Ice

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Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day – albeit an icy wind.  My mom suggested we take a drive to the Salmon Tract, visit old haunts.  I grabbed my backpack and filled it with the usual things:  binoculars, mittens, diapers, field notebook, first aid kit, snacks for Collin, and enough field guides to way it down more than necessary.  Into the car goes Collin and I and we head down a few blocks to my mom’s. 

We pull up to the front of her green, Dutch Colonial Revival, shaped sort of like a barn.  A weather-vane sits on top, a whale with it’s East and West incorrectly placed.  My mom is kneeling down on her sidewalk, cleaning out the flowerbeds in anticipation for spring.  Her crocuses are in full bloom – yellow, purple, and white.

We head out via Blue Lakes South (the only name I’ve ever know for it).  It’s a familiar road in many ways – present and past.  I can see my younger self in a red Nissan Sentra, my mom at the wheel.  I am either sitting shotgun or in the backseat with my sister Dana filling up the vice versa.  It seems like a world ago, sort of like I dreamt it up. 

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Here we are though, in my Subaru Outback, winding around the road, a left turn and it all comes into view – a fragment of our history.  For my mom it fills up a much longer time-frame.  A right turn and we’re passing my Aunt and Uncle’s house, a bit further down the road is a white house.  I lived there when I was just one year old with my seven siblings and a dad and my mom.  We moved not long after my first birthday, but there we were. All together. A family.

A little further down the road and a rock house comes into view, surrounded by trees.  A pumice driveway leads up to the house.  The rock and pumice all come from the hills.  The house belonged to my Grandpa and Grandma.  My mom and her three siblings grew up there.  It was also ther, that my mom, Dana, and myself would return to in 1994 from Arizona.

I was eleven, but I had a second childhood out in the open spaces that surrounded this house.  Back in the city, were some siblings I was separated from, but I was also removed from family turmoil – now left to melt on the desert floor among the saguaros.  I felt a sense of freedom, of safety, of simpler times.  There were moments when I hated this isolated place paved with gravel roads.  I sometimes craved the city lights and sounds through my window – soothing me to sleep.  But with time, that all faded, and the starry night and coyotes became my lullaby. 

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In a clearing among a patch of trees, there lies an animal graveyard.  It’s dedicated mostly to orange cats with the name Gatsby – Gatsby I, Gatsby II, Gatsby III. 

There was a blue robin’s egg in an abandoned army bus serving as another sort of graveyard for broken copier machines.  My uncle Ellis was a brilliant tinker-er, and these were his, some of many that filled an even larger graveyard in which there were also old farm machines, old cars, and other related farm parephinilia spanning many years and lives – now a part of the landscape.  I held the fragile speckled egg in my hands, then gently placed it back in its nest.  I learned soon after that the mother bird would now abandon this egg laced with my human scent.  I felt forever guilty until I learned even later that this was a myth, probably told by mother’s who didn’t want their children touching things that could carry diseases.

I remember purple plums hanging from trees.  Orange apricots laying on the ground.  Fuzzy, yellow caterpillars covering the porch.  About a hundred red tulips circling a large box elder tree.  Peeling white bark on a cutleaf weeping birch.  Red crabapples hanging over a “secret” garden.   

There was a white owl who lived in a long stretch of trees that I imagined was a forest, as it was thick enough not to be able to see the fields stretching out to the right.  I believed that the owl was a snowy owl, but I have since learned that they’re pretty rare around here.  I still believe that’s what he was.  One time, in 2004, I got permission to go out there and collect owl pellets for an Ecology class in college.  I was all by myself inside that little forest.  I heard a rustling up above, and there, outstretched above me was a large snowy white owl taking flight.  He was so close overhead, I felt the wind from his wings sweep my face.  It was if it had happened in slow motion.  My chest swelled as adrenaline pumped through my veins.  There he was the owl of my youth (or a descendant) letting me know that some things stay the same. 

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The house now belongs to a cousin of mine and his family.  I can’t help, but sometimes feel like it belongs in a small way to me still, and that I belong to it.  We left it though, in the summer of 1999.  We had a need to leave.  We just couldn’t be there at that time. 

In September of 1998, Dana celebrated her 18th birthday – a senior in high school.  That December, seven days before Christmas, she was killed in a car accident.  Shock.  Disbelief.  Emptiness.  Sorrow. 

In January, my Grandpa (Papa) passed away.  A struggle.  A farewell to a long life.  A passing of knowlledge and history.  A young girl and an elderly man.  We left the house, we left the Salmon Tract, and we moved into town. 

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When we drive down that road now, the floodgates are opened.  We don’t say much about it though.  The feelings are too intense and any conversation might get too heated.  For my mom, it goes further back, this being where she grew up – where her mother lived.  We reach the end of the road, and with a right turn, we move on.

***

I seek nature.  I had planned on getting to some place out there the whole time.  My mom, on the other hand, was just thinking about a little drive.  We head to North Cottonwood Creek road, but it is closed until the 15th for the sage grouse and mule deer.  So we go instead to Salmon Dam to see it in its icy splendor.  It’s beautiful of course.  Brown sand, blue water, then white ice – the sun reflecting off of its shiny surface.  Big rocks and snow covered hills surround the reservoir.  Red-tailed hawks and ravens soar above us as we climb around the rocks.  Dark-eyed juncos flit around on the ground.  The icy wind stings our ears, but the sun shines warmly.

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The ice is melting.  There are cracks breaking its surface and ice chunks floating by the shore.  Spring is coming and soon boats will be navigating the ice free water.

Winter is moving on. 

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We head home, distancing ourselves – if only physically – from a space in time.  From our past.  From a part of ourselves. 

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Southern Idaho Places in Picture Form – North Cottonwood Creek, South Hills

About a week ago, my little boy and I took a trip out to the South Hills and ended at North Cottonwood Creek. The South Hills are a kind of sanctuary for me. I was born in Twin Falls and lived in a house “a mile North of Nat Soo Pah” (the way it was explained to others), right down the road from my grandpa’s house. We moved away from Idaho when I was just one, but my mom and the two youngest girls – my sister Dana and myself – moved back and lived at my grandpa’s house, where my mother grew up, when I was 11 years old. This area is know as the Salmon Tract and it is my ancestors (the Grays and Jones) who settled the area in the late 1800’s. I feel connected to the land and know that a part of my history runs in its waters and lies deep in the soil. When I wonder amongst the sagebrush, I feel at peace and am full of reverence for the land.

Southern Idaho is made up of the sagebrush steppe – a wonderful ecosystem full of life and beauty. (Though I didn’t think so when I first moved here in 1994.) The area is sometimes referred to as a cold or high desert. Many people see it as a wasteland, but if one looks, one can find vast amounts of beauty and life. Unfortunately, the sagebrush steppe is dwindling in size due to special interest groups. Much of what does remain is badly altered. Luckily, there are people working to preserve this amazing habitat.

A Sagebrush Community
A Lone Sagebrush
Here is the riparian zone of North Cottonwood Creek – the creek’s dry of course. Sadly, the cottonwoods are now far and few between.This is opposite of the creek – quite a starling difference in flora and color schemes.
Glowing willows with the blue hills and sky as the canvas.

Looking to the right…

and looking to the left – quite the contrast!

Willows with their seeds surrounded in cottony down, ready to float in the wind and begin new life.

A closer view.

 

This road leads to self-discovery, bliss, peace, happiness, or whatever it is you need. Care to travel along? Which way, which way? Looking Upstream…

and looking downstream.

I was very disappointed to find LOTS of trash – beer bottles, shotgun shells, plastic bags, pop bottles and cans, and the usual-out-in-the-boonies junk that seems to plague most isolated places. I can never understand how people can go out and enjoy these beautiful places and then leave their litter spread about. So careless and disrespectful they are!

Willows in a Sea of Sagebrush

Sun Shining Through the Cottonwood Tree

More from the South Hills

© 2008 Idaho Explorer