The Heart of Idaho

When I was young, in my grade school days, my parents brought me and my sisters to the very western edge of this state. My grandfather’s ranch was just one ridge over from the Snake River, along the Wildhorse River. It is mountainous terrain, just south of the Seven Devils, all up and down. But there were benches here or there where they could put up a haystack or two of loose hay to sustain their small cattle herd through the winters. They made enough to pay off the property. I didn’t know how hard the existence was at that young age, but I do now. No one works that hard anymore. I don’t.

I came back to Idaho to live in 1977, though I didn’t know it at that time. I came to help my step grandmother survive on her parents’ homestead. Grandpa Henry had died from a stroke. It was a 110 acre “retirement” ranch with a half dozen horses, five or six cows, too many chickens. It had good water, no phone, no electricity, and a 3 and a half mile “driveway” that climbed 2000 feet from the end of the county road in the canyon below.

But I couldn’t live like that. I learned, painfully, that I needed to be around people. If I had been a true survivalist, a real “prepper” for the coming apocalypse, I might have relished that setting and its isolation.

So, I made the investment to be a small-town doctor, where I could tend to people’s ailments, their worries, their pains and maybe even their death, or the death of a loved one. And by joining a community, hearing their stories and their suffering, I found the heart of this state.

In those days I had no idea how big Idaho is. I thought the 3 ½ hour drive to the town of 500 where we got Jeep parts was big enough. But in my years since I have learned there are homesteads and canyons like Wildhorse throughout this leftover landscape.

So, when folks argue we need less of each other and more of just ourselves, I understand and agree with the sentiment, to an extent. But we still need each other. I thought I could do it all too, for a while. I figured out how to replace the clutch on the TD9 before there was a YouTube video for that. But when I popped the track off the crawler on the steep sidehill above the barn, I needed help.

Gerald came up from Midvale. After a hearty lunch that ended with cream and raspberries, he sidled up and told me how to get that track back on. Then he drove it down to level ground and showed me how to adjust the tension so it wouldn’t pop off again.

There is no doubt we humans need each other. Sure, we could all do better doing for ourselves, but we are here to help each other.

Government should not usurp self-reliance. I’m not sure it can. I hear from farmers getting government checks how folks need to pay their own way. University professors, with government grants, think they know all the answers. But that farmer and that professor both saw problems and looked around for a solution. The government aid they got hadn’t crippled them.

I saw a 47-year-old sheet rocker in the clinic today. He came to see me because a year ago I said I thought I could help him with his drinking. He can’t sleep at night now. He wakes up at 2AM thinking of the 11 relatives he has lost in the last year to Covid. His health insurance, Medicaid, paid the cost of the visit.

We need to help each other. In whatever way we can.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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