Category: Writing

Ghost Stallions of Owyhee County

If it sounds like a stanza out of the famous song Ghost Riders in the Sky, you wouldn’t be wrong. Stories by cowboys in the Owyhee Mountains tell of a ghost pack of phantom horses led by a white stallion that show up when cowboys and farmers are in trouble. Apparently, they come out of a rift in the clouds and lead the troubled towards help according to legend.


Mr. Newspaperman: Reality Show Check

Kuna Melba News, May 20, 2015

“There sure have been a lot of Kunans showing up on tee-vee lately,” said Elmer on the phone.

“I mean, come on. Has Hollywood run out of actors?” he added incredulously.

I told him that I think that most likely it’s the casting directors who are reaching out across America to get a diversity of “real” people finally.

He was quiet for all of two seconds, about the same amount of time for him to take a puff of his cigarette. I could smell the smoke through the phone.

“First you had that fireman on that show hunting for the lost mine. Then just a few weeks ago we find out about that girl who was on that ninja obstacle course show.”

“Right,” I agreed with him. 

“Now you’ve got a bachelor from Kuna trying to woo some bimbos from   Canada,” he said, his voice gaining volume.

“Now we have to wait until next week to find out which harlot is going to be the one this pack of horndogs is going to pursue? It’s not right,” he finished with a sigh.

“So you watched it?” I asked.

“You’re darn tootin’ I did,” said Elmer with a hint of regret.

“One of ‘em dropped her drawers in the water!” he said, the spit hitting the phone. I could hear it splatter.

“I didn’t watch it,” I told him calmly. “But aren’t the two women contestants from last season’s Bachelor and that one of them did skinny dip? Are you sure it wasn’t a clip from last season?”

“Maybe it was,” he backed down. “But the men aren’t any better,” he went on. “One of them is a stripper, another a songwriter which I’m sure we’ll have to listen to some sappy song he wrote in some future show. Another is a superhero named Love Man. You’ve got a guy who kisses plants, a guy who’s a walking pity party, a guy who gave a hockey puck, a drunk with moonshine, an amateur sex coach–likely story–and then there’s Joshua, from Kuna.”

“What’s he like?” I asked.

“Seemed like a good kid,” Elmer surprisingly said. “He gave one of the girls a metal rose so I’m guessing he knows his way around a metal shop. He better. He’s representin’ Kuna.”

While Elmer was rambling on, I quickly searched the internet for details on Kuna’s newest reality television star. Joshua’s bio on the Bachelorette website says he’s a 31-year-old industrial welder with nine tattoos.

“So which gal did the men choose?” I asked Elmer.

“We won’t know until next week,” he said sadly. But if you ask me, I think that Kaitlyn girl should get it. She’s the one who dropped her drawers to go swimmin’,” he said with a hint of sugar in his voice. “But if I have to listen to her laugh once more, I’m going to lose it,” he said. “She sounds like a donkey.”

“Who do you think she’ll pick?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” he said. “If the men are lucky, nobody.” 

Mr. Newspaperman: In Response to the Response

Kuna Melba News, June 12, 2014

I relish the opportunity to educate people on what journalism is and what it isn’t. It seems that some folks have a really warped sense of the art of news. I enjoyed the response (above) by Mitch Coffman, a man hired to defend any inferred or implied insult upon a political organization such as the Idaho Freedom Foundation. But first, I want to address some of the rhetoric that comes straight out the right-wing playbook. Attack the messenger.

As I recall, this is exactly what my article was about, “Don’t Shoot the Messenger When You Aim for the Apple on my Head, May 14, 2014.” In his first sentence, he accuses me of an attack. I assure you, reporting the truth is never an attack. It is defense.

Let me set Mr. Coffman straight. I was simply connecting the dots. I did my research and while the IFF may have great support, both politically and financially from a great deal of Idahoans, they admittedly also receive support from the State Policy Network, a policy organization founded by billionaire Thomas Roe to foster in-state “mini Heritage Foundations” across the country. The SPN’s purpose, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, is to “produce reports, create statistics, draft talking points and ‘expert’ testimony in support of bills… to advance a right-wing legislative agenda in the states under the guise of being a nonpartisan, nonprofit charitable organization.” Coffman says that the IFF shares a common vision with the SPN. He also admits that the news organization,, does work for the IFF.

Coffman says that while is a “source of free market views, it is still journalism.” NO, it’s not. It cannot be. It resembles journalism as much as a turd resembles a teddy bear.

Nowhere, not in Journalism 101, 201 or graduate courses have I ever heard of a legitimate, independent press being able to report impartially from underneath the guidance of policy organization. Nor does any other legitimate media in this state or country. Nor does anyone who has a degree in journalism; perhaps marketing, or public relations, but not journalism.

Coffman claims their reporting can be objective. I say it never can be because of the affiliation with the IFF. The news produced by IR and IFF reeks of political influence in the way that FOX news reeks of the far right agenda. No amount of rosewater is going to make that stink go away. To put articles out, thrown in among other journalism sources only muddies the truth water. Unfortunately, people generally aren’t smart enough or are unwilling to separate propaganda from real reporting. Even I have a hard time discerning between the two sometimes.

People need to know the truth and I will continue to strive to let people know who is behind points of view and why they might be pushing such agendas.

Looking through and IFF’s online blogs it seems they spend a great deal of time attacking other media. Is this the behavior of an impartial journalistic group? No. It’s the behavior of a group attacking the messengers of truth, blurring what is truth in the public’s eye. That only leads to misinformation and a distrust of the media making it easier for propaganda to be digested by the masses.


The following was written by Mitch Coffman, Communications Director, Idaho Freedom Foundation

Don’t let the facts get in the way of writing what you want to write

(In response to Response to Mr. Newspaperman commentary in Kuna Melba News on May 14, 2014)

In mid-May, Mark Barnes of the “Kuna-Melba News” attacked the work we do at Idaho Freedom Foundation, including the work at our news outlet, Additionally, he made false claims about us that deserve correction.

Since its founding in 2009, Idaho Freedom Foundation has received $2.2 million in donations, nearly all of which came from individuals in Idaho, not from wealthy out-of-state benefactors. In fact, we’re humbled by the reality that more than 1,200 generous Idahoans support Idaho Freedom Foundation’s resolve to promote free markets, eliminate government waste and corruption and promote government transparency and accountability. We’ve received more than 2,700 donations during the life of our organization, again mostly from throughout this beautiful state of ours.

Mr. Barnes also insinuates that because is a product of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, somehow our journalism isn’t objective, but rather, propaganda. He apparently doesn’t read our stories much, where we quote from not only people who support our viewpoints, but also politicians and pontificators who perhaps do not. While is a source for free market views, it is still journalism. That’s why weekly newspapers, dailies, radio stations and TV outlets have used stories.

Journalists used to ask tough questions. They used to investigate issues rather than taking an elected official’s word for it. chooses to ask tough questions and investigate issues. We challenge government to prove what it is doing is necessary, is cost effective, does not trample on individual rights, can’t be done by the private sector.

Mr. Barnes does correctly note that IFF is part of the State Policy Network (SPN). SPN members share a common vision of infusing our states with the values of limited government, individual rights, private property and economic freedom. It is no sin to affiliate with like-minded organizations, especially those that support the values on which our nation was founded.

Being attacked by the legacy media is not uncommon for us. Actually, we expect it because we are not part of the media club congratulating each other on what a good job we all are all doing. Meanwhile, Rome burns. Hate to use a cliché here, but … don’t kill the messenger.

We do not mind disagreements, but we are all better served if it is based on truthful reporting, something Mr. Barnes failed to do when writing about us.

Mr. Newspaperman: The Zany, The Kooky and the Wacky, Oh My!

Kuna Melba News, May 21, 2014

Mark Barnes

I love Idaho. I love the zany, the kooky and the just plain weird politics and politicians that bubble up like some fermented swamp gas every few years. Most recently we, and the rest of the country were entertained by the Idaho gubernatorial Republican primary debate. In a few years we’ll still be talking about Harley Brown’s “Proverbial turd in a punchbowl.” Lest not we forget the federal felony that Walt Bayes announced with his admission of shooting a wolf “While it was still on the endangered species list.”

Their closing statements, presented in full on Kuna Melba News’ website, are worthy of dramatic readings backed up by banjos at your next soiree.

But 2014 is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s look back. Shall we?

Moving back in time we don’t have to go very far to remember Senator Larry “Wide Stance” Craig’s arrest for trying to score a little anonymous gay action in a Minneapolis airport restroom. For someone who was so publically anti-gay you wonder what kind of self-loathing he must have. That was zany.

Representative Mark Patterson resigned recently over some little problem he had while living down in Florida. He forgot to tell the Ada County Sheriff about it when he applied for a concealed weapon permit. It wasn’t that big of a deal anyway he said. What was it? Oh, just a little thing called rape. He doesn’t recall it though because of memory issues caused by chemotherapy. But he remembers that the woman recanted. Seriously kooky.

Then we have Bill Sali, who managed to squander an incumbent’s advantage losing after only serving two years in Congress to a Democrat, something unheard of in Idaho politics for 56 years. Perhaps it was Sali’s proposal to repeal the law of gravity which made the speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives say, “That idiot is just an absolute idiot.” Of course, that was more in response to Sali’s allegations that breast cancer was linked to abortion.

Congressman Helen Chenoweth served from 1995 through 2001. Her tenure as a congressman was highlighted by her opposition to Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinski despite having carried on a six-year affair in the 1980s herself. She staunchly insisted that she be called Congressman and not Congresswoman, claimed federal agents were invading rancher’s property with  black helicopters and ridiculed endangered salmon by serving canned salmon during fundraisers. The queen of qwacky.

Senator Mike Crapo pled guilty to a DUI in Virginia after being arrested on December 23, 2012. He paid a $250 fine and had a 180-day sentenced waived. Try that if you don’t have friends within the prosecutor’s office.  Oh yeah, he relies on his Mormon base to keep him in office… the same Mormons that aren’t supposed to drink. Crapo want’s you to know that he’s given up drinking.

During the Reagan years, Congressman George Hansen was censured for failing to file disclosure forms and spent 15 months in prison. Apparently, his anti-IRS rhetoric finally caught up with him. He claimed he was tortured with “diesel therapy” where prisoners are transported for days or weeks in vehicles. Hansen ran for re-election from prison and was only narrowly defeated.

And we shouldn’t forget that Sarah Palin attended an Idaho college.

Many folks from both the left and right are embarrassed at Idaho’s inability to keep the kooks out of the news. Many accuse Governor Otter of making a mockery of Idaho by including Brown and Bayes in the recent debate. I disagree. Everyone deserves a voice, even the kooks. And I’m proud to live in a state that not only allows the kooks to have their say in a public forum, but occasionally puts them in to office.

As a newspaperman, it makes my job much more interesting.

Mr. Newspaperman: Winter Olympics

Kuna Melba News, February 13, 2014

I  ran in to Elmer at the local sandwich shop while picking up some grub the other day. While waiting in line before selecting our toppings I took the opportunity to chew on his ear a bit. I knew I could get our genius loci going with just one sentence.

“Are you watching the winter Olympics,” I asked?

I could see him start to bunch up like a snowstorm crossing the Owyhees.

“I ain’t gonna watch that crud,” he blurted. “First off, I ain’t gonna support a bunch of Ruskies by watching their games.”

“Don’t you want to root for our team,” I asked. “U.S.A. has quite a few great athletes and there are many from right here in Idaho.”

“Now don’t get me wrong,” he said softly trying not to let his anger begin the runaway cascade of an avalanche. “I really like the summer Olympics and I think our folks should try to beat them folks from other places. But when you look at it, there’s only one sport at the winter Olympics.”

I got confused. He could see it on my face.

“If you’re good at sliding on ice, then you can win,” he said, visibly proud of his observation.

He could see I was about to defend America’s best.

“Now I look like Don Knotts in a room full of banana peels when I encounter an ice patch, but them youngsters know how to slip ‘n slide around all fancy like,” he said. “You’ve got to practice a long time to get that good. But it’s still all just slidin’ on ice.”

I could see his point about ice skating, not one of my favorites. I think it’s the hours spent during prime time learning about froo-froo costumes and overcoming childhood obstacles on their way to the top that turns me off.

“But what about biathalon,” I said?

“Slidin’ and shootin’,” he responded.


“Slidin’ fast. Slidin’ pretty. Slidin’ curvy. Slidin’ ‘n jumpin’. Slidin’ back and forth. Slidin’ along ways.”


“Slidin’ with sticks.”

My argument with him began to weaken and I realized I wasn’t going to win.

I tried one more.


“Slidin’ rocks.”

I had forgotten my previous lessons learned with Elmer. He may sound a little rural but Elmer had a point under that John Deer hat.

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: Plan Ahead for Seed Saving

Seed assortment

Kuna Melba News, January 15, 2014

Any gardener worth his or her salt saves a few seeds every now and then. I have my own favorite plants that I save seeds from, mostly flowers, but for other types of seeds, you probably need to buy them fresh every year. This is because many types of plants are either too difficult to gather seeds from because they are too small or require special preparation, or the species tends to hybridize with other plants and you cannot get true seed. Some seeds, such as coriander and celery, can also be used as spices either whole or ground.

If you are interested in saving seeds, here are a few guidelines.

Root crops such as beets, parsnips and carrots, along with other similar plants like parsley and cabbage, are biennials. They do not produce seed the first year. During the second growing season they will put up flowers that will then produce seed. The other benefit of having these types of plants is that the flowers produced by them attract beneficial insects to your garden. After the flowers have wilted and died, for a plant such as carrots with small seeds, you can tie a small bag over the seed heads to catch the seeds.

Some plants are hybrids and only a cross between two unique parents will produce true seed, not the hybrid offspring. Another thing to consider is that for open-pollinated plants, you need to make sure you don’t have similar varieties in your garden otherwise you may create your own hybrid seeds. Tomatoes are the exception. They are mostly self-pollinated and will produce true seed from their fruits as long as they are not hybrids to begin with.

Peppers and eggplants are great to save seeds from but you need to separate varieties by at least 500 feet to avoid cross-pollination. Squash, cucumbers, gourds, and melons are pollinated by insects and need a half-mile or more between varieties. A gardener friend of mine once saved seeds from a cantaloupe and grew them the following year. He grew a magnificent punkaloupe, a cross between a cantaloupe and a pumpkin. It was large like a pumpkin but had the skin of a cantaloupe and smelled great. Not all curcubits will cross-pollinate but it is usually safer just to buy new seed every year.

Saving tomato seed takes a little care. Harvest ripe tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds from the fruit. Then let that gooey mixture of seeds and goop ferment. This removes the coating on the seeds that prevent them from sprouting inside the fruit. It will take about  three to four days for a bowl to get sufficiently ripe. This mimics the natural rotting process that would happen out in the field. Don’t be afraid of any mold that forms on the seeds. It is part of the process. Keep it outside in the shed or garage as it will most likely stink up a bit. Once it starts bubbling, add water and stir. The good seeds will fall to the bottom and you can drain off the mold and water. Dry them quickly in a low-temperature dehydrator or with a fan as you don’t want them to begin germination.

As with any seed saving, you want to keep them dry and out of the sun.

PAY DIRT – A Gardener’s Column: Thumbing Through the Catalogs

Kuna Melba News, January 8, 2014

This time of year gardeners are keeping warm and looking through the dozens of seed catalogs that fill their mailboxes. With their green thumbs stained with ink, they pick and choose between old favorites and the new ones that plant breeders either have created through select breeding or resurrected from extinction by dedicated seed growers. In the old days, neighbors would trade favorite seeds with each other, encouraging a proliferation of unique strains of plants and vegetables. While I would like to share with you my Texas hummingbird sage flower seeds, my hollyhock seeds and even some of my nasturtium seeds that I harvest in the fall from my garden, instead I’ll share with you some of my favorite seed.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds is not only a big player in the home gardener’s seed choice, but they offer bulk seed for the mid to large market gardener. They carry a variety of heirloom and organic seeds and every year have unique offerings. This employee-owned company has an amazing selection of cut flower seeds and has some varieties only available through them. Their catalog has lots of useful information in it too. You can shop online at or you can request a catalog.

p06WHOLE-SEED-CATALOGBaker Creek Heirloom Seeds has grown by leaps and bounds over the years and when their 2014 catalog came in the mail I though I had received a phone book. As one reads the The Whole Seed Catalog, one discovers beautiful photographs of fruits, vegetables and lots of down-home folks holding said vegetables. The writing is great too. All of their seeds are non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented. They respect the tradition of seed saving and through their growers have saved many heirloom plants from extinction. They travel the world and bring back unique vegetables from around the globe and claim seeds from over 70 countries. The 350 page catalog will cost you $7.95 but they have a free 212 page one. Visit where you can order a catalog.

If you have a taste for exotic vegetables then you have to have the Kitazawa Seed catalog. This catalog features no color photographs but it does have great illustrations of unique varieties of Asian vegetables. Especially unique is the wide array of Asian greens, many of which grow in cold weather. One of my favorites is misome that I use for my famous lettuce wraps. Visit to order online or request a catalog.

p06PayDirtSouthernExposure2014Southern Exposure Seed Exchange mainly offers seeds for plants that do well in the southeast and mid Atlantic states, they do have some varieties that you can’t find anywhere else, especially cowpeas and over 20 varieties of okra. Just make sure you check the days to harvest to determine if we have enough growing days. You can get around this by starting some of them early in a greenhouse or sunny window. Visit to peruse their 700 seed collection or order a catalog.

Mr. Newspaperman: Insufficient Craziness Theory

I got my semi-regular call from Elmer on Friday.

“It’s going to get crazier,” he said.

“It already is pretty crazy,” I told him.

“No, them tea partiers are going to go off the deep end I think,” he retorted. “You’re a liberal, you must be because you work for a paper. Didn’t you read your daily bible, The New Yawk Times?” he asked.

I told him I’m far from being a liberal and that, no, I don’t read the New “Yawk” Times unless I happen to come across an article I’m interested in on the internet.

“Well,” he said in a way that I knew I was about to get an earful, “They said to expect the tea partiers to get even more crazy in congress now that their shutdown didn’t work.”

I bit. “Why?” I asked.

“Each time their plans don’t work, they seem to think they weren’t crazy enough. They’re calling it the ‘Insufficient Craziness Theory’ and I think they’re right. Even Dan Popkey over at the Ideeho Statesman thinks so.”

Sitting at my computer, I browsed over to Dan Popkey’s online blog. “Elmer, Dan doesn’t necessarily say he agrees with it, he was just reporting it.”

He snapped back at me. “You know as well as I do if you report it then you believe it. That’s what all you juurneelist do.”

I disagreed, but rather than try to explain to him how journalism works, I paused and waited for him to fill the empty space on the phone. I didn’t have to wait long.

“So what do you think?” he asked.

“I’m not supposed to think,” I replied matter-of-factly. “I’m supposed to present the facts as fairly as I can. That’s what a journalist does.”

Now it was his turn to pause. I could feel his next comments welling up inside him about to explode like Mt. Saint Helens through the phone. Eventually, after 30 seconds, it blew.

“I’m going to bring my front loader down to your office,” he said. “Because you must be clean full to the ceiling with B.S. and you might need a good cleanout.”

I told him that wasn’t necessary but that I generally agreed with him on the Insufficient Craziness Theory.

“It seems to me that all the logical, reasonable options have been tried,” I told Elmer. “The only thing left is for the extreme right to go full crazy. You might keep that front loader warmed up once the next set of debt ceiling deadlines comes up in February.”

“You know I will,” he said.

Ask Mr. Newspaperman: The Water Tower

Kuna Melba News, October 23, 2013

Elmer burst through the front door of the office.

“Have you seen the water tower?” he asked incredulously.

“I’ve been writing about it for months,” I replied. “Of course we’ve seen it.”

He pulled off his gimmie cap, brushed his hair to the side off his forehead and stared at me with concern. Slowly, he repeated himself, “Have you seen the water tower?”

Not knowing what he was getting at I simply asked, “What about it?”

“It has a ‘K’ on it,” he said with the ‘K’ sounding like he was coughing up something deep within his lungs.

I told him we knew that, it had been painted last week as part of the project started by Casey Cobb over at the high school.

“Well who do they think that ‘K’ is for?” he said as he put his hat down on the counter forcefully. “It can’t be so the high school kids can see it. They’d need binoculars from the top row of the stadium bleachers. I almost got in a wreck as I drove in down Meridian Road trying to make out the K on the freshly painted white tower. I thought it was a fly that had gotten in the cab of my truck stuck on the window.”

“What you getting at Elmer?” I said trying to stop him from going on one of his epic rants.

“Well, who’s that ‘K’ for?” he repeated. “When I make the turn on to Linder coming in to downtown I only see half of it. The only place I get a good look at it is when I spray the mud off my truck at the car wash.”

I explain to him that the ‘K’ was painted in that spot as a compromise to point somewhat towards the high school, but still be able to be seen a bit from main roads.

“Well you can’t see it from nowhere,” he argued. “Maybe we ought to put a giant lazy Susan up there and let it rotate around.”

I told him that would cost too much.

“Well don’t be surprised if it moves in the middle of the night. I might just get up there and repaint it myself,” he said.

I told him I didn’t know how he’d do that. Elmer is a bit long in the tooth and I said I didn’t think he could make the climb.

“Well, someone screwed up,” he said in exasperation.

“You can’t please everyone,” I told him suggesting that he needed to file a complaint with the city if he felt that strongly about it.

“Well, just like in Warshington, when you try to compromise it all goes to heck,” he said as he walked out the door.

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: The Garden from Hell

Kuna Melba News, May 23, 2013

A  couple of weeks ago I was taken to task for using a curse word in this column. The reader, who objected to the use of the word repeated in the headline above, felt that she needed to express her objections and for me to reconsider the use of such language for the sake of the children. I stopped her short as she rambled on and told her that I doubted children would be reading a column about gardening. She did inspire me, however, to think about curse words and the plants that sometimes go with them.

In the garden I tend to utter many curse words as I dig up weeds, discover broken sprinkler lines, or after cutting my hand on a wayward piece of glass in the dirt. This past weekend, with each curse word I uttered, I paused to reflect on the word and the nature of good versus evil.

While ruminating on the evil part after a particularly nasty curse word had been uttered, I was sorting through my packets of last year’s seed and came across a half-used pack of castor plant seeds. A castor plant is a beautiful, tall, large leafed plant that has a somewhat tropical look to it. It’s beans can also be made in to ricin, one of the most powerful poisons around and somewhat in the news lately having been mailed in envelopes to President Obama, a senator and a judge. I sincerely hope that the federal government does not ban the castor plant from the garden. The bean does have a useful purpose after all… they are used to make castor oil.

During an afternoon water break and catching up on an episode of Psyche, I was reminded that the beautiful flower foxglove has some not so pretty side effects if accidentally ingested. While most adults will avoid the flower, children or even some animals cannot resist putting a little in their mouths. While not generally fatal among adults it can be among children who accidentally drink the water from a vase containing foxgloves or even with the plant accidentally mistaken for comfrey and brewed into a tea. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal distress and even hallucinations.

I look over at my tomato plants, those kings of the summer garden, and recall that any plant from the nightshade family (including potatoes) has toxic alkaloids in the leaves. Although the concentrations are low, there has been at least one death resulting from tomato leaf tea. And, if your dog likes to eat tomatoes, you best be careful, the plant and fruit can be toxic to dogs.

In fact, as I looked around the garden I couldn’t help but utter the Lord’s name in vain as I noticed how many toxic things there were that could not only seriously make me ill, but some kill me as well. I ran inside to my well-stocked library and found my well-worn copy of a great reference book, Wicked Plants.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview the author, Amy Stewart. The book, a highly recommended read, is about garden plants that have a darker side and list many plants that poison, kill and maim. Damn, that book is good.