Snake River Canyon

There are certain places we visit so many times in our life—maybe a hill in a park or a bridge we cross every day to get to work—they become meaningful to us. The Snake River Canyon near my home is such a place for me.  I’ve hiked the canyon dozens, maybe hundreds of times over the years.  On today’s hike, I’m reminded how pretty the canyon is in the spring.  At its neck, I’m greeted by a vista of green, desert grasses lining the canyon walls.  I’m always amazed to see the canyon, brittle brown most of the year, turn Easter egg green for a brief week or two in the spring.

I remember the first time I really looked at the canyon and noticed how beautiful it was.

I was newly married and had just moved to a desert farm with my husband.  One morning we had a big fight, and I was so angry I took a walk back in the canyon just to cool off.

I barely saw where I was going, my eyes were so blurred with tears. But slowly I became aware of how lovely and quiet the trail was.  Before long, my fury was all gone, lost in the peaceful canyon wilderness.

The walls of the Snake River Canyon were shaped by the flooding of ancient Lake Idaho and Lake Bonneville thousands of years ago.  Now the Snake River runs along the bottom. I look to my right, hearing the river as it winds its way down through the canyon floor.  I’m not able to see the river though, the Russian olive trees along the bank are too dense.  Several years ago on one of my canyon hikes with our family dog, Lindsey, we walked by a particularly dark, deep stand of Russian olive trees.  Lindsey peered into the woods and suddenly went berserk, barking wildly.

“What is it girl?  What’s wrong?” I asked her, trying unsuccessfully to calm her down.

It wasn’t until she abruptly backed away from the trees and started mewling piteously, that I became afraid myself.

My mind flashed on a book I’d recently read, a Stephen King horror thriller, The Tommyknockers I think, about a dog who’d dug up something in the woods: an evil, alien, space object.  I didn’t think there was anything from outer space in that Russian olive thicket, but there might be a wild animal on the other side, drinking from the river.  Cougars were not unheard of back in the canyon.  I called Lindsey and we quickly made tracks back out of the canyon.

As peaceful as the canyon is most of the time, this was not my only scare, hiking in it.  One time I decided to climb up the canyon wall, about 450 feet, to get a view of the valley below.  Half way up, I bent over to look at a black sliver of obsidian laying in the dirt.  I didn’t want to miss finding a possible arrow head.  Then I heard the unmistakable “ping” of a bullet hitting rock not too far from me.  My head snapped around to search behind and below me.  Who was shooting at the rim rock?   I couldn’t see anyone down near the river.

Maybe ten seconds later I heard another ping of a bullet, this one sending rock flying above me. Were they shooting at me?

I didn’t stay around to find out, but started skidding down the side of the canyon wall as fast as I could, stumbling over sagebrush and basalt rocks as I went. I never found out who the shooter was, but after that, I always made sure I wore a bright cap on my head when I hiked in the canyon.

Today, as is my habit, I walk until I come to the big boulder settled among some grease wood at the base of the canyon.  Maybe it’s a little obsessive-compulsive of me, but I lightly tap the boulder’s rounded, pebbled surface, and then pivot to head back the way I came. I guess the boulder’s a touchstone of sorts, a reference point for my many walks in this scenic, wild canyon.

Image credit:  Snake River Canyon

I Am Not a Dog Lover

I am not a dog lover.  Sometimes I feel bad about that.  I read once about a man who said he’d never trust anybody who didn’t love kids or dogs.  My love of kids is all that keeps me from a criminal life.  Not surprisingly, I’m surrounded by a family of dog lovers.  The first time I visited my farmer boyfriend (soon to be husband), he met me on his dirt bike, a little Border collie puppy peeping over the top of his zippered jacket.  And I’ll never forget sleeping on a mattress at my son’s rental and waking up spewing yellow Labrador retriever hairs out of my mouth.  The pillow I’d slept on was apparently, a favorite lounging spot for his dog, Sunny.

How does anyone like dogs?  They eat their own poo (well, some do) and like to roll around in dead fish or worse, my flower beds.  They chase the cats that eat the mice we want to be rid of.  They shed hair and bark—some of them—a lot.  I’ve several unwarranted images in my head of my husband leaping up from our bed in the middle of the night and shouting out the patio door: “SHUT UP (Janie! Ring! Misty! Lindsey! Caputo!—names of our past dogs).  Shut the– &#%!@–up!!”

Given that dogs are such trouble, why is man’s best friend not a gold fish—all beauty and no bother?  Gold fish however, have little to offer in the way of help on a working farm.  I remember being amazed watching my husband send Ring, our Border collie mix, out to herd cows. His full command for Ring to herd was “Sick ‘em!” After a while all he had to do was make the “S” sound and Ring was off, paws beating the orchard grass, not slowing until he’d spotted a cow.  Then Ring did something unique to Border collies:  because of a space between the top of his shoulder blades, Ring was able to crouch and slither low to the ground like a cat, so he could slip behind a cow undetected, and nip its heels, moving the cow forward.

We eventually sold our cows.  We wanted to travel more and not be burdened by tending animals.  Dogless for several years my flower beds flourished—except for the roses.  Without the dogs keeping them away, the deer ate the roses (if it isn’t one animal, it’s another).  Then, this spring a little Border collie pup showed up on our door step, apparently abandoned.  Border collie’s are my husband’s favorite breed.  They’re the furry geniuses of the dog world.  The lineage of most modern Border collies can be traced back to a single, smart dog, Old Hemp, who sired 200 pups in the late 1800’s.

“Isn’t she cute?” my husband said of our new puppy.  I nodded and mentally began the process of fencing my flower beds again.  Clara, my eight-year-old granddaughter heard about our new Border collie–Millie we named her–and wondered if Millie might spend the weekend with her.  I was thrilled.  Having Millie spend the weekend away, felt like my kid was at camp and I was free!  But I didn’t know how my daughter, Clara’s mom, felt about having a puppy to contend with.  So, I was a little surprised when my daughter texted me after Millie’s stay and wrote, “I wish we could pet-sit Millie every weekend.”

I immediately texted back: Okay! (frantically searching for an ecstasy emoji).

Then I got another text from my daughter telling me to ignore the last text:  Clara had written it.  Clara had found her mother’s phone and decided to write grandma her secret wish.  My heart dropped until I heard the phone ping again.  It was my daughter texting:  “But…we’d be fine having Millie on the weekends…”

Yes!