Gooding County 1921-1941


I recently gave a speech for the Gooding Center of the College of Southern Idaho, and a few of my friends asked for a copy of the speech as they were unable to attend the presentation. I thought I would share much of it on my blog page for anyone interested in reading it. It is about 2100 words, which is excessively long for a blog in my opinion! But for those who wish to read it, here it is. Enjoy and best wishes to you all,

The Gooding County Experience 1921 to 1941

I think the coolest thing about studying Gooding County and Idaho history, is the fact our county and our state are so young, there are still many alive today who either were themselves, or whose parents and grandparents, were the pioneers that made Idaho, and Gooding County a wonderful place to live.
I don’t suppose a lot of folks today think much about it, but in 1921 Gooding County was still in its infant years—the tender age of eight to be exact.
Much of what we take for granted today—roads, sidewalks, irrigation canals, sewer, water, and power utilities—really didn’t exist in the first two decades of Gooding County’s history. To be sure, there were some who had it better than others. But overall, if one lived in Gooding County in the 1920s and 30s, one knew what it was to be without amenities many other Americans enjoyed.

Since a good many Gooding County folk either went to war, or sacrificed for WWI, one also had a pretty good idea of what it was like to come together as a community in times of hardship.

My Papa, Henry Howard, was born in Hill City in 1907, and lived nearly all of his 97 years in either Camas or Gooding counties.

Prior to his passing, I did several interviews with him about what life was like in the 20s-30s.

He always had a funny anecdote when he started a story. One of my favorites was: “Girls were much prettier in the 1920s than they were in the 1910s. I guess it’s because as they grew up from children into young women, their dresses naturally got shorter!”

Papa also said if you didn’t have the mettle to work hard, and the ability to make do with what you had, Idaho was a terrible place to live. Most every Idahoan he knew had the necessary attributes.

“The 1920s brought some prosperity elsewhere,” he told me, “but not to Idaho.” Here’s what he meant.

Following the end of WW1, the fine folk of Gooding County were ready to get back to work and get their community growing. Unfortunately, while much of the rest of the country was rebounding from the sacrifices it had made during WW1, and the depression of 1921, Idaho was still struggling mightily.

While there are other factors that contributed to the near non-existent recovery of Idaho in the 1920s, the number one factor was the sudden decline following WW1, of Idaho’s three main industries: Agriculture, Mining, and Lumbering.

During WW1, Idaho experienced the incredible incentives of high price and patriotic urging, to greatly expand these three industries. Land was opened for farming, old mines were brought back on line, and Idaho’s vast timberlands were exploited.

Had WW1 lasted a bit longer (I am glad it did not), perhaps Idahoans would have had time to plan a managed withdrawal from these expansions. But, no sooner had these massive expansion efforts taken place than WW1 ended.

With no planned withdrawal, the jubilant celebrations of victory in the War to End All Wars, soon turned to worry and despair as it became clear to Idahoans. They were in for tough times ahead.

In truth, recovery from the 1921 depression for the majority of Idahoans was so slow, it may as well have been non-existent.

It’s important to note throughout the 1920s, Idaho, next to Montana, had the highest rate of emigration of any wester state.

Still, a good many of those who didn’t leave were optimistic they too would pull out of the hard times and see prosperity again. Many of them had left their lives in the east to partake of the Carey Land Act offerings, and they were not about to give up just because of a few years of hard times.

Throughout the 1920s, the Gooding Leader ran numerous articles urging citizens to buy from local merchants, and encouraging local merchants to, “share their largesse,” by investing in community projects such as local boys and girl’s clubs, outlaw basketball tournaments, and many other activities sponsored by the Gooding College.

Despite hard times all of these promotions did, in fact, work. The people of Gooding County felt they were really moving forward—albeit a bit more slowly than anticipated.

Bliss, Hagerman, and Wendell—the Gooding Leader reminded everyone—also had plenty of sites worth seeing and things worth doing.
“Really, there’s room for all!” A 1927 editorial stated. “Come to Gooding County, you’ll be more than glad you did.”

By 1929, things were looking better for Idahoans, including Gooding County folks in the county were seeing an increase in prices for ag products, as well as new business openings in all four county towns.

County farmers had figured out one of the best ways to get top dollar for their product was to form pools and cooperatives.

Lamb associations brought top price. Turkey associations brought top price, a creamery, built on the north end of the town of Gooding was doing excellent. In June of 1929 a turkey association formed and by the time all the turkeys were shipped for Thanksgiving and Christmas markets, Gooding County farmers saw a wonderful pay off of over $135,000.

On October 29th, 1929, the United States and the rest of the world was plunged into the Great Depression when the stock market crashed.

While there was panic in the streets in many large cities across the nation in the days following the crash, the folks of Gooding County didn’t seem to get overly excited. No declaration of the stock market crash appeared on the front page of the Gooding Leader throughout the rest of 1929 and for most of 1930.
From then on, there was some information provided in the newspaper about various fallout from the crash, but for the most part, editorials centered on Gooding County happenings.

When I asked my papa what he remembered of the reaction, he just shrugged and said: “I don’t suppose most folks around here had much in the way of market stocks to worry over.”

Perhaps many of the county’s leaders felt the same way President Hoover felt:
“While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have passed the worst and with continued unity of effort, we shall rapidly recover.”
Hoover, sadly, was wrong. As 1929 rolled into 1930, it quickly became clear to every American the crash had plunged the world into chaos, and the majority of Americans, no matter where they lived, would soon feel the bite of the Great Depression.

By 1931, the forming of pools and cooperatives had become an absolute necessity. In some cases, it was the only way farmers could obtain the maximum amount possible—which was, more often than not—barely enough to sustain them until the next crops could be sold.

In an article, Idaho and the Great Depression,” published by Idaho Yesterdays, Summer Issue 1969, Leonard Arrington shared this:

“Many Idaho farmers faced foreclosure, so neighbors dutifully showed up at sheriff’s auctions to bid the best price—after quietly agreeing to not bit against one another—as a result, a splendid team of horses sold for $1.50 cents; a grain binder for $2; a hay mover for $1. Prices of other animals and equipment ran from a low of .50 cents to a high of $3.”

The farmers paid the sums they had bid, received the items purchased, and promptly turned them back to the farmer who had been foreclosed.

Now that’s a good Idaho neighbor!

Throughout the 1920s Republicans ruled both nationwide, and in Idaho. But by 1932, Idahoans as well as much of the rest of the nation were ready for a change. In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office as President, and Herbert Hoover was left to take the blame for the Great Depression and all of the ills associated with it.

People who lost their jobs and homes, often ended up in shanty towns called, Hoovervilles. Recycled nails were called Hoover nails. There were even Hoover hats and boots.

FDR offered a new deal that was in the opinion of many Americans, including Idahoans, their last best chance to hand on to what little they left.
Papa told me most of his family and friends absolutely hated the idea of government dole.

“What it really came down to,” Papa said, “Was there isn’t much taste in pride when that’s all you have to eat.”

By 1934, any job one could get was welcome. President Roosevelt came out with a number of programs, affectionately dubbed the “Alphabet Programs.” Papa went to work for the WPA, or Works Progress Administration. While papa did not work on this project, one of the most important WPA projects in Gooding County, was the riprapping of the Big Wood River through Gooding. This project was completed in 1941.

There’s little question a good many Idahoans had to swallow their pride in order to participate in New Deal programs, but swallow it they did.
It wasn’t until many years later, Idahoans began to realize the New Deal programs were really a boon for Idaho.

In Arrington’s article he stated: “If one reduces New Deal expenditures to a per capita basis, Idaho ranked 8th among the 48 states in expenditures of the anti-depression agencies of the New Deal.”

In fact, Idaho ranked 1st in Rural Electrification expenditures; 2nd in Civilian Conservation Corps expenditures; 2nd in Civil Administration expenditures; k4th in Public Works grants; 6th in Public Roads subsidies; 9th in Federal Emergency relief; 18th in Reconstruction Finance grants; and 21st in Works Program Administration expenditures.

In short, the 14th largest state in the Union, got over $330 million dollars in much needed infrastructure and other works.

New Deal money aside, people still had to be quite innovative in order to make it through the tough times.

My mama was four years-old when the depression started. She was a freshman in high school when it ended.
“We grew massive gardens, and canned or traded everything we grew. The hardest items to get were sugar, salt, and pepper. For those items we usually traded eggs.”

Mama said because her family lived in such a rural area, getting through the Great Depression was far easier than for people living in large towns. “People in rural communities had the opportunity to grow or raise much of their food. It made it a lot easier for people to take care of themselves and help others.”
In Gooding County, people who found themselves in possession of extra, often placed their excess in boxes or bins on their town’s main streets for others to take as needed.

Because Idaho is a land of bounty, hunting and fishing were helpful in getting folks through the Great Depression.

By 1939, Idaho, along with the rest of America, was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Farm prices were rising, new businesses were once again moving into rural areas, and larger enterprises were building and investing in Idaho.

The majority of the water projects that were severely hampered by the Great Depression, were near or at completion, and according to the Gooding Leader, the future of Gooding County was, “Looking rosier every day!”

Unfortunately, with the fading of the Great Depression there was a new worry for the fine folk of Gooding County to chew on.

A nasty fellow by the name of Adolf Hitler was stopping around Europe, acting like he owned the place. Another nasty fellow by the name of Isoroku Yamamato was figuring out the best way to put America’s Pacific Fleet on the ocean floor.
Most agree it was the onset of WWII that finally defeated the Great Depression. But the tough times kept coming for the fine folks of Gooding County.

In the last 100 years, Gooding County sons and daughters have fought in two world wars, fought in Korea, fought in Vietnam, and are currently fighting in the Middle East. We’ve suffered through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the farming crisis of the 1920s and 1980s. We’ve held our own against the globalization of the economy, and against the growth of multinational agribusiness.

I think my papa always said it best: “People around here understand, when the going gets tough—thank God you live in Idaho.”

Life is better when its shared with Kindred Spirits

It’s always a pleasure to travel to new places, meet new people, and learn interesting bits of local history. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, and spend a few days with my oldest son and some very dear friends. In my opinion, hanging out on an ocean beach for a few days is about as good as it gets.

The initial plan was to spend a couple of days moseying along the beach, collecting a few shells–and then pestering the locals to tell us what kind of shells we found–but our first visit to the beach led us away from shell hunting on a quest to find a mailbox named Kindred Spirit.

It’s been my experience when locals share their “best places” for visitors to check out, they really are the best places. A local I spoke to informed me a trek to Kindred Spirit would, “be a boon,” to my soul. While that sounded a bit cryptic, it wasn’t ominous, so I decided the mile or so hike to this mysterious mailbox would be worth the effort.

A quick Google search gave me the basic history of the mailbox. The mailbox was put in about 35 years ago by a dating couple. The couple left a notebook and pens inside the mailbox hoping people would leave messages. Frank Nesmith and his former girlfriend Claudia, had no idea how successful their project would become. But successful it was–and is. Over the years thousands have shared their innermost thoughts in the notebooks, and when the notebooks are full, they become part of a special collection at University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

While the history was interesting, I didn’t feel like it was much of a “boon” to my soul. So, I set off with a muted hope that upon finding the mailbox I would find the “boon”.

My husband and son accompanied me, and the hike was surprisingly beautiful. The tide was going out and at one point we came across a crab, desperately trying to burrow into the sand. We got a bit too close to it and discovered crabs are feisty little fighters. We also discovered walking a mile in loose sand is quite the workout.

Still, the hike was worth it. We found the mailbox and while it was a bit underwhelming in size, once I opened it and began reading some of the notebooks inside, I finally realized what my local friend meant about the impact a little mailbox on the end of a long, windy, beach would have on me.

Every kind of emotion one can imagine was in those journals. I read notes of purest joy and notes of deepest grief. It soon became clear this magical little mailbox provided its readers and its contributors, an opportunity to share their deepest, most personal thoughts and feelings without fear of censorship or ridicule.

The notes, no matter what they said, were a slice of a fellow human beings life–an instant reminder that while we all have different experiences, at some point, our lives intersect–whether we know each other or not.

I don’t know how one defines a “boon” to their soul, but I will say after reading many of those notes, I realized my soul felt better simply because I live in a world full of Kindred Spirits. A beautiful thought indeed.

Fun Cooking Tips from Grandmama and Henry’s Exchange

I was feeling a bit nostalgic tonight and decided I would rummage through some of Mama’s stuff for more ‘history bits and pieces’. I wasn’t disappointed. I found an old recipe book that belonged to my grandmama.

I have to brag a bit here and say my grandmama was about the best cook EVER! I don’t remember eating anything she cooked I didn’t love. Cookies, cakes, meat, potatoes, you name it, my grandmama really could make a delicious dish out of a soup bone and an onion.

Grandmama notes in one cookbook some of these ideas are, “according to the exchange,” which I believe means Henry’s Exchange. Henry’s Exchange was a radio program in the 1940’s, hosted by Henry Hornsbuckle.

Here are some of the tidbits I found while thumbing through her cookbook.

When you mash potatoes, heat your milk before you add it. This will make your potatoes lighter. If you prefer, heat some cream and add that too.

To keep your hands from getting greasy and covered in suet, put sausage, hamburger, etc, on a piece of wax paper. place another piece of wax paper over the top and press the meat into whatever thickness you prefer for patties. No messy hands and no messy cutting board or counter top.

To tell if fresh eggs are good, put them in water. If the large end turns up, they are not fresh.

Pour cold water over eggs before you place them in boiling water. The eggs will not crack open.

If you bake your own bread and you can’t eat it before it gets hard, wet a paper sack and put the bread into it and into a warm oven. The bread will be softened in a short time.

As macaroni and spaghetti boil over so easily, if you grease the top of the pan an inch or so down, the water will not boil past the greased area.

Before icing a cake, dust a little flour over the top and the icing wont run off or tear the cake.

When frying eggs, put a pinch of salt and flour in the oil and it will not splatter.

I also found a couple of cool ideas for problems that apparently are timeless:

To brighten aluminum ware, use lemon juice rubbed on with a cloth and washed afterwards with warm water. This also works on brass and copper.

When anything sticks or burns in a kettle, mix half water and half vinegar, set back on the stove and bring to a boil. Wash as usual with warm soapy water.

To remove hard water scale or stains from porcelain or enamel ware, boil a mild solution of baking soda in it periodically.

And last, but by no means least, this is a personal favorite as I have done it many times and it truly works. When you cook ‘stinky’ foods, like cabbage etc., put a bowl of vinegar on the stove or the counter. It really does absorb the stench.

Cheers to all of you!

A Lament to a Fine Old Friend and Love from the book of O.G.

September is usually my favorite month of the year. This year, not so much. I lost a dear old friend a couple of weeks ago. Not a human friend nor an animal friend, but, silly as it may sound, a tree friend.

Most Idahoans who live on the high desert steppe of south-central Idaho agree, cutting down a beautiful, mature, tree of any kind is akin to sacrilege. In truth, trees are so important to Idahoans, nearly sixty percent of the state lives in or near a Tree City USA.

Unfortunately, nature sometimes takes its course far more quickly than one may like. Such was the case with my tree buddy. An arborist informed me it wasn’t bugs or even disease that was choking the life from my tree. It was simply old age. The average life span of a silver maple is one hundred years. He estimated my tree was at least one hundred twenty years old.

I haven’t counted the tree rings yet, but now that my buddy is down, I can sure see there are lots and lots and lots of them. I was actually depressed for a couple of days over the loss of my tree. It served as both excellent shade from the brutal heat of summer, and a play ground used by five rambunctious kids for everything from climbing to ziplining. Now, weirdly, my house feels “naked” and my grandkids will lose out on a lot of cool play space.

A couple of days after the tree was down, my Mama came home for the weekend. I told her losing the tree was really bugging me and I wasn’t sure exactly why. Leave it to Mama to have the answer.

“Well,” she said, starting to giggle, “if you think about it in tree terms, you have fifty-four tree rings, about half of that old tree, and your life expectancy isn’t one hundred years. I think you’re feeling as old as your getting!”

By now, one should think I would simply listen to my Mama’s words of wisdom instead of challenging her thought process. But I’m not that smart.

“Geez, Mom,” I said with a fair amount of indignation. “I admit I’m getting old, but you have ninety-one tree rings, and will have ninety-two by the end of October. If I’m old, what are you?”

“Nearly as old as your tree!” she said, now laughing so hard she was bent double. “Look at it this way. The tree is gone but that is one hell of a stump! If I were you, I would build a big ol’ tree house on it. Your kids and your grandkids will love that. Besides,” she added, “That tree was dying and it could very easily have fallen on your house if you hadn’t taken it down.”

Later that evening, it really came home to me what Mama was saying. I would give about anything for her to live to one hundred twenty, but the chances of that are pretty slim. She has already been informed her kidneys are in bad shape, and her children have been told we should “prepare ourselves.”

As if one can.

Still, her amazing wisdom came through to me like the vibrant, shining light she is. Change is inevitable, nothing lives forever, and while your looking for the upside, never forget there’s always a downside.

That’s my Mama. Honest as the day is long, and as refreshing as ice water on a blistering summer day. In her own way she reminded me once again, she will leave us one day.

She also reminded me, she will leave us with one hell of a big stump to build on.

Motherhood is an incurable addiction. Wise warnings from The Book of O.G.

I am an admittedly decisive person.

According to the dictionary of Mama, that means I’m headstrong, stubborn, sometimes unforgiving, and always far too independent for my own good.

Although I respectfully disagree with her definition of my personality, I do have to admit, as time unfolds, I’ve more often than not found Mama is mostly right. Actually, she’s generally always right…like 99.9 percent of the time.

Still, I did feel the need to push back a bit when Mama interceded in a Grandma moment I was having with my one year-old grandson, Harrison. Harrison is a busy little guy, and thoroughly enjoys discovering the world–which basically means everything within two feet of the floor.

Mama became quite concerned, rightly so, when he made a beeline for one of my outlets and promptly unplugged my Wifi router…for the fourth of fifth time. I firmly told Harrison, as I had every time before, “NO,” and moved him away from the outlet.

Mama let out a very heavy sigh, and informed me I was going to spend the remainder of the day dragging Harrison away from the outlet if I didn’t do a bit more to get his attention.

“Mama,” I said, using the same firm tone I had used on Harrison, “This isn’t my first walk in the park, you know. Harrison is my grandson, which means I actually raised children first.”

“Well apparently you’ve forgotten a few things!” she huffed. “If you want Harrison to quit pulling things out of outlets, you better get his attention.”

I’ve never been brave enough to take Mama on in a head-on confrontation, so I decided at that point to indulge her opinion. “Really? Okay, what is your suggestion?”

“Smack him a good one on the hand and let him know your no means NO! Kind of like you did with your own kids. Like you said, you were a mother.”

I’m not going to lie. I was quite offended by her comment. “What do you mean by ‘I was a mother,’ I still am a mother.”

“I know,” she said, completely unfazed by my obvious indignation. “You have no problem telling your grown kids what to do, but apparently you lose your head where your grand babies are concerned.”

“I do not tell my kids what to do!” I said. “I give them advice, yes, but I certainly don’t, ‘tell’ them what to do.”

I should have realized much earlier in the conversation my Mama was moving the conversation in the direction she wanted it to go, because she was about to make an important point.

But I didn’t.

“I didn’t say telling your kids things you’ve learned is wrong. I’m simply saying you do it all the time, so you shouldn’t judge me. You need to recognize once your a mama, you are always a mama. It’s an incurable addiction. Believe me if I could stop being a mama, my life would be much easier because you are a pain in the butt.”

I really wanted to argue with her. I truly did. Unfortunately, I had to admit she was right.


I do tell my kids how to raise their kids, and I am a worrying, helicopter-mama-from-hell most days. !@#$%^&*^&%$*. That’s all I have to say about that.

“Whatever,” I said. “I’m not going to argue with you.”

“I know,” Mama said, with her charming giggle, “because you know I’m right.”

Ya. I did. I most certainly was not going to admit it, however.

“Well, I just think sometimes you should remember I am 54 years-old. And I’ve raised five kids. AND, I now have six grandchildren.”

“Oh, I do know,” Mama said, still giggling. “I’m a few weeks away from 92, raised four kids, have 16 grandkids, 22 great-grandkids, and two great-great grandkids.”

What Mama didn’t say was, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.” But I’m pretty sure that’s what she was thinking.


Yup, that was my response. It’s pretty darn hard to argue with someone who has experienced what she has.

“Fine,” I said, totally defeated. “You’re right. I just don’t like to smack my grandkids. Harrison is only one-year old!”

“Right,” Mama said. “But I’m pretty sure a solid, but not mean, smack on his hand will feel a whole lot better than a 110 volt smack down that could actually do serious, if not deadly harm.”

She had me there.

Sure enough, a few minutes later Harrison made a beeline for my Wifi plug-in. I gave him a solid smack on the hand and much more firmly than before told him, “NO.”

His bottom lip came out quivering, my bottom lip came out quivering, and…I have no proof…but I’m pretty sure my Mama’s bottom lip came out quivering. Harrison shed a few alligator tears…but…it’s been over two weeks and Harrison hasn’t touched any of my electrical outlets.

Who knew? I can finally say to the whole world, “I’m an addict, and I couldn’t be, more proud!”

I probably won’t admit it to my Mama though.

The Pioneer Spirit still prevails in Idaho

My family, especially my children, know better than to ask me questions about history unless they are ready for a lengthy dissertation on Thus and Such. I don’t mean to imply that I’m an great historian, or even an good historian. But I do love me some history. I am, in all honesty, an unapologetic fact junky.

I like every historical subject in general, but I’m particularly infatuated with Idaho history. Recently, and possibly because harvest season is my favorite time of year, I’ve been studying Idaho’s early agriculture history. I find it fascinating so I hope you enjoy some of the nifty things I’ve discovered. If not, read this blog post when you go to bed and you’ll likely be out cold by the end of the next paragraph!

I assume most Americans know at least the basic story of “Westward Ho!”–the intrepid Pioneers of the 1840s and 50s who packed up whatever they thought they could feasibly drag across the Great Plains, and headed west. The discovery of Gold in California, and the promise to homesteaders of free land, sent hundreds of thousands of Americans on a thousands-mile journey, looking for opportunity. There are amazing stories of daring-do and, sadly, a not to few stories of daring-don’t. But in the end, the west was settled and this great country was able to boast of greatness from “sea to shining sea.”

What a lot of folks don’t know is on their way out west, a lot of Pioneers came through Idaho, then called Idaho Territory, and absolutely hated every inch of it. Idaho was then, and still is, a land of rugged mountains, high desert steppes, treacherous rivers, and, as more than one Pioneer described it, “mile-after-mile of absolute barren, relentless, nothingness.”

Having spent most of my life in Idaho, I understand why many Pioneers felt this way. Until one stops to actually look at the unique and amazing geology of Idaho, it can be quite intimidating at first glance.

But when one does stop to take a closer look, one is often amazed at how a once barren and ugly stretch of nothingness has become among the most fertile and productive tracks of agricultural land in the United States.

The reason for this can be attributed in great part to a Wyoming Senator by the name of Joseph M. Carey. Senator Carey introduced the Carey Act, also known as the Desert Reclamation Act. With the intent of helping his home state of Wyoming, and in bringing more settlers to Wyoming and the west, Senator Carey introduced his bill in 1892. He was well pleased to announce its passing in 1894. The Carey Act while intended to bring prosperity to Wyoming, included Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, as states that would benefit from its passage.

In a nutshell, the Carey Act authorized the building of irrigation systems, to include dams, diversions, and the sale of ‘reclaimed’ water, in order to irrigate desert lands and turn such lands into agricultural meccas.

Wyoming folks aught to be proud of their senator, his intent first and foremost was to help his state, but, in truth, it’s Idahoans who aught to give great thanks to Senator Carey, because the only place the Carey Act really took root and worked well, was Idaho.

The Carey Act authorized the Federal Land Office to transfer up to one million acres of arid public lands in each state that developed reclamation programs. Companies interested in developing water projects were tasked with proposing, designing and building the irrigation projects. From 1908-1910, irrigation companies initiated 40 new Carey Act projects in Idaho–the majority of which still exist.

No other state approaches Idaho in the success of the Carey Act. Over 60 percent of land irrigated by the Carey Act are Idaho projects.

What Pioneers in the 1850s called an “Arid, ugly, wasteland,” by 1912 was quickly becoming the agricultural mecca it is today.

I suppose a lot of folks might read this and shrug. It’s nice history but really, who cares? I understand that feeling, but here is why you should be at least a little amazed. Irrigation projects are neither new, nor really all that interesting–but building irrigation projects in a geographic area where sheer cliffs, lava flows, steep mountains, and an average of 10 inches of water a year, really is remarkable. The fact those irrigation projects still exist, many using the same dams and ditches built over 100 years ago, is nothing short of incredible.

Most westward bound Pioneers of the 1850s might have been extremely happy to leave Idaho in their dust, but Idaho Pioneers, in my opinion, had a bit more grit. They turned the ugly into the fertile, and that Idaho pioneering spirit is still alive and well today.

Don’t play in cheat grass. Words of wisdom from the Book of O.G.

A few weekends ago, I was hanging out with Mama working on the book of O.G. I asked her what her best words of wisdom for her kids, grand-kids, and great grand-kids were. At the time, she declined to answer, telling me she would have to think about it.

Today, I asked her again if she had any specific words of wisdom for her family. She sat quiet for a few minutes, her head cocked to the right–which is what she always does when she’s thinking–and finally answered.

“The best advice I can give anyone, I think, is don’t play in cheat grass.”

“Uuuhhhh. What?”

“Don’t pay in cheat grass.”

Now I have to insert here, Mama is almost 92 years-old. So far, her mind seems to be holding up pretty good. Her eye-sight and hearing–not so much. For a moment, I wondered if perhaps her mind was slipping.

“Mama, I’m being serious here,” I said. “The book of O.G. is for the people you love most you know.”

“I do know,” she answered. “And I am telling you my best advice is DO NOT play in cheat grass.”

I’m a bit ashamed to admit I thought she was just being cheeky. So, I sighed impatiently, put down my notebook, and left her sitting on the deck while I went and pulled some weeds in the flower bed.

As I was yanking weeds, I was muttering to myself that it would really be great if she would take my little project seriously because it meant something to me and I know it will mean something to the rest of her family.

After about an hour, I took a break and sat down with her again. I was determined not to ask her any questions–unless I could determine she was going to take me seriously–when she said: “Are you done pouting now?”

“I was not pouting,” I said, somewhat indignantly.

“Yes. You were,” she said.

Before I could say anything else, Mama put her hand up, and glared at me.

“Do you know what cheat grass is?” she asked.

At that point I did get indignant, and possibly a little snarky, and answered: “Gosh, Mama, I have no idea. What is cheat-grass?”

I’m pretty sure if I had used that tone of voice on her in my childhood I would have gotten a well deserved swat on the backside. Instead, Mama in her infinite patience, sat back in her chair and waited for me to change my tone.

Knowing Mama wouldn’t say another word until I ‘dropped my attitude,’ I waited a minute and said in a much more conciliatory tone, “Sorry, Mama, explain what you mean…please.”

Mama gave me her mama-knows-best smile.

“Cheat grass seed heads are called awns,” she said. “When you walk through cheat grass what happens?”

“You spend a lot of time pulling the nasty little things out of your socks, your shoe laces, and any other part of your clothing the stinking things get in,” I said.

“That’s right,” she said. “So don’t you think it makes sense not to play in cheat grass?”

“Well of course it does, but everyone already knows that so I’m sorry, but I’m a bit lost on how this translates into great words of wisdom, Mama.”

Now it was Mama’s turn to sigh.

Looking back on our conversation, I’m sure at that point she came to the conclusion I was a best dense, at worst, somewhat stupid.

“There are a million different paths a person can take in life,” she said. “My advice is avoid those paths that leave nasty things, like cheat grass awns, sticking to you. Sometimes, it may only take an small amount of time to pull off the awns. Sometimes it may take hours upon hours to pull off the awns. If you avoid the nasty things, or awns so to speak, that can stick to you, you don’t have to waste any part of your life picking them off.”

I swear it took a full two minutes for her incredible words of wisdom to really sink in. I was actually so dumbfounded by the simple beauty of her wisdom it took me a couple of more minutes before I could respond in my own very profound way.

“Huh. Wow,” I said. (forgive me, but I was a bit gob smacked).

My Mama, you must understand, will be the first to admit she has made many, many, mistakes in her life. She has often said if she had a penny for every mistake she’s made, she would be a billionaire.

We sat quietly for a bit longer, and Mama finally said: “Tell them to do the best they can to avoid the nasty things in life. Tell them the nasty things can take a very long time to pick off. Tell them to learn from me, because I know what I’m talking about.”

Completely humbled, it took my Mama’s fragile hand and gave it a squeeze.

“I will tell them, Mama. I promise.”

“Good!” she said, with a hearty giggle. “Because I’m here to tell you pulling cheat grass out of your socks really, really sucks. Finding they’ve infiltrated your underwear is torture!”

Travel is the gift that keeps giving

Long before it was the refrain of a popular 90’s song, my Mama told us kids whenever we traveled to take every opportunity to enjoy our experiences. “We may never pass this way again,” she said. “There is no question once in a lifetime memories are the best.”

Of course, being a kid I didn’t completely understand what she meant. I was usually busy making funny faces at passing cars, yanking my fist up and down so truck drivers would honk at us, playing the ABC game–and cheating at it by writing the letter Z on a piece of paper and holding it out the window. Perhaps most importantly, to me alone, I learned to pronounce the names of towns. Raleigh is no longer Raw Leaf. Missoula, is no longer Miss Suey.

We were blessed at the number of places we traveled when I was a kid. I’m sure I’ve lost as many wonderful memories as I’ve retained. Still, memories aside, I’ve learned an awful lot for which I am most grateful. I’ve learned people may have a completely different culture from the one I grew up in, but if you take the time to listen, you’re likely to learn you have much in common. I’ve learned the forests within a few miles of my home are every bit as beautiful as the forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’ve learned the jagged peaks of the mighty Bitterroot Mountains are every bit as intimidating as the lofty peaks of the Bavarian Alps. Most importantly, I’ve learned to take every opportunity to enjoy myself.

Last week, when my husband and I were blessed with the chance to travel to Alaska on a cruise, I did my best to turn back the hands of time in my grown-up mind, and remember the awe and wonder I felt as a kid seeing something for the first time.

The first couple of days were a bit of a bust. I’ve seen the ocean. I’ve seen Seattle. I’ve seen islands.

Despite the fact I was having a blast on our big-ol’ boat, by the third day of our cruise, I was beginning to wonder if we would see anything that would bring back that childhood sense of awe and wonder.

I woke up at 6 a.m. on the fourth morning of our trip. Deciding I’d had plenty of sleep, I stepped out on the verandah of our state room. And for the first time in more years than I can remember, I felt that wonderful, child-like sense of awe.

We were slowly making our way up Glacier Bay.

I’ve seen glaciers before, but I have never seen anything as truly pristine as the area I was now gazing upon. There wasn’t a building or road in sight. No blaring horns. No hoards of people. No aircraft buzzing overhead. Pristine is an understatement, but probably the closest word I can find in the English language to describe the experience.

With my husband–and his binoculars–in tow, I raced to the upper decks of the boat only to be treated with sightings of mountain goats, a grizzly bear, sea otters, and Orca whales. To coin an old phrase my Mama often says, “My dance card was full.”

I was so excited by the beauty around me, I truly forgot I was on a boat with 2,200 other people. Nearly everyone around me was starring, slack-jawed and quiet, at the brilliant beauty around us.

After nearly two hours of slowly floating up the bay, I assumed I had seen the best their was to offer of Glacier Bay. Naturally, I was so enraptured by the sights around me, I managed to forget the bay got its name for a reason. In the middle of watching two sea otters frolicking in the frigid milk-colored waters below me, I realized the boat was turning.

I felt a tremendous amount of sadness because it was obvious we would be heading back the way we came, and within a couple of short hours this beautiful wilderness would pass from view.

At that point I looked up from the water, and realized the captain of the ship had turned the boat to position it in the best possible way, to show the majestic expanse of a massive glacier.

I suppose I could wax philosophical at this point, and attempt to use the 26 letters of the alphabet to describe the sight in front of me. But I would fail. Breathtaking. Yes. Beautiful. Yes. Indescribable. Yes.

But honestly, the only thing I could think of as my eyes drank in the beauty in front of me was: I must etch this this memory as deep as possible in my conscience, for I may never pass this way again.




Papa’s Timeless Wisdom

My Papa, Henry Howard, was one of the finest human beings I ever met. He was wise, articulate, extraordinarily kind, and in his own words: “Invented before automobiles, telephones, cars, and computers.” Papa was 97 years-old when he passed in 2005 and I miss him terribly.

But I have my memories of Papa and they are fantastic. Among my favorite memories is my Papa’s love of modern technology. Many of his generation sincerely look, or looked as the case may be, on technology as the ruination of mankind. Papa always considered technology wonderful and understood technology often makes life better for everyone.

Papa certainly took issue with technology being used for harm, but many times he told me it was wondrous to see how quickly a new invention could help everyone live a little easier. Papa, after all, grew up in an era when most everything was done by the sweat of the brow and the sore of the back.

Papa was particularly infatuated with large machinery. Bulldozers and backhoes were his favorites of all modern inventions. He watched these pieces of equipment at work like most of us watch sitcoms. He found the VCR to be an almost magical invention. Not only can one watch a movie once–which in his day was a once or twice a year opportunity–one could watch one movie after another!

Still, Papa understood with advancing technology, much of the old-ways would be lost. He understood people would likely forget how to produce their own food, and worse in his opinion, how to preserve their own food.

He prophesied technology would be harmful on the family unit, and children especially might lose the opportunity to learn important life lessons from: “The round-table of a well prepared family dinner.”

He lamented people might well become addicted to modern ways and forget the importance of history–turns out he was right on that one.

Despite the possible problems, Papa was a true fan of modern technology–with one exception. Papa was a cattleman most of his life. To him, a man or woman on a horse working cattle, was something no technology could ever improve on, especially when it comes to branding calves.

“No technology can improve on working cattle from a horse,” he said. “It’s personal. Your cattle aren’t just your livelihood, they’re a part of who you are and what you are. If working cattle isn’t up close and personal, what’s the point. There is no old-fashioned way about branding cattle. The way it’s been done for generations is the only right way.”

Maybe because he was my beloved Papa–and I simply can’t find a single thing wrong with any of his thoughts on life–I must say I absolutely agree with him. There really is something personal, magical, and amazing, in carrying on the multi-generational tradition of branding, ‘the old-fashioned way’.

It requires skills no computer can match, It requires hard work no technology can relieve, And it leaves one with a deep and personal satisfaction that only comes with a lot of sweat, a lot of blisters–and a few saddle sores one will never find anywhere but from a hard saddle on a good horse.IMG_0605.jpg







Idaho is best discovered off the beaten path.

When I tell people who don’t live here south-central Idaho is an amazingly beautiful and unique place, I generally get a loud guffaw followed by a look of extreme disbelief and sometimes, even pity.

Most folks zoom along I84 from the Oregon border to either Utah or Pocatello in a desperate 80 mph daze, fervently hoping they don’t suddenly come across road construction, accidents, or heaven forbid–one truck passing another at the disgustingly slow speed of 70 mph.

When seen from the Interstate, or even from most state and county highways, south-central Idaho isn’t all that pretty. After all, it’s a high dessert and by mid June, anywhere there isn’t a pivot, wheel-line, or hand line, the landscape is dirt brown, littered with the dull gray of sagebrush and dotted with solar panels or stark-white windmills.

If I didn’t know better, I would absolutely agree with my fine uninformed friends. When you bomb through south-central Idaho, it really is kind of ugly.

But I do know better. I have to admit as a kid, I didn’t pay much attention to my Idaho. It wasn’t until I joined the Army and subsequently traveled to many other states and oversees, I realized where I grew up was one of the most unique places, not only in America, but in the world.

Idaho sports the deepest canyon in North America, yes even deeper than the Grand Canyon. We call it Hells Canyon. Shoshone Falls is taller than Niagara Falls. We have more gems in our state than any other state, and over 50 percent of our great state is still unsettled wilderness.

Most nod at those statements and remind me only Shoshone Falls is actually in south-central Idaho. Agreed, but I wasn’t finished. Idaho also sports some of the most pristine natural and geo-thermal springs in north America. Yup, right here in south-central Idaho!

But, you have to get off the beaten path to see the true beauty of those springs and the thousands of other amazing sites that are the true south-central Idaho.

Recently, I took a hike to the 11th largest spring in the continental United States. One might assume a spring that gurgles 2,640 gallons of water per second (that’s 180,000 gallons per minute) would be overflowing with tourists. The water is pure blue and crystal clear.

Turns out, I was the only one standing on the platform that overlooks the 100 or so foot drop to the gorgeous vista below. It really was in utter peace and tranquility that I stood there for nearly forty minutes and never heard the sound of another voice, the rumble of a vehicle, or the buzz and snap of hundreds of cameras.

Occasionally, my thoughts were interrupted by the chirp of a rock chuck, or the cry of one or more of the dozens of bird species that make this spring and it’s canyon walls home. But other than that–total peace.

This gorgeous spot is known as Earl Hardy Box Canyon. You won’t see it from the Interstate, you won’t see it from a state highway. But to not see it, is to truly deny yourself the opportunity to see nature at her very best.

Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon, is part of the Thousand Spring State Park Complex.

IMG_0227 (2).JPGEvery one should share their travel experiences right? Meet my buddy, rocking chuckles. He sat a few feet away from me for nearly 20 minutes enjoying the view too.chuck.JPG