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Posts published in January 2018



The Idaho Conservation League has a hard-earned and well deserved reputation for being an environmental organization that deals with facts and objectively pursues issues involving the protection of the state’s invaluable assets such as clean water, clean air and wilderness.

When challenged a few years back by the late Governor Cecil Andrus to work constructively for a mining permit with a company willing to adopt virtually all of ICL’s requests to ensure the mine would not harm the environment, Rick Johnson, their executive director, took on the challenge and ICL ended up endorsing the proposed Formation Capital cobalt mine 50 miles northwest of Salmon.

Thus, it was disappointing to see an op-ed by ICL’s Matt Nykiel that was nothing less than an ignorant, fear-mongering hit piece aimed at stopping BNSF’s proposed second bridge parallel to the existing bridge across a corner of Lake Pend Oreille.

As is typical with these kind of hit pieces, they always leave out inconvenient facts that counter their distorted version of the truth.

The facts are:

Fact: Idahoans will have a voice and the lead federal and state agencies have a history of soliciting public comment on projects like this. For Nykiel to say Idahoans will not have a voice is simply ridiculous.

Fact: When trains cross the Lake standard operating procedure is to slow down considerably as they cross. For over 100 years trains have been crossing the lake and to the best of my knowledge not once has there been a derailment above the lake.

Fact: BNSF is the industry leader in the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC), a GPS system that automatically slows a train if it starts to exceed the preprogrammed directive.

Fact: BNSF inspects more tracks more often and more thoroughly than any other railroad in the nation. It is a pioneer in the use of drones for inspection. BNSF also accepts responsibility for being accountable to all its neighbors despite Nykiel’s claim to the contrary.

Fact: BNSF works closely with all first responders along its tracks, underwrites special training for dealing with any hazardous waste spill and provides grants for purchase of hazardous waste response items. Note Nykiel does not cite by name those he claims are critical of emergency response preparedness plans.

Fact: At a Lakes Commission meeting Nykiel claimed the response plan was deficient. His view is not shared by those who worked on the plan’s development with BNSF.

Fact: Nykiel’s use of pejorative terms like gamble, roulette and risk is a deliberate prejudging and puts ICL on record as opposing something before there has even been one hearing.

Fact: From an environmental standpoint moving goods and materials by rail is still far easier on the environment and safer than using trucks.

Fact: Nykiel should admit that he has ICL already on record because of the group’s belief that coal and Canadian oil exacerbate the global warming issue. Thus his answer is to stop trains from carrying coal or oil---a clear interference with interstate commerce. But when you’re a true believer the end justifies the means.

Unfortunately¸Nykiel is prematurely dealing away ICL’s ability to be the constructive player they can be when they want to be.

(Editor’s note: Carlson was the founding partner of the public affairs firm, the Gallatin Group. BNSF was a major client for many years. In addition, the piece is entirely the author’s view.)

To a canon of stories


Indian Country needs a canon of stories. A collection of Memory that every child knows growing up. A reference guide to our shared history -- as well as a reminder about what the fight is all about. I can think of so many stories that belong in our historical catalog: The real-life adventures of Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, Brant, Chief Seattle, Geronimo, Susan LaFlesche Picotte, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Forrest Gerard, and the decades-long fight for the return of Blue Lake.

There are so many other stories that must be told. Mary Katherine Nagle's new play, "Sovereignty," does that.

(photo/Opening night: Mary Kathryn Nagle author of the play, "Sovereignty." Arena Stage photo.)

Nagle is Cherokee. She's a nationally acclaimed playwright, an attorney and a partner with Pipestem Law. She's also director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program.

"Sovereignty" is a huge deal. It's now at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Think of it this way: It's a Native narrative on the nation's stage. All too often we get excited when see a movie or a TV show that has one Native American character worth remembering. That's cool. But we should really get excited about a work of art, in this case a play, when the author, the cast, and often the audience is Native. (That is something that Nagle has done often. Her play, "Sliver of a Full Moon," is a good example of that last idea, writing for a Native audience. The inside story.)

Back to the play. "Sovereignty" tells two Cherokee stories, one historical, one modern. The first story is about the Cherokee Nation in the tribe's homelands and the actions of Major Ridge, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot (a nephew of Ridge) and Chief John Ross (as well their fictional descendants). This was a time of war: The state of Georgia was determined to remove the Cherokees one way or another. The state's military, the Georgia Guard, was evil, violent and determined to remove the Cherokee people from their homeland. The Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the Cherokees but the government of Georgia ignored that. The state's primary mission was annihilation.

Opening night: Mary Kathryn Nagle author of the play, "Sovereignty." (Arena Stage photo)
Nagle is literally an heir to this story. This is her family. Or, as Nagle recently said, "One hundred and eighty five years ago, the federal government sitting in Washington, D.C., sought to eradicate the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation ... At a time when many in the United States have been hurt and threatened by polarization and prejudice, I believe we can find healing in understanding how my grandfathers, and all of our Cherokee relations, survived one of the most polarizing episodes in American history."

It was polarizing episode because the story is about Indigenous survival. And different ideas about how to make that so.

Nagle does such a great job of working the law into her plays -- and "Sovereignty" is no exception. The concept of tribal sovereignty is a recurring theme. When I saw the play, I overheard a couple remark about how sovereignty as a living, modern concept. Perfect.

But there is another angle for Indian Country and why I think this story must be in our canon; the power of dissent. So much of our history of leadership is about vision and consensus. Most of the great tribal leaders in the 19th and 20th century were successful because they conveyed their ideas to their tribal community and were able to get people to work together. As Vine Deloria Jr. wrote: "In every generation there will arise a Brant, a Pontiac, a Tecumseh, a Chief Joseph, a Joseph Garry, to carry the people yet one more decade further."

But not always. Every once in a while it's the voice of dissent; the leader challenging consensus that carries the people forward. There are two great stories about why dissent is so important to Indian Country: That of the Ridges and Lucy Covington's fight against termination. (She followed around a pro-termination Colville tribal council at public events to counter their narrative and then stirred up support for new leaders.)

I have my own take on the Ridge story, mostly through the framework of Elias Boudinot (who is in the play) the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix. "As the liberty of the press is so essential to the improvement of the mind, we shall consider our paper, a free paper," Boudinot wrote in the first issue. "The columns of this newspaper shall always be open to free and temperate discussions on matters of politics, religion, and so forth."

It's impossible to have a temperate discussion in a time of war. The head of the Georgia Guard, Col. C.H. Nelson, told Boudinot that he could not be prosecuted under Georgia law, but if the reportage about the Guard did not cease, Nelson would tie him to a tree and give him a sound whipping.

Boudinot responded with a series of editorials on the Guard and freedom. Boudinot wrote: "In this free country, where the liberty of the press is solemnly guaranteed, is this the way to obtain satisfaction for an alleged injury committed in a newspaper? I claim nothing but what I have a right to claim as a man— I complain of nothing of which a privileged white editor would not complain."

The Cherokee leadership -- led by Chief John Ross and the National Council -- had its own issues with The Phoenix leading to Boudinot's resignation. Ross was determined to remain in Georgia no matter the cost. One of those provisions would have been absolute Georgia authority over the Cherokee Nation. "Removal, then, is the only remedy—the only practicable remedy," Boudinot wrote in a letter to Chief Ross. "What is the prospect in reference to your plan of relief, if you are understood at all to have any plan? It is dark and gloomy beyond description. Subject the Cherokees to the laws of the States in their present condition?"

This is the sovereignty part of the story. The Ridges and Boudinot argued for a future Cherokee Nation. That meant signing the Treaty of New Echota and setting the stage for what became the Trail of Tears and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Major Ridge knew the price of this dissent. He said at the time: "I have signed my death warrant."

Nagle's play captures those powerful themes but it also does something that only an artist can do. She brings the Ross and Ridge families back together. She shows through the power of story how we're all in this together. Still.

Sovereignty is at the Arena Stage through Feb. 18.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Notes . . .


A rainy, quiet afternoon. Time to put on a movie, one that would entertain but also engage.

Time for another view of Citizen Kane. Haven't watched it in, oh, six or seven years. Let's give it another go. (And yes, that's as far as my thought process went.)

No big, thoughtful review of it here; I have no idea what I could say about it that hasn't been said elsewhere. Except, maybe, on this day in January of 2018, this . . .

Kane is a movie about an arrogant, reckless, loud, aggressive, rich, powerful media figure, married more than once and profligate and ultimately dismissive of all but his most sycophantic allies, ostensibly a populist but seldom able to see anyone else for who they are . . . politically ambitious and also snared by scandal, brought low at the end in his palatial Xanadu.

A review of the movie I read maybe a generation ago asked the question: "Try to think of a personage in contemporary life who would be a suitable model for an updated Kane . . . Or don't they make them like Hearst anymore?"

What do you think? - rs

Shut the hell up


A dyed-in-the-wool, real Republican has taken the words right out of my mouth. In doing so, he’s given my old heart a last gasp of hope there may be some life left in the old GOP corpse: that it may rise again.

We’ll get to him in a minute. First, some background. And a warning. If you’re a straight-up Evangelical believer who thinks our nation is being led to Hell by the guy in the White House, you reject his foul mouth, chronic lying, his total absence of qualifications to hold that office AND you accept the rest of us are entitled to our differing beliefs, please - PLEASE - don’t take offense at what you’re about to read. While I deeply and honestly mean the words, they are not directed at you. They ARE directed at some of your totally dangerous brethren.

Let’s start with Franklin Graham who must, by now, be an embarrassment to well-grounded Christian believers everywhere. His recent rhetoric about our president is anything but Christian.

Case in point: On CNN last week, Graham said Trump “is a changed man.” Meaning for the better, I’d guess. He said Trump’s affair with a porn star was “11,12,13,14 years ago,” Trump is “a businessman, not a politician...talks a certain way to get his point across” and while “he has offended people, God put him in the White House for a reason.”

“I believe Donald Trump is a good man,” Graham said. “I think God put him there.” End quote.

Given the depth of public knowledge about Trump and his activities the past year, this so-called “Christian leader” can’t possibly be representing thinking Christians, much less the entire Evangelical branch. A mass of evidence puts the lie to his words.

Then, there’s Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. The Council’s website says it “..champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue and the wellspring of society...families are formed only by ties of blood, marriage or adoption” and “marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”

So, here’s Perkins on Trump on CNN. “Evangelicals, conservatives, they gave him a mulligan - a do-over...a second chance.” Perkins said Trump had built a “relationship with Evangelicals” (with) “his constitutional conservative policies including appointing judges who oppose abortion (which) garners the support.”

Perkins is happy Trump will appoint judges with a fixed point of view rather than an open mind. Put another way, he wants judges appointed who will betray their oaths of office to support his closed mind.

While we’re all entitled to our opinions on this-that-and-the-other, we are seeing more and more cases of someone’s - or some group’s - social or moral beliefs framing issues. Perkins and Graham are exhibits A and B. That entitlement of expression extends to all Christians, non-Christians, unbelievers and, yes, “Evangelicals,” too. Our Constitution says so.

But, these two “leaders” want to eviscerate the Constitution, create a legal system with only their beliefs and dictate to all of society what their distinct minority supposedly adheres to.

Now, back to the Republican who has fostered some small hope in my heart that the old GOP may - like Lazarus - rise from the dead.

That one guy - former GOP Chairman Michael Steele - responded to the Perkins garbage this way on MSNBC. “I have a very simple admonition at this point,” he said. “Just shut the Hell up and don’t ever preach to me about anything ever again. I don’t want to hear it!”

Further, he said, “After telling me how to live my life, what to believe, what not to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter? The grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter? The outright behavior and lies don’t matter? Just shut up!”

Michael, sez I, you took the words right out of my mouth!”

Idaho Briefing – January 29

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for January 29. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

Budget hearings are well underway at the Idaho Legislature, and much of the relatively substantive debate is about to get underway. Outside the capitol dome, winter continues apace.

Schools chief Sherri Ybarra asked budget-writers to keep Idaho’s public school students in mind while weighing her request to increase state spending on K-12 by more than $113 million next year.

Idaho Fish and Game Commission on January 17 voted to continue the current general hunts in the popular Sawtooth Elk Zone A and B tags sold on a first-come, first-served basis in 2018, but commissioners signaled a plan to change elk hunts in the zone to controlled hunts in 2019.

As required by Idaho Code, Idaho State Police Forensic Services provided the annual Idaho Sexual Assault Kit report to the Idaho Legislature on Friday.

Boise State University and its alumni drove nearly $1.9 billion in Idaho in fiscal year 2015, according to a report commissioned by the university and conducted by Tripp Umbach, a national economic analysis group.

Idahoans who receive natural gas service from Avista Utilities will pay less this winter after regulators approved a decrease to the Purchased Gas Cost Adjustment set in November 2017 through the company’s annual PGA filing.

The Bureau of Land Management recently took quick action to close off a collapsed mine shaft that opened suddenly in the historic mining town of Silver City, 50 miles southwest of Boise. The resulting sinkhole was adjacent to the community park and near a campground frequented by recreationists, posing an immediate safety risk.

PHOTO The Idaho State police respond to a snow slideoff in eastern Idaho, where many roads were impacted by snowfall last week. (photo/Idaho State Police)

Changing the guard


Much has been written lately in the press about the Oregon Legislature’s upcoming 2018 session, as lawmakers, staff and lobbyists prepare to descend on the capitol in Salem for its February 5 onset.

But the big story of this short session is a situation that is unprecedented — there are going to be several legislators who have been appointed to their seats through a process involving precinct committee people and county commissioners.

Those recent appointments to vacant seats have been occurring in both the House and the Senate, for seats held by Democrats and Republicans, and from districts stretching all over the state, from the Portland metropolitan area clear to the Idaho border.

First was longtime Republican Rep. Vic Gilliam, who stepped down from his House District 18 seat in Marion County due to health reasons. He was replaced by former Silverton Mayor Rick Lewis.

Former Lake Oswego area legislator Ann Lininger, a Democrat, was appointed to a judgeship by Governor Brown. Her seat in House District 38 was filled by former lobbyist Andrea Salinas.

Republican Mark Johnson resigned as the state representative for House District 52 to take over as head of Oregon Business and Industry and was replaced by Hood River resident Jeff Helfrich.

Another Republican, John Huffman, gave up his seat representing Central an Northern Oregon in House District 59 for a position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He was replaced by Rep. Dan Bonham.

Jodi Hack took over as head of the Homebuilders Association, and the Marion County Board of Commissioners unanimously appointed fellow Republican Denyc Boles to fill her seat in House District 19.

Two Senate seats vacated simultaneously when Brown appointed Democrat Richard Devlin and Republican Ted Ferrioli to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Cliff Bentz was appointed to fill Ferrioli’s seat in the vast Senate District 30 that covers much of Eastern Oregon. But in so doing, Bentz had to step down from his seat in House District 60. The process to fill Devlin’s suburban Portland Senate seat will conclude soon. Lynn Findley was appointed yesterday to fill the HD 60 seat vacated by Cliff Bentz's promotion to the Senate.

The loss of so many members is just the beginning of the brain drain coming to the capitol.

Oregon’s Legislative Revenue Officer for the last 20 years recently retired, and at least five House members with considerably seniority have already announced that they won’t seek re-election. Their districts cover areas as diverse as Medford, Clackamas and Lane counties and the northern coast.

Even assuming the extremely unlikely scenario that other incumbents don’t announce their retirements in the coming weeks, or that every incumbent who does seek another term is re-elected, the legislature has already lost several decades’ worth of institutional knowledge and will be losing many more by the start of the 2019 session.

(photo/Scott Jorgensen, showing the arrival of Bentz at the Senate.)

A flock of subjects


A few policy subjects that seem worth a quick review, and seem timely, as the Idaho Legislature kicks into full steam for this session.

States often pay little attention what goes on in the legislatures of even their close neighbors, but Idaho might want to reflect on a vote last week in Oregon that set in motion the course of this year’s legislative session there. The vote was on whether to accept or reject a tax increase passed by the last session; a ballot issue aimed at rejecting it was proposed by several Republican House members. In the vote last Tuesday, Oregon voters statewide approved the tax increase by a landslide 61.5 percent.

What was this tax? It was a levy on certain larger hospitals and on health insurance premiums - both industries were in favor of it - as a way of helping pay for the state’s expanded Medicaid program. Rejection of the tax would have blown a billion-dollar hole in the state budget; approval meant, more or less, status quo. Health insurance for several hundred thousand Oregonians was in the balance.

That Oregon would be more amenable than Idaho to such a proposal is no shock. But the big margin of the vote in a special election - this one question was the only thing on the ballot - and the voter turnout of about 40 percent should give some pause to Idahoans thinking about how to handle Medicaid and health insurance.

Item the second: The recent column about the proposed (by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter) change in administration of Idaho state higher education, which would involve a state “CEO” overseeing the colleges and universities, drew this e-mail inquiry, requesting an answer:

“If Otter wants to really make a move toward a “Chancellor” system, why is he so timid about calling it what it is? If he doesn’t, why did he make this toothless proposal?”

The proposal has been making its way through the system, drawing an endorsement from the state Board of Education. The guess here is that it might not have if it had used the word “chancellor” (which Otter specifically disavowed).

So what’s the difference between a CEO and a (in the usual sense) chancellor, as an overseer of the system? That’s much harder to say, and Otter didn’t really seem to clarify it. The point here may be that using the one term is politically and popularly acceptable, and the other isn’t. Go figure.

Finally, a return to last week’s column about “historical horse racing.” I raised a question about how well the bettor terminals in the planned system comply with constitutional pari-mutuel requirements, which drew an emphatic response from an HHR backer that yes, it did.

He noted that, “the HHR terminals are the same as approved by the Legislature in 2012 in respect to the workings of the pari-mutuel operation and system of betting.” And, “the terminals that are proposed to be operated in Idaho are distinguishable from those that were proposed to be used Nebraska and Maryland nearly a decade ago, and can be legally and constitutionally operated in the state of Idaho. I reference Nebraska and Maryland here because AG opinions in those states were cited in the recent Idaho AG’s Certificate of Review. Again, I point out that those opinions from those states are dated and do not comport with the changes that have taken place in the HHR industry. The statutes in those states also differ from Idaho, so it’s not a true apples-to-apples comparison.”

His points (these and others) are fair and reasonable, but there’s room to rebut them too. My overall sense is that this is a complex and even technical debate, and if the legislature goes there it should plan on spending a while in hearings to get the specifics right. Maybe as much as with health insurance.

Vietnam revisited


As our plane was descending to land at Hanoi International Airport on January 17, I remembered back to my first landing in Vietnam 50 years ago.

That time, the World Airlines plane made a steep descent into Tan Son Nhat Airport in Saigon so as to reduce its exposure to ground fire. Looking out the window then, I saw bomb craters and other evidence of the fighting in the vicinity of the airport that had taken place during the Tet Offensive just five months earlier. This time the descent was normal, but it felt odd to be landing in a place that I had wanted to be blown off of the face of the earth in 1968.

My wife, Kelly, and I enjoyed our interaction with the Vietnamese people we met in Hanoi. It is hard to believe they were bitter enemies not so long ago. One person brushed off the “American War,” as just an interruption in the long history of Vietnam.

We made the obligatory visit to the Hanoi Hilton, the old French prison where American POWs were held and brutally mistreated during the war. I was disappointed that about 90% of it had been demolished to make way for a commercial building. Seems like it should have been maintained as a memorial. A thing that gave great offense at the facility was the propaganda claim that American prisoners had been humanely treated there. Ho Chi Minh may have been a nationalist, but he was also a brutal dictator. But, you can’t hold that against the good people living there now. The majority of the country’s population was born after the war.

We arrived in Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam, on January 21. It is a wonderful city. The main attraction is the Citadel where Vietnam’s emperors lived and ruled through the 19th century and well into the 20th. Much of the Citadel was destroyed during the 1968 Tet Offensive that saw the most intense urban fighting of the Vietnam War.

The Communist forces attacked and overran Hue during a truce that had been called to celebrate the Chinese New Year. It took a month of brutal, close-in combat to dislodge them. South Vietnamese troops fought well, suffering 452 killed and 2,132 wounded. U.S. forces sustained 1,584 wounded and 216 killed in action. More than 5,000 Vietnamese civilians died, more than half of whom were executed by the Communists.

The government has restored a good deal of the damage but much more work lies ahead. You can see large areas where bullet holes were plastered over but many still remain there and elsewhere around the city. After all the mayhem, it does not seem right that a red flag with a yellow star should fly over the Citadel but that’s just the way it is.

The Communists expected the citizens of Hue to rise up in support of the offensive but they did not. Many citizens were traumatized by the mass executions. Maybe I read too much into it, but many of the older folk who were likely in Hue during the offensive would return a nod or smile to me on the streets. Could it be they had formed a warm spot in their hearts for Americans in those tragic days?

Say adios, Raul


Congressman Raul Labrador (R-1st CD-Idaho) ought to drop out of the race for the Republican nomination for Idaho governor. The reasons are multiple, but simple. They boil down to the incontestable fact that he and his administration would not be problem-solvers, they would be problem creators.

We elect governors to solve challenges and problems, to instigate solutions, not to become part of the problem by kicking the can down the road or pointing the finger of blame at someone else. Labrador forgets that when he points a finger at his opponents four fingers are pointing back at him.

Labrador’s 5x5x5 gimmick for further reducing state taxes is phony as a $3 dollar bill. Putting such an unneeded additional drain on the State coffers would eviscerate funding for k-12 education and Idaho’s colleges and universities. It would signal the end of the step increases for newly hired teachers and assure a continuation of the teacher drain out of state.

This past week he joined his congressional colleagues in the so-called Freedom Caucus in endorsing a shut-down of the federal government, once again putting ideology and partisanship ahead of the public interest and the best interests of his constituents. It’s downright disgusting.

He and GOP House and Senate leadership have known since last fall a show down was coming over the immigration issue yet the majority party did not call or hold a single negotiating session. Instead they just kicked the can down the road. The ensuing months saw Congress pass a series of continuing resolutions to keep the government operating while supposedly engaging in negotiations over a solution to the “dreamer” challenge as well as the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

But no, they’d rather play Russian roulette with the lives of at risk children and ignore almost 800,000 people brought here while under five years of age by parents seeking to better themselves. As young adults today many are teachers or serve in the armed forces and they pay their taxes. President Trump considers them to be illegals and would rather send them back to a native land they have virtually no knowledge of.

Republicans like Labrador think the Democrats will get blamed. Guess again----their party and the president will be held accountable. Do you think for one minute there is a DACA child or a CHIP mother that does not know who is using their loved one as a pawn?

Do Idahoans really want this style of brinkmanship and ideology sitting in their governors’ chair. Do they really want someone who has no respect for state employees, who boasts he can cut a billion dollars out of the biennial budget?

Do they really want a conservative without a conscience who doesn’t support medicaid expansion and who believes in dismantling much of the local, state and federal framework that has arisen because of the need for services which individuals themselves cannot afford?

Do Idahoans really want as governor a person who like the president he idolizes, is a divider not a unifier? My guess is not. It’s a good guess also that many second district Republicans still remember Labrador supporting a wing-nut challenger to their own beloved congressman, Mike Simpson. Likewise many in eastern Idaho will remember Labrador saying that cuts at INL were to be expected and that people just had to recognize there were no sacred cows and all had to carry a share.

His gubernatorial race strategy of hiding out in D.C. so as to avoid joint appearances with his two main challengers, doctor/developer Tommy Ahlquist and Lt. Governor Brad Little, will not sit well with many voters either. He may have polls showing him leading but some pundits believe by primary day each of the three will have corralled about ¼ th of the expected vote and the remaining ¼ will stay undecided until primary election day.

Overall, conservative Republicans in Idaho may support President Trump until his policies start to bite and his inability to lead becomes even more apparent, but one suspects they’ll not want to see that kind of double-talking leadership sitting in the governor’s office in Boise. It’s one thing to have chaos in the White House, quite another to have it much closer to home. (photo/Gage Skidmore)