Some people would not drive a Toyota Prius on a muddy farm field road, but “some people” is not me. I wanted to take a picture of a solar array in this field for a story I was writing about green energy. I got the picture, but not without getting my car’s front tires stuck up to the bumper, in irrigation mud. The more I spun the front wheels, the deeper they dug into the slimy muck. Frustrated, I checked my cell phone to call for help, but there was no AT&T service in this part of the Idaho desert. Then I realized my fate. I’d have to walk back to the main road, and hopefully find someone home at that house I went whizzing by thirty minutes before.
Did I mention the temperature outside according to my car dash read 95 degrees?
I muttered to myself as I stalked along. How could I be so stupid? Why didn’t I bring a hat along and some water for emergencies? What was I thinking? The famous scientists Louis Pasteur once said, chance favors the prepared mind. I guess I’m no Louis Pasteur—and let’s not talk about my unprepared mind.
Despite everything, the hike back to the highway was diverting, if not interesting. There were bare, white alkali patches streaking across the desert and at the bottom of corn fields. Nothing grew in the chalky alkali. Rivulets of irrigation water drained through this waste ground, thus the mud bog my car foundered in. I wondered how long people had cultivated this land, and why they’d ever choose to farm here to begin with. Beyond the fields were barren knolls, fertile enough to grow some scraggly sagebrush. The farmers around must have substantially improved the soil in order to raise this corn. In the distance, the Owyhee Mountains shimmered ominously in the heat.
My mouth was paper dry, and I began to think about heat stroke, how much time it took to get it, and what the signs were?
As I trudged along I whisper-sung that old 70’s song by some rock band: “I went to the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to get out of the rain…” Rain would have been nice right about then. At least I wore a good pair of sunglasses. I looked up hoping to see a passing cloud, but the sky was empty except for the blazing sun. Finally, I climbed a rise and saw the house I’d passed thirty minutes earlier. Ahhh. The front yard was lined with shade trees.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Dawn, the home owner came to the front door and listened to my tale of woe. She let me use her land line to call for help, and then graciously offered me a glass of water to drink and a paper towel for my sweat-stained face. Together we sat under her shade trees waiting for help to arrive.
“My family homesteaded this valley in 1864,” Dawn told me when I asked how long she’d lived here.
That was the last year of the Civil War. Her ancestors must have been desperate to get away from the fighting back east. Why else would they choose to move way out here and live in this hot, dry valley?
“Were they ranchers?” I asked.
“No, I think my great, great, great grandfather, Abraham Roberson, tried to farm here. The land was virtually free if you improved on it. He hid in a cave with his family when Indians attacked. They’re all buried at the Hot Springs Cemetery,” Dawn pointed southeast from where we sat.
We chatted a while longer, and then Dawn returned to her house. I continued to wait, and soon my unprepared mind wandered. I thought about how people make homes in the most inhospitable places, how often we don’t realize the history that’s happened right under our feet. When I saw a service pickup coming down the road and knew rescue was at hand, my last thought was about how tough and determined those pioneers were. They’d never let a little problem like being stranded in the desert rattle them.
All photos by Diana Hooley