Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Aurora lights paper route while town sleeps

Commentary by Jim Banholzer


Jim Banholzer

Twelve summers ago I delivered my first paper for the Mountain Express. The mixed bag of news brought to subscriber's doorsteps was that K-Mart was not coming to Hailey and two sockeye salmon had made it to Redfish Lake! As Connie Johnson showed me the route during the daytime, it turned out to be a bit of a challenge finding the same homes at night, but all was soon well. The route started out East Fork and the first drop was at the gate of a squillionaire's seventh house. Funny how I envisioned him reading about the sockeye, as he jetted over Redfish, on his way to an electrifying power lunch in Seattle.

As serendipity would have it, over the years I've met several interesting people who have delivered this same route. Brad Nottingham back in the early '80s, Cindy Blackman for a few years, Greg Martin, with just enough time to get into work and, currently, David Steinbock, who often fills your morning paper with personalized greeting cards and other goodies. We've even had a tap dancer and once a singing paperboy who could cry out an announcement of the paper arrival!

Ninety miles of peaceful driving through back roads of the valley every Wednesday morning with virtually no traffic. Plenty of time to think without distractions, except to witness crepuscular activities of the natural world. There's a virtual zoo of foxes, owls, mink, weasels, deer, elk, moose and mountain lions wandering about in the wee hours. Once we saw an elk standing on top of somebody's house feeding off the sod roof. Sometimes you find yourself stunned, stopping to take in the spectacular depth of the Milky Way, or some breathtaking and unscheduled meteor showers—periodically breaking off into two or three sections. When the occasional Aurora Borealis shines its phantasmagoric nature dream beacon down, we drivers delight as it helps us locate addresses! It'll be a long time 'til any HDTV can match these sights through the sunset channel. Some people have gotten on my "call no matter what" list, to be woken up, if the Van Allen radiation eating belts are displaying their power.

When new drivers come aboard the old ones pass on some valley folklore. Some claim to have seen flying saucers peering out of the noctilucent clouds above Triumph at 3 a.m. Entering Gimlet, there's the house where a bear cub somehow got inside through the dog door, smelling those wonderful biscuits. Just down from where the old airport used to be. In fact this road used to be a runway. I don't think they'll be displacing those mansions anytime soon to bring that old airport back. Though Gimlet would make a great mid-valley location for a Baldy gondola to reach down to.

Sometimes we deliver the route in a roundabout manner, to make it fair so the same guy isn't always getting his paper last. Going down Wood River Drive right after hibernation season, one spring we saw every trash can knocked down by bears in their feeding frenzy between birdfeeders that homeowners had thought to provide. Once my dog and I came within inches of flipping our rig off the side of an icy ramshackle bridge with no guardrails, crossing Trail Creek on a Main Street driveway. For a minute it was hard to distinguish where Maddie's snaps ended and my frightful shivering began.

Heading up to North Fork, it's good to have a 4-wheel-drive. Often, four or five inches of snow in Ketchum becomes more than a foot up north. It doesn't always snow on the plow driver's schedule either. Best to run with a full tank of gas to keep condensation from building up and turning to ice in the fuel tank on those below-zero days. Not a bad idea either to pack a shovel a shade hardier than a clipboard.

Finishing up in Elkhorn, a great painter lives by Paintbrush Drive. He's the proud owner of a replica of the long-handled brush Tom Sawyer used to whitewash that fence with such joy. How nice it was of him to let me break a twig off for painting this tale!

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.