Derek Johnson Muses

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Idaho Stops and Observations


Shoshone Falls, low for this time of year due to low snowfall and irrigation needs.

(First part of the trip)

Monday and Tuesday, my father and I visited our fields in Idaho along the Snake River Canyon, some geared toward next year, some at work for customers now. It’s an important part of the business, to let the people we work with know they are part of our BRH team and that we care about helping them raise the best crop possible.

Go for Green!

Go for Green! (Alfalfa, that is)

Idaho has become a much more diverse place agriculturally speaking. Our dealer told us potato production is down from what it had been, but guys will still move potatoes up in the cycle if the price suddenly goes up. They plant corn, wheat, oats, alfalfa (as a serious crop), soybeans, sugar beets, onions, and even radishes as a rotation crop. Everything is watered to death, but it has to be. It’s either dump water into the foot of earth above the lava rock that is buried under the ground, or nothing grows but sage brush. It is possible to turn some of the unfarmable ground into workable ground, but it requires a lot of time and money.

Many of our foreages are grown in the Snake River Valley near a town called Bliss, which according to our grower, “is a town with a happy name where no one gets along.” He says a third of the people are retirees, a third farm their tails off, and another third wish to do nothing whatsoever. Of the massive sewage facilities located to the north of his farm, he claims they were built in haste years ago before the housing market collapsed, when the city thought  thousands of Californians would immigrate to Bliss in the next ten years. Instead, Bliss’ stated population remains beneath 500, and the only Californians who moved in are trying to sell their huge houses on the river banks for more than million dollars, without takers. If you are going to build a house twenty minutes from the nearest competent grocery store, there are a lot more attractive locales to build it. The Tetons, for example. (Reminds me of other small towns.)

Snake River Canyon

Snake River Canyon

In fact, California immigrants seeking refuge from excessive taxes and high costs of living make native Idahoans quite chatty. The Boise metro area is a mass of urban sprawl, with half-a-million dollar houses next to front yards with goats herds and a single cow together. (Really? You’d think the goats wouldn’t stop bothering the cow.) Our contact near Boise told me that, when the demand for land around Boise was high pre-housing crash, a number of farmers were reluctant to sell, which resulted in the patchy neighborhood structure.  

Thankfully, we also had some time to visit some great places, like the World Center for Birds of Prey (where I had been as a kid), the Idaho State Capitol, and Bronco Stadium. As I did in Madison last year, I got a glimpse of the blue turf, even if the thrill of running through the stadium without authorization was withheld. Boise seems hipper and cleaner than either Lincoln or Omaha (the lack of snow helps), but even with all of the modernites who’ve come from California, the city still looks like middle America from the inside. 

Closest I'll get to the Blue Turf

Closest I’ll get to the Blue Turf

And here’s what I found to be…well, quirky.

Stinker’s gas station-Okay, the skunk mascot is kind of cute, but you’re ripping off Bucky the Banger, the University of Wisconsin’s mascot. The red trim is just insulting. And who would buy gas from an establishment that puts bad smells into its name? Selling gas is the same everywhere; don’t screw it up.

The fake rocks every other shopping center or high end home uses-you’re Idaho, why are you using fake rocks when you could literally go out to any field within a ten mile radius and fetch actual black lava rocks to use in construction? Okay, it looks pretty, but it just blinds everyone when it’s really sunny. Which is pretty much every day.

Yards full of every last truck, tractor, and other farm vehicle the farmer has ever owned-I was told by someone who grew up in Montana that the far West farmer never get rid of any of their old vehicles or equipment because they may need a part of that old tractor when their current tractor breaks down. Okay, I get that, but still, does the world need to look at such a mess in the middle of your yard?

Boise State’s Hipness-I walked into a Boise State fanshop, and it was literally a mantle full of every possible combination of orange and blue. (Does anyone know how much BSU has ripped from the Denver Broncos?) There were not a lot of wall hangings and T-shirts with game dates and opponents on them, like you see in a Nebraska fan shops. Even the wall hangings they had mixed in the orange and blue. Husker Nation, we cling to the past.

Road (and Flight Notes): Idaho

Saturday night Sunset near Twin Falls

Saturday night Sunset near Twin Falls

It’s weird flying out of Omaha at 2:30 in the afternoon-if you have been impressed by numerous early morning departures. That was the time that my Dad and I left to go, first to Salt Lake City, then to Boise. It is a rarity to fly out of Omaha with your first leg of a connection being the longest, but it’s a blessing when it does happen. And after only two days at home to recoup from my last trip, leaving at 6 A.M. on Saturday would have been horrendous.

There was no line at the security checkpoint at Eppley, and I was almost disappointed. Both flights were full, and on-time, with minimal turbulence as we descended into Boise. There were a few interesting characters: a tanned skinned, foreign man in a fedora who went up to three separate Delta employees to ask about something; a man and a woman with a child who rushed onto to our flight to Boise at the last minute to complain about how bad their flight from Atlanta was; and some guy at the lost luggage counter to try and get back a bag he’d lost, as he’d started his travel day in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at 5:30 (I could see where he was coming from). It didn’t seem as eventful. Both are flights were full, not surprising for this time of year, but it did seem like fewer people were traveling.

I had left my phone on the flight from Salt Lake City to Boise, but I was able to retrieve it in short order. The drive out to Twin Falls (home of our dears) took place on Saturday, under the glorious clouds of a high sky. We stopped at Burger King in Mountain Home for dinner, and there was a car with New York tags in the parking lot, and another with Massachusetts tags.

I forget often what it’s like to be out here in the Western United states, where the sky is so big and there’s such a distance between the small towns and the big ones. Even when I drive around the towns of 500-1,000 people in Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin, it all feels so close together. Out here, everything feels so far apart. Towns are either 10,000 or 150, with half of the buildings empty.

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Sunday afternoon, my father and I visited the two national parks around Twin falls, the Minidoka relocation camp for the Japanese during World War II and the Hagerman Fossil Beds Museum. On the way out of Hagerman, we stopped at the town’s museum and met a man who grew up in Columbus, but had moved out here. He’s going to the Nebraska-UCLA game this year, so I gave him my card and hope to see him at Noyes. We drove back to Twin Falls over fifty miles of sun-worn highway, past houses with tiled roof built on slabs of cement. Small homes. Now that I own a home, I miss being there more than I’m on the road, and I can see how you get tied to a particular place. I wonder what’s  like to be tied down here, in a place that’s so much more isolated.

Old Guardhouse at Minidoka

Old Guardhouse at Minidoka


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