Wednesday, February 14, 2007

One thing and another

Express Staff Writer

A few days ago as I tagged along behind Percolator, my Jack Russell, on Trail Creek Road, I wasn't matching her exuberance. Nope, I was feeling low, feeling I was about ready to cry about feeling low on the perfect February morning with the sun just besting the ridge and swapping shade for light and cheer.

It wasn't personal gloom, but a general kind of gloom not uncommon these days. About Iraq for sure, but gloomy as well about the big-buck bunch of would-be-shouldn't-be presidents. And global warming, too, because I hadn't found the gumption to launch the plan I was confident would be a winner: A hitch-hiking program made safe by unmistakable I.D.—say an indelible purple splotch in the middle of the forehead, like an Iraqi voter's finger—after which we'd all pledge to leave our cars garaged and hitch at least once a week. We'd keep track of the miles we weren't ballooning greenhouse gas, bring our logs with their impressive totals to a spill-over town meeting where a major anchor, regretfully not Peter Jennings, had come to make a feature of us on the evening news. Practically overnight hitching would become a "dahling" thing to do, and even before the present decider is replaced we'd be using the 20 percent less gas he's left up to us to figure out how to do.

Another gloomy thought vying for prime time was about the project called the Divine Strake. Such a lovely name. Divine I knew, but Strake I had to look up, but since it was paired with divine I thought that this Pentagon brainchild could turn out to be a whole new concept in weaponry, maybe a Reverse Weapon that could snatch an intercontinental missile right out of the sky should its decider have an "uh-oh" moment right after launch. But when I looked up Strake to see if it fit my thinking, it didn't fit any line of thinking. A strake is "a single continuous line of planking or metal plating extending on a vessel's hull from stem to stem."

Once again: A strake is "a single continuous line of planking or metal plating extending on a vessel's hull from stem to stem."

Still befuddled, huh?

The creators should have used simple Lake Woebegone lingo, pilgrims, should have called it Holy Hell for the Strake is naught but a new way to bomb. The Strake weighs 700 tons, and it's supposed to bore quicker than a blink and deeper than a mineshaft before it blasts off at the bottom with more than Hiroshima force, but with no radiation. That's the claim, though of course they want to test it in case of the one-in-a-zillion chance of unforeseen consequences. The wide open and already bombed places in Nevada have been chosen for the test, though if it's so benign I don't see why they don't just pop one off in a predator-prone area of Central Park.

I turned back at the Trail Creek bridge, still gloomy and only half-monitoring Percolator who was still trying to sniff out offensive matter in which to roll. Lucky for me, too bad for her, she didn't score.

On the road ahead were a couple other walkers, and it took a minute to figure out they weren't headed my way and they weren't headed back. They were just standing there, facing the hillside, seemingly enraptured with a grove of aspens. I saw the man kneel on one knee as though he needed to rest—if these folks were visitors they might not be as super fit as is the local norm.

When I drew abreast of them I saw they weren't intently watching aspens at all; they were watching a knee-high kid waving a big stick and vigorously mucking the small stream trickling through soft, really black mud. Down the back of the kid's snowsuit the good black mud was slicked from neck to toe—he must have morphed into an otter for a slide or two.

I turned to his mom and smiled, figured I'd give her an opportunity to let loose with well-earned exasperation. Instead, she said, softly, "It's a surprise to find mud to play in out here in the snow."

I stayed for a few minutes, smiling along with the mom and dad. I didn't have to cope with the snowsuit. I was still smiling when I got to the car, and on the drive home the picture of the mom and the dad and the little boy kept me smiling—not anything close to a toothpaste-ad smile, but one of my better ones.

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