I was not surprised when she found some batteries, still in their original package. Continue reading →
I’m standing in the Museum of Idaho. This is not the new part, which is mirrored on the outside, tall and bright on the inside, and currently hosts an exhibit of carousels. I’m in the original museum, once Idaho Falls’s first public library.
This is where you go in my town to contemplate the significance of small things that were but are not. Things like the fact that one day in 1915, four women in long skirts, two men in bow ties, and a scruffy boy in overalls paused a game of croquet long enough to pose for a camera.
It is silent in this room. From the new wing comes faint calliope music. Continue reading →
Many of us in Idaho are used to the annual cottonwood event, during which the cottony stuff can pile up like snow. Not everyone is aware of its flammability.
Unfortunately, I used to be one of the ignorant. My awakening came in early summer of 1997, when my older brother, my wife, and I were engaged in the doleful task of preparing the contents of my mother’s house in Ketchum for auction. Mom had recently suffered a grave illness and was now in a nursing home. The house had been sold to pay for her future expenses, and we were picking up the pieces. I felt a real sadness at parting with my mom’s dream home. When she retired from the family business, she had fulfilled a fantasy by moving to what had at one time been called “Millionaires Row” up Warm Springs Creek in Ketchum. Although her place had only been a party-house and garage for the millionaire who built it in the early 1950s, it had fit my mother’s lifestyle perfectly. The house was surrounded by cottonwood, and on that fateful day, cotton from the trees covered the lawn, piling four inches deep in places.
For a break at lunchtime, we decided to drive our mother’s powder blue Wayne’s World sedan to a restaurant in town. But a window had been left down in the car, and first we had to empty two inches of cotton out of it. During lunch, my brother mentioned that the cotton was highly flammable. He recounted the story of a bus from the Sun Valley Resort that had filled with cottonwood cotton after windows were left open. The punch line of the story was that the driver had cleared the cotton by tossing a match in the bus. Although the cotton vanished, the subsequent fire and minor explosion were not good for the bus.
When we finished for the day late that afternoon, we locked the house, my brother got in his car, and began to back out of the driveway. Suddenly, a moment of childhood evil took possession of me (I was forty-nine at the time). I waved at him and made a ceremony of pulling a matchbook from my pocket, lighting a match, and then tossing it toward the cotton in front of his car. He gave me the look unamused parents reserve for especially cretinous children, and drove away. Continue reading →
When the five of us, most of whom were practically strangers, embarked on our backcountry journey deep into Hagerman Valley, little did we know what awaited.
We were headed for Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve, about twenty miles northwest of Twin Falls, near Wendell.
We all had met by way of an online “hiking interest” group. J.R. (the host of our group) posted the day trip as a chance to witness the eleventh largest spring in North America and the possibility of seeing some unique wildlife. Being somewhat new to Idaho by way of Indiana, I jumped at the opportunity to explore the rugged southern Idaho backcountry. Doug, Lisa and Mindy, the other members of the group, expressed similar excitement at the chance to see what hidden treasures might await at the canyon.
I admit that my first impression of the park, especially the flat stretch of trail leading to the spring from the parking lot, was underwhelming, to say the least. A few of us commented on how unremarkable the surrounding landscape was as we approached the park along county roads, passing large cattle ranches and farms. “So, this is it?” someone said in a rather disappointed tone as we pulled into the parking area. But after a walk of a mile or so along a well-traveled dirt road, everything changed dramatically. Continue reading →
Last February, I stumbled on something you don’t see every day. During a National Assessment of Educational Progress-related visit to South Fork Elementary School in Rigby, I approached the front desk and an Australian blue heeler trotted out of the principal’s office to see who had entered his domain.
“What an unusual dog,” I remarked as I took a chair in the office of Principal Yvonne Thurber.
“I don’t know about him being unusual, but he is special,” she responded. “When I was working at Eagle Rock Junior High, a little girl came to school in tears one day. I asked her what the problem was. She sobbed, and told me her dog had just had eleven puppies. She had found a home for all of them except one and was afraid she would have to drop him off at the dog pound. Being an animal lover, I couldn’t let her do that. They might put him to sleep. I took him home and gave him the name Kooskia.”
“Here’s a question I’m dying to ask,” I said. “Why is he at school?”
She sat up straight. “He’s part of our PAWS reading agenda. It’s a program that helps parents motivate their children to read at least twenty minutes every day through competition between two teams, the Cats and the Dogs. At South Fork Elementary, Kooskia might just be a young reader’s best pal.”
“Really? Why’s that?” Continue reading →
I know the term for a skier who doesn’t have a clue what he is doing is a “gaper,” but what’s the term for someone who doesn’t have a clue about fly fishing?
Not knowing this probably qualifies me for whatever that is. I want to learn how to fly fish, maybe because I’ve watched A River Runs Through It a few too many times. In any case, I’ve only been fly fishing a few times and have begun to think it might be a myth that people catch fish this way.
When I decide to try one more time, the first thing I do is go to the local fly shop in Driggs to get a fishing license. I’ve lived in Teton Valley, a world-class fly fishing destination, for the three-and-a-half years, and sadly have never bothered to get a license. The guy in the shop looks the part of a fishing guide, so I ask him where I should go. Should it be Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, South Fork of the Snake, the Teton River? He suggests Henry’s Fork, says they’re biting on nymphs, and then helps me pick out a few fly patterns. I rush home and thumb through Fly Fishing for Trout in Streams. How does one use these nymphs? I know at least that nymphs are for subsurface fishing, so I thumb through that section. Looks like I’m going to need some tippet material and strike indicators. The pictures in the book show I will be attaching the indicator to my lead line and then tying a few feet of the material called tippet onto that, which will have my nymph on the end. The book says the strategy is the nymph will be a few feet underwater, and I will watch the indicator to see if I have hooked a fish. Continue reading →