Blog Archives

Chinless Wonder

My wife and I have an understanding. The last one out of bed makes the bed. Now, if you were to suggest that I leap from bed each morning the instant I feel my wife stir, I’d deny it. But I haven’t made the bed in a good many years.

Interestingly, by the time I step from the shower, I can bounce a quarter off the smooth bedspread into my pressed shirt pocket. I remember to kiss my bride goodbye as she hurries to work at the museum. Continue reading

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Flashing Lights

I used to drive too fast and, if lost in thought, I drove even faster. It seemed as though the snapping synapses of my mental process somehow increased the plantar flexion of my right foot against the gas pedal.

I’m sure you see the problem here. Deep thought caused speeding tickets, which increased insurance premiums, resulting in deeper debt, thereby inducing financial fears, thus provoking more deep thought. Thinking can be dangerous. Continue reading

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The Friendly Neighbors Club

“Would you like to go to lunch with me sometime?” said Jean, a senior lady I’d just met. She was short, and her sparkling blue eyes, crisp voice, and white hair reminded me of an elf.

It was 2001, and we’d just moved out to the rural Lake Shore Drive area near Lake Lowell. Each home in the neighborhood had at least an acre or two, and I was out exploring. Jean walked to her mailbox at the same time I trudged up the steep gravel road, and our chat led to a lunch invitation. Worried I’d be lonely living the rural life, I said, “Sure.” She was a spitfire, and I had plans to be that way at her age. I was ready to watch and learn.

A few days later, she picked me up in her sports car. I got inside and simply held on, certain she was a NASCAR fan. We stopped to pick up Thelma, who lived nearby. She laughed a lot, and told great stories. Three seemed like a good number for a get-to-know-you lunch, but at the restaurant, I was surprised to find nine others waiting there. They called themselves the Friendly Neighbors Club, all women who lived around Lake Lowell. They needed new blood . . . and that was me. Continue reading

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Missing Gene

My husband Rick says my side of the family is missing a self-preservation gene. I hadn’t really considered it until my mother and father decided to build their dream house at the top of maybe one of the most dangerous roads in America.

Admittedly, reaching the summit is like breaching the gates of heaven, but it’s six miles of sheer rock cliffs and narrow thoroughfares just big enough for a single vehicle. And that’s the improved road.

The suspect road is an old logging trail that branches off Highway 95 in the mountains near Council. My dad, Jim Warren, had to dynamite parts of that road, which my kids lovingly call “the scary cliff.” We’ve actually convinced the kids that we installed a parachute on the mini-van just in case we fall off the cliff. It is always a life-affirming journey to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Continue reading

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Sweat Equity

For a long time I was a snob among snobs, and an amateur one at that. Before I moved to Idaho in early 2011, most Thursdays found me wine tasting with friends in Reno, trying to develop my palate while blowing off steam from the work week. In those years I stubbornly stuck to the wide world of reds, finding comfort in the sharp Zinfandels, fruity Merlots, and the earthy nature of Pinot Noirs. For no reason other than to avoid being “one of those girls who only drinks white wine,” I turned up my nose at them, convinced that the best the wine world had to offer lay solely in the red camp. After moving to Idaho, the same ignorant portion of my brain that kept me away from half the wine world was convinced I wouldn’t find high-caliber wine in the Gem State. How silly I was.

But at first that perception was reinforced when I was disheartened to discover that most stores in parts of southern Idaho boasted wine selections much smaller than what I was used to. I was able to find a few favorite labels on the shelves, but didn’t land on much else that enticed me. Did this shortage of recognizable labels indicate the state’s inability to produce sophisticated wines? Continue reading

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Folksinger on Canvas

When I wrote a letter to the Teaters many years ago, asking to visit and to interview Archie, his wife Patricia’s two-word answer, “Please come,” made me feel I would be warmly received.

In their driveway, I stepped out of my car to the sight of a small but distinctive sandstone house cantilevering over the Snake River Canyon near Bliss, above the tumbling river. The house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, with whom the Teaters worked closely, making several trips to his Arizona studio, Talieson West, to discuss the site and the furniture that the famous architect also would design. The canyon sloped away from their front porch, offering a view that would tempt any painter. Wild flowers bloomed seasonally, along with sagebrush, wild cherry, and sumac. “The house is so comfortable and suits us so well, we never like to leave it,” Archie told me. Continue reading

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Riding the Top Twenty-Eight

The last thing I expected after finishing the Seventh Annual Weiser River Trail Bike Ride last June was to be perfectly brined from the experience—a flawless crust, of which I was not even aware.

I had often thought of riding a bike on the trail, which at eighty-four miles is the longest rail trail in Idaho, climbing from desert hills near Weiser through desert canyons, rich farmland valleys, forested canyons and alpine meadows, all on a gentle riverside grade. What I wanted to do was ride the upper twenty-eight miles past Council and heading toward New Meadows, because not only did this section lead mostly under shade trees, but it was the steepest downhill stretch on the route. Continue reading

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Pariah

In 2005 I married into a family of hillbillies, cowboys, and ranchers whose earlier generations began somewhere in Arkansas. In Idaho, they make their living raising cattle. They consist of five or six families living in the middle of nowhere, amid rugged mountaintops or in the wide-open desert. These communities are sometimes so small and so isolated that the bar is in the back of the convenience store and the bartender is also the Sunday school teacher. Some of the family, though—like my in-laws (thankfully)—live in a more pleasant manner, in manufactured homes perched on hundreds of acres. These homes are surrounded by flat brown plains, horse corrals, and looming haystacks. At times, the smell of manure and rotting carcasses fills the air—a smell that I have yet to grow comfortable with. Continue reading

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Chesterfield—Spotlight

I love exploring ghost towns and digging up Idaho history.

I’ve spent a good amount of time wandering around Atlanta, Rocky Bar, and Silver City to name a few, and when I heard about a ghost town in eastern Idaho called Chesterfield, it went right on my “to see” list. What I saw was definitely not your normal ghost town.

Chesterfield is on the Oregon Trail between Soda Springs and the Old Fort Hall, about eleven miles north of Bancroft. The area around it, which includes the Portneuf and Bear Rivers, was noted by fur trappers as early as 1813. Bannock and Shoshone tribes ranged there long before white people created a trade center where emigrants stopped for supplies. This is where some of the pioneers split off to take the Hudspeth Cutoff southwest to California instead of the Oregon Trail heading northwest to Fort Hall.

At this year’s Memorial Day celebration in Chesterfield, I stood with a group of people watching as the American flag was raised, and the woman beside me said, “Who are you related to?” Continue reading

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Lentils and Rice

I had lost count of how many days we had eaten lentils and rice. The fire building duty that morning was assigned to a boy I’ll call John, a resident of Project Patch who struggled with self-confidence.

The assistant director of the boys’ dorm, Wes Smith, explained to me that when a young man built a fire, it also helped to build his sense of self. I had recently joined the direct care staff of this non-profit ranch for at-risk youth in Garden Valley and had plenty to learn in my own right—but it was taking John a long while to get the fire started. Continue reading

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