I amuse myself with the title of this post. Oh-Dark-Hundred is a military term, says the Internet, for being awake at some supposedly God-forsaken and unspecified time after midnight, but before dawn. Most of the people in this part of the world were sleeping when I started writing this, but there was way too much beauty illuminated by the full moon outside my window to go back to bed. So I started thinking. Thinking led to writing. And that led to this.
I’m in the midst of a lightning round of a speed dating-like series of work trips around the state (Webster’s says: Speed-dating – An organized method of meeting potential romantic partners in which participants evaluate each other over the course of a single event through a series of brief one-on-one meetings), Speed-dating involves quick assessment, imagining what a relationship might be like, and continuing or breaking further contact. This is not my goal for these trips – for the time being, ICOLT members are stuck with me!)
I’m getting acquainted with the people and places where member organizations of the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts operate. Last week I was in the Teton Valley in the afternoon. The Tetons were, unfortunately, obscured by clouds and mist but the people were great. I awoke the next day in Pocatello to 4 inches of snow on the top of my truck, met with more great folks, and learned about the significant accomplishments there. I could live over there, I thought on my way home.
This week I spent time with Jen Smith (Lemhi Regional Land Trust executive director) on Val and Nikos Monoyios’ Eagle Valley Ranch near Salmon. That evening I was in an isolated cabin near Sun Valley. How isolated was it? I drove almost a mile beyond a closed gate on a sinuous gravel road. I met with others yesterday and go home to the Professor tonight. I could live in both of those places too.
Next week I’ll see more glorious landscapes and spend time with old and new friends and colleagues from McCall to Sandpoint. Starting to understand the speed-dating reference?
If I were really speed-dating all these fabulous places and people I’d be in trouble. I fall for a new one every day and sometimes, twice a day. I could live here. I could work there. I really like these people. And I mean it every time.
In the Lemhi
Center Peak, above Eagle Creek Ranch, looms above the headwaters of Bohannen Creek. It was already clad in snow when I visited, with more snow forecasted for next week. Aspen and cottonwood trees next to the Creek are brilliant flames of gold and orange, scattered like jewels inside the folds between mountains. It was a pleasant fall day on the Ranch, but Nikos Monoyios said he knew he’ll tally the number of calves loaded onto trucks next week with his fingers frozen. Snow’s coming. Winter.
An immigrant from Greece who arrived with a dollar to his name, Nikos and his wife Val, an internal medicine physician, moved to the Lemhi almost twenty years ago from New Jersey. The Valley is isolated, hours away from everywhere, and the community, like most Idahoans, doesn’t take readily to newcomers. Despite that, they made a place for themselves here. They’ve made it their business to do right by the ranch and the people in their community. Both have responded in kind.
We walked along the banks of the Lemhi River to see four phases of restoration projects they’ve initiated to benefit the River, fish, their livestock, and the Ranch. Nikos explained that in the Greek Islands he left as a young man, owning great expanses of land like this was unheard of. His father would be proud. The Ranch is huge, encompassing private and public grazing lands. They’ve protected about 6,000 acres with conservation easements, ensuring the Ranch will stay intact and undeveloped.
Nikos and Val could be doing anything they wanted in retirement, but they chose the Ranch.
“Why do you do this,” I asked.
“Because it’s the right thing to do, ” he responded. “Someday someone else will come along and benefit.”
I call that what it is: a most generous gift to future generations of residents and visitors to the Lemhi Valley. I wish that those who are not persuaded about voluntary conservation could meet Nikos and Val and walk their land. What they do is in active pursuit of a well-thought out vision for the future – a vision that encompasses stewardship and preservation. Nikos, a self-described Libertarian, would likely add that they are exercising their private property rights too.
My time there was too brief. I’m sure I could live there.
On Stalker Creek
That night I was four hours southwest of the Lemhi Valley in a little cabin with big glass windows on the banks of Stalker Creek. The cabin is owned by The Nature Conservancy and part of their Silver Creek Preserve. Silver Creek is the place where old photographs show Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper hunting. On the way in I passed an enormous bull elk attended by two females and decided I won’t hike off-road alone.
Anglers from around the world come to Silver Creek to fly fish. On the cabin walls are racks for hanging wet rubber boots upside down to drain. I watched for coyotes, mountain lions, and anything else slinking past my porch light. By day I watched for rabbits, coyotes, elk, and especially, rattlesnakes.
The cabin used to harbor at least one particularly aggressive snake named Ernesto (or numerous angry rattlers so-called). He’s been gone awhile, thankfully, and the cabin foundation was sealed to prevent denning, but I watch anyway. I’m no dummy. I grew up in snake country.
I spent half a day yesterday with staff of the nationally-recognized Wood River Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy in Hailey. I know most of them from working closely on the collaborative advisory board that shepherded the transfer of the Rinker Rock Creek Ranch to the University of Idaho for rangeland research.
It was a bit of a reunion week in that sense. Former state Representative Merrill Beyeler joined Jen Smith and me for dinner in Salmon. He is doing well, always thinking up new ideas to benefit the ranching world and the land. Merrill was responsible for my joining the Rinker Rock Creek Ranch effort. My friend and former Committee Chair Lou Lunte now works with his wife Cindy at Silver Creek. They came by the cabin with their boss, Erica, last night to visit.
Of every land trust person with whom I’ve met, I’ve asked for their top organizational priorities. Lou’s answer encapsulated why I’m in this work (and probably why we get along so well): preserving and stewarding the land, and using collaboration between diverse interests to solve difficult problems. I miss working with him – he’s a true statesman.
I hadn’t seen Lou for some time (and had never met Cindy and Erica). It’s clear they both, his wife and his boss, contribute to the fact that he’s looking relaxed and happy. His life has slowed down considerably since he moved to the Preserve. He enjoys working with his hands (and his brains). He and Cindy were originally hired to run the Preserve about thirty years ago. They built the log cabin where they now live. They’ve come home.
This morning I again awoke at Oh-Dark-Hundred to ponder all I’ve seen and learned since beginning my job with the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts. These speed-dates so far have revealed that this is not just a glorious state, but those working for land trusts in voluntary conservation are pretty glorious too.
We are different: we are liberals, conservatives, and Libertarians. We are non-spiritual and we are spiritual. We are Ag, we are wildlife, we are open space, community, and recreation-focused, but we are together on this: caring for the human and natural environments where we live, work, and recreate is the right thing to do for so many reasons.
And after next week, no more speed-dating for awhile. I don’t have to imagine, I already live here.