Hanging on to Democracy

I was sitting at a stoplight on Capital Boulevard in Boise, Idaho when I heard a loud crash in the rear of my car.  I turned around and saw the hatchback window of my Prius was shattered.  I immediately pulled over and looked for the rock that did the damage.  When the policeman arrived he just shook his head, wondering how and why this incident occurred.

“Could it be a meteor?  Maybe a little chunk of meteor rock fell from the sky into my back window,” I suggested.

He looked at me doubtfully.  “I guess that could happen.”

“What about this?” I pointed to a mangled bumper sticker laying in the glass debris on the floor of the trunk.  It read:  “Blue Girl, Red State.”  Since Idaho is a more conservative state, maybe someone took offense at my politics and threw a rock at my car.

I thought my bumper sticker was fairly innocent, and I liked the colorful irony behind the slogan:  blue girl/red state.  My bumper sticker was not nearly as inflammatory as one I saw a few weeks ago:  “MAGA—Morons Are Governing America.”  And my bumper sticker definitely pales in comparison to a road-side sign I sped by on a Sunday drive: “Democrats are baby-killers.”

The policeman shifted his eyes, obviously uncomfortable with my inferring the busted window might be a political act and said, “Looks like we’ll never know.  I don’t think there’s any reason to file an accident report.”

I’ve thought about this incident, which happened a couple of years ago, many times watching the increasingly vicious political battles in Washington between Democrats and Republicans.  Our first president, George Washington, worried about partisanship.  In his day political parties were called “factions.” Washington was afraid lawmakers’ allegiance to their political parties would supersede their allegiance to the country as a whole. Compromise and Rule of Law would take a back seat to party politics.  The other side, whether Democrat or Republican, would be characterized and treated as the enemy.

Michigan Republican, Justin Amash, a member of the House of Representatives is currently being punished for his lack of party loyalty by withdrawing his support of President Trump.  He’s now being maligned with the label RINO (Republican in name only) just as many Democrats are branded DINO (Democrat in name only) because they favor a white, male candidate for president over a minority female. This kind of rigid thinking is evident on both sides of the aisle.  I saw a post on Facebook today with a picture of a Native American chief wearing a headband of feathers in his hair.

Below the picture it read:  “The right wing and the left wing are both from the same bird”–meaning we’re all Americans.  We all want our country to do well and prosper.

Beside me as I write this blog is a book I’m currently reading called How Democracies Die.  The authors posit that in countries where democracy has failed and authoritarian dictators have risen up, political parties have become so acrimonious they’ll do anything to win and keep power, including elect a flawed leader.  Sadly, there may be a risk of this scenario playing out in our country today.  Representative Amash is not officially on my “team” but if he ran for office in my state, I’d cross party lines to vote for him.  I like his courage.  Sometimes all it takes is a few brave people to turn the tide.

 

 

 

Out of the Suburbs and Into the Desert

I grew up in a little box of a house in an Indiana suburb.  There were houses on either side of us and one across the street.  As far as the eye could see was a flat landscape littered with driveways and asphalt.  So when I moved West after college, I was in awe of the mountains and deserts.  I still am: all this empty space and rugged beauty.  It never grows old.  Every year when May rolls around and the weather warms up, I feel compelled, like the great explorers of the West, John Muir and John Wesley Powell, to take a look around.

The month of May I call Desert Appreciation Month. The temperatures are still cool enough to make hiking pleasant–and all the wildflowers are in bloom. 

May, with its warmer weather, not only beckons people, but other creatures too. Yesterday, hiking the Wilson Creek Trail I came across a long, patterned bull snake gliding peacefully through the grasses.  The Wilson Creek Trail climbs the Owyhee Mountain front in Idaho.  When I saw the snake of course, I jumped back, startled.

Bull snakes look similar to rattlesnakes and I’ve come across enough rattlesnakes in my desert wanderings that I try not to repeat that experience.

A couple of years ago I was walking in sneakers and shorts along the side of a dirt road when I heard a distinct rattle sound warning me away.  I froze, aware of my exposed legs, and looked down to find a rattlesnake coiled not three feet from me under a sagebrush.  I softly stepped back thinking I really needed to wear boots and long pants hiking around in snake season.

trailhead

On the Wilson Creek hike I crossed several bends in the little ribbon of a stream known as Wilson Creek. 

Apparently, the snow melt coming off the peaks of the 8,000 foot Owyhee Mountains formed the headwaters.  Two hundred or so head of cattle drifted in and around the creek bed blocking my path.  I walked through them keenly aware of bawling and nervous cows worried about their calves.  Cows are generally docile animals but have been known to charge if they think their calves are being threatened.  It was difficult to ignore the damage done to little Wilson Creek by this big herd of cattle.  The banks of the stream were all caved in and the vegetation around stomped down, flattened, and covered with cow pies.  I wondered what this oasis in the high desert would look like minus cows—or at least with fewer cattle feeding from such a fragile stream.

Above me, on the hillside, I saw neat planted rows of crested wheat grass.  No doubt the Bureau of Land Management had tractors drill seeds into the soil, probably hoping to restore such a heavily grazed area.  It always makes me shake my head when I hear ranchers complain about the federal government infringing on their rights.  The government supports ranching in so many ways: including keeping grazing fees phenomenally low ($1.69 a month per cow/calf pair —this as opposed to approximately $25 a month to feed a cow/calf pair on private land).   They not only plant hearty grasses to ensure better pasturing for cattle herds, they also fence miles and miles of pasture—free of charge.

Fortunately, away from the stream bed I noticed plenty of undisturbed native wheat and rye grasses.  I watched their leaves blow gently in the breeze.

“Multiple Use” is a phrase, a paradigm for public lands today.  Multiple use was everywhere evident on the Wilson Creek Trail.  I saw hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders on the trail.

Off in the distance an RZR (a Razor, a crazy-fast, steep-climbing recreational vehicle) drove, dust billowing behind. Still, for all the uses made of the Owyhee Mountain Front that day, it was blissfully quiet the farther I hiked up into the mountains.  I didn’t see a street sign or hear a car honk.  I almost pinched my arm to remind myself I wasn’t dreaming, I wasn’t still living in a dreary Indiana suburb.  No, I was happily awake, enjoying the mountains and deserts of the American West.

 

Image Credits:  Diana Hooley on the Wilson Creek Trail, southwest Idaho

 

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!

Surviving Donner Pass

“Chain up!” That’s what the large, electronic message board said at the side of the highway. My eighty-five-year-old mother and I were sitting in my little blue Prius at the base of Donner Pass west of Reno, Nevada. Outside our car, snow blew around a long line of semis parked with us along the highway shoulder. In the distance, dark silhouetted truckers scurried like giant ants throwing chains over their duals, anxious to be on their way.

“Mom, do you know anything about putting chains on tires?”

She looked at me horrified—and I shrugged. It was an old habit, asking mom for help. Back in Reno, I didn’t get any direction from the Les Schwab tire guy about how to do it. When I went to the store counter I noticed his name tag said, “Hunter.”

“I don’t know if we have any chains left, but I’ll check in the back. End of season you know,” Hunter commented.

“Are you sure you want to go over Donner tonight? Looks pretty bad out there,” he glanced out the big front windows at the swirling snow.

Yes we were going over Donner tonight. I thought about how excited mom and I both were to see my daughter and her granddaughter waiting for us on the other side of the mountain in our San Francisco hotel room. Besides, we were staying at the downtown Hyatt Regency in a room that the reservation clerk told me normally went for $923-a-night. Tonight they’d sell me that room at a steal—$250—since I was attending a two-day conference there. If nothing else, we’d brave the weather just to see whether our hotel beds were gold-plated.

“Hunter?” I smiled sweetly, “Would you mind . . . I mean could you put the chains on our tires?”

He was typing out my order and never looked up. “Um, you don’t want to put them on now. Wait until you get to the base of the mountain. They’re easy to hook up (my smile faded). Usually there’s a guy at the bottom of Donner you can pay thirty bucks to chain you up.”

In the car now, peering through the blowing snow, I wondered what we’d do if I couldn’t find the guy Hunter told us about. Then I saw him. He was covered head to foot in a fluorescent yellow snowsuit.

“Turn your tires to the left. FAR LEFT!” the chain-up guy shouted multiple times to me as I tried to hear him through my cracked window. “Now right. FAR RIGHT! (This was easy?—I don’t think so Hunter). Okay,” he tapped my hood, “You young ladies are good to go. Be careful up there! It’ll be dark by the time you get to the pass.”

Here’s what I learned about driving with chains on your tires: it’s like driving on marbles.

Even though chains are supposed to prevent sliding, driving at the top of Donner’s 7,000 foot pass still felt like skidding across ice cubes.

Mom chatted along as I gripped the steering wheel, our speed topping out at a formidable 25-miles-an-hour. Then a strange thing happened. Somewhere past Truckee the snow stopped and the night sky suddenly cleared.

“Oh,” mom gasped, “it’s so beautiful. Look! The moon’s out.”

The road was virtually empty except for our Prius and several dozen semi’s, but the landscape was fairy tale-like, flocked in snow under the pale moonlight. I felt a moment of awe and my fingers loosened on the steering wheel.
The descent on the other side was steep and quick and happily the snow soon turned to rain. I worked to keep our shackled tires to the recommended 35-miles-an-hour until I could bribe someone to take the chains off at a quickie-mart.

“Thanks for this adventure,” mom said smiling at me as we whizzed along the interstate now free of our chains. I realized then it really had been an adventure—and I was glad I could have one more of those with my mom.

A True Idahoan

I was reading about the lineup of candidates running for president in 2020. The Vanity Fair article said that though Beto O’Rourke lived for a time in New York City, he would always be a Texan. I don’t know what that means. Did he “howdy” his way into performances at the Met? Did he walk the streets of Broadway wearing snakeskin boots and a rodeo belt buckle? When Donald Trump first ran for office in 2016 comedian Rosie O’Donnell commented on Trump’s combative style: “He’s from Queen’s. What do you expect?” Apparently, people from the New York borough of Queens like to get into fights.

If an Idahoan ran for president, would it be apparent he’s from Idaho? How would an Idahoan be viewed in the political spotlight?

George Hansen became the unfortunate political face of Idaho for a brief time back in 1979. The country of Iran had just become our enemy and took several Americans working there, hostage. Into this international fray steps Hansen, one of two representatives from Idaho to congress. Hansen said he went to Iran to solve the hostage crisis. I remember seeing news footage of Hansen, a big, beefy man in a dark blue suit and tie, incongruously towering over crowds of angry Persians. The ABC news anchor voiced over this televised footage commenting that Hansen was acting as a lone wolf in Iran and did not have state department support or approval. The clear implication: Idaho Representative George Hansen thought he knew more than the rest of the federal government about how to resolve an international problem.

“No!” I shouted at the television (I was a young woman then and more prone to yell or throw things at the TV). Hansen did not represent me and other Idahoans I knew. Maybe he was a caricature of something Idahoan, people who like to think for themselves and act independently, but it was a cartoon caricature.

If I were to choose a figure in Idaho history to nominate as a representative Idahoan, I’d probably nominate Grace Jordan.

Jordan gained the national spotlight briefly as the wife of former Governor and Senator, Len Jordan. She’s remembered more today for her classic autobiography of homesteading a run-down sheep ranch in Hell’s Canyon during the Great Depression. In that book, Home Below Hell’s Canyon, she chronicles canning peaches, making soap, and teaching her children to read and write. What stands out in her story is her good cheer, stamina, and courage through a difficult time. And though Jordan supported her husband’s political ambitions, she also managed to carve out her own career as a writer and author.

Idaho has changed greatly since George Hansen and Grace Jordan. We now have a much broader demographic including refugees from other countries, transplanted Californians, and an expanding Mexican-American population. I’d be hard-pressed to define a specific kind of Idaho character today. The old slogan about our state: “Idaho is what America was,” is less relevant. Idaho is slowly becoming America: a mishmash of many different cultures, each making their own rich and distinctive contribution. And that’s a good thing.

Lost in California

Henry quickly led me along the palm-lined boulevard of this southern California town determined to help me keep my walking pace up. My husband and I were vacationing down here and I decided to get some exercise by joining a morning walking group. Henry and I however, were the only ones that showed up for this morning’s walk. Which didn’t faze Henry. He was happy to act as my guide around the neighborhoods. He’d done this group walk a lot.

“You have to understand . . . ,” he paused a second, both of us were breathing heavy from race-walking, “. . . I grew up in New York.” Henry was explaining why he wanted to move away from this California paradise after living here several years.

“But it’s so beautiful here,” I said as we moved past trees loaded with yellow lemons, red cardinals flitting from branch to branch.

“It’s okay. But it’s not what I’m used to. I’d probably still be in New York if not for 9-11.”

“You were in 9-11?” That tragedy seemed so far away now, in terms of both time and distance from sunny California.
“Yeah. I lived eight blocks from the towers, in Tribeca, when it happened. It was horrific, you know. It just does something to you. Experiencing that. So then I moved out here. Got as far away from New York as I could get.”

“But it’s not home is it?” I said, recognizing Henry’s restlessness.

“No, not nearly,” then he picked up the pace again.

We finished our neighborhood walk and I went back to the motel thinking about what Henry said. He sounded like a refugee, a person displaced not by famine or war, but by a certain kind of terror none-the-less. His story made me think of the sad lyrics of an old Neil Diamond song I heard when I was a young girl: “. . . I’m lost between two shores. L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home. New York’s home but it ain’t mine no more . . .”

Some people never find home, try though they might. Changing locations only increases the alienation. Even on this wonderful winter vacation, suddenly, I felt it: a longing for my home in Idaho. No lemon trees or red cardinals there. Just big-shouldered mountains and wide stretches of sagebrush desert—but it suits me just fine.

Milford, Utah

A Winter’s Tale, essay

I’ve taken several road trips through the West since airplane travel is not my favorite form of terror. The upside of a flying phobia is that on road trips you get to experience every mile you travel. That’s the downside too. Road-tripping can make you very travel weary. So, absent campers, motel accommodations are important. I watched an old I Love Lucy episode on cable not long ago, where Lucy and her friends took a road trip across 1950’s America. One night they found themselves looking for a motel, hoping for a juicy steak and a nice, soft bed. They ended up instead, in a little cabin somewhere near Donner Pass (not a good sign) eating cheese sandwiches and sleeping on lumpy mattresses.

Like Lucy, we were dreaming of good food and shelter when we drove down the exit ramp to Milford, Utah. Milford is not a destination town. That needs to be said right away. However, it is on the freeway heading toward St. George, and if that doesn’t rock you, Las Vegas some miles further. This was a winter trip, so the landscape as we drove into Milford was bleak with blizzard and snow. I thought of that lovely poem by Robert Frost, Desert Places, googled it, and began to recite it aloud to my husband: “Snow falling fast, oh fast . . .” After six hours on the road I thought Robert Frost was a better choice than twenty-nine bottles of beer on the wall.

I’d located our accommodations on a TripAdviser app. They gave the Best Western Paradise motel of Milford, Utah several stars. I knew about Best Western motels. We’re talking about quality here. In another life I changed sheets and emptied waste baskets at a Best Western motel in Chambers, Arizona. Mrs. Young, the proprietor of the Chieftain motel filled me in on the Best Western brand: “That’s why they call it ‘best.’ If your Best Western, you’re the best—so get down on your knees and scrub around those toilets!”

As we drove into Milford, I thought about other winter wanderers, stumbling into an inn looking for rest.  A certain Joseph and Mary came to mind. I wasn’t riding a donkey, but I looked like I’d been “on something,” when I walked into the motel lobby. The back of my hair stood straight up from leaning against the headrest all day. I glanced around and when I saw the lobby furniture was a little old and worn, I began to doubt TripAdvisor’s stars—and those two vaunted words: Best Western. Would we have to find another motel? Out the lobby windows the snow was swirling. We could get lost in a Great Basin blizzard (cue music for Dr. Zhivago) looking for another motel.

The motel clerk though, an older woman with pink lipstick, seemed genuinely friendly and made sure we knew the voucher tickets that came with our room, were good for a full, made-to-order, complimentary breakfast. And the price? This king bedroom was so cheap you could have sold it at Walmart. The price was so far under a hundred dollar bill, I steeled myself for bed bugs, cigarette smells, and a toilet with floaters. But this winter’s tale has a happy ending. When we opened our room door we were greeted by fresh smells and downy white bed sheets. And the best part was still to come: pancakes and eggs for breakfast—no cheese sandwiches here.

The Bobcat I Saw

The Bobcat I Saw (personal essay)

I like to hike Chase’s hill, the one that rises above his house and the Snake River. The gravel road is a steady incline, cut at an angle across the face of the rim rock so the lumbering spud trucks and hay swathers have a more gradual pull to the top. Today, like most days, I used my hike time to sort through all my thoughts. I was thinking about canning tomatoes. I learned to can after I married a farmer, but I hated canning. And though home-canned tomatoes tasted better, it was hard to justify the work when Del Monte tomatoes were so cheap at the store.

I was so deep in my tomato thoughts, the splash in the river didn’t startle me.  Past the rabbit brush and reeds I spotted two sets of long ears and almond-shaped eyes bobbing up and down in the river’s current, heading toward the island. Evidently, the deer had come out to swim and play.  Game was always more active in the fall when the temperatures were cooler.

I stopped and watched the deer a minute before I began my hike up the hill again. We hadn’t any rain to speak of since late spring, so the dirt on the road was like fine, bread flour wafting around the embedded cobbles. I watched my shoes trudge over and around the rocks when an image of my sister Lainey, popped into my head. I needed to call her. Lainey was twelve years younger than me, so we were a different generation.  That was no excuse for not staying in touch though. There’s something comforting about a sibling. They know you and you know them–no matter how far apart in age you are. You know them in familiar, genetic ways. How they use their hands and fingers as they talk, for example.  Just like mom does.  Just like I do.

Lainey’s expressive hands came to mind when I heard the unmistakable hiss of a bull snake laying on the road near me. I’d almost stepped on him. He was just a baby snake, but still he raised his head and flicked his tongue at me, indignant that I was so distracted I hadn’t noticed him. I felt like apologizing for my obtuseness. Of course the snake was important, but it was just that I hadn’t talked to my sister in so long.

I gave the little snake a wide berth, skirting the opposite side of the road where some straggly wild asters bloomed. As dry as it was, I was amazed anything had enough water to survive, much less bloom. I needed to remember to buy the November issue of Idaho Magazine. I’d written an article on the old practice of water witching, something a few men in our farming valley used to do to find water in the desert. I wanted to see how my article looked in print—how it read. Water witching seemed a fitting topic for the season of Halloween, but I wasn’t sure how religious or deeply superstitious readers might feel about the topic.

The trail curved some and when I rounded a bend I was surprised to see yet another wild animal.  This time a coyote was standing in the middle of the road. I thought it was a little strange to see so many creatures on one small hike.  There was something different about this coyote.  Then I realized it wasn’t a coyote at all.  Maybe it was a fox.  No, not a fox, but a very large cat.  I took a step back as I felt a tingle of both excitement and apprehension.  In front of me, two hundred or so feet, was a bobcat, or sometimes called a lynx.  The size of the cat and the sharp, tufted ears were a dead give-away.   I’d hiked the desert and canyons for years and though I’d heard about bobcat sightings, I’d never seen one myself. We stared at each other for several long seconds and then the cat lost interest and skittered up the rocky hill side.

Seeing a bobcat in the wild was a once in a life time experience–and I might have missed him entirely thinking about vegetables and relatives.  I needed to pay better attention when I hiked. I’d been so lost in thought, I was lost to the world also. And there was so much to see. So much to experience.

Idaho Book Review

Idaho (novel)
By Emily Ruskovich

I wonder if all books entitled with a state name don’t find an automatic audience of thousands of people within that state wanting to read the book. James Michener, an old epic author from the 70’s and 80’s used to title his novels after their state setting: Texas, Hawaii, Alaska. So, as an Idahoan, I approached Emily Ruskovich’s novel with a lot of anticipation. What would she say about our state and how would she characterize the people that live here?

I’m pleased to report Ruskovich writes a sensitive and human story of two women living in a rural area of north Idaho driven by love to the same damaged man, Wade. Wade is a homesteader and day laborer who has some kind of early onset dementia (his disease is never fully explained).

Though Ruskovich writes beautifully and expressively about simple things like a minister leaving a bowl of pears for a prison inmate, this is a brutal, tragic tale of domestic violence. Wade’s wife, Jenny, apparently in a jealous rage, murders their younger daughter, May. It appears to be a crime of passion, but the reader is not sure what happened. With Wade’s forgetfulness and Jenny’s obsessive love, there’s even a lingering question of whether Jenny was actually the murderer. The mystery of that fateful day is further amplified by the disappearance of the older daughter, June, who had a troubled relationship with her younger sister, May. It’s questions like these that propel the narrative along and keep the reader guessing.

Though Ruskovich is a gifted writer with a fascinating story to tell, some readers will be put off with the way the author jumps back and forth in time and between different character perspectives. Interestingly, readers are never privy to Wade’s perspective about what happened to his family. This story could have been too dark, but the ending is satisfying. There is always room for redemption in even the most despairing situation.