Month: July 2005

West Nile is here! West Nile is here! 

Because the mosquito problem is so severe in Idaho (Hear that buzzing? It’s sarcasm.), officials recommend that everyone wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, stay indoors during peak mosquito hours and use an insect repellent containing DEET-although 80 percent of people exposed to the virus never develop symptoms. The other 20 percent may develop minor flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, body ache and skin rashes.

The U.S. has had nearly 15,000 West Nile cases, 594 of them fatal, a 3.9 percent fatality rate among reported cases. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control Study, only one in 33 fatalities will happen to a patient under 68 years old. Compared to the annual influenza season’s fatality rate of 17.5 percent of all hospitalized patients, we’re talking small change. Worry about this too much, and you’re letting the annoying little terrorists win.

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A Short Basque History 

Stereotypically, the Basques are known as a somewhat secretive culture, friendly and helpful to strangers and outsiders, hard working and industrious, but content to keep to themselves. To understand the Basque way of life in the West-one filled with tradition and a sharp sense of history- it is important to understand their culture and the history that defines them.

In A Basque History of the World, author Mark Kurlansky begins Chapter One by describing the Basques as “a mythical people, almost an imagined people.” It is somewhat true. The Basques are the oldest living ethnic group on the European continent, yet have never managed to have a country of their own. Yet they have survived as a culture unlike others who long ago were assimilated into others after invaders swept across Europe, not once, but many times.

The Basque country is made up of seven provinces occupying the corner of Europe where France meets Spain along the Atlantic coast. It is a region occupying just 8,218 square miles, slightly smaller than New Hampshire, slightly larger than Owyhee County. According to Nancy Zubiri, author of A Travel Guide to Basque America, almost 90 percent of the Basques in Idaho trace their heritage back to the Bizkaia (also spelled Viscaya) region, which includes the cities of Bilbao and Guernica.

There are no early written records by Basques, but when the Romans arrived in 218 B.C. they wrote about them as if they were already an ancient race with a clearly defined culture. There are unique characteristics-including language, physiological traits, geography and a skill in innovation-which have defined and protected the Basques, allowing them to survive through 20 centuries.

The Basque language is the only non-Aryan language in Europe and cannot be traced to any other linguistically similar tongue. Linguists believe it may be the oldest living European language. This mysterious language defined and separated them from the Latin-based romance language cultures.

Basques are also distinct and unique in their physiological characteristics. These traits may have preserved the culture from the most successful form of invasion-assimilation. The Basque people have the highest concentration of O type blood in the world and the highest concentration of Rh negative type blood of any people. While modern medicine can prevent this today, historically, women with O-negative blood miscarried when their fetuses had Rh-positive blood.

Geography protected the Basque culture, too. The Basque country straddles the Pyrenees mountains separating France and Spain. This land is not suited to farming and is undesirable to invaders, but has often been used by invading armies passing through. The Basques were fine with people passing through their lands, but when the travellers stopped, it wasn’t copacetic.

Armies encountered fierce resistance from a people that could assemble quickly, fight, then disappear into the rugged countryside. No invading army was ever able to conquer the Basques.

The Basques also were great shipbuilders, relying on the riches from the sea to not only feed their people, but provide dried fish and whale meat to other kingdoms throughout the middle ages. Their voyages followed whales to their summer feeding grounds in the arctic, and some historians believe the Basques may have discovered America and its rich fishing grounds long before Columbus. During the age of discovery, any Spanish or Portugese vessel of any acclaim-from Columbus’s Santa Maria to Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world-had Basque sailors on board and were perhaps commanded and and even built by Basques. There is evidence that Basques may have invented armor plating for ships and a ship powered by steam, centuries before they showed up elsewhere.

The first Basques in Idaho showed up as miners in the 1880s and 1890s, quickly turning to sheep herding as a means of a living. These Basques wrote home and invited their friends and family who came in large numbers between 1900 and 1920. Today, there are many Basque celebrations around the West. In Reno, Elko, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and in numerous small towns, picnics, festivals and celebrations, the Basques come together, even from overseas. This tightly knit community continues to celebrate its own culture and welcomes others to join in.

A Trip Through Basque Sheep Country 

One of the things associated with Basques in the Great Basin over the last century is sheepherding. Throughout Eastern Oregon, Northwestern California, Central and Northern Nevada, Utah and Southern Idaho, Basque men have been tending to their flocks in the mountains in summer and driving them to lower elevations in the winter. This time of year would have found Basque herders in the Stanley Basin, which, if you look around, you can still find a few sheepherders today, sheparding sheep in much the same way they did 80 years ago.

The best way to see Idaho through their eyes is with a road trip that begins in Boise. And your eyes will see the country in much the same way they did. All throughout the Treasure Valley and Magic Valley-cities like Caldwell, Mountain Home, Emmett, Marsing, Boise, Twin Falls, Burns, Nampa and others-communities were settled by Basques. While the families mostly stayed put, the men often worked the flocks.

Travel east on I-84 to Mountain Home, then a left turn at Bliss on to Highway 26 will take you to Gooding and Shoshone. For most Basques, Shoshone was their first stop, as it was the drop-off point in Idaho for Westbound railroads coming from the East Coast.

From Shoshone, drive North on Highway 75 to Hailey, Ketchum and then over Galena Summit to Stanley. This is the route the herds would take in the spring, each seeking out lush mountain meadows and grasses to eat. Ketchum still celebrates in the fall with a “running of the sheep” festival as the herds come down out of the mountains.

Basque sheepherders would set up camp in these high valleys, a favorite among groves of Aspen, places that usually had water and plenty of grass. There, to while away the hours they often carved into the trunks of trees. Today, in hundreds of locations around the West, these carvings, called arbor glyphs, can still be seen. They vary in their forms, from simple graffiti with names and dates, to poems, to notes left for other herders, and, probably because sheepherding is a lonley pursuit, carvings of naked women, sometimes engaged in lewed acts.

Unless you know exactly where some arbor glyphs are, it might be a scavenger hunt, but worth the effort if you find one.

Take a left at Stanley onto Highway 21 and continue on over Banner Summit toward Lowman. Consider a stop at Bonneville Hot Springs or even Sacajawea Hot Springs. Then either continue up and over Moore’s Creek Summit to Idaho City, or the less curvey and tamer trip to Garden Valley and Banks, where one meets up with Highway 55. From there, it’s less than an hour back to Boise. Either return trip takes you through areas that were prime Basque sheep grazing. And who knows, you just might find an aspen with an arbor glyph.

Objectivism is dead 

As a journalist-slash-editor-slash-newspaper-dude it is always a little disconcerting to be put on the other side of an interview. Another writer-slash-reporter-slash-journalist will always interpret your words in a way you may not have intended. Television and radio reporters are the same. They’ll cut and paste, move the conversation around in order to make it more entertaining. That rearranging may miss your intended point completely. Anyone who has been interviewed by a reporter for a story may have experienced this phenomenon. And, while it is usually my job to be the interviewer, I feel that interviewers, whatever media they work for, should be put under the microscope by their peers and become an interviewee, if only to remind them of the importance of getting the story right.

This last week, my publisher was put under this scrutiny for an article about the Boise Weekly in the Idaho Business Review, a weekly subscription-based business publication distributed throughout the Treasure Valley. It was interesting to read, a good article about the trials and tribulations of our business and the successes we’ve had over the last four years, in her words. If you’re a regular reader of BW, you already know this story (see www.boiseweekly.com for BW’s history in the July 13th’s “Boise Weekly Turns 13” feature) albeit in my words.

From my perspective, hearing the BW story in her words, or the interpreted words of the journalist interviewing her, was refreshing. Being on a very “personal” level with my publisher, I have a greater insight than most and I could point to the things in the article with suspicion as to her use of language, knowing it wasn’t quite how she would put it. I’m not criticizing the article here; it was good. Everyone who has read it says it’s a great piece, amazed at it’s positiveness to the point that it may seem a little too positive, implying some kind of “friendly” arrangement. Which, I assure you, we wouldn’t do.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that in today’s ever increasing media savvy world, people need to be reminded on occasion that the story you are reading is an interpretation of reality through the eyes of the reporter and his or her editor. The same goes for a photograph; it is an interpretation of the real world. Spin is everywhere, whether it is intentional or not. That doesn’t mean the messenger is corrupt. I’d guess 99 percent of reporters and editors out there really try to get the story straight, to wean their copy of their own prejudices. We’re more relaxed at BW with this concept. Our goal has always been to tell the story from both sides, then occasionally tell you what we think about it, too. Objectivity is a worthy goal, but an inherently flawed concept.

The Choking Game 

We normally have a little fun with this column but this game is no laughing manner. The Choking Game (also known as the Pass-Out Game, the Fainting Game, the Tingling Game and the Something Dreaming Game) has allegedly been the cause of death for two Idaho kids this past year, one a 10-year-old boy in Island Park and the other a 13-year-old girl in Nampa. This typically two-person game involves a choker and a chokee, although a riskier solitary version can be played too (among adults there are even more variations involving “other” activities). The rules are simple: Air is restricted to the chokee by the choker until the chokee passes out. Players claim a “buzz” but this is really the screams of millions of neurons dying painful deaths. The danger is obvious: death. But the game can also cause the blood vessels in the eyes and face to break, an attractive look for when kids go back to school.

Psychologists believe that risk-taking among youth is common, but recently there have been more incidents involving injury. Some blame television shows like Jackass and Fear Factor in which crazy stunts involving extremely risky behavior-some just for the sake of experiencing pain or revulsion-are played out.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? 

New book outlines the 10-year history of the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction

Just over 10 years ago, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in what conservationists and environmentalists hailed as one of the biggest steps in protecting endangered species since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in the 1970s. But the program was far from easy to get done, due to ferce opposition from anti-wolf groups in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana did their best to quash the program. Recently, the federal government handed over control of wolves outside of the park’s boundaries to the states. And before you make up your mind how you feel about wolves roaming free across Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, you should know a little about them first.

Chronicling the last decade of wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park is a new book written by Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson titled, appropriately, Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone. Smith, a scientist involved from the beginning with the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program and its current leader, gives unique insight into the agencies and organizations involved in a program that has been, by all accounts, extremely successful. Ferguson, an author with several Western wildlife books under his belt and bylines in Vanity Fair, Outside, and Men’s Journal, offers not just assistance in writing the book, but has actively been working as a journalist on the fringes of the wolf reintroduction.

Decade of the Wolf begins strong, with a buildup into the reasons for wolf introduction prior to 1995. From the beginning to the end, it is clear that people within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were instrumental in making the program happen, and that, reading between the lines, a program of this magnitude would have been unlikely in today’s political environment.

The chapters are arranged in a staggered manner, with overview chapters interspersed with portraits of specific wolves, monitored for years by the author via radio collars and other techniques. What is intriguing about Decade of the Wolf is Smith’s firsthand insight into wolf behavior, which contradicts commonly held stereotypes that wolves are killers who would hunt human children if they could.

Before wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone, little research into wolf and pack behavior had been done. Smith shows that wolves are gentle, social and playful animals willing to accept others on occasion from other packs. The family bonds are strong, lasting lifetimes. But at the same time, wolves are very territorial and will actively hunt and kill individuals from other packs who may threaten their territories.

Though it does tend to repeat anecdotal wolf information from previous chapters when telling the life stories in later wolf profiles, the book is a well-written insider’s chronicle of the first reintroduction of a top-level species that leaves the reader wondering what will happen next, since scientists believe that Yellowstone Park may have reached it’s population potential.

Decade of the Wolf provides solid scientific information mixed with a narrative of the last 10 years and is recommended to pro and anti-wolf advocates alike.

Karl Rover 

Two teams of equal size line up against each other holding hands. One side (the incumbents) pick a person on the other side and chant, “Karl Rover, Karl Rover, send so-and-so on over.” This person has been identified as a CIA operative and must now leave their team and rush headlong into the opponnent’s team line. Selecting which link may be the weakest between two teammates is the strategy here. If the CIA operative manages to break through the lines, he chooses one person from the incumbents to rejoin his team. If the operative fails to break through, then he must join the incumbents team. Good strategy includes picking the weakest opponents if you are the team selecting, or targeting the weakest links if you are the CIA operative. Beware the Supreme Court ruling, an obscure loophole in the rules which forces spectators to join the game in a “jail” for not identifying rule breakers. Ultimately, and unlike in real life, all players will end up on one team, leaving no losers except the spectators in Jail.

Shoshone Ice Caves 

As summer heats the Idaho landscape to a blistering 100-plus degrees, you can be thankful you don’t live in Death Valley or Las Vegas, which is experiencing record temperatures this summer. It’s still too hot for us northern folk, so it’s time for a summer trip to one of the most scorched landscapes in Idaho so you can chill out.

Just two hours from Boise, the Shoshone Ice Caves-rated by Sunset Magazine as one of the Northwest’s best point of interest-is a hybrid between a kitsch roadside attraction and a historical location. Yes, there’s a big dinosaur with a caveman and a 30-foot-tall Native American, totem poles and a gift shop, but the cave itself is, pardon the pun, the coolest thing there.

During the 1880s, the caves were an ice source for the nearby town of Shoshone, which boasted 23 saloons and restaurants and was the only ice-cold beer for miles around before the invention of refgrigeration. The caves were also a favorite spot for robbers hitting stagecoaches filled with gold heading to and from Idaho mining towns to the north. It was easy for bandits to escape across the surrounding trackless lava fields (which are the largest unbroken lava fields on the North American continent, covering approximately one-third of the state).

Accessed through a sinkhole, the 1,000 foot cave (in some areas 40 feet high) is the remnants of lava activity stretching back 30 million years. They are not as pretty as Carlsbad or Mammoth, but the feature isn’t stalactites or stalagmites, it is the ice. Hovering between 24 and 32 degrees, water at the back of the cave freezes year round. During the 1940s, however, a cave entrance was opened and new airflow patterns melted all the ice. New owners in the 1950s restored the old airflow patterns and ice returned to the caves in 1962, but during the summer, the doors are kept shut to prevent melting. Bring a coat. It’s cold down there.

Shoshone Indian Ice Caves: 1561 N. Hwy. 75, 17 mi. N. of Shoshone. May 1 to September 30, Daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tours 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., 208-886-2058.

Opine 

One thing I’m in charge of is the Opinion section. I write all those smarmy comments to Mail contributors. I select the Guest Opinions to print when we have space. I make sure Bill Cope’s story comes in each week even though he’s as regular as a four-bowls-of-bran-a-day kinda guy. Lately, we’ve been getting all kinds of Guest Opinions that I’ve been posting to our Web site. Some deal with local issues, others with national topics. Occasionally, I’ll see one published in the daily paper that has also been submitted to Boise Weekly. It doesn’t bug me. There’s little crossover.

One trend I’ve been noticing is the higher percentage of opinions from the political right. Once upon a time, editorials tended to be penned by intellectuals-most often of the liberal persuasion-upset with the system. These days, they tend to be more emotional, patriotic and are in a “Bill O’Reily/Rush Limbaugh/Michael Savage” type of language. I wouldn’t call them propaganda, but they definitely have that feel, as if a committee wrote them.

Letters to the editor and “opinion” pieces sent to newspapers have always had a sense of promotion of an idea, a policy or whatever. With the Internet it’s now easy to express oneself. Form letter Web sites conveniently send to your local publications via a handy e-mail list just what you want to say. You have to credit the right for successfully-even masterfully-adapting the tactics of the left to promote their policies. Some would say the left has forgotten these tactics. But what I find fascinating is the attacks on efforts by the left to reassert their voices as part of the political and social debate. Just look at the struggles that Moveon.org has had to deal with.

One recent influx of opinions I’ve seen is from pro-Flag amendment proponents. It just baffles me to think that so much effort has been put into this. I definitely have my own opinion on this (but you knew that, didn’t you?). I think tinkering with the Constitution to protect a symbol is the first step to censoring our society. Doesn’t the sacred 10 Commandments-the religious right’s operating manual-say something about worshipping false idols? If we go that far, then let’s take it to the next level and not allow the Stars and Stripes to be used in advertising, or on clothes, bandannas, or red, white and blue fireworks, because … that’s burning the colors. Let’s trademark it.

So where are the counter-opinions from the intellectual left? These days, they seem silenced. It’s no wonder. When intellectuals speak their minds, they are often punished by being fired, losing tenure or being attacked personally by opponents. It’s often the messenger and not the message which is counter-attacked. Hey, the tactic works.

I think Americans are a stone’s throw away from being persecuted for political beliefs. The time is now to speak up. If you don’t, you may wake up one day with a gag in your mouth.

Richards 

Three owners and four years ago, one of my first great meals in Boise was at Richards of Hyde Park. While Richards has had major changes over the years, there have been constants as well. Something must be working right, just look at the wait staff. At a nice restaurant it is important to have a good server, but even more important to have one with tenure. It is a good sign that employees stick around.

New owners (new meaning the latest) Erik and Jennifer McLaughlin have continued another constant … quality. But, just as important, they also bring the attitude of top-notch customer service and being part of the community.

I know Erik and Jennifer personally, and it can be a challenge to review a friend’s establishment. You want to be fair, but you also don’t want to pull any punches. My experience is naturally going to be different than others because while the McLaughlins give personal attention to customers, they give even more to regulars and people they know, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Never afraid to suggest a wine to match an appetizer, an entrée or a dessert, Erik is the wine expert and one would never make a mistake by letting him suggest a wine to go with a meal.

Chef Randy King arranges seasonal dishes that match the schizophrenic Idaho weather. We enjoyed lamb kebabs with tzatziki ice cream-the grilled organic lamb matched with frozen yogurt-based tzatziki gifted us with a temperature dichotomy in our mouths. This appetizer is big enough for a meal, but we were here for a feast. The Chêvre stuffed dates, although arranged beautifully, seemed visually diminutive on the plate. Eyes can be deceiving, however, as they exploded on our tongues with more flavor than we could almost handle.

For our entrées, we split and went for the soup/salad meal and the black truffle rubbed filet mignon. My publisher did not find her chilled advocado and asparagus soup to her liking, but I found it to be delightful. It was complex and refreshing, but perhaps too much to blend with another item. Her only objection to Randy’s salad-organic mixed greens with candied pistachios and an apple cider vinegrette-was the extremely candied pistachios, again, which I liked and ate for her. My filet mignon tasted divine. A shared scoop of berry ice cream for dessert and we waddled home, satiated.

-Bingo Barnes likes his food, and your food, and her food …