Writings and observations

carlson

The end of one year and the beginning of another is often a good time for reflection, introspection, and the reading of a book or two providing one with new information, insights and perspective.

Besides the fine memoir written by the 90-year-old former Idaho Second District Congressman, Orval Hansen, the subject of last week’s column, there are two other fine books published recently that should command attention.

The first is a fascinating compilation of anecdotes, stories, experiences, observations and reflections by Jim and Holly Akenson who spent a total of 7003 days in the Idaho backcountry serving as the caretakers of the University of Idaho’s Taylor Ranch on Big Creek a few miles upstream from its confluence with the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

This is deep in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. It takes a special kind of person to live and thrive off the grid and deep in a wilderness area. Jim and Holly, however, have what it takes, as do a few others who belong to the fraternity or sorority of wilderness thrivers.

What it takes is an ability to appreciate solitude, to treasure the wind soughing through the trees, to listen for the yip of the coyote, the howl of the wolf or the hoot of the owl. It takes appreciation for the isolation, and ability to sit quietly by a campfire watching the coals while a yarn is spun.

The book’s intrepid couple are both trained biologists so little escapes their eye, from discussing their use of pack mules, to staving off approaching fires, to talking with visiting dignitaries. And of course they hold Maurice Hornacher and his seminal studies on cougars in the Big Creek drainage in high regard.

Backcountry residents also form a special bond with the pilot who despite troublesome weather almost always gets their mail to them. For the Akenson’s it was most often Ray Arnold at the controls. In earlier times it was Sid Hinkle.

Once in a while one will stumble across these wilderness reincarnations of the elusive “RidgeRunner,” all of whom will describe the magic of the time they have spent in the backcountry. The chief editor of the Ridenbaugh Press, Linda Watkins, spent the better part of eight years as a cook and a ranch hand in the back country, for example.

Marty Smith, who owns Three Rivers Rafting, a firm that runs rafts and kayaks on the Selway and Lochsa, would spend every day of the year in the wilderness. Guests on his trips are always surprised when about half way through a trip he’ll casually mention that he graduated from Yale with a degree in history and played for Yale’s football team.

The book, 7003 Days, is published by Caxton Press of Caldwell.

Another book, A Little Dam Problem, published by Caxton, is worth one’s time even if they aren’t into the complexities of Idaho water law. Retiring Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court Jim Jones has done the public a favor by writing in clear, lucid language about the bitter dispute surrounding the re-licensing of the Swan Falls/Guffey dam.

Jones, who early in his career worked on the staff of Senator Len B. Jordan, it can safely be said, revered Senator Jordan. One can tell part of his mission was to hold Idaho Power to the commitment the company made in 1952 to subordinate their water rights to the upstream irrigation companies in exchange for Jordan’s suppport to build three smaller dams in Hells Canyon rather than one huge (larger than Grand Coulee) federal or privately built dam.

Idaho Power spends the next 40 years trying to renege on the agreement, but Jones, as Idaho’s then Attorney General, with the support of then Governor John Evans, won’t let Idaho Power squirm off the hook. It is an interesting tale well told by Jones.

Unfortunately, the book, while avoiding some legalese nonetheless is repetitive at times because the former AG merely slaps press releases and talking points he wrote together at various times rather than summarize and produce new narrative.

What is most entertaining is Jones’ description of matching wits with and out maneuvering Idaho Power’s salty, in-your-face chief lobbyist, Logan Lanham, and “Lanham Lite,” Greg Panter.

Jones also errs when he claims that while serving as President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of the Interior, former Governor Cecil Andrus entered the fray on the company’s side. This is simply not so. Anyone who has followed Andrus’ career knows Idaho Power never supported him, especially after his Public Utility Commission vetoed the proposed Pioneer coal-fired generation plant.

Nonetheless, Jones has written a fair account of one of those issues, had it gone the other way, could have been catastrophic for the state.

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Carlson