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A Wind that Blows Nobody Good

On a trip to the coast recently I enjoyed watching the wind send ocean spray flying down the beach.  Not all winds though, are so friendly.  Just today the news reported that an inland hurricane, a derecho, packing 100 mph winds, had flattened crops and destroyed buildings and property in Iowa.  Last week, Hurricane Isaias unleashed wind and rain across the Eastern Seaboard.  And a couple of days ago, multiple tornadoes ripped through greater Chicago causing extensive damage.  As the old Jimmy Reeves song says, these were ill winds that “blew nobody good.”

Ill winds have been part of my history—and as a matter of fact, greater Chicago too.

I grew up not too far from the “windy city” in northern Indiana. When I was eleven-years-old on Palm Sunday1965, two tornadoes struck my little town. Twin funnels cut a swath of destruction killing 1200 people and flattening a trailer park just south of where I lived.  There were a total of 47 tornadoes sighted in the Midwest that Palm Sunday.  To this day it’s still considered to be one of the deadliest and most violent tornado outbreaks ever recorded.  Some people in our town were not even aware of the severe weather forecast. They were sitting in church pews celebrating Easter week when they heard the roar of the twisters.

Unfortunately, the tornado season that year did not end with the Palm Sunday tornadoes.  A month later, a tornado was sighted again in my town, on June 6.

I remember this tornado even more than the Palm Sunday twins, because it was the day after my brother Sam died.

Sam and I were taking swimming lessons at the YMCA pool when he lost his life.  Though it happened a long time ago, I still remember how devastated my family was.  We gathered together in the little living room of our ranch-style house, crying and hugging each other. Then suddenly, we heard an eerie wail rise up from the street outside, a sound that had nothing to do with our grief.  Firetrucks were roaming the neighborhood and blaring their sirens.  They were warning people to take shelter because a tornado had been sighted.

I walked out the front screen door to see the firetrucks passing by, and then noticed my grandfather standing in our yard watching the sky.  I stood by him for a while, when another man strolled over and asked Grandpa what he thought about the weather situation.  Grandpa just shook his head as if he couldn’t take one more piece of bad news that day.

Eventually, he responded to the man, telling him he thought the weather didn’t look good, the sky was too green and the air too still.

This was the first time I’d heard about one of the more significant warning signs of an impending tornado: the wind stops blowing.  Apparently, tornadoes create a low pressure vacuum, something commonly known as the calm before the storm.  We were all thankful when we heard on the radio that our area was given the “all clear” by the National Weather Service.

After I married an Idaho farmer and moved out west, I had to get used to the never-ceasing winds that scour these high desert plains.  I’d get nervous when the skies darkened and the wind turned into a full gale.  One year a storm came roaring through the canyon near us.  The wind shook our trailer so much, a favored print by the French artist Jean-Francois Millet, fell from the paneled wall, and cracked the frame.

That wind storm almost sent me to the corner of the room cowering in fear.

I’m still afraid of extreme wind events, though today for an entirely different reason.  I know derecho’s, tornado clusters, and increasing numbers of hurricanes are all signs of the climate changing.  Just because we’re dealing with a viral pandemic does not mean this particular problem has gone away.  But unlike a sudden tragic death, we can do something about climate change—and that gives me hope.

 

Image Credit:  Palm Sunday twin tornadoes 1965       Image Credit:  Derecho

 

 

Stuck and Stranded

Corona Summer 2020

There’s an old jazz standard entitled “Summertime” and it’s most well-known and oft repeated line is: “Summertime…and the livin’ is easy…”  I love this song, but in the age of coronavirus, the livin’ isn’t easy, it’s complicated.  Many of us during this season of picnics, pools, and patio parties are struggling with what we can, and can’t do now that the pandemic seems to be spiraling out of control again.  I found ample evidence of this conflicted state of mind when my husband and I took a trip to get some needed medical testing done in another state.

Summer trips are usually a time to explore, have fun, and play, but the only game we played on this trip was dodging the spiky corona ball.

We drove through the corner of three different states and each had its own rate of infection, and consequent policies and restrictions.  It made me crazy, and I longed for some consistency.  Recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease expert, spoke about the consistency issue.  He told a skeptical senate committee the best way to fight the pandemic was with a coordinated and collaborative national effort—not disparate states creating their own policies.

I wish I could have stuffed some of those senators in the car with us on our road trip. Then they could see how scatter-shot our response to Covid-19 has been.  At our Utah motel we had a “touchless” check-in and were asked to schedule pool time.  But in Wyoming the pool was completely unrestricted and overrun with families having a party.  The geology museum was closed in Wyoming though, and another plus, the convenience store clerk wore a mask.  In Montana most of the motel staff went without masks, and the bars downtown were swarming with people.  This, despite social distancing signs posted everywhere.

Actually, what really caused my head to spin on our trip was how few people wore masks.  There was no need for a screaming Karen to have a melt-down over her “right” to go without a mask—because no businesses required them.

In general, I’d estimate less than 30% of the people we saw on our trip wore masks. 

I became a little paranoid around all these bare faces, worried someone might spew a virus bubble my way.  I started running and shunning people—in the grocery stores, on the sidewalks, down a bicycle path.  I was rude and weird-acting—more than usual anyways.

Ironically, probably the closest I came to actually getting an infection was at the hospital where my husband was being tested.  I walked right into a big, masked nurse coming out of the ladies restroom. I was as startled as she was, and we both let out a breathy yelp.  She blew so much air at me I could smell her morning coffee through my mask.  I hoped she was neither saint nor sinner, a church choir member or a bar-hopper, two kinds of known virus-spreaders.

By the end of our trip, when we finally crossed the Idaho state line, I felt relieved.  Home is safe, right?  Then I checked the local news on my IPhone.  When we left Idaho, the infection rate was running over a hundred a day.  The news on my cell said for the past several days, corona infections had climbed into the 200’s.  As I write this, Idaho’s infection rate was over 400 yesterday.

But it’s summer, and after we unpacked from our trip I drug our big cattle tank into the back yard and filled it with water.

For a few moments, floating in the tank, I was able to relax.  I thought then, the livin’ this summer hasn’t been easy, but maybe the fall will be better.  Who knows?  That’s the thing about the coronavirus, we just don’t know.

 

 

Image Credit:  Road Trip    Image Credit:  Not Feeling Well by Diana Hooley     Image Credit:  Cattle Tank Dip by Diana Hooley

A Way to Cope, a Way to Rest

People find all kinds of ways to cope during difficult times. The plague of coronavirus coupled with the anger and divisiveness that’s rocking our nation currently, has sent many people to their therapists seeking help.  My daughter, who’s a mental health counselor, says her online client load has tripled.

I’ve benefited at different times in my life from therapy, but one of my mainstays for good mental health, something that is both free and easily accessible, has been meditational prayer.

I learned to pray going to church as a young girl when God was a magical, white-bearded being that looked and acted a lot like Santa Claus.  My every wish was his to grant.  If I just prayed hard enough and long enough, always humbly on my knees, I would be blessed with getting what I wanted.

As I grew up and changed, so did my prayers.  They became less about God doing my will, and more about me finding answers within myself.  And, in order to gain this understanding I had to inventory my thoughts and feelings in an honest, nonjudgmental way.  I talked to the “god within me” to help sort out my life—and found in the process not only comfort, but clarity.

For example, when I first married a desert farmer, I had a bad case of buyer’s remorse.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love my new husband, I just missed my home back East, the spreading oak trees and grassy lawns, the friends and neighbors I’d known growing up in a small town.

One time I felt so trapped and isolated living in a trailer in the neck of a canyon, I threw open the trailer door in a rage, and started walking.

I wasn’t watching where I was going, I just stomped out into the sagebrush, tears of frustration rolling down my cheeks. I ranted and swore at God about how I’d become this lonely farm wife.  Love or lust had kidnapped my life plans.  I lamented a languishing college degree and lost career.  I didn’t like living on a farm.  I didn’t want to plant a vegetable garden or sew curtains.  I just wanted some television reception, which seemed near impossible, a shaky antennae the only conduit for a few radio waves that managed to find their way to us.

When I was done praying, I felt better. I stood there a moment staring at the canyon wall in front of me, my eyelashes still moist from crying, and noticed some kind of trail going up the side. From a distance it looked like a path animals might use, maybe the deer I spotted out the window this morning, or the coyotes I heard baying at night.  Suddenly, I wanted to follow this trail, just to see where it led.

When I got to the top of the canyon wall I was sweaty and hot from climbing, but the view of peaceful farm fields along the Snake River was magnificent.  I experienced an incredible sense of calm, and knew then that everything would be okay.

Dr. David Rosmarin from the Harvard Medical School discussed prayer and praying in The Wall Street Journal recently.  He said research shows prayer calms the central nervous system and the “fight or flight” instinct. Prayer, much like meditation, rests our brains because it turns off our anxiety switch, and turns on our ability to self-reflect.  Praying is a time when we can be thoughtful, rather than reactive, about our life.

I’m a very relaxed pray-er.  So much so that I’ve had to be conscious about people nearby who might think I’m a little crazy, muttering to myself.  Mostly though, I pray alone, walking outdoors where the natural world almost always puts me in a spiritual space. Praying is especially doable during the Covid-19 pandemic. You may be six feet apart from everybody else, but when you pray, you get very close to yourself.

 

Image credit:  Coronavirus Prayer    Image credit:  Trailer House    Image credit:  From the top of the Canyon by Diana Hooley

Cutting our Coronahair

Hair is important, and with this pandemic we’re all overdue for some corona hair care.  Some of us are suiting up (masks and gloves) and braving the newly reopened salons.  Others, meaning me, are more cautious.  I’d rather do my hair-cutting at home.  But hair-cutters and stylists are artists, and who among us can live up to that challenge?

Like most people, I’m a hapless headmower at best.  I didn’t let my shortcomings deter me from cutting my husband’s hair though.  His hair was nearing “man-bun” length, an iffy proposition if you have a bald spot on top.

“Remember,” I warned him, “I’m not Brandon (understatement of the century).”  Brandon is my husband’s normal barber.  He not only washes and cuts Dale’s hair, he also takes a hot towel and gives him a fantastic head rub and face massage.  I tried to imitate Brandon’s quick, efficient motion: snip, snip, snip.  When divots and gouges began to appear on the back of my husband’s head, I knew I needed to take a break.  I paused my scissors a minute, and surveyed my work.  Suddenly, an image appeared in my mind from long ago when I was young and idealistic, that time I decided to cut my own hair.

It was my first summer home from college and I was restless. I wanted to travel and do something big, something that would make a difference in the world. Some missionaries had recently visited our church and asked for help (of the money kind, but I took their request literally) with their Navajo mission in Arizona. I prayed about it, and thought I felt God’s call. When I told my mother I was driving to Arizona the next day to help these missionaries, she was shocked.  She didn’t want me to go.  She knew how impulsive I was, and worried that I’d get myself into trouble. But what could she do?

I believed God wanted me to go to Arizona. To place an exclamation point on my decision, I cut my long, luxurious hair.

The 1920’s beauty icon Coco Chanel once said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”  Her words certainly applied to my situation.  External stress, like pandemics can cause people to radically change their behaviors, but so too can internal conflict.  I remember looking in the mirror before I left for Arizona, scissoring through long shanks of hair.  I felt I was divesting myself of my vanity. It also felt congruent. Altering my looks was a symbol of the new life I was about to embark on. I whacked off probably twelve inches of hair.  I didn’t cry though. That would come later, down in Arizona, when I realized just how foolish I’d been.

One thing good that came out of my youthful Arizona adventure, I got to meet several interesting Navajos.  But living in the Arizona desert is lonely. I spent four months there, and came away definitely schooled in the differences between my Christian culture and Native American traditions.

And speaking of hair, though I might have looked like a concentration camp survivor, the Navajos, both women and men, had gorgeous thick, black hair.

I was reminded of their beautiful hair when I browsed the web recently, and saw a couple of Indian men playing The Sounds of Silence with a pan flute and some other instruments.  The music was haunting and wonderful, but my eyes were drawn to their hair, and the lengthy braids that framed their faces.

When I’d finished barbering my husband, I thought I’d done a pretty good job. Somehow I was able to feather out all the hair notches I’d made.  It was a nice, short summer cut.  But I wondered about Dale growing out his hair, what he’d look like with a long braid running down the side of his face.

Image Credit:  Mona Lisa’s Hair           Image Credit:  YouTube Sound of Silence 

Remember the Life You Led in the 1990’s?

One of my cherished morning rituals, when I couldn’t get my kids out of bed to go to school, was to blast Guns N’ Rose’s “Welcome to the Jungle” throughout the house. I thought of that ritual this morning as I poured a cup a black coffee and sat quietly in the big leather chair to watch the sun rise.  My solitude was only disturbed by the sound of wrens and robins waking up on the pear tree outside.  It was a thoughtful morning, the kind I like now that I’m older, so I took a sip of coffee and picked up a book sitting next to my cup.  I was struck by the first sentence I read: “There are many lifetimes, in a lifetime.”

Was this some sort of pitch for reincarnation, I wondered?  Then I reread the sentence and glanced up to watch the sun’s rays inch over the canyon wall.  Because I’d been thinking about my children, I considered that lifetime, the one I’d led in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  I was rushed and harried, always managing meals, clothing, appointments, and celebrations.  But I was young.  I had thick dark hair and firm, line-less skin.

I could do push-ups, and climb mountains, and eat a plate of spicy spaghetti without a hint of acid indigestion.

That lifetime, the 1990’s, was truly another lifetime.  The internet had not been invented yet so we spent time on telephones, looking up information in encyclopedias, and watching VHS videotapes we rented from Blockbuster Video.  We didn’t just look different back then, we were different, even at the cellular level.  According to Stanford University, the human body replaces itself with new cells every seven to ten years.

More importantly, we were not the same people emotionally and intellectually in that 1990 lifetime. Which is a good thing, considering some of the misses (mis-takes, mis-haps, and mis-steps) I made back then.  Like that time I drank too much at a faculty Christmas party.  I lost my balance and tossed a plate of chicken wings down the front of some glittery dress next to me.  I don’t like loud parties anymore, and I care even less about drinking too much.

Sometimes we forget that though our past belongs to us, we do not belong to our past.  We live many lifetimes in a lifetime.  That was then, this is now.  We do not have to be defined by our crazy youth, frustrated parenthood, or career-driven mid-life. Those were all our identities at one time, but I live now, in this space—and it’s different.

In fact, if we don’t move on to the next lifetime, we’ll inevitably run into trouble.

For example, a friend of mine was traveling through Kalispell, Montana with her husband when she decided to look up an old boyfriend who lived there.  She said it’d been nearly twenty years since she’d last seen this fellow.  They decided to have lunch together at a downtown restaurant, my friend and her husband, and her old beau and his newly pregnant wife.  She said it was so great to see her ex.  She laughed and talked to him in that old, familiar way.  She looked at her former boyfriend and said, “Oh, you were always such a renegade!”  Then suddenly the boyfriend moved closer to his wife and picked up her hand to hold it. “Am I a renegade honey?” he asked his wife.  My friend said she felt so embarrassed.  She’d temporarily lost herself in another lifetime when she’d had a relationship with this man.

I saw a movie in about 1990, a videotape I must have rented from Blockbuster.  The Mission starred that handsome young actor Robert De Niro.  De Niro played a conquistador in the 1600’s who’d killed his brother in a jealous rage.  Broken with shame and regret, De Niro’s conquistador turned to the church for help. He made a harrowing trek up the face of a cliff to a church mission at the top.  His journey up the cliff was made infinitely more dangerous because the conquistador insisted on carrying his armor, and the sword he killed his brother with, on his back.  When he finally clawed his way over the rim of the precipice, a priest came and cut away his heavy back pack.

I’ll never forget that scene, De Niro as the conquistador, laughing into the sky, free finally from the bonds of his past.  It’s a lesson for all of us.  We are fortunate to live many lifetimes in a lifetime.

 

 

 

Image Credit:  1990 Diana Hooley     Image Credit:  Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher     Image Credit:  The Mission

The Past is Not Dead

 

I had a time travel experience.

No, it wasn’t a dream, but I felt dazed, like I’d taken too long a nap. Maybe I time traveled because I’d spent part of this winter in a motel room in Salt Lake City—relocated here since my husband’s surgery. I needed to get outside, smell fresh air, and feel the sunshine on my face. Yes, I wanted to shake the cold off, and move around—but not necessarily travel in time.

My experience began with a simple walk. Some of my best flights (of imagination) happen walking. I’d seen a city park driving through downtown Salt Lake that had a nice footpath circling a pond full of ducks.  Finding the entrance to the park though, proved difficult. I drove past tennis courts, an aviary, and an outdoor stage, all located within the park confines, but couldn’t find the entryway. This park seemed a world of its own–and at 80 acres (I read later)—it was its own sphere. On a side street, I finally spotted the park entrance and central pathway, lined on either side by poplars and mulberry trees.

It was amazing such a large park was located in the middle of this big city. As soon as I got out of the car, I took a deep breath of fragrant wood-scented air, and closed my eyes. In the background I heard traffic honking, an ambulance siren, and faint, car-radio music.

I can’t explain the rush of feeling at that moment, but suddenly I was in Central Park, New York City, several years ago.

It was the time I’d taken my teenage children to New York for a “cultural experience.” But they, being teenagers, weren’t interested in culture. Aubrey kept dodging around corners in Little Italy, trying to avoid my camera. And Sammy had his nose so deep in a fantasy novel, he hardly noticed the Statue of Liberty.  Liberty Park, that was the name of this urban escape in Salt Lake.  I saw it clearly labeled on a nature-friendly, green sign. As I read it I felt such a deep longing, a missing of my younger children.

A good heart-pounding walk, not just a stroll, would probably clear my head and shake me out of my fugue.  I saw plenty of power walkers and joggers around me, so I joined the flow. Fifty minutes later and just past the Chase House, a folk art museum in the park, I was gratifyingly flushed and sweaty.

I leaned an arm up against a tree for a brief rest-stop, and soon found myself staring at a little girl skipping along the park sidewalk near me. It was late afternoon and the shadows on the sidewalk caught my attention. Maybe it was the angle of the light, soft and buttery, but an ancient memory arose, and then, I was a little girl again, in Chicago in the 1950’s. I was playing in front of our big, white apartment building. As I hop-scotched I saw my shadow on the cinder block wall.

What stood out was how rich my emotions were, the joy and wonder I felt then, not yet muted by time and age. 

Next to my tree in Salt Lake, I felt momentarily elated.

I slowly made my way back to the parking lot.  As I opened my car door, I glanced above the park trees and saw the high, snow-clad peaks of the Wasatch Mountains. I smiled to myself.  The great American author, William Faulkner, once wrote, “The past is not dead, it’s not even past.” This late afternoon, at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

 

Image credit: Diana Hooley      Image credit:  Diana Hooley

 

 

Sleeping with Strangers

I never dreamed of living in a motel.  Then my husband had surgery, and the doctor told us we’d need to move 278 miles away for a period of five weeks to be near the hospital.  Suddenly visions of room service danced in my head.  I’ve only known one man, Stu (not his real name), who lived in a hotel.  Stu moved into a big hotel downtown with a ballroom and a red-carpeted staircase.  He dreamed of becoming a movie star and didn’t want to deny himself the finer things of life.  When Stu’s money ran out, he borrowed more.

Reportedly, Stu spent many hours in the hotel hot tub waiting for the call from Hollywood.

But motels are mainly built for transient customers.  The word “motel” is a combination of “motor” and “hotel” and came into common parlance in the 1920’s when people began traveling around in their new horseless carriages.  Motels were never meant to be homes.  When my husband first got the word that a temporary relocation was in our future, I searched for vacation rentals, Airbnb’s, and apartments.  It was only when I lowered my standards from “looking-for-a home” to “looking-for-a bed” that I found a reasonably priced motel room we could live in.

You may be wondering, what’s it like to live in a motel?  Tight, it’s tight.

Motels are not for the obese.  Or clumsy.  If you have great coordination, maybe not elite athlete level, but still you’re flexible enough to move between beds, desks, and sundry other furniture squeezed into a 14 by 12 space—you’re gold.  I am not an elite athlete, but I’m coordinated enough to do the salsa.  This talent, I’m convinced, has helped me avoid serious injury in our motel room.

Motel living presents other challenges too.  With only a microwave and a mini-fridge for kitchen appliances, your menu suddenly becomes very limited.  I’m here to tell you there’s a reason frozen entrees are called that.  If you don’t microwave them a minute more than the package directions, these meals are so icy your teeth can’t “entrée” them.  That’s why we’ve been eating a lot of take-out–and having a lot of take-out, fall out, of the mini-fridge.

I try not to think about all the people that have stayed in our motel room before us.

Still, my eyes glide dubiously over the bed coverlet.  I glare suspiciously in the bathtub.  Yesterday when I swam in the motel pool, a large hairy man with pimples on his back was in the pool with me.  The thought crossed my mind that this man is probably not unlike many who’ve slept in my motel bed.  Slept and farted on my mattress.  That’s the thing about living in a motel room.  Of course people have dragged their crusty skin and weeping sores (of indeterminate origin) across your bed.

Still, I’ve tried to comfort myself with how fresh and clean our motel room smells.  It doesn’t smell like foot fungus.  Then I passed the housekeeper’s cart loaded with linens, towels, and cleaning products.  I noticed instead of multiple bottles of bleach or disinfectant in the cart, several bottles of room deodorant.  Room deodorants, for the uninitiated, are chemical sprays meant to mask offensive odor more than kill the bacteria that caused it.  So our room may smell like a rose, but no doubt there’s bugs on the stem.

And that’s another risk of motel rooms:  bed bugs.

Surely you say, this problem is found only in third world countries where donkeys rule the road.  No, according to www.travelpulse.com at least 45% of hotels IN AMERICA have faced legal action over bed bugs.  That’s enough information to keep me squirming on our motel bed for hours. My farmer husband says sleeping with me is like sleeping with a cow dog who keeps circling the gunny sack in an effort to get comfortable.

I’m not a cow or a dog, but I can say after two weeks in a motel, home on the range sounds much better than home in a motel room.

 

Image credit:  El Rancho Motel      Image credit:  Diana Hooley      Image credit:  Diana Hooley

Finding winter on the Idaho-Montana border…

An old family friend, Jack, told us he’d never move to a place that didn’t have four distinct seasons.  With that statement Jack knocked out a third of the lower 48 states as potential relocation spots.  Much of the northern U.S. though, including Idaho, can reliably lay claim to having a winter, summer, spring, and fall.  At least that’s what I used to think until the last few years, when the hot summer seemed to overtake autumn, and the cold winter shortened to a few weeks around Christmas.

I really didn’t miss winter this year.  It wasn’t until I drove to Leadore, Idaho, a town I’d never visited, that I was reminded of the wonder of winter.

I got an email from a magazine editor asking me if I’d be interested in writing a feature article on Leadore, a little community near the Idaho-Montana border. 

Throwing a bag in my car I wondered whether I should take a jacket or a coat.  As I drove out the driveway, my car thermometer read 42 degrees.

But we live in a mountainous state.  Drive anywhere and you soon experience some kind of altitude and thus, weather change.  I whizzed along the freeway until I turned north and started climbing.  I was thinking about Leadore and how you pronounced the town’s name—it sounds like a woman’s name, a derivative of Leadora perhaps, or Lenore, that lost love of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem.  Pondering all this, I drove over a hill—and into a thick bank of fog.

The fog didn’t lift for miles.  I couldn’t see much beyond 500 feet.  I was surprised when I saw the sign for the Craters of the Moon National Park emerge from the milky sludge.  Feeling chilly, I glanced down at the temperature reading on the dash: 23 degrees.  Somewhere in the fog I’d lost twenty degrees of heat.  The lovely Leadore must be high in the mountains, a mythic goddess in some frozen Idaho Olympus (my thinking was a bit foggy too).

Around a curve and just above the furls of fog smoke, I glimpsed a white mountain peak against a blue sky.  As sudden as it came, the fog fell away, revealing an incredible winter-scape.  I grabbed my sunglasses to protect my eyes from the brightness of the snow fields glistening under the sun. This was a country you could ski in, or skate in, or snowmobile across.  It was breathtaking.

At the little town of Arco, I stopped for gas and stepped out of the car to stretch my legs.  Digging my phone out of my coat pocket, I googled motels in Leadore (maybe Leadora was a madame who ran a boarding house in the 1800’s) and found a phone number for the Leadore Inn.

“Y-ello.  Sam here.”

“Hi!  I’d like to spend the night in Leadore and wonder if you have a room available at your motel?”

“Sorry, we’re closed for the season. We only open in the summer when the hikers come through.”

“Hikers?”

“Uh-huh.  Hiking the Continental Divide Trail.  Leadore’s a resupply stop.  You know, where backpackers get their groceries and mail. Check out The Homestead motel.  They’ve got newer rooms.”—click.Image result for image continental divide trail sign

I called The Homestead and was happy to find a room there.  As lovely as this winter country was, it was also freezing cold.  I didn’t relish the thought of spending the night curled up next to my car heater.

I drove on and entered the remote Lemhi River valley.  It was remarkably empty, except here and there a ranch in the distance.  I was just outside Leadore when I passed an historical marker along the highway.  I backed the car up and stopped to read it:  “Gilmore Mines. Lack of a good transportation system delayed serious lead and silver mining…”

Lead mining?  Lead Ore?  Leadore.  Oh.  Though the town’s name was a disappointment, the town itself was not.  Nestled at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains, Leadore was a village of ice and snow.  My tires crunched past a library, a school, a post office—a small gem in the gem state.  I think Leadore will always be Leadora to me, Leadora the snow princess.

 

Image credit:  Diana Hooley     Image credit:  Continental Divide Trail

 

How Curiosity Killed the Cow-girl

There’s nothing like a good steak.  You know, medium rare with just a little pink showing, tender and juicy.  I like my steak best with a nice Idaho potato and a fresh, crisp side salad.  I’m thinking about this as I sit here on the farm, gazing out the front window at the cows in the pasture.  They’re chewing on clumps of grass peeking through the snow.  We sold our big cow herd several years ago, but we reinvested in a few cows with the goal to butcher them, and give the meat away to our children and their families.  It was a generous gift.

I have friends and relatives though, that want nothing to do with eating meat—for a variety of reasons.

Some have become vegetarian or vegan because of health issues.  They’re either concerned about their weight, or their cholesterol, or both.  I’ve argued with them that people lose weight a lot of different ways.  Why make such a draconian sacrifice as giving up meat?  The Paleo, the Keto, and the Atkin’s diets all encourage the consumption of meat and protein over carbs.  But one of my friends announced that he’d become a vegan because of the environment.

“What?” I asked him. “Does this mean you’re no longer going to make that wonderful meatloaf recipe with green peppers and onions?  All because of cow burbs?  Please, tell me it’s not so.”  My friend may not be a fancy cook, but he’s a good one.  He makes great comfort food.

Occasionally, I’ve ran across news articles on the potential for herding animals like cattle to harm the environment.  Apparently cows, through their digestive processes, emit harmful methane gas into the atmosphere.  Reading news like this affects MY digestive processes.  Herding cattle is a way of life for us, so I’ve generally ignored these kinds of articles.  They’re too extreme, I tell myself.  Besides, the wide desert expanses in the west, which support only sparse grasses, are perfect for foraging creatures like cows.  It’s an efficient use of the land.  Also, cows eat highly flammable grasses like cheat, protecting against range fires.

My final word about herding cattle is cultural.  The west, after all, is the home of the cowboy.  Cattle are a tradition.

But still I was curious.  And we all know how curiosity killed the cat (or cow).  Being farmers we’ve watched the weather year in and year out, and it’s become increasingly apparent, even without all the scientific alarms: the climate is changing.  Exactly, how much does herding livestock have to do with this?

Opening my computer I waded through several articles on climate change and either the Australian fires, or the melting Arctic.  Finally, I found information on the environment and livestock.  A chart showed that herding animals like cows and sheep did the most damage to the environment.  The journal Science reported that avoiding meat and dairy is the “single biggest way” to reduce our environmental impact.

One article said consuming 4 pounds of hamburger is as hard on the environment as flying from New York to London—and most of us eat more than 4 pounds of beef a month.

This was such sobering news I just stared at my computer a minute.  I’m still processing it, wondering about our life style and the fast-changing world we live in.  Is there some “middle ground” on this issue?  I don’t know, but I did come across a bit of good news for meat lovers.  Apparently poultry and fish have considerable less impact on the environment.  The impossible burger is looking more and more possible–as is the chicken steak.

 

 

All image credits:  Diana Hooley, Dale and Diana Hooley Farms