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French Creek: A Lost Drainage

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French Creek was almost completely burned, a 90,000 acre wilderness. How would it be rehabilitated? Continue reading

Hiking to Buckhorn Mountain Lake

The summer solstice is the day that provides the most light to walk-by every year. Rising at dawn east of easterly and falling west of westerly, the sun shines directly overhead at noon and falls, seemingly rolled by gentle gravity, into brief hours of darkness around 11pm to 5 am. The summer solstice was never the best day to travel in the high country of Idaho because it also tends to be the day with the most snow melting–rivers and creeks are running high, weather is unsettled and warmth is just catching up with the long cold darkness of winter. It is usually a fiery day that bring a smile to every face, but sunlight is slow to warm the earth, but like scalding water poured on an ice block, the snow goes quickly once the melt begins. The warmth speeds its effect exponentially as summer progresses. For that reason I planned to do my solstice hike a month later than the solstice, in July, having learned that lesson in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

I guess I shouldn’t call it a solstice hike. But I’d learned from previous solstice trips that July might be the better time to hike in these mountains. Actually, I knew that this plan would be a good one as it responded to my former girlfriends’ concerns about making poor decisions on my solstice hikes. It was the proper and reasonable response to many difficulties resulting from those fine, scary, fun, and mostly unexplainable hikes which usually ended up with a shrug of my shoulders when asked why I went. “Not really sure why, Sue” never seemed an adequate answer. However, I learned that there is never an adequate answer to the why’s in life. I could’ve made plans to walk in snow-free lands or flatter places but, nah, why? After all, I wasn’t planning to climb a Douglas fir tree in hurricane winds to test my mettle, like some latter day John Muir. I could simply move to Boise, I suppose.

I started out at Boulder Meadows Reservoir, hiked up to Boulder Lake, and on between Buckhorn Summit and Buckhorn Mountain, over the lowest pass, at 8,159 feet elevation.  I saw no snow in this dry year and worked up and down across a steep, handsome, rugged scree slope over towards Buckhorn Mountain Lake several miles distant. For a short hike it sure seemed long and after hiking up 500 vertical feet I looked over a view point and recognized that I had to descend 500 feet and another 500 down to get into a valley between where I now stood and what should be Buckhorn Mountain Lake. I didn’t see the lake but I knew it was beyond yon ridge looking about twice removed from hideously far. I’m not saying that 1,000 or 1,500 vertical feet is all that much to climb, but I’ll admit to a vague form of intense disappointment and will deny that age has one single thing to do about it. But my, oh, my, it seemed like a long, hard trek that stood before me.  I sat down and groaned, ate from a bag of miserably wet raisons and peanuts, moaned about having to give up more elevation than I had gained and, worst of all, I would have to gain that same elevation a second time to be at the freakin’ lake.

Reluctantly, eventually, slowly, I took the plunge, limping slightly as a reminder to enjoy my self-pity. Oddly, the down portion became the hardest part of the trip, well until I had to go back up, because it pounded my toes but I was in bliss when I crossed a meadow full of wildflowers all, it seemed, in full glorious bloom. Water squished up with every step. I took a cool drink from the meandering creek and headed uphill again to get closer to this distant, ethereal, beckoning, and entirely theoretical mystical lake above me. Was it a pretty trip? Sure it was! Pretty painful.

I soldiered on. There was hardly a sign that people had ever visited Buckhorn Mountain Lake when I lumbered up to it but the fishing was superb and the scenery inspired my mind. It’s a small lake, maybe 10 acres but very deep, and every fish I caught was roughly 16 inches, rainbows that weighed at least a fat pound. They were most likely planted by an airplane three years ago as fingerlings. That was the human impact but a clear benefit for me right now.

I walked around the lake, took a dip in it, had a short sleep beside it, skipped stones in it, and had to leave it for home within the hour. Now I’ve got a better plan to return to this lovely, nearly invisible and unvisited lake next year. Forget the steepness of the last mile or two (just chock it up to a demented memory), camp beside the lake, and get to know it’s beauty. The 7-hour hike was worth it but it was only half-over at 4:30 pm and I have a much better plan for the next year. But don’t even think to ask.

The long summer solstice fleeted. That is always the way that nice things seem to work: one must leave a cherished place somewhat unknown to recognize that rarity increased its value enormously.  Realistically, I might never get here again, so I wanted to know something, no, I wanted to know everything about this land that I’ve walked upon, this place that I’ve seen and the water that offered me fish. This air smells bitter and sweet with lodgepole pine pollen, a smell that fills your head with sneezes. I idled here a bit, cleaned the redolent fish, felt a warm wind that scribed the lake water below me, lingered and ate handfuls M&Ms and a few fresh huckleberries. This basin expressed friendliness but shadows of the peaks grew and the last breeze chilled my neck. Still, it was an effort to pick up my pack and walk away from Buckhorn Mountain Lake.

An osprey landed in a small whitebark pine snag beside Buckhorn Mountain Lake. She called and called and called in that wimpy, complaining voice of hers before lifting off and leaving the lake basin. She seemed to be scolding me for finding and catching fish in this lake. As if it were her own damned home! I held up my three big rainbows to her and yelled to her “Don’t you wish?” as she flew away to another basin far, far, far away. I stuffed the fish into my daypack and headed down the outlet creek from Buckhorn Mountain Lake to Buckhorn Creek and up the creek just as the sun set. The unnamed tall, rocky peaks rose in cirques on either side of Buckhorn peak at the headwaters of three drainages. That confused me three years ago: there were three drainages, not two, along with the trail being under snow. I wasn’t thinking then and now a trail ran through the pass beside Rapid Peak. The mountains held a mystic glow on their backs, side-by-side like brothers and sisters crystalized in this nameless range of spectacular mountains. This place is home for elk and wolves, salmon and bull trout, wolverines and bears. And one pissy, pointy-winged, complaiing osprey. It should probably be called the Buckhorn Range, right? I don’t know.

I saw twenty kinds of wildflowers, from shooting star and columbine to larkspur and blue gentian, on this trek from fairly low to higher elevation areas and back, from forests to alpine heather and scree. I saw wildlife from hawks to black bears and forests from big old Ponderosa pines to lodgepole pines to the higher elevation whitebark pines. Some of the forest is burned and some is not. It shows a healthy mosaic pattern.

There is plenty of water everywhere.  These solstice hikes have become for me a symbol of brilliant days of summertime in the mountains of Idaho, the power of being alone in wild places with wild life, and of the will of nature to heal what otherwise we are killing. Sometimes it was clear that nature was a killer too, if her warnings were not heeded, but the summer months were verdant and vital, young and full of joy and these feelings soothed me.

Buckhorn Creek is the dominant drainage in this vast unprotected wilderness; it is the heart and soul of the land, the light and dark, the hot and cold of daytime, the source of water, and the flow of its seasonal consciousness. Buckhorn may be a word that some crackpot from Idaho first used to describe this place. You may argue about its name with fellow hikers but that will change nothing. It is a term that speaks of the respect that I have for this land and everything it supports because I know where Buckhorn Creek is. Call it what you will: it is a wilderness of rock, animals, and vegetables.  The mountains don’t much care.

I move onward to Boulder Lake, a long, clear hike in twilight, and leave this wilderness world to the osprey, fish, flowers, and huckleberries. On the trail from Boulder Lake to Boulder Meadows Reservoir I walk and stumble in darkness between lodgepole and whitebark pines with a summer solstice moon to lead my way. As always, I wander through darkness to find my home under these perfect mountains.                           .

Of silence and Sanity

On my way to Craters of the Moon National Monument, where I intend to view the only eclipse of the sun I’m likely to see, I stop in Carey for a cup of coffee, and see how things have changed there in the past three years. The grocery store that gathered a hustle and bustle of customers now collects only tumbleweeds, and the sprawling bar just east of town is out of business. Windows are broken in the front rooms of a slightly frumpy hotel of cabins, which resembles a hotel on Route 66 twenty years after the route was changed. But you’ve got to admire the pluck of Carey’s residents in planting an official sign at the edge of town advising,  “Carey On!” That, it seems, is the theme of my plan into this howling wilderness.

I’ve visited Craters at least eight times in the last twenty years and seldom has it been easy. Once was for a burial of the monument’s former superintendent. Twice on the way to Yellowstone I drove the seven-mile scenic route.  But most of my visits to Craters have led me into the black lava land, that pale green sagebrush landscape in a too-hot or too-cold atmosphere drier than a popcorn cooking pot, or to the back side of nowhere, walking this indescribable land for miles and miles and miles. At some point, when I realized that no place else had the bleakness and spare beauty of Craters of the Moon, it became my kind of place.

I don’t expect forgiveness for my mistakes out in this wilderness. Only people forgive  here: the place forgives no one and I’ve learned to be prepared for anything, as the Boy Scouts say. But if I go in spring, I expect the beauty of flowers and lighting. Blazing star flowers bloom an extravagant yellow under the 180-proof  sunlight. Hot-pink dwarf monkey flowers surprise me. I’m soothed by the flawless perfection of tiny Bitterroot flowers, the off-white buckwheat flowers that dribble across cinder fields like spilt milk, and the lovely white scablands penstemon that grow out of pure lava like a holy flame of promise. Each is out there if I search, and time my visit in May or early June rather than this mid-summer trip.

The blackness of Craters’ night skies has won the distinction of a Silver Tier International Dark Sky Park from the International Dark Sky Association. In the crystalline air, the brilliance of the stars testifies to how the Milky Way was named. The air quality, designated Class 1, won’t be allowed by law to degrade. But this also can be a disorienting, deceptive location—for example, when your compass finds the north pole on a magnetic outcrop to the south, or when the seemingly flat, featureless land looks as if it stretches until the end of time but proves to provide rugged terrain fifty feet in front of you. Nights are frigid in winter and days are smacked with heat in the midst of summer, although animals such as bats, owls, snakes, coyotes, deer, antelope, sage grouse, pikas, and dwarf rabbits do just fine, having found favorable micro-habitats.

At the visitors’ center, I’m the first person of the day to fill out a permit to hike into the wilderness and camp at Echo Crater. For that matter, so far nobody else has sought a permit for all of the 43,243-acre Craters of the Moon Wilderness within the much larger national monument and preserve. I’m surprised, because of the hype about the Great American Eclipse happening tomorrow. So I fill my backpack with the stuff I’ll need to survive and drive the seven-mile route to the farthest end. The wilderness looks just the same as it did last year—it has changed very little since its designation in 1970.

I arrive at where the wilderness begins: beyond the modestly developed campsites, beyond the popular and interesting North Crater Trail, beyond the Devils Orchard Nature Trail, the Infernal Cone, all those curious spatter cones, the defined caves, and beyond the absolutely magical Blue Dragon flow to the trailhead. Most people don’t get this far, and a number of my Facebook friends criticized me for considering hiking here in August, when the temperatures are soaring, but I figured (correctly) it would mean few tourists. Even so, I’ve taken my friends’ warnings to heart, having brought along two gallons of water for a two-day trip, even if that seemed excessive.

Underfoot is the crackling crunch that makes walking over cinders sound like marching on cereal. I cross the easily walkable Little Prairie to the cirque of Echo Crater, where I can choose among seven fine campsites under the lava cliffs that loom five hundred feet high. This crater is not a circular hollow cut in stone by glaciers, the true definition of a cirque. It was created by a massive explosion that cast basalt sky-high, leaving a hole in the ground like a  bomb crater. To me, this powerful place embodies the beauty of solitude.

I discovered Echo Crater more than ten years ago, when I temporarily lost my Brittany spaniel, Camas. Searching for her, I climbed to the top of the crater and saw an Edenic green place far below. I called out my dog’s name and heard back, “Camas! Camas! Camas!” Naturally, I immediately liked the name Echo Crater.

Camas and I had hiked here after I had an ischemic stroke in 2000 in a trail-less place in Craters [see “Moonstruck,” IDAHO magazine, February 2013]. I was wounded and wanted silence to figure out what having a debilitating stroke could mean. When I felt recovered, I craved the solitude that Craters of the Moon offered—the wilderness was silent and sane.

I had never been a quiet person, but the stroke forced silence and humility upon me, and I went back to reclaim what I’d lost. That year—after I found Camas beside Echo Crater—we walked through a still and rugged ocean of lava. It was a foolish mission to prove that I still could endure the heat of summer as a stroke survivor.  Camas dragged and panted as we walked through seemingly endless lava in the hundred-degree-plus air temperature, the lava radiating heat in waves above the rock. The heat, surreal and intense, cooked both of us to well done. We came across the merciful shade of a lone and sprawling limber pine., and there we sat. Call it a miracle to find shade in this unforgiving desert or call it luck—we called it a cool place to sleep under a limber pine tree.

We scared a great horned owl from its roost in that pine and it flew out into the hellish day. I wished it luck finding another refuge. I couldn’t see one and prayed for its safety, and for ours. Camas drank water from my cup and I from the jug, and we slept in the shade until the temperature dropped. We woke refreshed–if sweating like a wrung towel can ever seem refreshed—and walked to the other side of the flow in the northern part of Laidlaw Park. There we found a tremendously fresh array of grasses and a few surviving flowers. Beyond, the aspens of Snowdrift Crater grew keen and vigorous in the deep green of the cool evening shade. We carried on from there to my car. I wondered what on earth we were doing in that oven. Camas slept as I drove, and didn’t hear my apology to her.

Now, on my latest visit to Echo Crater, the eclipse of the sun will come in the morning. I find the very best camping spot below soaring cliffs in the shade of a grove of tall limber pines. I shelter in a rock stadium that’s flat and cool in the midst of the harsh high desert. The quiet of the place seems eerie compared to my city life in Boise, until hornets come buzzing to my campsite. What are they doing here? Water, of course! They need water and my sweat must seem sweet to them, God forbid. They must have come from a source of water, I surmise, but the closest spring, Yellowjacket Waterhole, is a small seep that can serve little more than one of its namesake bugs. I’ve seen yellowjackets at that bit of water, but it’s more than a mile from here.

I put out a dish of water for them, far away from my sleeping spot, which works for a few minutes, until they find the sugar on my trail snacks and return. But all they really need is water and sugar, and they seem friendly enough. For hornets. I sleep and wake several times in Echo Crater as the day cools and the hornets investigate me.

A group of four sage thrashers swoop and land on a nearby rock outcrop. They hop-scotch in the air and land on another boulder. It goes on like that for a minute or so until they see me watching and stop their game. “Silly birds,” I call to them. They quickly fly to another set of perches, watch me for a moment or two and soon become oblivious. Above, a group of twelve or thirteen mourning doves fly in a military formation around the crater and land in an apparent nesting spot on the side of the cliff. They coo and oooh, circle again and again, and fly out of the crater in that same tight formation, as if flung from a sling.

Some years back, I was on the east side of the national monument, amid tall sagebrush and puffs of Great Basin wild rye grasses, when an eclipse of the moon occurred. As the moon appeared and then slowly was effaced by the earth’s shadow, the world came to a simple stop without the moon as its partner, and I held my breath without thinking. Then the moon glanced out beyond the shadow and slipped, sliver by sliver, back to its silvery self again. I wondered what the ancient philosophers would have said of the moon disappearing.

On Little Prairie with Echo Crater as my backdrop, I prepare myself for the eclipse of the sun. Little Prairie is a kipuka (the Hawaiian word for “window,” I’ve been told) that runs from the end of the road out beyond Echo Crater. When the Craters of the Moon lava was molten about two thousand years ago, which is recent in geologic time, Little Prairie lay a bit higher than the flow and thus escaped it. But this prairie was covered in lava much older than that, and by now has weathered enough to support plants. It’s a window into the ecological past isolated from the severe livestock grazing impacts on the Snake River plain.

There are three hundred of various sizes in Craters of the Moon. In Little Prairie, I’ve seen gopher snakes, sagebrush lizards, ground squirrels, woodchuck, bats, deer, northern harriers, ravens, doves, and many other birds. Sage grouse sign is plentiful. Ecologists have documented an impressive number of species living in Craters: three hundred plants, two thousand insects, thirty mammals, fourteen birds, eight reptiles and one amphibian, the western toad. It’s good to know there are places in our world where animals still can live relatively undisturbed by surrounding human impacts.

The sun rises and casts a brilliant flame-red glow on the crater’s wall, highlighting the chartreuse and saffron colors in a large patch of lichens growing there. Sunlight pours down the lava wall and warms me when it falls to my level. I clutch my cup of coffee with both hands, sip the liquid joyously, and awaken to this quiet light show. Soon I climb to the top of the crater to watch the eclipse.

As I wait for the show to begin, I wander toward a group of trees in the distance. I cross three parallel cracks in the Great Rift, which are roughly twenty to eighty feet deep and about 100 feet wide. Each travels less than a mile, starting and stopping irregularly and continuing on. Together they form a portion of the Great Rift that travels 60 miles in a north-south direction. These cracks indicate a weakness in the earth’s crust and are the origin of many lava flows throughout the region, including several flows in Craters of the Moon. There are many parallel cracks, some of which hold water and ice tucked in their floors, which is critical information for a person hiking here in the middle of summer.  I think the doves must have found water in these cracks when they flew out of Echo Crater.

Reaching the trees, I notice that they stand in a slightly lower place on the land, in a kipuka that might hold a pool of water in rainy times or snow in the spring. In any case, the depression is deep enough for trees to have germinated. A Clark’s nutcracker flies from a tree and squawks at me. The bird looks stately in its mantle of gray and black, a white flash of excellence on its tail. These trees must be a summer home for the nutcracker.  I root around and find pretty shards of the Blue Dragon flow: the rich cobalt color is from titanium on the surface of the rock as it cooled thousands of years ago. How it shimmers! Magpie that am, I drop a piece into my pocket, but better person that I occasionally am, I pull it out and throw it back on the ground. The nutcracker watches. They are like that: so judgmental. This one crackles at me—khaa, khraa, kaaa—and flies to tell its story to some wizard of the rock.

When the eclipse is roughly ninety-eight percent complete, I walk back to the crater in the superb silence. A cool breeze blows and crickets have begun to chirp. The darkness deepens but my shadow remains sharp and I take several photos of burned trees to give the sense of the sunburst effect. In seconds, a sharp light comes from around the sun. The temperature rises and the chirping stops. The only lingering proof of the eclipse is polarized light on limber pines and a bat flying erratically, as bats do, confused at the leaving and coming of sunlight in such a short period.

“Erratic” is a good word for the protection of Craters of the Moon’s landscape. In 1924, it was proclaimed as a roughly 54,000-acre national monument by President Hoover, with the support of a wild raconteur named Robert Limbert and a well-spoken USGS geologist Harold Stearns. They coined the name Craters of the Moon, giving the area rhetorical pizazz and a look-to-the-sky sort of appeal. Limbert lobbied for the monument designation in Washington, D.C., and wrote a spirited article for National Geographic, which added strong public support for protection of the area.

The smaller wilderness area was designated in 1970, and then in 2000, a proclamation by President Clinton expanded the national monument to a seemingly endless sea of 750,000 acres of lava and kipukas. A few years later, the area was legislatively re-designated as a combined national monument and national preserve, which acknowledged the opinions of ranchers and motorized vehicle users. The bill was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the President, giving it more full-bodied support than that of a presidential proclamation.

Within the monument and preserve are 495,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas (WSA), which contain mostly pure lava with a few acres of grasslands that easily could be supported for their wilderness qualities by the state legislature and the U.S. Congress. A WSA is a Bureau of Land Management category of land management. Each WSA is being studied for wilderness designation and until that study is complete, no actions can be advanced to diminish its wilderness value. WSAs do not have a clear management purpose, which means until Congress acts on their behalf, they can only be managed as pseudo-wilderness.

When I think of wilderness, what comes to mind first is the wicked land in Craters of the Moon. I was gladdened and surprised by the Idaho Legislature’s support of a plan for the original 54,000-acre national monument to be turned into a national park. The land would get better funding for campgrounds, interpretation, road repairs, wilderness management, scientific studies, collaborative meetings, and outreach publicity. The closest communities, such as Carey and Arco, would get the benefits of increased visitation to a national park, which always draws more interest than a national monument. I hope it will give businesses in Carey and Arco a glimmering chance of survival, even while designating more wilderness in Idaho.

Craters of the Moon is a unique place on our planet. In its razor-sharp lava, in its infinite but broken blackness, in its solitude and the stark splendor of cinder cones, in the twilit caves and naturally formed rock bridges, in that mystical Blue Dragon flow, but most of all in the delicacy of the plants and in the animals that eke out their lives there, it is unique. In all of this, there is beauty—plus, wonderful stories endure of people who fought against the lava while coming to settle Idaho and Oregon. I believe that care for Craters demands we protect all of the existing species of plants and animals in that dry environment, even while we wisely interpret its weird volcanic history, invite tourists into the region, and help people around Craters to survive in a tough economy.

There are many odd tales to tell about Craters, some of them equal parts comical and wonderful, some of them akin to lies that have never been debunked. But what do you or I really know about the Bridge of Tears, Amphitheater Cave, Vermillion Chasm, the sad story of Kings Bowl, the Alice in Wonderland curiosity that might be found in a trip to Lasso Cave, or the almost comical Bridge of the Moon? All we can do is go, learn—and be careful in Craters of the Moon, where more than one person has died out in the elements. Nevertheless, as the nearby townsfolk would have it, we simply need to “Carey On!”

 

In the Sesesh

The Wild Heart of Idaho!

The Secesh (pronounced Sea-sesh like a seashell), Buckhorn, and French Creek wild areas comprise the most scenic, most untamed, geologically and biologically diverse areas in the wild heart of Idaho, near McCall.  The U.S. Forest Service has recommended 225,000 acres of these areas as wilderness; that’s big, but it’s a pittance.  In my 25 years of working to protect Idaho’s 9 million acres of roadless areas as wilderness, it has been these three areas that have inspired the most enthusiasm to continue my advocacy to protect them.  They are stunningly beautiful but accessible, and are surrounded by more roving, wild lands, one mountain range after another.  If this appeals to you, well then, read on!

Each has significant opponents and threats to the wild nature of the land.  In French Creek it is logging projects and road construction, that are now on hold.  In the Buckhorn and Secesh areas there is a slowly renewing ardor for logging and the growth of both motorized and non-motorized vehicle use in this sublime landscape.  On the Payette National Forest, where these wilderness values exist, there is a growing indifference to the loss, as weak conservationists look elsewhere to find support for easier places to protect.

The Secesh Crest of unroaded lands, (including the Secesh, Buckhorn and French Creek wild areas) is surrounded by the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Caton Creek, Salmon River Breaks, Patrick Butte, and the Seven Devils Wilderness among others.  Taken as a group, all of these areas are the preeminent place in Idaho for providing migration of wildlife from Montana to Oregon along the Salmon River system in this warming world.  The intact landscape supports a remarkable number of animals: wolves, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, lynx, bears, martin, wolverine, fisher, salmon, trout, steelhead, migratory birds ospreys, eagles, bluebirds, and in lesser numbers, people.

The elevation runs from 3,400 feet to above 9,000 feet at Loon peak–from grasses at lower elevation to above treeline. This includes lodgepine pine, Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine, spruce, larch, aspen, and up to whitebark pine near the rocky summit.  This region is extremely rugged and includes Victor Peak, Loon Peaks, and Storm Peak where a number of spectacular lakes occur: Enos, Twenty mile, Storm, Victor, Burnside, Hum, Box, Buckhorn, Cly, Prince, Tsum, Maki lakes and many, many others.  Look at their names and you will learn: Hum is said to be named for the humming of mosquitoes; Storm peak for the violence of the winters in the peak’s vicinity.  The Secesh River and the South Fork Salmon River flow through the Secesh wild area, beside the Buckhorn Creek region, both of which protect critical salmon and steelhead habitat.  

The name “Secesh” comes some of the rich history of the region that was originally settled by secessionists at the end of the American Civil War.  The name recalls the way that the people in central Idaho would like to live and see themselves as being—independent, gun-toting, and free.  That is all illusionary, of course, as everyone living here depends on the largesse of federal subsidies for their very survival, but in nearby towns of Secesh Meadows, Warren, and Yellowpine the concerns of local citizens about access and fire threats have to be heard or a shootout, or more likely, a lawsuit, may ensue.

What is the future of this splendid western land?  I can’t tell you, after 25 years of trying to divine its fate, but these things I can tell you: all of your outspoken opinions will count in both the short and long run.   Your silence will count on the other side.  And by-and-by, it will be decided somewhere in the middle, in due time.  How much time is “due time” will depend upon how much noise we can make in the short time.  If you would like to join us at the Secesh Wildlands Coalition contact me at mikecmedberry@msn.com  There is a poster that I will send you if you ask and we are considering publishing a book on the wild Secesh country within a year.

 End

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Hiking on the Blue Moon

Hiking on the Blue Moon

A dog barks and a rooster crows. I open my door to the cold of night to bring the coolness into my over-warm house. The hum of morning rises as cars begin zipping over the roads. Coffee is on and my mind begins to open to the tasks of what I will do today on this day of the Blue Moon. I have decided to go for a walk around the town of Boise and the backcountry beyond, as a replacement for my normal walk on the solstice in the wilderness beside McCall. I had missed the longest day because of my absurd job hours, errands associated with selling my property, and a move from McCall to Boise. So this was my chance to walk through darkness and light and think for a long moment.

Today I will run, ride my bike, and walk until tomorrow’s sun rises on the first day of September. This is the opposite of my solstice walks during which I’ve walked from sunrise to sunset on the longest day of the year as a celebration of sunlight. The Blue Moon is the second moon that rises in a single month, and for that it is a rarity. But really, it is only the position of the months that have created this odd-seeming occurrence, as the moon does exactly what the moon does pretty consistently. My walk is symbolic and a matter of preference.

I take the garbage cans out to the curb and a man riding his bicycle mutters something to me as he passes. “What?” I say.

He circles back and repeats. “It’s a day for garbage isn’t it?”

“It sure is,” I say, not being at all creative before my first cup of coffee. I’m smiling when I return to the house. I notice that swarms of flies that had collected in my house, because of the doors being left open yesterday, now were absent. Must be the cool weather, but I prefer to think of it as a favorable outlook for the day. Maybe it’s both.

The day moved on like most others and now, after doing some work, I sit at the Boise Memorial Rose Garden where dozens of varieties of the flowers grow late in August. Their smells color the air. People have given them a variety of names for winning some sort of prize over the years: “Starry Night,” Opening Night,” and “Fame! A brilliant orange flower is named “Candelabra,” another rose is called “Knockout, another “Marmalade Skies.” “Growing Peace” combines yellow with pink on the same petals. There are “Strike it Rich,” “Moondance,” and my new favorite, “Hot Cocoa,” which is deep red and dusted with chocolate all over. The last I see is a classic red, red rose named “Loving Memory,” which seems to speak for itself. Its smell lingers like something lost.

Ever so lightly the rain falls as the afternoon deepens. I know that the full moon is rising now beyond the clouds, beyond the mountains, beyond the city, but I can’t see it. After dinner with my friends at their home, I ride to a bar to listen to Bill Coffey on guitar and to meet a woman for drinks. She and I sit as if a piece of plate glass was secured between us and we hear nothing that each other says, although we see the gestures of hands and movements of mouths and hear rowdy rock-and-roll in subtle tones sung with a passionate voice. It is a lonely voice.

In time, we part and I ride up to the foothills. I stash my bike at the trailhead of Hulls Gulch and realize the nighttime scares me. But I’m walking through the night. Crickets whir loudly and a single hum rises above the whirr with a rhythmic pulse, like a heartbeat among the turmoil of a war. Tall sagebrush allows cougars a place to hide. A young panther was killed in downtown Boise a couple months ago and I’m sure the cats are here tonight with an agenda that is secretive, angry, and vengeful. I can feel them in this shadowy place with the full moon hiding. I walk with a big stick that I carry over my shoulder covering my vulnerable neck. (I hear that they always sneak up from behind, leap out and catch the victim by the neck and throat. By doing that they avoid a fight.) No one sees me hiking; no one is there in the midnight glow to file a report or watch my death. Clouds swoon and swarm, slither in odd patterns that howl out: “Danger!” It is odd, when an enormous dark owl flies twice across my path; it is barely visible in this fallen light. I walk tenderly beyond and up to where the path breaks into two, dividing. Suddenly I turn around, feeling a presence. I fear that the end is near. But I don’t know which end it is and I turn around where the trail breaks.

Maddingly, there is absolutely nothing to see. No ending. No omens, no screaming pterodactyls, no angry cougar, only a peaceful silence. It’s me who’s angry. The moon creeps out from behind clouds and lets out a sigh. Long blonde grasses bend to define a nest for a deer, maybe it was here earlier on this very night. Was it scared by cougars or bears? Such fear in the air! I look for a rattlesnake, see none, and lie down to sleep in the soft grass.

When I awaken the night is nearly gone—it is almost 5am! I slept for two hours and now a silvery light shines on the south facing mountains behind me. It is the full-blasting moon but it throws no heat. Shade in ripples define the shape of Hulls Gulch. The moon is still well above the horizon, so I walk down the trail, through long shadows of cottonwood trees in the gulch, gaining more courage as I approach the city. I see my bike’s shadow and I get on the shadow and ride darkly on the winding path, up and down, beside a creek, out through Hyde Park and then to a deserted downtown.

One man waves and says “Good morning!”  It is morning.

“Howdy,” I say and ride on in my swooping way down State Street. Orion stands in the middle of the sky, always hunting for something big.

At home, I hear the dog bark and the rooster crow again. I climb up and stand on my roof as the Blue Moon rides on top of the earth; it looks like a hot air balloon just being inflated. It holds there ever so briefly, and then the blue, blue moon deflates slowly into the land. I climb down and walk into my house and lie upon my sofa and drift into sleep wondering: are you patient and kind? And is she?

Hiking on the Blue Moon

A dog barks and a rooster crows. I open my door to the cold of night to bring the coolness into my over-warm house. The hum of morning rises as cars begin zipping over the roads. Coffee is on and my mind begins to open to the tasks of what I will do today on this day of the Blue Moon. I have decided to go for a walk around the town of Boise and the backcountry beyond, as a replacement for my normal walk on the solstice in the wilderness beside McCall. I had missed the longest day because of my absurd job hours, errands associated with selling my property, and a move from McCall to Boise. So this was my chance to walk through darkness and light and think for a long moment.

Today I will run, ride my bike, and walk until tomorrow’s sun rises on the first day of September. This is the opposite of my solstice walks during which I’ve walked from sunrise to sunset on the longest day of the year as a celebration of sunlight. The Blue Moon is the second moon that rises in a single month, and for that it is a rarity. But really, it is only the position of the months that have created this odd-seeming occurrence, as the moon does exactly what the moon does pretty consistently. My walk is symbolic and a matter of preference.

I take the garbage cans out to the curb and a man riding his bicycle mutters something to me as he passes. “What?” I say.

He circles back and repeats. “It’s a day for garbage isn’t it?”

“It sure is,” I say, not being at all creative before my first cup of coffee. I’m smiling when I return to the house. I notice that swarms of flies that had collected in my house, because of the doors being left open yesterday, now were absent. Must be the cool weather, but I prefer to think of it as a favorable outlook for the day. Maybe it’s both.

The day moved on like most others and now, after doing some work, I sit at the Boise Memorial Rose Garden where dozens of varieties of the flowers grow late in August. Their smells color the air. People have given them a variety of names for winning some sort of prize over the years: “Starry Night,” Opening Night,” and “Fame! A brilliant orange flower is named “Candelabra,” another rose is called “Knockout, another “Marmalade Skies.” “Growing Peace” combines yellow with pink on the same petals. There are “Strike it Rich,” “Moondance,” and my new favorite, “Hot Cocoa,” which is deep red and dusted with chocolate all over. The last I see is a classic red, red rose named “Loving Memory,” which seems to speak for itself. Its smell lingers like something lost.

Ever so lightly, it rains as the afternoon deepens. I know that the full moon is rising now beyond the clouds, beyond the mountains, beyond the city, but I can’t see it. After dinner with my friends at their home, I ride to a bar to listen to Bill Coffey on guitar and to meet a woman for drinks. She and I sit as if a piece of plate glass was secured between us and we hear nothing that each other says, although we see the gestures of hands and movements of mouths and hear rowdy rock-and-roll in subtle tones sung with a passionate voice. It is a lonely voice.

In time, we part and I ride up to the foothills. I stash my bike at the trailhead of Hulls Gulch and realize the nighttime scares me. I’m walking through the night. Crickets whir loudly and a single hum rises above the whirr with a rhythmic pulse, like a heartbeat among the turmoil of a war. Tall sagebrush allows cougars a place to hide. A young panther was killed in downtown Boise a couple of months ago and I’m sure the cats are here tonight with an agenda that is secretive, angry, and vengeful. I can feel them in this shadowy place with the full moon hiding. I walk with a big stick that I carry over my shoulder covering my vulnerable neck. (I hear that they always sneak up from behind, leap out and catch the victim by the neck and throat. By doing that they avoid a fight.) No one sees me hiking; no one is there in the midnight glow to file a report or watch my death. Clouds swoon and swarm, slither in odd patterns that howl out: “Danger!” It was odd then, that an enormous dark owl flies twice across my path; it is barely visible in this fallen light. I walk tenderly beyond and up to where the path breaks into two. Suddenly I turn around, feeling a presence. I fear that the end is near. But I don’t know which end it is and I turn around where the trail divides.

Maddingly, there is absolutely nothing to see. No ending. No omens, no screaming pterodactyls, no angry cougar, only a peaceful silence. It’s me who’s angry. The moon creeps out from behind clouds and lets out a sigh. Long blonde grasses bend to define a nest for a deer, maybe it was here earlier on this very night. Was it scared by cougars or bears? Such fear in the air! I look for a rattlesnake, see none, and lie down to sleep in the soft grass.

When I awaken the night is nearly gone—it is almost 5am! I slept for two hours and now a silvery light shines on the south facing mountains behind me. It is the full-blasting moon but it throws no heat. Shade in ripples define contours of Hulls Gulch. The moon is still well above the horizon, so I walk down the trail, through long shadows of cottonwood trees in the gulch, gaining more courage as I approach the city. I see my bike’s shadow and I get on the shadow and ride darkly on the winding path, up and down, beside a creek, out through Hyde Park and then to a deserted downtown.

One man waves and says “Good morning!” It is morning.

“Howdy,” I say and ride on in my swooping way down State Street. Orion stands in the middle of the sky, always hunting for something big.

At home, I hear the dog bark and the rooster crow again. I climb up and stand on my roof as the Blue Moon rides on top of the earth; it looks like a hot air balloon just being inflated. It holds there ever so briefly, and then the blue, blue moon deflates slowly into the land. I climb down and walk into my house and lie upon my sofa and drift into sleep wondering: are you patient and kind? Is she?

Coming in to Urban Boise (Part II)

The 52% of distressed properties in Boise did not provide a sustainable community by any stretch of the imagination, and people were beginning to move around based upon their income, obligatory payments, and preferences. The Art Deco style Banner Bank Building in downtown Boise is an architectural beauty that stands at 11 stories and stretches to meet your imagination.

It was built in 2006 and was judged as a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy Environmental Design) rated energy efficient building by the US Green Building Council. What that means is that the water efficiency, energy efficiency, and occupant well-being in this sustainable building, are rated far above the average. The US Bank and Boise Plaza buildings were also rated as Gold LEED buildings, in the category of Silver, Gold, and Platinum ratings. Every building that is proposed around Boise now aims for a similar rating. Each is, or will be, a highly rated “green,” or energy efficient building.

The Banner Building will cost less in the long run to operate, will last longer, provide healthier places to work, are closer to a variety of activities in downtown Boise, and directly to the point, they are making money for their owners. Gary Christensen, Developer and President of the Christensen Corporation, acknowledges that “Green buildings have a shakeout period in which we have to figure out the controls, sensors, and relays and get them working properly.” It turns out that these parts of the building are fairly complicated but they result in an overall cost of 15 -30% less per square foot than other buildings.

The Banner Building rents for $18 – $21 per square foot. When asked whether the building was full in the tough 2012 season, Christensen responded that “when it was initially leased, the businesses were committed to supporting the energy efficiency of the building and now it is 100% full.” It’s hard to define the total cost of a sustainable building because they are complicated to build and operate in the first few years, but in the long run they are less expensive to run than other buildings. Regardless, the Banner Building is full today and the current rate of return is 32%. The upshot is that the amortized cost makes cents for tenants, investors, and building operators.
And it is the kind of place that, I realized in walking through it, I might like to work in. And indeed I do need a job. Moreover, workers in the Banner Building are spoiled with all of the amenities that are provided to them: it is heated by geothermal water, outdoor air is let in for roughly 200 days per year, paints have no Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content, stormwater is used to water outdoor vegetation and flush toilets, the light is produced by energy efficient fluorescent lights or Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) and is dimmed when the environment is naturally lit. Due to some of these innovations, the electricity use is reduced by more than 60% and ventilation by 44%. The building provides a healthy habitat in which to work—imagine riding your bicycle to work and getting a workout in a non-toxic environment. The offices are also simple to reconfigure when businesses change—a big advantage for investors. The Banner Bank Building has a stunning design that may provide a blueprint for the future; air inside the building is decisively clean and the space feels like a good place to work.
Rachael Winer, Executive Director of Idaho Smart Growth in Boise, said “that in an office building, employees like a healthy convenient place with lots of daylight where they can get out to lunch, to go for a run in the foothills and have a shower; they want to ride their bikes and have some extra activity…. Things like the Saturday Market add to the downtown experience, I mean, there’s a lot of life here in Boise!” Winer added that most builders want to do the right thing, but they need to make money too. She adds that transportation is also a big concern for most Boiseans. “We need to get a bus system that works for people, busses that come frequently and get people where they need to get,” she said. “That’s what makes a bus system work for people: to be closer to jobs, shops, and schools so that whatever you need is closer to you.” As gas prices continue to rise and people need to travel between jobs, home, and school, more and more people will take the bus.
All of these concerns, the price of houses, the need to provide jobs for people, the need to provide transportation to and from work to home, building better houses and nicer business places to work, and finding amenities close to our hearts are all in the complicated mix that will make Boise a more perfect place to live. As natural gas, gasoline, oil, heat, food, and electricity prices increase, and surely they will, the more that we’ll be forced together to negotiate, collaborate, and cooperate to create a sense of place that all can accept. We might create hamlets within the City of Boise, like Hyde Park, where like-minded people can congregate. Another possibility that is being planned at the former downtown Macy’s building is to transform the 2nd to 5th floors of the building into apartments for the general workforce. That sounded good to me! Regardless, nothing will last long if we don’t come to tentative understandings about the fundamental things in life—our income, warmth, shelter, food for our family, and caring–that all of us require.
Yesterday I took a hard bike ride up to the top of Tablerock Mesa and as I looked out on the city of Boise that spread out below me. I wondered exactly what had happened over the past 30 years. Has this world become a better place to live? It is a pretty place, with all of the trees, with bike paths crisscrossing below, the river running through the city, and the Owyhee Mountains standing out in the distance. There are more options now and just about every time I pick up a magazine I read about the beauties of Boise. My life is good here and after thirty years of rambling around I’ve finally got a place that I call home.