Ab

Gordian Knot

We were taught in medical school to take an obstetric history from our pregnant patients or ones considering pregnancy. We were taught to ask of prior pregnancies and their outcomes. If there were miscarriages, they were called “spontaneous abortions”. That would be shortened to “Sab” in the medical shorthand we learned back when doctors completed the medical record with pens and paper. If the pregnancy ended in an “elective termination” it was shortened to “EAb”. We also recorded the live births, the number of living children, and the methods of birth, the size of the babies and the natures of the labors. All these details are helpful in caring for the pregnancy.

In my first year in the legislature, Idaho passed an antiabortion bill. Many more followed. They too got shorthand descriptions. There was the “Fetal Pain” bill, the “Ultrasound” bill and on and on.

We now have many of these bills in Idaho Statute. We have a “Trigger Bill”, and we have the “Texas Bill”. I could try to explain each of these to you, but you would very soon get lost in their details and their definitions. You see, many of them conflict in what they say.

For instance, the “Fetal Pain” bill, now statute, defines the term of gestation of a pregnancy from conception. It is standard medical practice to define the age of gestation from the first day of the last menstrual period. That’s a difference of about two weeks, most of the time.

I knew the Idaho Legislature passed a “Trigger Bill” in 2020 that made most abortions illegal soon as Roe Vs Wade was overturned. I also knew the legislature passed the “Texas Bill” this session. I wondered if they conflicted in their definitions. I tried to find it in Idaho Statutes, the online website this June after Roe vs Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court. It was not in the online statutes.

I called the Legislative Services Office and was told the statutes had not been updated. They would be July 1st, when most bills are enacted, the new fiscal year for the State.

“But it had an Emergency Clause”, I pointed out. I could read the bill on the website, but it had not been incorporated into the online statutes. The law was written to say it would take effect when the Governor signed it. Governor Little signed it in March. So, a doctor, at this moment in Idaho, would not know what is illegal or permitted for a pregnant woman considering her pregnancy. And we are expected to counsel our patients?

I know what the Idaho legislature would tell her. Maybe they should set up a clinic. They sure don’t update their website.

It is a weird, twisted, and confusing landscape we are in right now as states try to sort out just how they feel about this deeply personal, but important issue. Look at the Deep Red Kansas vote on a Constitutional Initiative to remove the “Right to an Abortion”. And then look at the Idaho Republican Party’s refusal to consider the life of the mother when abortion is taken off the table.

We were taught, as young medical students, to ask these probing questions so we could provide better care. We were taught that we would receive the most honest answers if we could ask these questions without judgement. I hope it is not news to you that patients don’t always tell their doctors, even themselves, the truth.

The judgement of Idaho Republicans is pretty clear. The life of the embryo, no matter the gestation, is more important than the life of the woman growing that baby.

The judgement of the Idaho Legislature is less clear. They have been in a frenzy to beat their chest about “outlawing” abortion for so long they have lost sight of the complicated nuances of bringing a new life into this world.

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Socialism

I guess there’s little the fractured Idaho Republican Party can agree on, except maybe that both factions embrace conservative values and oppose socialism. Let’s see about that.

Can we define socialism? There’s probably no agreement on that either, even in the general public. The internet tells me it’s a government or economic system where the means of production are owned or regulated by the government.

This is happening right now in deep Red Idaho. I’ll bet we can, most of us, agree it’s a good thing. We’ll see.

In the last couple years, bitcoin miners got their eye on Idaho. Bitcoin is a digital currency. People trade bitcoins and their value is determined by that marketplace. But mining bitcoins, finding them in the digital domain is a very computer and energy expensive process. If they have a high value, the costs of the mining are worth it. Sounds like pure capitalism, doesn’t it?

Since the computers needed to find bitcoins can be mobile, and the electricity needed to run the computer farms varies in its cost, miners look around for the cheapest rates. The electricity needed isn’t small. The bitcoin mining and transaction verification computing as a whole burned more electricity last winter than many European countries.

Idaho has some of the lowest electricity rates in the US. Thanks to the highly regulated Snake River Dam complex, Idaho Power offers cheap rates to us consumers, including Monsanto and Simplot.

Idaho Power knew the miners would be coming and they watched what happened in other markets. Miners have set up shop in abandoned aluminum factories where the big wires were already in place. Then, when they found a cheaper rate in the next state, they loaded their computers into a small U-Haul and moved down the road. Sometimes they didn’t pay their disconnect fee. Some didn’t even pay their bills at all, declaring bankruptcy.

Can you see how such behavior might dim your lights or shut off your air conditioner?

So, Idaho Power asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to establish a different rate structure and regulations for these players. The PUC took their request under consideration and asked for public input. The bitcoin miners griped. The PUC granted Idaho Power’s request.

I’m going to argue that this is socialism working you, me, and everybody. Don’t think I have any illusions about Idaho Power being a socialist entity. It’s not. Shareholders own the company, and they are the boss. But they recognize the value in the stability of their marketplace, the price of their product.

The socialism occurs because Idaho Power’s actions are regulated by a government entity, the PUC. Our governors appoint the three PUC commissioners, and they rule on these decisions. Now you may consider this “socialism light”, but I would still argue it is a regulatory process that serves the general public good.

There weren’t regulations when miners flocked to Idaho in the 1800’s looking for gold. The dredged rivers and streams, the hydraulic eroded hills, the displaced tribes are a testament to that. Ghost towns are not just history. Idaho has been a boom-and-bust state for a long time. It’s time we moved into the 21st century.

Maybe you want to go back to those good old days. Maybe you believe the digital bitcoins are just as real as the flecks of gold in the sluice box. Maybe you think the disruption to our power supply would be worth a small lower cost for your digital currency.

I don’t.

I value the stability, the predictability of my power bill and the juice in the wires. And I’m willing to tolerate a bit of socialism to make that happen. I don’t think it’s evil. Indeed, such structures “promote the general welfare” as our Constitutional framers allowed. And they couldn’t have envisioned a computer looking for an imaginary coin. But they could imagine “domestic tranquility”. Do we share that value?

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Politics as War

Photo by Steve Kirch, KMTV

I remember Senator Bart Davis’ comment to the Idaho Senate, but more I remember my naive reaction to it. I can’t remember the context or his exact words, but it was something like “Politics is war, without the bombs and brutality. Politics is done so we don’t have to have war or kill each other.” I apologize for misquoting.

My reaction was one of revulsion, but I respected the man, so I did some pondering and research. It turns out the sentiment was not unique to him. From the 19th century Prussian General Clausewitz to the 20th century Frenchman Foucault, other statesman and philosophers have shared the view.

So, with this blending of images and actions (war as politics, or politics as war) in mind, how are we to look at the state of war (politics) in Idaho right now after the Idaho State Republican Party convention has concluded?

Didn’t you notice? It was last weekend. I would encourage you to read up on the news.

But ignorance of this convention might explain some things. Idaho, indeed, our country tends to limit our awareness of politics. Just like the folks in Ukraine go about their business of growing crops or feeding their families as Russian missiles rain down on their kindergartens, all people tend to focus on their immediate needs. Like what to watch on Netflix tonight.

May I remind you, when Governor Otter was in the Capitol, Idahoans were ten times more likely to Google the aquatic mammal than Butch. We don’t always have a lot of political awareness when there’s wood to get and fish to catch.

So, should we consider the convention a cabal of the generals waging a war for the hearts and minds of Idahoans?  Or was it a freak show echo chamber where the crazies could scream their paranoid fantasies and not expect much blow back?

Unfortunately, I believe the answer is both of the above.

I have evidence for my conclusion. For a long time, the Idaho Republican Party has had in their platform a call to return to the gold and silver standard, despite the economic inanity of such a policy. It hasn’t hurt their numbers in the polls a bit. Add in their call to repeal the direct election of US Senators, the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution. This year they added a call to repeal the 16th Amendment, which authorized Congress’ ability to tax income. Now THAT would make for smaller government.

Please also note Idaho Republicans call for making laws to codify abortion as capital murder, with no exceptions for the mother’s health. So, a woman who will die from an ectopic pregnancy could not get care in this state. And mothers with nonviable fetuses must carry them full term. Remember, there is no statute of limitations on capital crimes, so such a classification would make accessories of women who had abortions 40 years ago. Really? This is how you want to win this war?

But just like Russians can bomb apartments and schools in one town of Ukraine, but the next town over maintains their street markets for shoppers and vendors, sometimes we don’t notice the real atrocities, or even the proposed ones.

Party politics can be very powerful, darn them. Just remember 1930’s Germany.

I think this blending of politics and war was not lost on the newly elected Chairman of the Idaho Republican. Dorothy Moon, in her acceptance speech said, “Democrats are coming for us full force, our barriers are up, our guns are loaded and ready to keep this state free.”

Her slate of radical Republicans won all the seats in the party, and she got elected to man the helm. Most of the radical planks got added to the platform. Now, if Idahoans are paying attention, the battle for their hearts and minds begins.

Or not. Ukrainians denied Russians were on their borders until the bombs began to rain down.

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Gun Control

If you have the time, and you don’t mind the profanity, this is really good.

I got a call from a friend a few months back asking for a recommendation for a counsellor in our community. Their child was depressed. Suicidal thoughts were mentioned.

I offered a name and my concern. I asked about guns. They had been secured.

Teen suicide in Idaho is a big deal in my opinion. Numbers support my impression. Idaho’s rate of teen suicide is double the national rate. We always, tragically, rank in the top ten for teen suicide.

And guns are a common method.

The spate of mass shootings has spurred many calls for gun regulations. But I have said before and I’ll say again, follow the numbers. If you just got shot and killed in Idaho, it is 13 times more likely that you just shot and killed yourself than you were a victim of someone else.

Making regulations about high-capacity magazines might address some of the mass shootings.  But it just takes one bullet to kill your suicidal loved one.

Guns are dangerous, lethal, no doubt. But if your justification for the guns in your home are self-protection, you are not following the numbers. I’ll leave it up to you how you figure out home defense and secure firearms. Readily accessible firearms and volatile, impetuous teens are a deadly combination.

There are more numbers. A recent study showed the risk for teen suicide was four times more likely in a home with guns, than in a home without. They didn’t drill down to the secure storage practices.

When I see teenagers for their sports physicals I ask them about their moods, if they have ever been depressed. Usually, a parent is in the room. It’s worthwhile to discuss. Silence about a common occurrence does not make it less common.

If a family brings a teen to me and the worry is about depression, I investigate. Part of that questioning may address whether there are guns in the home and how they are stored.

It wasn’t long ago an Idaho legislator tried to make such questions illegal. Her bill died with little support. But such a law was passed in Florida. Maybe that’s where she got the idea. It was struck down by a Federal judge as a First Amendment, free speech infringement.

Why do elected officials seem to think they should be passing laws about how I talk with patients? I think I do OK without their advice.

I guess there was some fear that the medical record could be used to “take away our guns”. Believe me, the medical record is used mainly for billing purposes and to defend the practitioner in a lawsuit.

I hope I have convinced you that sometimes guns need to not be accessible. For everyone’s sake.

I can’t think of a law or regulation that would make this commonsense recommendation more valid. I hate it when our elected officials pass laws that are unenforceable, but just make a statement. Such grandstanding makes us cynical about the representative process.

So, I have no proposal to plop before you. I just have a plea.

Know your children.

Listen to their moods, watch their function.

Sometimes you will need to use your judgement.

A parent’s healthy judgement may save a life. So, keep your judgment healthy and accessible. And don’t be afraid to use it to defend the lives of your loved ones.

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Seeds

I got my height in 8th grade. I was tall then, but the late bloomers towered over me by my sophomore year. Why in the hell did I move from ground-based sports to one that expected me to be tall? It was the girls.

Girls played volleyball. So, I decided to pick it up. It’s a skill game. But I was athletic, and the skills came quickly. I watched the girls’ skills and learned from them. They welcomed my effort.

The men’s game has an 8-foot net separating the teams. I could stuff a volleyball on a 10-foot basketball rim, so I thought I would be good. But a six-foot six blocker only needed to jump a little to be an obstacle. I needed to up my game.

I remember practicing the steps, the approach, then the explosion off the ground. If I could just get a couple inches higher. Adrenaline helped. I found I could gauge the ball, start my approach, then at the moment needed to lift, if I focused my hatred on a spot on the ground, I seemed to get a little higher.

I didn’t hate my opponent. Their skills made me a better player.

But I hated the gravity, the earth, that held me down.

I could really jump back in the day. But I was a foolish young man.

Those years of jumping have worn out my knees. I will get one replaced in a couple weeks. It’s the worst; they both need it. So, I will now reap from those seeds of hatred I sowed so long ago. We need to be careful about the seeds we sow.

The smile and wave to our grumpy neighbor is a seed. The time taken to understand a decision that will affect us is a seed. Blind partisan loyalty is a weed in full bloom. The seed was the hatred of the other we planted and watered.

I find myself wondering about our US Senate. Having served in a legislative senate, I know it is no comparison. Especially here in Idaho when both representatives and senators run for election every two years.

US Senators get six-year terms. The 1789 Constitution had them selected by their state legislatures. This was a nod to the Articles of Confederation, which tried to make states sovereign. But it became clear in the late 19th century that a few well-placed bribes in a new state could buy a Senate seat. The inability of state legislatures to fulfill their obligation sealed the deal when a few states couldn’t agree on their choice. Some Senate seats were unoccupied for years.

 The 17th Amendment changed the selection of Senators to a statewide popular vote in the early 20th century.

Our two Idaho Senators have served for 23 and 13 years. I’m sure they know the DC ropes. But I question their loyalty to our republic. They both have caved to politics, partisan hatred, when the ideals of our founders should have been in their hearts.

I’m sure they have discussions across the aisle to move significant issues. I’m sure they listen to other Senators.

But both listened to testimony about the actions of former President Trump and found no fault.

His first action was to elicit help from a foreign power for his own political domestic benefit. Trump withheld military support for Ukraine that had been approved by Congress to get them to do his dirty work.

His second action was to deny the truth of an election and, with his words and violence of his colleagues, try to subvert our Constitutional process.

These actions of our former President are poisonous seeds. Our Idaho Senators have nurtured their growth. And we have elected them, time and again.

I can’t believe our Idaho legislature would hold them any more accountable than we, the voters have. The harvest is nigh.

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Words

photo: ronstik alamy

The way the law is written in our state I am guilty of criminal abortion.

I await the handcuffs.

First, we need to define abortion.

The definition of abortion in Idaho statute says “the use of any means to intentionally terminate the clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a woman with knowledge that the termination by those means will, with reasonable likelihood, cause the death of the unborn child…” (18-604.1)

I know people have strong feelings about abortion, (killing babies) and these words are meant to address this. But laws are made of words. Our intentions are not ink on paper.

 I treated a young woman early in my career who had successfully hidden her pregnancy until very late. It was unplanned, she was unmarried and ashamed. She had worn an overcoat into the summer.

When I examined her the size of her uterus was inconsistent with her due date, so I recommended an ultrasound. The scan revealed she was carrying a 38-week fetus with anencephaly.

Sometimes in the development of the fetus the nervous system does not do what it should. If the folds required to close off the skull don’t happen, the brain does not develop. My patient had a baby without a brain that had grown to full term size inside her. She had nurtured this fetus with her body, in shame, hiding it, but not “terminating it”. Now I needed to treat her, my patient.

Because of the conditions, I recommended she deliver, that is, “terminate her pregnancy”. Conditions were ripe. I ruptured her membranes and four hours later, her baby was delivered.

I knew, and I told my patient, the mother, the baby would not live. Some anencephalic babies do survive for a while. This baby never took a breath.

So, in this specific case, I used a “means” (rupturing the membranes) “to intentionally terminate…a pregnancy that would cause the death of an unborn child.” I am guilty of criminal abortion by Idaho statutes.

I could tell you of another patient I induced at 32 weeks gestation when we discovered her fetus to be anencephalic. This time I used drugs to get her uterus contracting. She had a family. She was Catholic. It was a decision she made with open eyes and open heart.

Many would oppose this decision. Some would even consider this criminal. Idaho does, according to the laws our elected representatives have written. I want you to consider this.

That baby did not take a breath either. But I accepted her decision and ordered the drugs and used “means” to cause the death of the unborn child. It was surviving inside her. But she wanted the pregnancy to come to an end. She did not want to keep sustaining this fetus.

 I am guilty of criminal abortion.

Some want to have this moral and practical decision of terminating a pregnancy bend on the esoteric question of when “life” begins. I’m sorry, but we all must accept that all pregnancies will end. And some fetuses will not live.  If the action of a caregiver leads to the end of a life, we all should mourn, as both these mothers and families did. But do you, someone not involved in this painful process have any right to tell the protagonists how they should choose?

I guess most Idahoans think that. The Idaho legislature has done everything they can to make abortion illegal.

I think the intent of these proclamations really is proper. All children should be nurtured, wanted, loved. We should all be doing all we can to make that ideal a reality. So, if that is our intent, do our words, do our actions reflect that?

I await your handcuffs.

In the meantime, I will keep treating my patients. We all need care.

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Evidence

Hand wringing and regrets fall short of substantive change. Sure, mistakes and tragedies call for a response. But bemoaning repeated mistakes or tragedies without effort to prevent or change their cause signifies acceptance of our powerlessness. We should not be so futile.

Healthy change requires thoughtful study. Then even more thoughtful consideration of options and tradeoffs must be done. I believe this was the model our founders had for our representative democracy. We have not been honoring this model.

Please consider the Dickey Amendment. In 1996, the late Representative Jay Dickey added an amendment to a budget bill that effectively cut off public funding to study gun deaths in this country as a matter of public health. The trigger for Rep. Dickey might have been a CDC supported study published in 1993. It showed that the presence of a firearm in the home increased the risk of homicide. The NRA didn’t like that evidence, so they lobbied Congress to prohibit any federal funding that might influence gun control. And such research funding stopped.

After a 2012 massacre in a Colorado movie theatre, now former Representative Dickey changed his mind. He published an opinion piece in the Washington Post with the CDC Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. They argued that the funding should be restored, and gun violence should be treated like a public health issue.

I am always impressed when a public figure admits a mistake. Too bad it took sixteen years.

Six years after this plea, after Sandy Hook, after Parkland, President Trump and Congress restored a bit of funding to this center to study gun violence. We have a lot to study, to try to figure out.

No such prohibition has ever been applied to the study of traffic fatalities. Over a 50 year span we have invested $200M in research to make our highways less lethal. It is estimated 600,000 lives have been saved. That’s about the same number of people who were the victims of gun violence in the last 20 years in our country.

Maybe my beginning assumption is flawed. Maybe careful study and consideration are not a worthy basis for public policy. Idaho’s State Senator Steve Thayne famously said as much in 2020. He was criticizing public health policy about the Covid pandemic.  Steve argued that our founders expected us all to consider our own risks and make our own decisions. In fact, he went so far as to say that listening to experts “leads to totalitarianism.”

I doubt our founders imagined four lane freeways with two-ton cars going 80 miles per hour. If they had, would they have considered traffic laws a reasonable purview for public health policy? It seems most of us agree such careful consideration is worthwhile. I am thankful for the lives saved.

I further doubt our founders considered a six-and-a-half-pound rifle that could fire 45 rounds per minute and be accurate to 600 yards.

With the current hand wringing and pleas for prayers and cries to “do something”, I question the wisdom of all the proposals. It’s not that I think we should do nothing about gun violence. I just can’t support taking a shot in the dark.

We have been prevented from studying this issue for too long. I hope we can find some solutions. I doubt there will be just one answer, and I’m sure there will be tradeoffs.

At least now, maybe, we can open our eyes and see what might work and what might not. Then you can decide if you want to listen to evidence.

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Crazies and Compost

When I read my last post to my wife over breakfast last week, I got an ear full. She’s the only one whom I’m sure hears my stuff because I make her listen to my impassioned rendition over the egg and toast. The passion did not persuade.

“You can’t leave it there.” Was her admonition. “You have to tell them how to go forward. What hope is there if we are all just crazies up here in North Idaho?”

I listened to her wise counsel but in my mind, I was dismissing it before I had the next cup of coffee. What did she know of dealing with the electorate? I had run for office in this state. I had been elected three times to the Idaho Senate. Then, I had indeed been unelected in my last attempt. My battle scars were evident. What validity could she bring with this criticism?

I did not blurt that back to her. I need to have a happy home. Instead, I thanked her for her comments and then went out to turn my compost. It is a source of comfort and joy for me, not unlike public service.

As I mixed the rotting leaves and grass, I noted the warmth and function of the microbes, the worms. It needed more water. There would be more lawn clippings soon and it would heat up.

And I stumbled onto a realization. My wife has in fact been an elected official. Martha served on the Board for the Moscow School District. I loved talking to her about the issues and the meetings. She got appointed when a board member stepped down, then got elected (unopposed), but resigned when our daughter got a job in the district. Not the rough and tumble of legislative races, but public service, nonetheless.

I remember her description of painful public meetings. One was about a charismatic coach that was going to be let go. His passionate followers spoke loudly. She felt their passion.

The pile of leaves and grass and kitchen scraps and coffee grounds I collect from the workplace got some buckets of water I collect from the eaves of my garage. As the summer dries out, I will need to use the hose.

She had told me of another public meeting where people shared their passions about standards-based education. Some testimony was brutal, but off the mark. She had spent the hours and listened, and the board had decided.

One thing I have learned from compost is that small things of substance work the best. A big chunk of organic matter will take a while. Chop it up and it will soon be more available for decomposition with the heat and microbes. And such service to growing plants is the purpose.

I get the sense that many of us are looking for the big chunk, the pumpkin or tree root that will fire up our compost of democracy. Such big efforts just impede. It’s the little stuff, like grass clippings and leaves that get the heat going. And good compost is wonderful.

Democracy is like compost. It takes a lot of little voices, a lot of small efforts and a lot of listening to get it hot. And that heat really breaks down stuff so plants can use it. Slow compost with the big chunks and infrequent turning works. But it takes forever. Weeds will grow.

Martha wasn’t in the kitchen when I came back. I rinsed my coffee cup and thought of my chores. She is a wise woman.

So, all of you North Idaho crazies our there, come have some coffee with Martha and me. I will show you my compost and she will cook the breakfast. You are welcome. We will listen. That’s what our representative democracy needs: a good cup of coffee and compost.

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A State of Mind

North Idaho is different.

The vast majority of my years in Idaho have been spent in the state’s Pacific time zone. Why do we operate an hour different? Obviously, because we are north of the earlier Mountain Time folks down south, and time knows latitude, doesn’t it?

I’ve heard our Governor insists we up here be called “Northern Idaho”, not “North Idaho”, lest we start getting ideas of independence. I’m sorry, but that ship has sailed.

The Salmon River is the border for our special craziness. Come on up. But pack your colander or tin foil hat and put it on your head as you cross Time Zone Bridge. You’ll fit right in.

We had a strong antigovernment streak before statehood. Florence (north of the Salmon River) was a booming mining town in 1862. A Federal judge ventured over from Walla Walla to offer justice. He convened a grand jury and asked for indictments. The miners obliged, calling President Lincoln, cabinet members, Union generals and the judge up for trial. The judge rode his horse back to Walla Walla post haste and resigned. We can discourage authority.

We proudly know our history. I’m not sure the 1890’s miners insurrection in the Silver Valley was crazy. The wealthy mine bosses lived in lavish Spokane mansions while miners starved and slaved. But the strikers crossed the government line when they blew up a mill. The means of production cannot be damaged. That got US government troops called in from Denver. Some have argued lily white North Idaho’s racism was founded on the fact that it was black US Army “Buffalo Soldiers” who rounded up strikers and stood guard with rifles over them in open pens.

The coda to this episode didn’t end with the former governor’s assassination or the famous trial of the Union mine bosses who might have ordered the hit, nor with their acquittal. Our special crazy up here might have grown out of that convoluted spectacle of injustice.

I have no idea if Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations knew this history when they came to Hayden, Idaho near Coeur d Alene. But they added to the aura we exude. We are still known for their wacko ideas, even though they are long gone. We’ve moved on to prepping for the apocalypse and wrapping ourselves in Confederate flags.

The 1990’s Ruby Ridge standoff put us back on the crazy map. Randy Weaver died this month. He survived the siege of federal gunmen on his isolated North Idaho compound, though his wife and son were killed. He too was acquitted of all charges except “failing to appear in court”. Government hasn’t learned how to handle us. Maybe we just don’t like authority.

My home, Moscow, Idaho has its own crazy streak. Indeed, one State Senator we elected to represent us called us a “cesspool of liberalism”. It wasn’t me.

I like the crazy creative twist some of our residents can exhibit.

One day over coffee at the Co-op, one of these artistic types told me of an old State Patrol car he had purchased at auction back in the day. It still had the spotlights and the black and white paint, but all the fun sirens and bubble gum lights had been stripped and it wouldn’t do 120 mph anymore. But it sure looked official. He sported a bushy head of hair and a big scruffy beard. He appreciated the odd looks he got pulling up next to a fellow citizen at an intersection.

But apparently, he went too far when he designed and installed insignia badges on the front doors. They looked too official. A real state trooper pulled him over and told him to take them off.

They were a gold shield with black lettering: “North Idaho” on top; underneath “A State of Mind”.

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Break

Yellow Warbler
White Faced Ibis

I took a break from posting this last two weeks. I thank my employer for the time off, I thank the editor for the respite, and I thank my wife for the adventurous time we shared.

By the time you read this the nail-biting Idaho primary election will be over. I’m not going to make any predictions about the outcome of the races. Such would be foolish. But I can confidently predict the direction Idaho will be headed in the coming few years. We will continue in about the same direction. Our state will continue to grow with lots of folks moving in, looking for their own Private Idaho.

And these transplants will want more “freedoms” and less taxes. Don’t we all?

And they will look longingly at our public lands, thinking private ownership is the answer. I respectfully disagree.

You see, that was the adventure we took these last couple weeks. We explored some western public lands.

I’ve fixed up a 1985 Volkswagen camper. It climbs the grades at a modest pace. But it sleeps us warm, keeps the beer cold, and makes good coffee in the morning.

Our first stop was on Idaho’s beautiful Salmon River. Then we stayed in a Forest Service campground on Brownlee Creek amid some old growth red firs. Then, while visiting our daughter in Caldwell the first weekend we toured the Owyhees. There was a chill wind and snow on the peaks, but it’s an arid land. The ranches there are pretty far apart.

But our goal was to visit the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon, outside Burns. We had been there before, but this time we took binoculars and the bird book.

The natives found the place friendly, with food and water enough to support their small population. But with white settlement the natural corrals of the Blitzen valley walls were recognized by an enterprising cattleman in the 1850’s. By the late 19th century, it became the largest cattle ranch in the US, 160,000 acres. The cattle baron acquired some land by federal programs, some by purchase and some through legal battles. There must have been some bitterness since the ranch manager got shot by a disgruntled evicted homesteader.

The water flowing into marshes was key to the millions of migrating birds, but private property demands productivity, and water was diverted for fields and pasture. The marshes dried up and ducks died. And the surrounding farms were barely sustained.

Teddy Roosevelt was persuaded to make the area a wildlife refuge in 1908. Water rights were finally purchased for the Refuge in 1934.

Ammon Bundy chose to make a stand here a few years back. He called for the privatization of the federal lands and expected local ranchers to rise up in support. Like Putin misread the Ukrainians, Bundy got no groundswell of local support. His Sagebrush Rebellion fizzled.

But it’s still a stump speech dog whistle in this public land dominated state.

Martha and I enjoyed the birds; some we have never seen before. A quiet morning walk along the riverbank was memorable.

On the trip back up to the Palouse we passed through three National Forests. We pulled off a forest road and dispersal camped by the North Fork of the John Day River.

It’s a beautiful place up here in this sparsely populated corner of our country.

I own land. I do my best to maintain it and improve it. I expect the same for our publicly owned land. I don’t mind paying the fee for USFS or BLM campgrounds, and I appreciate that you can camp, hike, fish, or hunt on public lands. I can’t imagine the West without them.

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