Part 1

Hardscrabble Sockdolagers
Idaho opinion pieces, letters of public interest and other aimful musings
By Jim Banholzer


1. involving hard work and struggle.
"her uncle's hardscrabble peanut farm"

2. Working as hard as you can and still barely getting by. 3. An area of land which can only support sparse, hearty plants and weeds. 4. An acme of barrenness.
We seem to have reached the acme of barrenness and desolation. 
Horace Greeley, 1859 

The newspaperman arising from hardscrabble eastern roots, hoisting rusty wheelbarrow loads of Washington Posts during the uncertainty of the newspaper strikes of the Watergate era; and perusing leftover tattered copies starting with the comics -which strategically included Bill Golds feature column; eventually grew interested in reading the full thing and soon discovered he had a talent for remembering most of it. Growing into a late bloomer, he parlayed this good information, along with that of a broad background into useful words which earned him a first newspaper column and everything grew better from there.


a forceful blow.
an exceptional person or thing.

As well as its literal meaning of a heavy or knock-down blow, sockdolager also came to mean something that was exceptional in any respect, especially, the OED says, a particularly large fish.
“socdollager” became the term for anything which left nothing else to follow; a decisive, overwhelming finish, to which no reply was possible.
The particular claim to fame of sockdolager is that a close relative of it was supposedly almost the last word President Lincoln heard. In Tom Taylor’s play Our American Cousin, there occurs the line “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologising old man-trap”, and as the audience laughed, John Wilkes Booth fired the fatal shot. (World WideWords)

The heavyweight boxing contender, known for his big left hook and imposing size, and coming up from difficult West Virginia hardscrabble roots; hopes were quickly dashed when his face met with a rollicking final sockdolager punch
The Champ in a tight spot.
In the autumn of 2004 while flying back east to visit family, I started scratching out some notes comparing the value of working out (on exercise machines) versus performing actual productive work. This became my first newspaper column. It’s interesting looking back on it now, because I see how the article is rough around the edges, and how I could now improve its flow.
Getting this article published in the local newspaper was a proud moment for me, especially after working there in a delivery capacity for over a decade. Soon after, I followed up with several other opinion pieces, and Idaho Mountain Express editor Ken Retallic thought that those, too, were worthy of  publication. By the end of the year, Ken asked if I would like to do this on a regular basis, and although I didn’t understand exactly what it would entail, and how it would change my life, I immediately said, “I can do that.”
The several Idaho newspapers I’ve written for have given me broad latitude, allowing me to choose whatever subjects I wish to write about. And there are so many interesting subjects under the sun to opine about that most anybody could probably start a newspaper column if they set their mind to it.
The first two ‘official’ columns I wrote about were important subjects to me. Anti-racism and Frisbee disc-golf. In the years since, I’ve focused on auguries and omens, kindness and owl medicine, mythical towers and driver safety, quiet nature observations, noble elk reflections, positively good days and outdoorsy adventures, secret lives of meter readers, the downside of smart meters, linseed oil extending lives of sandlot basketball nets, expansive suggestions for the future airport; playful mermaids and selkies; Clint Eastwood with a statewide signage movie proposal; The Max Rudolph saga, school prayer, whistleblowers in the nuclear industry, priceless smiles over diamonds, lukewarm and hot springs, Abe Lincoln, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and pacifists; and a general defense of those who overly criticize Ketchum. 
I hope you enjoy my writing.
 - J.B.

The midday owl who withdrew from the bank

Originally published in the Idaho Mountain Express April 12, 2006

On a black Tuesday after Memorial Day around celestial noon, a flock of crows above Hailey went harassing a great horned owl yearling. These cackling guardians succeeded in winging him directly in front of the Bank of America. While he sat stunned in a handicapped spot for about as long as a solar eclipse lasts; this proceeded to transpire into a sequence of events that turned this town topsy-turvy.

As it was the first day after a long weekend, pedestrians scurried by almost stepping on the owl—somehow not spotting him in their radar. The person who first noticed was a man who usually dons a Washington Redskin's cap—but not worn on this day. He and I thought we were dreaming, seeing this creature of night thrust into the day's brilliance.

I called a peace officer, who said he would have to call Fish and Game. I mentioned an immediate concern of children walking by and trying to pet it. "Nothing like this has ever happened before around here" his young voice crackled. I agreed. But then he told me, "All we can do for now is 'dispatch' the owl, if you know what I mean."

That's just great, I thought, they're going to eradicate an innocent bird on Main Street with the bullet ricocheting off the vaulted bank and straight into an Arlo Guthrie ballad about Homeland Security—lampooning the whole town. Surely, the young constable would transpire a different hoot himself upon actual approach, by merely setting his sunny stun gun one octave below "Night Owl" and just Taser this talonious threat away.

The shy owl deposited at the bank could see from every angle that he was in a situation where he had better treat passers-by more humanely, or he would face heavy costs being withdrawn from the wild.

Blind to the camera phone hooked to my body, I dashed to the van to grab film, all the while focusing on not setting it to flash, which would further bewilder this newly disadvantaged creature. Upon my sudden return, he reoriented enough to fly off silently—free from the dangerous moneychangers. His escape path crooked as he overshot pines south of a Queen's black & white puzzle board. Searchers spied high and low to see if he had again crashed. However, the night eagle soared into his rightful realm, now sharing skies with other unseen communication channels—poles apart from the telegraph wires his grandparents used to stalk over simple plots of spud. He then gazed clearly through solar skylights at detached humans freely swallowing mysterious cyberspace columns whole, then regurgitating unneeded paragraphs.

Meanwhile the football fan whose hat no longer casts curses toward Native Americans and I pointed like wild Injuns toward the feather dust still softly swirling on the sidewalk.

By evening twilight, as my thoughts flocked about the owl and the Red Warrior's skullcap that blew off, it struck me that in indigenous cultures it's taught that owls can see what others cannot—the essence of true wisdom. Furthermore, the owl is a symbol for deception in the sense that he cannot be tricked. With his piercing clarity of vision, he naturally deflects the deceptions we attempt right back onto us, sometimes bringing unforeseen nightmares into the middle of the day.

Something else I had forgotten is that some humans hold certain characteristics in their heart-shaped minds, in common with our owl cousins. Paradoxically, some people may have this type of power and not even be aware of it. A person gifted with good owl "medicine" should not use it to shift winds out of others sails, except in extraordinary circumstances.

That very crossroad is one that I sometimes think I will easily be able to turn left and merge into traffic in the middle of the day, truly believing that I can still fly through Hailey like it's a small, sleepy town. Until in extraordinary awakening circumstances, a friendly officer with halting radar gives a hoot while seeing through everything and eagerly hands me a guardian gift—a kind reminder that I, too, have been softly deceiving myself.

(Footnote: The above event happened on Tuesday, May 31, 2005.)

The Owl and the money clip

Originally published in Trish and Rob MacGregor’s synchrosecrets blog on September 30, 2009

At the old place, Richard and Tammy had lived with a single mother, an arrangement that worked great in some aspects, but also felt a little cramped, which tends to get worse during harsh Idaho winters. Both families had gone down to look at the prospective larger house a few times. All four kids loved it, as did Tammy and her single-mother friend. Richard wasn’t so sure; after all, they had already moved earlier this year. His hesitation was understandable, as the new house cost more and he is the main breadwinner.
With the pressure on to decide soon, one evening Richard vociferously announced that he was “going fishing.” He walked down to the river to spend some time alone and reflect. As the evening twilight progressed, an enormous owl swooped down over the water and dropped something shiny. Richard waded out to where the owl dropped the item and discovered an empty money clip. Examining it closer, he saw that the silver was emblazoned with his own initials!
Richard took the owl’s message as a sign, which helped him, decide that his family would be better off in the end if they made the move. Coincidentally, a few months ago, at their old house I had dropped off some animal totem books, including the one by Trish. On a whim, I marked one of the owl stories with a copy of my own owl story using it as a bookmark. It’s called The Midday Owl Who Withdrew from the Bank.
What’s interesting about my story is that it’s the same one that forty moons ago, I sent to Trish, when I saw a sentence towards the end of her and Millie’s totem book, which asked readers to contact them, if they had any interesting animal encounter stories of their own. In other words, the same story I stuck in their book is the same story that led to your and my Internet friendship and enduring exchange of ideas!

Monday, June 13, 2011

1.    Do not eat the black-tailed fish

2.    Avoid the flesh of animals that die on their own

3.    Do not polish a seat with oil

4.    Never speak while facing the sun

Times-News, Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Cases like last year’s Martin Luther King Day lesson gone awry, remind me of when parents start calling for bans of wide-spectrums of controversial books, and then it’s discovered they have never actually taken time to read the books, which are supposedly upsetting their children.
A 2006 case from Houston Community papers featured Alton Verm and his then 15 year-old daughter Diane, who wanted to ban Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 because,
“It’s just all kinds of filth,” said Alton Verm, adding that he had not read “Fahrenheit 451.” “The words don’t need to be brought out in class. I want to get the book taken out of the class.”
Diane added, “The book had a bunch of very bad language in it, it shouldn’t be in there because it’s offending people. … If they can’t find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn’t have a book at all.”
The ultimate irony here is that Fahrenheit 451 is a book ABOUT BANNING BOOKS.
The title comes from the high temperature tipping point at which books burn!
The same can be said about “Catcher in the Rye,” when Holden Caulfield sees some obscene graffiti, splayed on school walls and out of love and respect for his sister Phoebe, becomes determined to scrub away all (expletives) in the world, so that she would never have to see one. If J.D. Salinger had not chosen to insert these harsh words to describe what Mr. Caulfield was seeing, his poignant point would have come across too diluted.
Huck Finn, the same way. Every year or so, parents in some communities want to ban this book because of Mark Twain’s use of the N-Word, an accurate depiction of the language in its time and context. Yet, if folks went to the trouble to read between Huck Finns fishing lines, they would see, it is one of the most ANTI-RACISM books ever. After all, Huck decides that he would go to “the bad place,” rather than to sell out his friend, the runaway slave Jim. How many of us can say we would be such loyal friends?

Conflicting proverbs “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” and “Clothes make the man.”

Idahoan Auguries


For every light that flickers on,
Another salmon cease to spawn,
The hunter starved of spiritual prayer,
Imparts to brood great despair

Fisherman nevar giving thanks;
Discards plastic river banks,
each one dropped acorn oak,
rainbow does fade and choke

 who has stopped reading books,
is out poaching royal Chinooks,
He who harms creatures with no need,
shall nevr know love of woman indeed,

She who hurts a little sage hen,
shall not become true love of man,
An animal knows when you fear it,
and can read the good your spirit

Humans not built separate from nature,
but tangled now with Techno-future,
Can we learn living side by side,
with shady spots and complicated pride?

One could read tracks to a day,
until ego began to shade his way,
Her stickers urged “Visualize World Peace!”
yet friendship with her neighbor ceased

Save the lion, wolf and bear,
but what about the kids you care?
High schools parking lot’s a mess,
projecting acts of generation next

Each delay of children’s center,
a young lad loses a valuable mentor,
Drinking and speeding up and down,
such hobbies paint your face a clown,

Son’s military service brings law and order,
Wild man discovers new psychic borders,
Every hungry truck engine left while idling,
A Persian Gulf soldier drowns in oil fighting,

A day spent within forced mechanical shields,
Distances one’s touch from beauties fields,
Every radioactive bomb a dud,
Gain we anew one field of spud 

Each spilled barrel of in-toxic-crated waste,
A song filled meadow churns slow to paste,
Following a daily ritual too close,
hollows mans spirit into a ghost

Too much time on highway lately?
Pirsig’s advice: think laterally,
The crooked road you’ll find much more,
the cup of time fulfilled will pour

With Faster, Hurry! Go! Go! Go!
You might just zip, right past the show,
Airport paves a runway long,
cooks gridlock in a country song,

Each tailgate to a bumper, 
forces a body to become a jumper
Too much fame, too much luck,
into Private Idaho you duck,

Inner city pressure forced you here,
wolverine medicine revealed over beer,
Hamp man dressed down, furtively glancing;
try soft deceit for excellent dancing,

Social help not here with this wealth,
we’re forty-ninth in mental health,
Each resort by glamour lighted,
another criminal is invited

With synthetic chemicals excessive high,
dark questionable characters draw a nigh,
A pot of gold will drive some crazy;
our moral lines become quite hazy

My last letter to Dad & mother,
“Valley’s brimmed with small potatoes smashing one another,
”Each new shelter built on field,
mountain lion blazes new trail to yield,

Tree roots cut with sewage hookup,
Great horned cloak above is shook up,
A house built with intent of wrath:
Man himself loses access path, 

A truth that’s told with ill intent,
beats any lie you can invent,
Should I do a good job replacing this grate?
Hey, it’s a low liability State

Many friendly waves not acknowledged;
snared upon wrong books in college?
Shiny idea gems from the mind were taken,
when the Indian’s land was forsaken

Not returning to swim in lake and ocean,
begins to bring gesture without motion,
Fearless leaders guide the human race,
but look how quick their aged face

Think ye the mental storm hard to handle?,
try finding two honest men with one candle,
Purify yourself often in Gaia forest;
help marriage of Earth & Man not be divorced...


Idaho Mountain Express December 17, 2008

It's disheartening to see factories that churn out the most hellacious waste in the world plop down into Idaho lava fields, set up high-paying jobs, and then become integrated into the area via churches, spirited Little League ball teams and 4-H clubs. When something dreadful occurs at a nuclear site, often our culture covers it up.
Whistleblowers are terrified of repercussions, being shunned by society and worse. Few want to be known as killing the goose with the golden eggs, even if they are speckled with plutonium. Three years ago, right before Christmas, there was a news splash at the Los Alamos, N.M., laboratory. Five workers were exposed to the highly carcinogenic PU-239. It took several days before this information came out to the public. Then it was through the Project on Government Oversight that co-workers coughed this up to, rather than their own trusted government and contractor.
Ironically, of all the of jobs I've labored on, the rules insisted that every accident, no matter how small, be reported—even if it's a cut from a piece of paper as tiny and insignificant as America's Constitution.
It's not right that our best men juggling the most dangerous element under the sun should be skittish about reporting disasters that hold far-reaching ramifications. After all, would not the open reporting of near catastrophes aid in preventing similar events? The same season as the 2005 Los Alamos incident, some Department of Energy spokespersons drove over to Sun Valley, claiming they care about the environment and their grandchildren. If this is true, then they should invite aspiring scientists to join a contest designing foolproof, double-blind whistleblower systems. A Rube Goldberg category could be included to generate interest among innovative high schoolers who (for the past eight years) have had more open dialogues than the highest levels of our own government.
Unlike the exposed workers whose health benefits will likely be terminated once they are let go, the winner could receive a lifetime POGO magazine subscription.



Times-News, June 8th, 2009, 11:00 pm

It's disconcerting to read Rep. Mike Simpson touting the most dangerous element under the sun (Idaho Statesman, May 31) as the best green option in the energy debate. Mr. Simpson says, "France learned long ago that nuclear energy is safe, abundant and cheap."
While it is true that France uses more than 80 percent nuclear power for electricity, there is a big brouhaha going on over there about some enormous problems this has brought. For instance, where do you think the elite French are trying to lay their insidiously deadly toxins to rest for millennia? Why it's being shoveled into poor people's backyards, of course. Much like the Three Mile Island skeleton core transported to radiate here in meager Idaho's National Lab.
While he claims nuclear energy is safe, perhaps Mr. Simpson does not realize that a uranium leak last summer in one of France's nuclear plants led to a fishing, swimming and well-water drinking ban in two Vaucluse rivers. How would he feel if we found ourselves forced to forbid recreational boating, fishing and simple splish-splashing in our Snake?
At the conclusion of Rep. Simpson's argument he asks, "Who wants their grandmother's kidney dialysis machine to rely on wind energy on a calm day or solar energy when the sun is not shining?" This is preposterous fear mongering. Naturally, concerned relatives would want reliable backup generators available for such important concerns. And currently some inspired scientists are developing innovative products that run off both solar and wind power and only need charged every four days.
Instead of greenwashing Grandma with putrid plutonium promises, perhaps she would rather see us funding her grandchildren's colleges with more research and development departments to augment what safe, abundant and inexpensive sun and wind can generate for us, and the lifesaving machines we rely upon.


Letter in Idaho Mountain Express
March 30, 2011

Sometimes, 100-year events occur in our lifetime. It's remarkable how some Idahoans who are connected with the nuclear industry are downplaying the horrific events in Japan. While some of these officials say they are confident that a similar event could never happen here, I sense a credibility gap and I'm unsure whether they are seriously taking into account all contingencies.
For instance, what about the fact that the INL operates amid an earthquake zone—one strongly active in recent times? On the 20th anniversary of the 1983, 6.9 Borah earthquakes, Stephen Weiser, assistant deputy director of mitigation for the Idaho Bureau of Disaster Services, said, "Central Idaho is extremely vulnerable to earthquakes and has a great deal of seismic activity."
Besides occasional earthquakes, other challenges that the purportedly failsafe and "clean" nuclear industry needs to contend with are the possibilities of terrorist attacks, infrastructure wear and tear, discontented employees, and plain old human error. Then there's the proud legacy of nuclear waste. Our country stores more spent fuel rods than Japan does, and this insidiously deadly radiation will endure an epoch longer than the most ancient Egyptian pyramid.
One-hundred-year events sometimes do occur within our lifetimes: 9/11, Pearl Harbor, Hurricane Katrina, the Indonesian and Japan tsunamis, Mount St. Helens exploding, the Teton Dam bursting or even spring flooding in Woodside. It's downright disingenuous for putrid plutonium prophets to claim that a nuclear accident could never occur here; especially when one already has.
We will be stuck on the road to ruin if our leaders continue to be too shortsighted to plan no further than the next election, muffle whistleblowers so we don't learn from our mistakes and neglect to upgrade nuclear plants to high modern standards, trading short-term gain for long-term environmental disaster.

SUNDAY, APRIL 27, 2008
Idaho Conversation League
The powerful nuclear industry has been campaigning to construct new plants in Idaho and many in our desperate energy state are anxious to buy it. Some have written letters beseeching Idahoans to embrace nuclear power, so that we can be first in something for once.
To paraphrase Lee Halper from a recent radioactive-hot forum, “Idaho is already first in many things. We're almost first in cow-pies. We're first in lack of ethics in the Legislature. We're first in ignoring what doesn't work in other states will work here and we're first in geothermal, wind, solar, hydrogen and conservation of energy but people who look for the silver bullet like NUCLEAR, are those who want us to be first in line for Superfund status.”
I agree with Lee; let us not be first in foolhardiness. The poisonous nuclear industry kills much more than charging windmills do birds. For the next 40,000 years, we will have to develop warning signs decipherable long after the English language has died out. Think about it, the proud legacy nuclear waste leaves, will endure an epoch tenfold longer than our most ancient Egyptian pyramid. The gist of it is; no one wants to be known as the one who killed the goose that lays golden eggs, even if they are speckled with plutonium.
Now a French company “committed to fueling the nuclear renaissance,” is at the ready to receive generous tax breaks for mining Idaho uranium. Let’s be first in common sense again, by swatting away pests who desire to salt our fragile freedom-fry spuds with a radioactive twinge. While it is true that France uses 80 percent nuclear power, don’t think that there is not a big brouhaha going on, over the pond, about this wasteful thinking. And where are the elite French trying to lay their insidiously deadly toxins to rest for millennia? Why it’s being shoveled into poor peoples backyards, of course. Affecting many Muslim communities. And that’s just dandy?
Perhaps Idaho newspaper editors should convene to develop a writing contest, for us to draft letters of apology to our grandchildren’s grandchildren, for how we have wrongly ‘warshiped’ Mother Earth, to insert in a time capsule, next to the Yucky Mountain radioactive warning cryptograms. Winners could receive protection suits, fitted with alarming Geiger counters.

The bad spin about wind turbines is very overblown. Inspired visionaries have already developed improved energy gaining methods from the wind, using large high-tension vibrating bands, which kill no birds. Think how much better off we will be, when we rise up to invest one-tenth as much 
Research and Development into the dozens of other viable solar and wind parametered projects, as we do into killing innocent civilians over Oil-Euros.
Although most of us are now war-weary, it’s inspiring to see that many Idahoans are not allowing themselves to be blinded by plutonium propheteers, who rush in with desperate short-term energy solutions, which leave long-term environmental stains, ten thousand-fold worse than stinky cow-pies.

Friday, May 08, 2009
With the vast potential Idaho has for utilizing wind power, I would be interested in learning more about how the bird-diverters work. Many of the powerful interest blowhards, who speak out against wind power, amplify bird deaths and because of this, say that wind should be out of the question; instead of remarking, “Hey, wind is simply a great idea! Why can’t we inject more research and development into ways to prevent bird windmill casualties?”
Last year Popular Science Magazine featured an award-winning invention that employed wind power from Ginormous rubber bands. If developed further, such devices could help our country emerge from the current economic and energy Dark Ages. While inventions like this hold great possibility for our future, naysayers will probably find ways to claim that whippoorwills and hummingbirds will be fatally attracted to the buzzing sound.
Before our country started becoming a lazy fast food TV nation, we held our inventors in higher esteem. While the next generation of Tesla’s Edison’s, Kamen’s, Hurtibise’s and Farthsworth emerge, we should give these ingenious energy saviors more enthusiastic support, instead of sticking our heads in South Idaho sand to avoid wind.

Jasper and the Gyro

I have a friend who enjoys adventuring into the great outdoors in pursuit of collecting rocks and gems. Some of her finds she turns into jewelry, which fits well on her, when she dons it at her waitress job. We’ve talked about how sunlight after hard rains creates optimum field conditions for finding obsidian and crystals, as they sometimes stand out like tiny stars.
One early morning, after sharing a raindrop of synchronicity with her, I asked her about her own meaningful coincidences. She responded that recently, after showing off a homemade jasper necklace to some inquisitive customers, she told them on a whim, that if she ever has a son, she would love to name him “Jasper.” Within the hour a young lad of about seven entered the diner with his family, and introduced himself as Jasper!
Soon after, she mentioned another significant twist of fate. In this case, while moving some items into her new home, she came upon an old notebook, which had leafed open to a page featuring the word “gyroscope” scribbled in her own ancient handwriting. As she pondered why she had written this singular word on the yellowed sheet, a song came over the radio, with the male singer’s voice synchronously crooning, “gyroscope.”
Next, my friend told me that she had been staying up late, until three in morning for several days, in intense preparation to get her move finished, before school restarts. According to her schedule, it looks like when school starts, she’ll need to be either studying or working almost every waking moment, leaving no time for her earthly rock hunting pursuits.
This sounded stressful and I spent some time contemplating my friend’s dilemma. An hour or two later, I re-entered the cafeteria with an interpretation of her gyroscope synchronicity. I mentioned that gyroscopes are used for keeping balance and that if two gyroscopes were mysteriously spinning for her at the same time, than maybe the universe was prompting her to become better balanced and get a little more sleep, so she doesn’t crash. I explained how gyroscopes are used in Segways–personal transporters–to help keep them upright. This reminded her that a Segway brushed by her closely during our local Wagon Days parade, only days before, though she was unaware it contained a hidden gyroscope.
As Segways are seldom seen in our valley, it made the three-point synchronicity feel as precious as her jasper necklace and we agreed that synchronicity rocks as much as a field of shining gem-stars.


(Published in several newspapers and websites)

The first year I moved to Ketchum, there was an incident on Main Street involving two women in a fender bender. Instead of rushing out of their cars to blame each other, they both emerged to apologize profusely and peacefully. They each made sure that the other person was alright, and then gave each other sweet bear hugs. After that, they agreed that they should meet together soon, because it had been too long since they had seen each other.
This remarkable event defined for me what the essence is of everything good about Ketchum; and perhaps for what is great about many small Western towns: good people who care about each other, more than they do for their measly worldly possessions. Therefore, it grates at me when I hear intermittent comments that disparage the town and townspeople of Ketchum (and the Wood River Valley). Some will say, “I have no desire to visit Ketchum, or any of the people up there.” That’s too bad, because if you take a closer look, this pedestrian-friendly town offers much for young and old, rich and poor, sick and well.
Like most Idaho towns, Ketchum has changed over the years. Yet, it retains many high-quality aspects of a hardy Western town. When it comes to weather, Ketchum is in the top 10 percentile of sunniest towns. The people here are equally sunny, and there is ample reason for this. A river runs through it, offering opportunities for enjoyable fishing and water sports. We have a popular YMCA. On summer Tuesdays, a vibrant farmers’ market attracts vendors and customers from throughout southern Idaho. After that, energetic music performers play freely ‘til twilight in our Forest Service Park.
For the spiritual, Ketchum has more than a handful of sacred places to worship. When someone becomes severely ill, or is in a crash, our community often bonds together, helping with fundraisers.
Wagon Days brings a festive weekend of olden-times coming alive, as craftspeople, blacksmiths and storytellers demonstrate their trades and speak their lore. Wagon Days also features the largest non-motorized parade in the west.
Ketchum’s Community Library has an extensive regional history section, with helpful staff and an oral history program. The library also hosts frequent lectures and enlightening events, featuring respected authors and adventurers from near and far.
Ketchum has dozens of fine restaurants. We have movie theaters; nine (and growing) outdoor parks, live stage and Huck Finn-like swimming holes. Free newspapers, magazines, maps and wi-fi are abundant. We also have a water park, bringing boundless glee to splashing kids. On the edge of town, Sun Valley Co. has installed a gondola for uplifting Bald Mountain rides.
This list of what good things our fine town (and valley) has to offer is much longer than this, but I hope for now this gives some hesitation to those who are quick to sneer at lively Ketchum.
I sometimes wonder if some of Ketchum’s harsh critics have even spent much time here. 
After July’s candlelight vigil march for Bowe Bergdahl, the local soldier captured in Afghanistan; I sat with some friends, one of whom described an image she thought best defined Hailey's essence. One of the men attending the ceremony had left his tools in the open on the back of his truck, parked in front of Zaney's Coffeehouse, where the event began. The tradesman had drawn a large cardboard sign, asking passersby to leave his tools alone, because he was standing for Bowe. And the aura of respectfulness that evening permeated the atmosphere so thick that nobody dared tamper with his tools. Then we agreed that we all look forward to the day when Bowe can return to this pleasant valley, where his friends and family can openly share with him, some strong bear hugs.

November 2012

  I took a short retreat at a relaxing Country Inn at the far edge of a sleepy Idaho town. I was looking for a place to calm my frazzled nerves, do some light reading, and engage in some healthy conversations with folks I had not yet met.

 Everything was flowing peaceably well above the steep Canyon the first two days, however; through some observations, I sensed that this crossroad sometimes attracted chaos and mayhem. 

There were three nights where it became especially noisy. The first was after midnight, and involved a weary traveler who was obviously going through a challenging time. He yelled viciously at the top of his aqua-lungs with a supernatural energy, even going so far as to chant strange languages, including Ancient Greek and Cherokee. This wild man of the Borneo dragged the facilitators up and down the hall, waking every living soul with a fright from their bed. Even the mice dashed back into their good holes, though they had barely started nibbling at the cheese bar.

Seven burly Peace Officers were summoned to quash the pandemonium. But even after they seized him down with all their mighty strength, and shot him strong tranquilizer; the fine officials still had trouble subduing the untamed man for several hours.

I glanced from my humble room and saw that the long row of house guests visibly upset, as were many of the facilitators. One of the leaders entered my room and we helped each other chill, all the while listening to the unsettling background cacophony of a one-man band making the noise of ten.

A week later I realized that while this troubled soul was exorcising some of his personal demons, I was reflecting on some of my own, and trying hard to become a better man, although in a quieter manner. You could even say that the uninhibited stranger was speaking for me in a way.


The next morning the managers of the cottage held a short debriefing for the forced insomniacs. The leaders declared that the matters of the previous night should not concern us, as it had nothing to do with any of us. However, intense Twilight-ish Zone episodes like these do concern me, and I have written at length about such things before, regarding the dispossessed and poor homeless. On top of that, I had recently grown accustomed to drifting off to sleep with light peaceful music in late evenings and not to a madman ranting and stomping for hours. It was a nice reality check and makes me appreciate the comfortable parts of my life I’ve worked hard to retain.

There is more to this story regarding interruptions at the Country Inn; however, glancing at my notes they pale in comparison to the meat of the story above, so I’ll stop here for now. 


What in the world has become of the sugar maple down by the Trail Creek riparian area behind the old Ski View Lodge? The builders said they would try to save it—let it remain standing broad and free—but now it's gone. Did a backhoe driver make an honest mistake in the mud? But, then did he laugh because he could? The wisdom tree full of unassuming beauty added an earthly atmosphere to conversations held in lemonade chairs underneath a colorfully cool dome of leaves.
A Wagon Days pioneer seeded this maple to bud outside his shack window. It impressed visitors with a PowerPoint presentation of nature. Its show was augmented by a waterfall, which purified our dreams every night. Sometimes a homeless person (also removed) would softly mouth-harp cool songs from rail-tied steps on the other side of the stream, in harmony with the tambourine percussion of leaves rustling from the tree. Just up the creek from a secret footbridge -- now too gone. Which school kids used to dash over on winter morns, with a rucksack full of Robert Frost crossing the snowy fields. Right where I laughed at Laura as she tried to save minnows one dry summer, frantically dipping a colander to transfer them into larger puddles as Trail Creek almost drained. Only realizing later that we'd be less polluted if more people cared about the environment as she did. This led me to suggest running a hose from the shack into Trail Creek.
The quaking tree behind which Maddie once chased a spring bear from off our deck. An event for which she received a tiny Ursa Major medallion forged by a silversmith in old Ketchum. That which she proudly displayed from her collar on special occasions.
The maple had tiny flowers blooming atop its crown in the springs. Not many make it here in this clime. The ones that do help visitors from Vermont feel more at home. No call came out over the scanner about jeweled butterflies chaining themselves to this tree, requiring security officers to go out with a net in Ketchum. Rather, in a minute of non-harmonic convergence, unthinking operators of intimidating engine power unceremoniously ripped out its heartwood with thrasher blades.
Magnificent magpies used to stage themselves strategically in the maple for table scraps from our cookouts. I, too, would stage blankets around its base, readying for late night shows from summer skies. Around its absorbing roots were planted heart- and Idaho-shaped rocks found throughout the ages -- these too now wiped for a clean slate.
The sweet sugar maple behind Ski View Lodge -- under which a full language developed between our dog and I. That which I would babble out next to the brook evenings, coming up with new nicknames for "Mooka-Palooka" every night. The language now deader than doornails sealing out highly defined streamed sounds from vacuous second homes.
Whose doormats will lie over the hallowed ground of our buried pets?
Was a frame carved from the Maplewood to hold up somebody's contract—sailing over a fractured renter's ship—on the wall behind a solid oak desk? Did somebody at least get to enjoy its luxuriant colors sparkling from a final fireplace? Or was I standing in the way of progress when a monster rig full of its captured pieces waited for me to limp displaced across the bridge to a new era? On its march to be tossed unseen into a remote incinerator—alongside rosebuds and vanities? Red-blooded leaves plucked fresh from the stream bank and branches stuffed into hoppers of untouchable money banks.
Will there be a historical plaque for the maple notched from its intelligent design? Or a few photos in faded albums around town? Maybe just an empty note for this weary hobo to sing, spiraling down memory lane, a tinhorn piping past the vortex nigh' the hollow stream?

~   ~   ~
Idaho Mountain Express
Wednesday, September 7, 2005

If you are looking for a long walk every day with not bad pay, maybe meter reading is the ticket. Generally, you get to spend a lot of peaceful time by yourself, plenty of reflecting space, unhindered by a bickering work crew. Dedicating yourself to simply reading meters all day can actually lead into a very ascetic lifestyle.
When a vault into the earth is uncovered, great mysteries lie inside. Neighborhood kids dash over and want to see. Newts and frogs; snakes, snails and polliwogs are all found in these tiny underground arenas. If the meter reader is not watching carefully, he may uncover a bee's nest. Most workers carry a medicine pouch within their toolkits.
Meter reading routes may be a hard road at first, but endurance soon builds up, as the man (or woman) becomes self-reliant. As he walks along, he strengthens his full character, all the way down to his stem cells. Striding along, his breathing becomes natural and he finds himself more plainspoken.
Directions and unusual questions are often posed to meter readers. Do the deer turn into elk at the same elevation rattlesnakes stop snapping? On what street did Hemingway kick the can? Having handy answers makes the job more enjoyable.
Dogs are a part of meter reading. Most bowsers are friendly and can read the meter reader's spirit with a high degree of accuracy. Many will let you enter their gated community to inspect the meter. It's getting out again that presents a problem, as pups craving companionship insist you stay and play.
Some meter readers get to thinking up fantastic ideas along the trail. They begin to carry a notepad alongside their number recorder and write down musings in a Thoreau-like manner. Even in cities, they see bits of nature, which many motorists blur by too fast to appreciate. Along the stream a few morel mushrooms for their pouch. A storytelling of crows over in that tamarack tree trying to change a chapter in an owl's life.
Meter readers of various utilities develop an eye for detail and take note of safety concerns that might otherwise go unnoticed. A dead tree branch leaning into a power line. The smell of gases somewhere or loose manholes in the street. This talent is not lost on Homeland Security officials who sometimes speak of enlisting meter readers to keep "an eye out" for all of us. However, most meter readers are not into this sort of thing. They could draft a map of the homes of stars if they wished, but they prefer to shine as more of a nameless Pale Rider-type of hero. Blending into the background, but emerging with more than speedy serendipity for the occasional good deed along their way.
Daydreams of meter readers include running a line of electricity up to Pioneer Cabin. Imagine the boss man wondering why only one meter was read this afternoon. Meter readers do have it tough here in the winter—trudging across the tundra. They truly appreciate it if you can keep a pathway clear around reading time. Keeping the snow off your roof, away from potentially sliding into your meter area, is helpful. A few years ago at the Gannett Fire Station, ice slid off the roof, breaking the gas pipe at the meter. The station house filled with gas and a thermostat clicked on—razing the whole building.
Customers must think those meter readers are as secretive as wolverines, so seldom seen are they. However, when they are detected it's nice to give them a high howdy and a thank you. They will likely remember that for a long time. During my years of meter reading there were only a handful of times when thanks was given, but it always brightened my day. Almost as much as the aurora brightens my paper route now. Of course, back then it was thin trails of sanity inside the craziness of the Beltway. Certainly, the energy is better on the grids out here—this being a high-radiation area notwithstanding.
Alas, many aspects of meter reading are changing rapidly along with the rest of the world. With the advent of the GPS receiver, probing rods and older methods of tie-down measurements are less often required to help locate meters buried by leaves or grass. Remote registers and telemetry are phasing out some routes. So if your dog seems a tad more lonesome, it could be that he didn't get his monthly belly rub and a pat on the head from your friendly neighborhood meter reader.

Letter to Times News
November 12, 2009

Suddenly, we are under a push to switch over to “smart-grid” power metering.
On the surface, this technology holds vast potential: It could inspire many of us to conserve precious energy, and some Idaho communities are already doing this. However, we would be wise to ensure that these smart systems are highly hacker resistant, before wider-scale implementation.
For instance, imagine an enemy breaking into the grid to shut down the full configuration and potentially causing long-term damage to power lines, substations and home electrical systems. This is not farfetched, as nefarious hackers have already infected various financial institutions, global security systems and millions of personal computers. Smart-grid meters are equally susceptible to these types of online attacks.
As we use them more broadly, smart-grid power systems will likely edge up higher on the list of hacker targets. As this happens, leading members of our Idaho Public Utilities Commission would do well to take their oversight roles seriously on this important issue. It would be refreshing to hear our utility commissioners require Idaho Power to pass a wide array of ongoing security tests before granting statewide approval.
Otherwise, our too-clever-by-half, super-reliance on technology might reveal that the wisest owls in Idaho are those who thrive way up yonder in the piney-wood in smart-looking cabins, simply chopping firewood and carrying water, utterly off the wavering grid.


June 30, 2011 12:00 am
As a former meter reader I find it regretful to see that numerous utility companies are phasing out these important jobs. Traditionally an entry level avocation, many career gas, power and water personnel began initially as meter readers, learning the ropes of their trades by inspecting every corner of the system, and getting to know the grids as well as the back of their hands. Meter readers often walk 8-12 miles a day.
While on foot they usually see much more than car-bound employees do, sometimes noticing crucial infrastructure issues, such as a service box or sewer top caving in, dead tree branches leaning against power lines, or a strong scent of gas emanating from the street. By eliminating these key jobs, our utility companies will no longer have these warriors watching out for us in such close ways.
Not only that, but with the sudden push to “smart grid” metering, our Idaho Public Utility commissioners would be wise to ensure that these new systems are highly hacker-resistant, before full implementation. For instance, imagine an enemy breaking into the grid to shut down the complete configuration, causing long-term damage to power lines, substations and even home electrical systems. This is not far-fetched, as nefarious hackers have already infected various financial institutions, global security systems and millions of personal computers. Unlike old style meters, smart grid meters are susceptible to online attacks. Recently, precocious and prolific blogger Ran Prieur made a related observation, “Did pirates have to protect their wooden legs from cyber attack? Do slide rules get viruses? No! But medical implants are now on the same path as Microsoft Windows and the tech system as a whole: adding more complexity, and creating more openings for failure, which can be patched only with more complexity at greater expense.”

Letter to Mountain Express
Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I gave a hearty laugh when stepping out of the shower recently; the electricity went off and I discovered that an Idaho Power representative had swiftly switched out my electric meter for a supposedly smarter one. The quandary was that nobody had knocked on my door to inform me, as the company had promised in its widely mailed, sleek, glossy brochure.
And it's too bad that this simple discourteous oversight happened, because, as a former meter reader myself, I was positively looking forward to a healthy face-to-face discussion with the rep. I had planned on asking the experienced tradesman questions such as: What happens to those who want to opt out of their new forceful system? And what do they say to those who don't desire a higher level of complexity?
Perusing the brochure closer, I saw that Idaho Power assures that these up-to-the-minute smart meters are secure. And I agree that they are well over 99 percent secure. The problem is that the old-style meters were 100 percent hacker proof. Nobody had remotely penetrated even one, nor ever could.
I wonder if I'll laugh nearly as much when we see this next secure promise broken.

Letter to Mountain Express
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Dec. 22 Mountain Express news update reported the swift completion of Idaho Power's smart meter installation, saying: "Idaho Power touted the cost savings and energy savings that have resulted from the initiative, including eliminating 80 vehicles from its fleet, saving on fuel and maintenance costs because employees are no longer driving 1.6 million miles per year to read meters, and eliminating access issues like locked gates and protective dogs." Yet, mere weeks later, the power company is raising its monthly customer service charge from $4 dollars to $5--a 25 percent increase! What type of savings is that?
This is not the first time in recent history that Idaho Power has slipped on a promise. You might recall the sleek glossy brochure it mailed when it first began implementing the smart meter switchover—it assured customers that service workers would notify them with a knock on the door. Comparing my own less-than-satisfactory experience on this with that of various neighbors indicates that this simple courtesy often did not happen.
Some folks across the heartland are speculating that these new meters are emitting overly powerful amounts of microwave radiation. However, an Idaho Power representative told the Express that our local brand of smart meter transmits personal information over the power lines only. I suppose that I can believe that for now. However, with the previous company overstatements in mind, I would be interested in learning more about how this really works.
Meanwhile, the same neighbors I talked with earlier are now joking some that Idaho Power installed a Men-in-Black-like zapper into these innovative meters in the hope of making consumers forget the grand savings that they promised us.
Times-News, Friday, February 26, 2010

Although I frequently find myself leaning agnostic, at the same time I enjoy embracing mysteries, and during Christmas, take pleasure in adorning my tumbledown shack with a few festive lights to celebrate the great unknown. 

As with most years, this season, before the great snowstorms blew in; I devotedly laid out some red and green spotlights, aiming them strategically high, onto the front yard’s towering pines. Then I flipped the switch on to illuminate the evergreens, for passerby to enjoy during divine twilight hours. I figured this would raise the power bill; but also, at least gain onlookers some imagn’d fleeting joy, as they passed by the modest shack. One merry passerby even remarked that he enjoyed watching the colored lights dance as they kissed the swaying treetops, while the canyon’s moderate winds blessed the sparkly evenings. Then he kindly reminded me that in some indigenous circles, they call the gift of wind, “The Breath of God” or The Spirit that runs through all things. 
When the monthly power bill arrived, it shocked me a bit to discover it cost thirty percent more than previous Christmas’s. Then; I felt as if part of a mystery was cracked: When a Idaho Power spokesman recently visited, to proclaim that “Wind itself just isn’t here;” perhaps afterward; as he embarked on evening tours around our tranquil valley; enjoying every illuminating light, he held dear, an inner joy that those holiday lamps, translated into 30% higher shimmering corporate profits. 
Even though he worshiped a lesser ideal, where, up ‘till recently, it’s been strict company policy to deny wind and much of what it freely offers; I still wish him Godspeed, while March roars in swiftly, like a turbulent lion. 



May 10, 2006
Idaho Mountain Express
I stumbled into a pal recently, who pointed out that some babes would try to tell you that they just do not like the Three Stooges. These gals think that the only times those mugs put "the ladies" up on a pedestal is when they've accidentally released mice into a room. I say, "Don't mind that lamebrain calling you babe, toots, you just ain't watched enough episodes yet." Call me a knucklehead, but I have seen repeatedly girls claiming to be anti-Stooge, improve their outlook on life with proper indoctrinations from Drs. Howard & Fine.
A recently converted Stooges aficionado is my friend Laura. She had adamantly claimed that there was nothing likeable about those ignoramuses. Then one day a swayback horse episode came on TV. Being a lifelong equestrian, this lassoed her attention. The three best jockeys were all hanging on to the same horse for dear life—wildly galloping in fast-motion circles, around a 1920s arena. A smiley creak emanating from Laura's lips soon sprung into convulsing laughter, resulting in a strata-stupefying conversion of her attitude towards the Stooges.
I met another gal in town who works at a store selling music and DVDs. She is a recent transplant from the south of France and has barely heard of Stooges high-jinx. What in the world ever made the French want to filter out Stooges from America? They adore Jerry Lewis, but don't know about Moe? Fancying myself a professor of happiness, I demonstrated some nifty tricks with my fists, explaining how they knock each other about until reaching a "poirfect" head-conking epiphany. After tossing in a few nyuck-nyucks, she too showed a slight hint of amusement. Determining that she was not one of those "do not call me a chick" chicks, I felt an HDTV ray of hope towards her future enjoyment of being floored from hilarious whirling Curleys.
There have been volumes scribed about the convincing healing power of comedy. Grief-stricken folks who have lost a loved one—some who have not laughed for a year or more are sometimes gently brought back into a more bearable world with help from the good turpentine of Stooge-like slapstick. If more shows of this nature illuminated in world theatres, perhaps opposing parties could lay down their weary arms, relax their knuckles and share a few hardy chuckles. We might even learn that to lob unordered cream pies into each other's faces only makes for a horrifying mess to mop up.
Cartoonists and comedians sometimes jangle keys to powerful vehicles of peace without even realizing it. Just as the unique beacons of enlightenment that poets, artists and athletes valiantly race with, it will be a bumpy, jalopy ride down robotic frontiers before ethereally bolted lunkheads could ever match the true staying power of the original Stooges. If the Stooges could come back, how hard would they laugh at the Random Joke Generators of today? Would they guffaw with me for being silly enough to think that they would laugh at my antics?
Recently the Farrelly Brothers (of Dumb & Dumber fame) and 20th Century Fox held some positive negotiations, enabling a new Three Stooges film to come one step closer to eye-popping reality. Some of their script was refined a few summers ago here in the serious writing atmosphere of Sun Valley, including rehearsals of an operation on a nun using an electric toothbrush and vacuum cleaner in one of the Lodge rooms. A rib-tickling scene develops with the discovery of a wishbone inside the semi-conscious nun. This ensues in a wrassling match over the examination table to break off the largest piece for good luck.
This is not the first connection to Idaho in Stooges history. Their last actual film was "Kooks' Tour," made in the Montana and Idaho wilderness in 1970.
Local stores in Idaho that rent or sell CDs and DVDs can special order you hot towels full of Stooges episodes. I hope that this column has corralled potential converts, to sway back some horse sense for the French chickie-baby. When she travels back to Stooge-starved France, she can start encouraging her sphere of the world to stop, look and listen to the profundity from the simple-minded good words and deeds of these three wise guys. Perhaps even the authoritative judgie-wudgies that oversee Medecins sans Frontieres will start recommending, "Take two Stooge DVDs and call me in the morning."
Dedicated to Mattie 'Dudeges' Mckenzie -- Idaho's best Curley impersonator.


The Weekly Paper - Summer of 2011

A friend spied some rattlers skulking around out Croy Canyon recently, and she asked me if she should go to Hailey’s St. Luke’s clinic for treatment, in the event that one was to strike out and bite her. In short, the answer is no, because the Hailey clinic is no longer an Urgent Care facility, and does not stock antivenin. However, St. Lukes Hospital a few miles south of Ketchum does carry rattlesnake antivenin and has treatment available at all hours.

When traveling in the backcountry, far from hospitals, it’s a good idea to pack a first aid kit, and perhaps a snake-bite kit. A key point to remember when a snake sinks its fangs into you or a friend (or Man’s best friend) is to not panic or run, because an increased heart rate will speed the flow of venom in the circulatory system. Try to calm down and stay hydrated, but do get far enough from the snake so it won’t try to bite again. It’s important to identify the snake if possible, but use common sense and don’t try to catch the snake! Even if it is not a poisonous snake, you should cleanse the wound thoroughly, using warm water and antiseptic soap, before applying a snug dressing held by an elastic bandage. If feasible, carry the victim to the nearest available vehicle, before transporting him or her to the ambulance or hospital.  If a rattlesnake bites you and you opt to drive to the hospital, rather than taking an ambulance; you would do well to call ahead, to tell them you are on the way, so staff can begin making preparations for your treatment.

Occasionally some hardy westerners try to “cowboy up” after receiving snake bites, telling themselves that it’s not so bad, and they forgo any treatment. Later some come to regret this, as the area where they were bit, succumbs to a large amount of permanent tissue damage. Not only that, but since snakes subsist mainly on rodents, even non-poisonous snakes carry loads of filthy bacteria in their mouths; which with fang-bites can lead to terrible infections.

Some other key points to remember are: Do not apply ice to the bite wound. This will not slow the venom flow. Also, do not use your mouth to suck out the venom. The accepted wisdom used to be to use a snake-bite kit to suction out the venom, but lately that’s been up for debate. Remove jewelry and other items which may constrict with swelling.  A few years ago, a friend exploring in the remote Owyhee Desert had a rattlesnake bite his dog in the head, which started swelling to the point where he had to snip off his collar, before they could reach the vet.

Some vital prevention tips regarding snakes are:
Snakes like to avoid the hot sun, by hiding under rocks or in crevasses. Stay away from reaching in there. When camping, zip up your tent the whole way, to keep snakes from squiggling in. Shake out shoes and clothes before dressing. Be a noisy walker to scare snakes away.

Local lore has it that rattlesnakes are seldom seen above 5,500 feet. Although this may be a good rule of thumb, it’s not absolutely true, as snakes do not have altimeters built into their brains and depending on climate conditions, sometimes creep upwards to 7,000 feet and higher. Snakes sometimes seem to favor old abandoned mining operations.

Much of this has been covered before in local newspapers, but it’s helpful to remind folks to be serpent-wary, with the plentiful amount of outdoorsy types constantly exploring here, during our high snake season.


I read with great interest about a qualitative study which indicates that given a hypothetical choice, more than half of today’s youth would prefer to give up their sense of smell rather than live without their social networks.
I’m curious as to how this poll was conducted because instead of giving an instant answer to such a significant dilemma, this strikes me as the type of quandary, albeit theoretical, that one should mull over wisely for a few days before giving it a final answer.
Take, for instance, the importance of being able to smell a fire or a gas leak before it builds up into an explosive nature. And what about spoiled food, with our smart noses ready to save us from sickness or worse? If we went noseless, wouldn’t most of us miss the simple pleasures and familiarity of distinctive aromas emanating from friends and beloved ones? Smell is the sense most closely connected with our memories. When we take a healthy walk through the woods on a snowy evening feeling powerfully connected to nature, it’s a great nostalgic joy to sniff somebody’s fireplace blazing in the misty distance, which reminds us deeply of other golden times.
With this in mind, I wonder if they thought it over a bit more if today’s younger generation would truly rather give up their good sense of smell and prefer to paint rosy Facebook pictures? Perhaps I’m a nosy old Luddite, but I still find it startling and smell something sour when I see how many of our youth believe social networks are the greatest thing ever invented even topping the fresh fragrance of warm sliced bread.

Fall Church News Press

As we know, our latest social networks like most tools can be used for good and / or nefarious purposes. Facebook has a popular application, which invites groups to social events, and then asks if you will be participating.
A problem with this, is, the second you’ve confirmed that you intend to be present at some special event; you may have alerted a miscreant that your house will be unattended for some time.
When many travelers leave for vacation they take simple precautions such as locking doors and windows, securing burglar alarms, adjusting lights with timers, and canceling newspaper and postal delivery. It may not have occurred to some of these same wise souls that by advertising the fact they will be gone, they’ve taken the guesswork away from potential robbers.
We haven’t reached the age yet, where it’s become unstylish to send old fashioned R.S.V.P.’s via mail or over the phone. Depending on your circumstances, it might be wise to hesitate confirming through an online social network easily penetrated by strangers that you plan to be away from your house for an extended period.

Ancient Hoarders Disease

From Wikipedia:
“In  Tolkien’s The Hobbit the dragon Smaug was intimately familiar with every last item within his hoard, and instantly noticed the theft of a relatively inconsequential cup by Bilbo Baggins. According to Tolkien, his rage was the kind which "is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy lose something they have long had but never before used or wanted." This theft of a cup, Smaug's knowledge of every item in the hoard, and the dragon's ensuing rampage all echo the story of Beowulf, on which Tolkien was a noted expert and which he described as one of his "most valued sources" for The Hobbit.[1] 

The Times News (Twin Falls)
Author: Jim Banholzer
Letter to the editor: Use common sense when it comes to slick winter roads

TWIN FALLS - A few storms ago while walking along Highway 75 in front of the Hailey post office, the driver of a big rig slid across the ice and into my intended path. Fortunately, I was heads up and quickly jumped out the way from where the truck sledded. His was an honest mistake, albeit a near injurious one.

My first instinct was to call the city or state - whoever it is that maintains that stretch of road. Then I flashed back to my own snowplowing days in Virginia. Inside the slippery beltway, we had snowplows around one-third the size of Idaho's. There the temperatures fluctuated around freezing, often resulting in treacherous roads.

After walking away unscathed from the Highway 75 near-hit, I reminisced upon an incident when the Falls Church mayor poked outside for a second. Walking down icy Maple Street to Anthony's Pizza, he radioed our street superintendent about how the town core roads were too slick.

We laborers promptly stepped to fetch our tools and migrated over to Maple Street with a generous showering of sand, salt and flailing ice picks. Little did the mayor know that we had dropped our diligent snow removal efforts from various avenues of town to heed this new call of top precedence. In reality, his call impeded the city's overall progress.

Cautiously sliding a few more blocks to Hailey's Hitchrack, I could see it was slippery on virtually every street this wintry day. Other signs made it clear that the dedicated workers had been burning the midnight oil to churn out gallant snow removal efforts throughout our great town. Therefore, I hesitated to make that same call the mayor made 15 winters ago which resulted in more delays than it did help.

Citizens have to understand that city workers (and contractors) are doing their utmost to keep up. Icy makes it dicey and not nicey everywhere you go. Use common sense and establish eye contact with drivers before crossing roads. Don't let your brain freeze and remain aware of your surroundings while ambulating around monster rigs that spin along Slideway 75.

From the Max Rudolph saga
The Weekly Paper

(Part one)
It was interesting to hear last week about Amy’s uplifting dream of us flying together over Hailey’s 4th of July Fireworks, because I had a similarly powerful dream regarding sweet Amy back at our old Petit Lake family cabin. I haven’t been up to Petit for ten years, but recently went on Google Maps and flew around the woodsy neighborhood a bit. Something, I’ve always admired about my father, Rainier Rudolph; is that whenever he bought a house, it was always adjacent to some woods, giving us young rapscallions a healthy place to scamper around to release our energy.
* In the dream, I awoke on Saturday daybreak and went outside, barefoot in red pajamas to collect an Idaho Statesman from our snowy driveway. In reality, we lived on the sleepy dead end, but in the dream, cars could now connect into the forest. In fact, it was a bustling thoroughfare now; for some elaborate racecars were speeding into the hilly woods up to Alice Lake, and one or two old jalopies were pulling out to return to civilization. Even though it was snowy, I was excited to be back, and to show Amy my treasured childhood summer home. We thought we should take an encompassing stroll around the Lake, while waiting for the newspaper. So, still barefoot, we walked east, to see several children shouting with squeals of glee, preparing to sleigh down our cabin hill. It was a magnificent morning for sledding, and we trudged up the knoll a way, to be closer to the enjoyment. Halfway to the pinnacle, the children easily maneuvered around us, in figure-eight on their toy-sleds. While we reached the top, we saw several more houses. The furthest yard was filled with dozens of other children, enjoying some festive event. The first few modern homes were quiet and dim, but the ancient house was where the action was. As we approached, we saw a great cauldron of stew boiling over a pit in the front yard, while the happy children continued to dart about, every which-way. It was a four-story grey house, and I tried to picture it from my past. I remembered it being an old house, even back when I was young. Then in the hub of activity, we spied the property owner. She was somebody, I knew from decades ago, but she hadn’t aged much. She had some wild grey curly hair around the fringes of her head, and everyone there respected her with high regard. Trying to be polite, I asked in a curious voice, above the merry din, “How old is this house?” She was elusive with her answer, but smiled, and then kindly but sternly, grabbed me around the forearms, saying, “I remember your kind Max; I had to straighten you and your brother out a few times, from some of the trouble you caused out here in the woods!” I thought that this wasn’t necessarily true, but perhaps there was a small element to what she spoke. We briefly conversed some more, then I asked what her name was. She spoke a name so peculiar that I knew instantly Amy and I would be incapable of remembering it.
To be continued…

(Part Two)
It was as if the strange woman had cast a spell upon her obscure name, rendering it impossible to recollect, although, I do remember her long singular name had four “i’s” in it. She released us and we trotted a little further down the wet and rocky Petit Lake trail. As the snow melted in the late morning forest sun, I came upon two more houses that I remembered from childhood: the last one an old blue Victorian, facing Toxaway Loop. I vaguely recalled some sort of strange happenings there too, but couldn’t penetrate the decades-old memories to put my finger on it yet. *
Suddenly, as I spun around in the wet mud, I realized that I was able to fly again. I grabbed a hold of Amy and we flew feet-first with our bare toes sticking out straight ahead of us. Remarkably, the fact that we were able to fly felt quite natural, as it usually does with such triumphant flying dreams. This incubated a thought that I would like to twist our bodies to face forward and fly like Superman and Superwoman to show the Petit-Lakeians what their prodigal son had learned, while gone ten years on vast Indiana Jones adventures. They will love this! -I thought in a powerful inner celebration, and they will talk about it for decades! The plan was for Amy and me to float slow-motion past the children’s clamor and their holiday cauldron, while giving them the broadest smiles we could possibly manage. However, when we tried to spin about, to fly face-first like Superheroes, something went off kilter with our inner gyroscopes. A queer anti-gravity force led us to a higher altitude, and unexpectedly we were soaring in fast motion clouds, directly behind four space pilots and four astronauts. Those high-flyers were all relying on spacesuits and other backup technologies, so we laughed at them, as we took wing on mind-power alone! It all felt quite fearless, but for some reason, Amy and I were unable to switch our inner gears back down to earth, no matter how hard we tried. Then finally Amy showed me the secret – that is, we could regulate our altitude by taking deep breaths, just like with scuba diving in Petit Lake.
* Abruptly awakening to present day reality, I lay there motionless for several minutes, lightly buzzing about the powerful flying dream. Then, as the dreamscape partially melted, it occurred to me that those uncanny houses in the woods were never actually there, but rather had been places imagn’d from childhood dreams. Vivid places I occasionally revisited over the decades, where many events had taken shape and form – enough to record a small history deep in my subconscious. These made me wonder if this all was merely in my mind, or are our minds potentially more powerful than what our instructors taught, in earlier schools of thought? When we dream, do we somehow mysteriously connect to otherworldly dimensions, where ongoing ethereal events persist in parallel fashions?
* Then I realized that I had been sleeping on a sofa with a cushion that Amy had specially embroidered for me. She emblazoned it with some cute animals, most notably some pink rabbits dancing on the pillow, which had been pressing softly against my dreamy head…
~ About the author: Once in the middle of an incredibly lucid dream the author tried to leave a phone voicemail to the waking world. He strongly felt like it went through, but when he awoke to check his messages he was surprised to find massive nothingness.

The prodigal son returns home

(Final version for May 19 edition of The Weekly Paper)

As our search for hidden treasure continued around the parched Clarksville ranch, we didn’t unearth any notables that first day, or the next. Soon, it was going to be time to hightail it back to the Wood River Valley and I didn’t want to return empty-handed. We were low on water and beer anyway, so for the last evening, my friends and I returned to the hoppin’ Red House bar.

Aaron picked up an old menu from the dusty table at the entrance. Why they had menus, I had no clue, because they only served burgers and beer. The atmosphere of the place could have used a “Sorry, we’re open” sign, too. Why, Dugout Dick’s caves in Salmon offered a more comfortable ambiance than here. Suddenly, I noticed on the reverse of Aaron’s menu some familiar handwriting – the same quirky handwriting style from the puzzling map we had quizzed over for days. At the bottom of the Red House bar menu, barely legible, was scrawled in green ink smudges: “Look in Arson Crick –signed Clark.” That was our answer! As usual, Clark was speaking to us through cipher and now he had left us another beyond-the-grave clue. From our long cryptic talks together, Clark knew that I had acquired a taste for snappy anagrams, as well as spicy hamburgers, in my worldly travels. I’m sure he chuckled as he calculated that I would eventually come across his clue at the Red House, Nevada bar. “Look in Arson Crick” was an anagram for “Look in Rock Cairns!”
After re-supplying some liquid provisions, we sped back to Clarksville and held my metal detector against the heart of first cairn we approached. When I set the sensor to silver, the gauge went haywire, so I flicked it off and we carefully stripped the balanced rocks down to their foundations. Inside each jagged cairn, Clark, or some cooper, had sealed hundreds of uncirculated Liberty Dollars into dozens of cork casks. We were going to need to hire a couple of Nevadan pantechnicons to safely extract this shimmering coinage before transporting it northward. I rang Amy, who was pet-sitting Bud and Tweet; and with a silver smile, explained I was going to be a few days late and that I had a grand secret. I then asked if she could make arrangements for an overnight field trip for the schoolchildren. Amy and I wanted to show them a mating ritual, in part to celebrate my newfound wealth. This was the perfect time of year to see the male sage grouse strut their stuff near Trapezoid Lake, then afterward, we would all ambulate over to Chalk Cave, where, although I had some definitive ideas about how to transform my newfound wealth into dynamic action with that land near the new airport, I was curious to ask the children that I had taught all year for their constructive ideas. This special cave would make the ideal backdrop.
About the author: He enjoys fiction, and sometimes is astounded when discovering that some of the characters there grow to become more three-dimensional than many real people do.

Look in Arson Crick anagrams

Rearranging the letters of 'Look in Arson Crick' gives:
Look in rock cairns.
(by Max Rudolph) (2010) (pending approval)

More introspective bears

 Idaho Mountain Express
January 15, 2006
Every irrigator had seen the bear except for me. Certainly, the bear got close enough to notice me, though—judging by the freshness and frequency of her footprints sunk into soft putting greens on the edge of the national forest. Mornings and evenings as I pulled along hoses and changed out sprinkler heads, there were always crepuscular activities of the natural world to see.
I think that the bear avoided me because this was when Maddie had first adopted me as one of her humans. An Australian sheepdog pup that was somewhat skittish at first, she soon bloomed into a young adult with a full life having command of nine holes of open space every evening. Occasionally a fox would appear initiating a back and forth game of chase with Maddie—neither one ever quite tagging. Sometimes their exchange would ebb and flow all across the lower fairways, as I scooted over on the work cart to check water-pressure levels spraying on the upper ends.
Maddie-Lou was fast; I clocked her at 28 mph from the cart. However, the fox, with a seemingly sly smile, knew it could always leave her behind. I later read how foxes and coyotes can outrun wolves. They have to.
The bear would still come down, though, especially on Tuesday nights when we were off work to deliver newspapers. Though the Dumpster at the restaurant was now bear-proof, it was still on her route for possible drippings or nearby grease. Who could blame her either? Evenings, as we worked, mesmerizing scents of exotic glazed meats wafted over the drinking grass and up the hill to her caves. How could this creature with a sense of smell so powerful that she could find a mountain goat buried underneath 12 feet of snow, resist coming down?
Before the Dumpster upgrade there was a long tradition of watching bears feed from it. Photos exist of the mama bear tossing her cubs into the trash receptacle, teaching them how to garner table scraps. The Simpsons—owners of the golf course—told me that the night of the great switchover, the Ursa had a major conniption fit. She showed the neighborhood how upset she was by swatting down every trashcan in a three-block perimeter. I later heard (while sipping water) in the Warm Springs bar that she busted up a pie cabinet to boot. One late spring when there was less of a concern of the morning holding a frost delay, Koss, the greens keeper, was staring up at a cottonwood tree. By the first tee-box, a scattering of baby ducks was scurrying about. As I approached, their number kept increasing. Fifty feet up, the mother merganser was nosing babies out of the nest every few seconds. It was time to roll on down the river. She tried to organize 17 rookie waddlers as they lickity-split into two groups. The first group was off in the quick creek in a matter of minutes. She returned with an incredible gathering effort to herd the second group into the water, to follow not too far behind the ones floating fast away. We stood close enough to see on her face that she was one stressed out mother.
Another spring, we were raking up from where elk had wintered in abundance. A tree squirrel chattered at us from above the No. 9 tee. It piqued Maddie's interest enough that she started barking at it. I had never heard her bark in the year that we had been acquainted. Now a squirrel was helping her emerge from her shell. The little Heeler heeled thanks to the good nature of the golf course environment. However, some—especially meter readers—were not as enthusiastic about her newfound yips.
As autumn quaked on, the water intake area needed to be checked frequently to keep aspen leaves from clogging the diversion. Often a kingfisher would have been heard and then seen cruising along here. Once, some horses jumped the fence to inspect this greener pasture, but found the grass too short for their taste. Evenings, a great horned owl would hoot towards the restaurant, "Who cooks for you—oh!"
Though I had not actually seen any bears, only encountering them in smaller ways, others from the animal kingdom I had watched using the course after hours included: Gentle Mourning Doves, Wily Weasels, Rascally Rabbits, Benevolent Bunnies, Earthly Eagles, Hellacious Hawks, Bluebirds of Happiness, Terrific Tortoises, Craptacular Crows, Wistful Woodpeckers, Busy Buzzards, Ravenous Ravens, Mellifluous Magpies, Ominous Ouzels, Persnickety Porcupines, Sentient Slithering Snakes, Chiparoo Chipmunks, Elf-like Mice, Cozy Caterpillars, Docile Deer and Pink-tipped Mink. Oh, and possum. Once a sandhill crane even stopped in for a gander.
Some mornings if you crept quietly around the corner of the shop, you could spy a river otter camped out for easy pickings from the majestic trout pond. This was always a treat and if you have never seen these playful creatures enjoying winter sports, it is a place you "oughter" check out. So, after enjoying the powerful scents from an exotic dinner, stand and observe from the Warm Springs deck, before slyly smiling attorneys finish a final round of elk and this tiny island teeming with wildlife turns into mulligan stew.


Welcome back Warm Springs wapiti.
An open letter to golf course elk: Though we extracted some of your brethren one cold-blooded spring, penning them into traps, we've spotted more of you on the same sunny ridge where your iconic ancestors stood proud for millennia. It's refreshing to see you back, basking in the brightness, quietly observing us bipeds.
When we corralled your statuesque cousins 40 moons ago, one cow leapt over the moonlit fence and landed with a soft powder flop, before bolting up the ridge like dark crimson lightning.
High plains drifters occasionally whisper about her legendary feat, and wonder if you honor her in a secret language we cannot yet penetrate.
Your tracks wisp in the brilliant sky, swirling like haiku in horse latitude mists. Tread lightly around the wooded upland avalanche menace. When you secrete into town under cover of dark to engage in esoteric animal games on the golf course, beware of cellar snares as you slip between beverage trucks and insomniac deliverymen. Group well at canines edge as you stretch; playfully sharing the links to nature, with perfect bird flocks, courageous cougars, awakening bears and the occasional wandering Wood River wolverine.
Though your long-term future holds some uncertainly, I break into smile for now, spying you wildly alive on the high hill.





Wood River Journal, Hailey, Idaho
Looking for a break from the cold, I curled underneath my baby’s stove in her soul kitchen. As Ursa Major ascended over Queen’s Crown and shone through a brittle windowpane a hypnagogic reverie fluttered through my comatose state:

A King perched high above worldly problems laid aside his bubble swatter in the ivory tower and descended to a secret room beneath the magic reservoir moat. Through a
flat screen-changing mirror, he gazed upon happenings of the Realm, witnessing Twilight episodes of good commoners securing the homeland:

A resort director busing tables made certain that nothing went to waste. The President of a dozen banks polished off her pennies and placed them in a Leadville copper basin. An airline executive dashed across the ice to help unload a cargo full of skis. An attorney and his insurance executive shoveled snow off an elderly lady’s roof during their lunch break.

The king rubbed his eyes in disbelief and adjusted the plasmatic monitor, smacking it with the bubble stick, but it continued to spin out solid axis of good scenes; an architect switched out a burned out bulb above blood alley. An editor boiled up a vat of ink for kid’s crayons of mass creation, which they used to draw stick figures of critical thinkers. A hospital administrator concocted a headache formula from willow branches to heal his grandma’s aches. Two babies with intertwined arms looked up at him and smiled.

The king hailed a
peaceful Prince to adjust the string on the back of the mirror. Everything looked normal, and the show continued; during school hours, around a children’s courtyard
Campfire a superintendent fervently sang folk tales filtered through thousands of earth revolutions. A solar powered commander swooped down on golden gossamer wings and swapped out five cents for an Ice cave Geocache arrow point. A statuesque eagle flew out with the sparkly coined buffalo to decorate his mate’s nest. A basketball coach drew a small harp from his feather cap to accompany a stammering young singer through an angelic anthem. The head of the Federal Reserve wheeled some ticker tape out to the recycle bin for a parade honoring a time of peace. A frog on a demonstrator’s shoulder looked up at him riveted. A postmaster trumpeted first-class news through her window box. It was about nine linemen for the county, who leapt like lords up windmill poles, tossing electrified nunchucks across serpentine rivers to save naïve ginger bakers from wolves. Sagging downstream a water master lent a hand re-digging a caved-in hot pool. Beneath where Rainbows Bend, the owner of a hard rock mine handed out rubdown vouchers to his grizzled laborers. The same twilight, two lovers smashed evil atoms into oblivion on the dance floor.

The king wished for some of that disarming headache concoction. He did not understand. Could a culture of happiness weaving straw into gold transcend more than pretend? The extraordinary circumstances continued on all channels: A cable TV installer got a hoot out of nursing a great horned owl back into flight. An admiral played some Mussorsky
lightly over the sonar, tickling the narwhal’s delight. A thoroughbred greeted the tanner as a liberator -when he whispered -the whip was shred. A port for ships of the sky flew off to a safer place and a healing clinic slapped in its stead.
Affordable shelters rolled into town. A stonemason formed Idaho rocks in their solid ground. He flew from a land Hemingway
knew, where leaders open dialogues with subjects, not just an elite few. During disasters, their chieftain dirtied his hands well, as he helped commandeer survival objects for all.

A Peace Train steaming with vitamins served organic vegetables grown along its line. Nutritious music piped in from the man deflecting polluted qui-cksilver proposals over lumps of coal facing stalking flames. Back in the secret chamber, five star errant knights diplomatically scribed “peace seeking missives”, burning midnight ethanol through wee hours.

 The king rose up his winding staircase to retire, treading lightly without popping any bubbles. From outward appearances, the castle’s perimeter looked unimpeachably secure and to make sure, guards hoisted drawbridge chains up from the enchanted moor. As this happened, my baby’s oven squeaked open -awakening me from this feverish illusion. The chill spell broke with Sol's rise, chopping balmy clouds behind blinding windmills.
Ursa Minor transmogrified flesh & fur as a Cinnamon Bear, lighting in beyond human through the dog’s wide door.
 not me
Famished from his Sheepeater hibernation, we shared a spell sizzled rye biscuits 'round the hearth, he fresh from fantastic dreams of swatting fish and dashing through streams unfettered from mercury reflection.

Part Two

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