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Carlson: Peak v. Hitchens

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Kathleen Parker is one of the finest syndicated columnists writing today. Thoughtful, analytical, practical, non-ideological, she offers an always insightful and informative perspective. Recently she wrote a sensitive, moving eulogy on the passing of Christopher Hitchens, the talented, prolific, iconoclastic English writer who died at age 62 from esophageal cancer.

The literary cognoscenti of the English-speaking world universally mourned his loss. His last book, a voluminous collection of essays on an incredibly broad range of subjects, was listed at year’s end by the New York Times Book Review editors as one of the ten best “must read” books for 2011.

Hitchens could clearly be a charming personality. Never having met him, like many one lets the view of another we respect influence our own. In the case of Hitchens, though, there is cause for pause, and ample reason for the Kathleen Parkers to separate image from the real person.

Hitchens was obviously a gifted writer. One might even say he was blessed with God-given talent, except he was a militant atheist and would be highly offended. For many his in your face militancy made him an unpleasant person.

Kathleen Parker will never meet Joe Peak. It’s a shame because he too is an iconoclastic, one of a kind character. For years Joe has operated a well-known watering hole a few miles off of I-90 up the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, a former bordello called the Snake Pit. Full of ambience and odd historical relics, as well as Joe and wife Rose Mary, it has been a must stop for years for thousands of fly fishermen seeking a burger and an adult beverage, along with advice on where to find the wily cutthroat.

In recent years additional hundreds of bicyclists traveling the 76-mile Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes from Plummer to Mullan have made it a must pit stop.

Joe is the epitome of Will Rogers’ old saying that he’d never met a man he didn’t like. Always gracious, the Wyoming native and intrepid follower of his Wyoming alma mater’s football team, the Cowboys, he is as good a listener as he is story teller. Joe and Rose Mary walk the talk of “faith, family and friends.”

It came as a great shock then when Joe recently announced he was closing the Snake Pit. He and his wife have contracted different deadly forms of cancer. Rose Mary is in the hands of the local Hospice, and devoted husband that he is, Joe is walking the journey with her every step of the way, knowing full well he too will soon travel the same path.

Not even the news a few days later that the Hecla Mining Company would be closing for at least a year the valley’s last operating silver mine, the Lucky Friday, cast as big a pall over the valley. Company officials privately say the closing is due to an over-demanding and unreasonable set of orders from the Mine Safety and Health Administration and some 250 well-paid mine workers will be out of work. Many will move away, some responding to ads that Barrick Gold is already running on KWAL radio to come work in their Nevada mine.

Throughout their ordeal Joe and Rose Mary will be sustained by their faith, something that Hitchens could not fall back upon. Joe and Rose Mary are devout, bead-carrying, Mass-going Roman Catholics. One of their sons, Jimmy, is a priest serving as an Army chaplain and just finished a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

They all walk the talk of quiet witness; they are what we Idahoans call “good people.”

Many would say and some have said Hitchens was not a good person, and not because he espoused communist views and called himself a Trotskyite in his youth. Rather it is because he made a career out of attacking people like Mother Theresa, and if he’d known him, Joe Peak. Other targets included Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. He ridiculed people of faith and was always anti-religious.

With malice aforethought he called his 1995 biography on the Blessed Mother Theresa The Missionary Position. As he grew older though he started defending the rich, the secular elite who bought into his views and paid for his books.

No portrait of Hitchens would be complete without mentioning his heavy drinking and his libertine sexual mores. If one does not believe in the Hereafter, it’s easy to rationalize selfish indulgence—eating, drinking and being merry.

Father Peter Daly, once a target of Hitchens’ ire because he challenged the portrayal of Mother Theresa, concluded his commentary: “Unlike Mother Theresa, he (Hitchens) never cared for the sick and the dying. He never lifted anyone up from the gutters of the world. He never rescued children from abandonment or cared for the mentally ill or the elderly. He did not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, nor bury the dead.”

In contrast Joe Peak has done most if not all those things. When both stand before the Maker at the Final Judgment I know who I’ll wager will hear “Well done thou good and faithful servant” and who won’t.

And I can’t help wishing Kathleen Parker had known Joe Peak so she could have placed Christopher Hitchens in a more balanced context.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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