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Monday, October 20, 2014

Homemade huckleberry pie. The Snake River Canyon. A Supermoon and Saddle Tramp. Robin Williams and Charlie Daniels. The KOA campground in Twin Falls. All these things coalesced one extraordinary summer day trekking through Idaho.

Returning to Texas from Washington State August 11, a little road weary but eager to immerse myself in the Mountain West, I disappeared into a landscape where space and time connect.
Leaving Winchester State Park, I followed the Salmon River on US 95. An acrid smoke from nearby forest and brush fires hung low and obscured the countryside. The swift and cool river was flanked by charred grasses and blackened tree trunks. An ominous morning until I stumbled into Fiddler's Creek Fruit Stand in the tiny community of Lucile. Using a plastic fork in the parking lot, I devoured two pieces of locally-baked huckleberry pie, chatting with a woman who had ridden her bike from Virginia. She departed 90 days ago. Destination, Portland, Oregon.
Continuing southbound, I waved at the cyclist with saddlebags hanging on both sides of her rear wheels. She looked about age 35, brown-skinned from long days in the sun. And from that point, the smoke lifted.
High on huckleberry pie, I turned west at Cambridge on state highway 71. The road narrowed and twisted up and down like a corkscrew until I was looking down a steep descent - the Snake River Canyon. Like all the mighty western rivers, this one has been choked by modern dams. This concrete monster is called Brownlee and it impedes the cool water's progress before releasing it into Hell's Canyon. A local man said I could drive into Hell's Canyon on the Oregon side but it would take all day. So I had to settle for wading into the river and splashing my face. And more huckleberry pie.
Backtracking up the steep climb, I often craned my neck, overlooking a haunting and majestic landscape I may never see again.

Cow tipping in Idaho on state highway 71 near the Snake River.

Just outside of Cambridge, I stopped to grab some photos of a cattle crossing sign. The top bolt had broken and the black silhouette of a cow with a yellow background was upside down. A local rancher stopped and said, "Cow tipping in Idaho."
A rancher named Bill Noah, age 91, stopped to check on my welfare. We laughed about the cow tipping, then he delved into a half-hour monologue on his life and ranching. Another rancher stopped in the eastbound lane. Between him and Bill Noah, the highway was blocked,
but nobody was coming and nobody cared anyway.
The man asked us, "You boys 'bout got if figured out yet?"
Bill Noah concluded the conversation about some comedian named Williams who had taken his own life. "What's this world coming to?" he asked. I offered no answers because I don't think there any.
Down the road I rolled, those characters now in the rear view mirror and burned forever into my subconscious. And inasmuch as I hate interstate driving, I merged onto I-84.
Boise was traffic tie-ups, construction barrels and detours. I cleared the maze and pushed the pedal to 80, intent on making time to my next campground, Malad Gorge State Park.
Not one to embrace all things digital and electronic, I enjoyed satellite radio on my trip. My favorite DJ, Jim Ladd, was at the helm on the Deep Tracks channel. Jim played a philosophical set, poignant songs about life and eternity. A requiem for Robin Williams.
More miles clicking away at 80-plus and Jim signed off with Saddle Tramp by Charlie Daniels, circa 1977. 
"You may be here today but you're gone tomorrow. Ain't no strings on your boot heels or your heart." I gulped the words like huckleberry pie.
Then an orange-yellow orb appeared on the eastern horizon. A moon brighter and bigger than any I had ever seen, close enough to reach out and touch. A phenomenon called the Supermoon in which the natural satellite appears closer to the earth than any other time of the year.
With the moon glowing and growing brighter, Charlie kept singing about an unfettered life: "Saddle Tramp how many people watch you riding by like a thundercloud across the Arizona sky, and wonder if they're looking at a mighty happy man, or just a lonely breeze that drifts across the endless desert sand."
Fueled by all these things; huckleberry pie, the Snake River, the old rancher Bill Noah, struggling with the death of Robin Williams, Saddle
Tramp and the Super Mooon, I missed my exit and was 30 miles down the road before I realized it.
Then my eyelids felt like man hole covers. I limped into a KOA in Twin Falls, which does not count as camping. But I found a tiny plot in a crowded campground, pitched the tent and celebrated with a shot of cheap Canadian whiskey. Later I woke to soft rain on the tent roof. I rolled over and went back to sleep.


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