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

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Welcome!

Welcome to my new site – please take the time to look around (tabs up top and categories & archives to the right)!  I transferred some of the content from my SegoLily site on Blogger to here – and some of it got the axe.  I’ve a new focus for this blog and am very excited about implementing it.  Here you will find all things nature, outdoor adventure, and even some history – all about our great state of Idaho.  Hope you’ll enjoy and thanks for stopping by!  Hope to see you around often and please feel free to leave comments – footprints of your time here.   

From my About Page:

Idaho has a beautiful and varying landscape from the rolling forested hills of the North, to the sagebrush flats further South.  I, myself, live in South Central which is dominated by the sagebrush steppe.  It includes valleys, canyons, rivers, lakes, mountains, creeks, and springs.  Waterfalls pour out of canyon-sides.  Hot springs steam in a winter landscape.  Rainbow trout glide through creek beds.  Sage Grouse dance among shrubs.  Sturgeon gather in holes along the Snake.  And red-tailed hawks soar above it all.

 At first glance, one might pass off this sagebrush dominated land as barren.  A closer look soon reveals the life and beauty that blooms in this high desert.

I have roots stretching deep into this land, like the seemingly never-ending cracks reaching across a dried up desert floor.  My ancestors, the Grey’s and Jones’, settled the Salmon Tract where I was born.  From this ancestoral line, I also have Nez Perce blood pumping through my veins – shooting roots directly into the soil.  I feel that sense of belonging.  Of place.  Of home.   

There are many places yet for me to explore on this land I call home, and many to revisit.  I hope you’ll come along.

Sunny Vacation!

Picture taken in FL: December 2006

Looks like I’ll be leaving for Gainesville, Florida tomorrow! Just decided today, bought the tickets, and away we go! I’m very excited, a bit anxiety ridden, and can’t wait to be in the warm Florida sun! Will post when I return next week.

A Snowshoe Adventure – Our First!

Chase Looking Like a Seasoned Snowshoer

 

Me, Surviving the Cold

There’s a quiet solitude in the snow covered backcountry. One experiences a feeling of isolation as sound is muffled by a thick white blanket of snow. The only noises to break the silence are the “caw caw” of a ravens silhouette, and the eerie creak of a lodgepole pine bending to the will of an icy wind. On a recent trip to the backcountry however, I was not alone at all. Trekking through the snow with me were my husband, Chase and our dog, Bruce on our first time walking with snowshoes.

These snowshoes were gifted to us – by us – for Christmas. I was very excited about this purchase as it would enable me to explore areas that I wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise (considering I don’t have cross-country skis, nor do I own – or have any wish to own – a snowmobile). My favorite thing about being outside is simply that – being outside. It thrills me just to be looking, observing, walking about or sitting still. There’s lichen spreading out on the surface of a volcanic rock. Sculpins feeding on the bottom of a turbulent creek bed. Bees buzzing around lupine and buckwheat, while sage wrens flush out of a community of sagebrush and greasewood. So much beauty to wonder and be amazed at.

I can’t help that the aforementioned nature occurrences tend towards warmer weather enjoyment. The truth is, I’m not a snow bunny, as it were. The cold has never been my friend, in fact, I think it’d be fair to say that I hate the cold. This is perpetuated by the fact, that if in the cold for a very short time, I am quickly utterly miserable. Let’s use the walk from my front door to my car for instance. This is a short distance, perhaps a whole 12 feet at most. By the time I’ve reached the car door I am frozen, like water into ice. My fingers redden and sting as they transition into numbness, causing me to fumble my keys as I try to get the dang car started and the heater going to thaw me out. Chase attributes this to me just being a wuss (he does work out in the cold after all) and you may think the same. But I stand by what I say – I hate the cold.

I blame the bulk of my wussitis on having lived in Glendale/Phoenix, Arizona from the ages of five to eleven. The bright sun with its warm rays must have seeped into my bloodstream. When I returned to my birthplace of Southern Idaho in 1994, I had only one pair of pants – some blue jeans with a rather large Mickey Mouse on the front of one leg. I was doomed to suffer the cold from the start.

So back to snowshoeing. You’d think that with me being a cold phobic that spending a few hours trudging around in the snow at the height of winter would so not be for me. But as I stated earlier, I love being outside. Snowshoes would allow me free reign out in the South Hills that I cherish – a great opportunity to see the changes that winter has made on a once familiar area. You can see from these past adventures (here and here) that we have been to the hills in their snowy splendor, but without the means to explore further, we weren’t able to venture far from the road. Snowshoes make that possible.

We headed out to the Rock Creek Recreation Area and chose the first trail we spotted, as the roads were covered in a thick sheet of slippery ice. Whalstrom Hollow (topo) was the trail that became the testing grounds for our first snowshoeing adventure. Chase made sure I was bundled up under many layers so as not to get cold. He carried a heavier than necessary backpack that I filled with binoculars, a bird book, a mammal field guide, a tree identifier, my field journal, hand/toe warmers, extra layers, compass, ponchos, snacks, emergency blanket, water, pocket knife, first aid kit, carabiners, pencils, neck warmer, safety whistle, flint, signaling mirror, waterproof matches, GPS, camera, toilet paper, and no doubt more! We only used a few of the items so I suppose I need to learn to pack lighter – the field guides really add weight! We strapped into our snowshoes as Bruce wrapped his leash around our legs attempting to trip us up and pull our arms out of our sockets with his eagerness to get going. Once we headed up the trail a bit, we set him loose to his own devices.

The trail is a nine-mile loop that zig zags uphill. Here’s an excerpt from Ralph Maughan & Jackie Johnson Maughan’s Hiking Idaho to give you an idea of all it has to offer:

Extraordinary desert stream to mountain habitat with volcanic rock formations and beaver ponds. The South Hills were created by volcanic action, and this hike takes you through welded volcanic ash deposit formations (tuff) that have eroded into hoodoos and pinnacles. These ash deposits are capped with black basalt cliffs at the top of the loop. Consequently, there is not only interesting geology but a variety of flora and fauna as you start out in willows and sage, top out in subalpine fir, descend through aspen and beaver ponds, then drop back to the trailhead through red rock and hoodoos.

Of course all of that was covered in about two feet of snow or more, but beautiful all the same.

The hike proved to be quite a workout for the both of us (especially for out-of-shape me), but the snowshoes were very easy to use. They felt like a normal extension to the feet and I could hardly even tell I was wearing them. We both got tripped up once or twice though, by getting our own shoes crossed or stepping on each others (totally unintentional :). The worst fall was of my own doing. On the way back down, with momentum set to work, I somehow just barely crossed my shoes and ended up laid out flat against the snow without even knowing what was coming to me. I laid there, head at a lower angle than my feet, surprised that I wasn’t upright – it happened that fast. We had a good laugh at my expense. Indeed, we shared many laughs as we romped around in the snow like children – throwing snowballs and sliding down hills. We only ended up going a half mile up and then again back down (the descent being a lot quicker of course). We were getting pretty close to spent endurance-wise (terrible I know) and we needed to get home to our little one.

It was so great to be out of doors in such an amazingly beautiful setting. Snowshoeing is the perfect activity and I can’t wait to go again! I plan on completing that loop and getting to many other places as well. And if you’re wondering how I fared in the cold – you might be surprised to know that I was actually warm, in fact, even hot at times. Though a bit of snow blown onto my cheeks quickly reminded me how cold it truly was. But I can handle it.

More from the South Hills

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Winter Trails Day 2008

Fun in the Snow

Are you ready to play in the snow? Well if you’re new to cross country skiing or snowshoeing, then you’re in luck. Winter Trails Day 2008 is a nationwide event encouraging people new to winter sports to discover the joys of being outside when the ground turns white. Winter sports provide excellent fitness benefits as well as a chance to meet fellow outdoor enthusiasts – and not to mention the chance to see nature in a serene, majestic state. These events will be free and all equipment will be provided. All ages are encouraged to come out and play in the snow!

The official date for the event is January 12th. Some places require pre-registration. Check here to find an event near you.  Dress warm and enjoy the beauty that winter has to offer!

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Southern Idaho Outdoors in Picture Form – In the South Hills Once Again













See how snowy the roads were.
On this trip, it was my Husband, our Little Boy, and me. It was the same route as my last outing, but in the reverse (in on G-5, out on Oakley-Rogerson). There was a lot more snow than last time and the roads were completely covered in it. I was glad not to be driving. Of course my Husband drove with ease and confidence.
It was absolutely gorgeous up there and the chill air was rejuvenating and refreshing. We had a lot of fun kicking about in the snow. Didn’t see any wildlife aside from a few unidentified birds. Our dog came along too, and I’m sure he made all animals aware of our presence way before we could have spotted them.
I just love the South Hills and it’s a great pleasure to experience them throughout the changing seasons.
More from the South Hills

© 2008 Idaho Explorer