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Opinion Column
For the week of August 23 through 29, 2000

Idaho’s at war as fires rage through the state

Commentary by PAT MURPHY


The gripping battle to stop fires advancing through Idaho’s picturesque forests has all the metaphors of a war.

"Troops" (firefighters) being rushed to the battlefield.

"Reservists" (Army units and retired Forest Service personnel) being called up to duty for action.

"Bombers" (fire retardant aircraft and helicopters) diving low to attack the flames.

"Generals" (President Clinton, Interior Secretary Babbitt, et al) visiting the "front" to energize morale of the exhausted "troops."

The question in this "war" is who’s the friend or foe—Mother Nature or the firefighters?

#

Speaking of those fires: a couple from the East visiting Ketchum recall with a chuckle their phone conversation with the clerk at one of Ketchum’s small hostelries.

"We called ahead to ask whether the fires were affecting the area," the husband said. "The clerk said, ‘Not yet, but if we’re not here when you arrive, you know we’ve evacuated the town.’"

The clerk was kidding, right?

#

In the twilight days of his political career, retiring Blaine County Commissioner Len Harlig was reflecting the other day about the joy of returning home after a visit to Los Angeles.

"When I…see what’s happened there, I come back here with a renewed sense of how absorbingly beautiful this place is and how well we have managed our growth…"

Hmmm.

Is it possible that guardians of early Los Angeles also were just as enthralled with their management of growth as Harlig is about the Wood River Valley’s before L.A.’s growth spun out of control?

Signs of Wood River Valley growth at a gallop are all around—traffic-clogged streets, new three-story commercial buildings replacing quaint shops, the smell of diesel fumes as tractors and trucks bustle between construction sites.

One wonders if Len Harlig will revisit his reverie in, say, 10 years, and honestly repeat his 2000 valedictory—"I come back here with a renewed sense of how absorbingly beautiful this place is and how well we have managed our growth…"

#

Off to the side of one of our area’s most popular hiking trails is a tiny wooden cross marking a small grave.

A sign on the cross reads simply, "Here Lies a Good Dog."

One wonders what friendship between that dog and its master or mistress lies behind this tender tribute, and what grief over a lost friendship this small sign suggests.

One can picture a pooch frolicking up the path, wagging its tail in happy appreciation to its owner for the joy of taking it to play in the outdoors.

And then it’s easy to realize the meaning of the grave: the grieving owner remembered to return his or her departed friend to the place it loved so much.


Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.

 

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