Monday, October 28, 2013

Lava Hot Springs: The Legends


The Legends of Lava Hot Springs

A Returnee Has a Really Strange Day

By Amy Larson

            I thought I knew all about Lava Hot Springs. Although I live in the Treasure Valley now, our family moved to eastern Idaho when I was ten, and I’ve been to the resort town numerous times. At seventeen, I jumped off the high dive at the Olympic Swimming Complex. Ten meters doesn’t sound that dizzying, but it converts to almost thirty-three feet. Here’s a tip on that one: don’t have your friends cheer you on from below, and make absolutely, positively sure your hands are at your sides when you hit the water. Second-degree burns on your palms from a “water burn” can be hard to explain. 

           About eight years ago, we tented in Lava during Labor Day weekend when the town was full of last-chance campers. We spent all day floating the hot springs-infused river and got second-degree sunburns that day, too. Recently, I sighed happily in the car at the thought of finally returning, and my heart rate increased as I saw the blue “Interstate Oasis” sign. Taking exit 47 off Interstate 15, I drove towards Inkom, McCammon, and Lava. Though it was well into spring, snowflakes fell. So very Idaho.

            Bright-colored dogwoods framed the nearby river as the sun set. This bold display of crimson, with the blue-gray water in the foreground, caused me to stop and try to capture the scene in a photograph. The Portneuf River meandered back and forth, leading mesmerized travelers like me right to town. I saw the swimming pool, the infamous high-dive, and the arches announcing Lava Hot Springs, surely one of the only welcome signs for a town that has a real waterslide built into it, which spits you out like a cherry pit into the splashy pool below.

            The Community Center touted bingo on Wednesdays and weekends, and kitty-corner from that, right before the bridge crossing the Portneuf was a great bronzed animal with a sign below it that read, “Please do not ride the bull.” Lava has been holding “Bulls Only” rodeos every August for many moons, justifying a bullish greeting to those about to enter its gates. The dark, rough lava rock was everywhere I looked, incorporated voluntarily or otherwise into the landscaping and architecture of yards, buildings, and walkways. One campground had a large, curving natural lava wall around it that protected campers from the elements.

            I had no real agenda, and purposely so. My sister, who lives in the area, clued me in to Lava ways. First off, you call it Lava, like lavender, not Lava like “lawva.” Natives might graciously tell you it’s fine to use either pronunciation, but pulling a “lawva” is a giveaway you’re an outsider. Second, this is a lax place. In summer, people walk through town in flip flops, swim suits and beach towels, and it’s okay. Crystal-wearing karma seekers coexist with farmers, and for the most part, everyone gets along. A big old mellow melting pot. Hence my desire to be Lava-like and have no time frame, no list of to-dos, no worries.

            While Lava comes alive on the weekends with soakers and such, it’s a fairly sleepy town of around 400 on weekdays. Tuesday afternoon found me moseying along Main Street, peeking in shop windows, some of the shops open, some closed. I stepped into a business, and after looking around for a few minutes, struck up a conversation with one of its owners, who told me that Lava has a lot more going for it than just the soothing mineral water. He said there were two main geological faults within this very small town, one running almost right along the lines of the old Blazer Highway, (the source of the hot water) and another coming right through the town’s neighborhood. 

            The shop owner said the Shoshone-Bannock (Sho-Ban) tribes who originally dwelt on the land understood the area to be singular, that they’d embraced and revered its properties. The tribes wintered there, performing ceremonies to express appreciation for the water, something they still do to this day. When two tribes that were typically at odds met in that location, it was understood to be a neutral resting ground. They called the land Poha-ba or “Land of Healing Water,” and believed it was a sacred location of increased spirituality.

            Others who later took over this extremely geothermally-blessed land ensured that the tribes still had access to it, which still pertains. Should someone from a local tribe show their Indian ID Card, entrance to the hot pools is, for them, free of charge.
In 1902, the springs and Portneuf River were deeded to the state to make this healthful and recreational place available to all. The town of Lava Hot Springs began to naturally form around it. Building a natatorium in 1918, the state of Idaho currently oversees the operation of various swimming pools and hot baths, via the Lava Hot Springs Foundation.

            “If you really want to get some good information, talk to Kathy,” the shop owner told me, “She’s the director of the museum here.”
            I thanked the man for the conversation.
            “My name’s Jared,” he said.
            “That’s my son’s name,” I told him, adding, “My name’s Amy.”
            “That’s my sister’s name,” he replied, and we both smiled and shook our heads.

            I walked over to the South Bannock County Historical Center, but didn’t see anyone who looked even remotely like a Kathy. Wandering around, I took photos of fur samples, Indian portraits, and a cowboy mannequin I named “Red.” I stopped for a long moment at one curious display, the Legend of the South Bannock County Goat Bird. According to the plaque, this bird’s existence had been confirmed just that year by scientists who’d discovered a multitude of bird skeletons in a mine once sealed by an earth tremor. That mine had now been uncovered through yet another tremor. The skeleton of a man, John Taog, said to have been an entrepreneur, had also been found. The goat birds, or Avis caprinus oro, were creatures with goat-like horns. If that wasn’t odd enough, the birds also produced droppings of pure gold. Seeing an opportunity, Taog hired a few Sho-Bans, who supposedly didn’t know the droppings’ market value, to harvest the valuable excretions. The pile of bird droppings found were said to be safely stored in the museum’s vault.

            “No way,” I laughed. “Gold poo?”

            I gazed at a wooden carving of the abnormal feathered friend, with its horns and what appeared to be a tuft of a goatee beard, as I oscillated between a couple of different thoughts. First, why would they put ‘legend confirmed’ in a museum? Museums don’t lie, right? The other thought was that the carved bird looked suspiciously like a joke. If the species was real, why not display the skeleton, or even one or two of the real droppings? Still, I’d heard of some pretty weird things in the past that I’d balked at, and then later discovered to be true. I just plain didn’t know. Instead of looking gullible while in town, I decided to ask my sister about the goat birds later on. She’d probably know.

            Leaving the Historical Center, I walked up the street past the resort’s steaming water to the Sunken Garden. After hearing random talk of its spiritual healing, I wanted to try the place out. Crunching onto the gravel path leading through walls of lava and travertine rock with its built-in benches and naturally occurring caves, I touched the rough and scratchy surfaces, thinking of the individuals who must have done that long before my visit. I wanted to sit in the gazebo and take some quiet time to contemplate, ponder, meditate.

            Finding a rocky bench under the shelter facing the intricate lava walls, I closed my eyes and waited. At first, I thought I was the victim of an active imagination, which wasn’t much of a stretch after recently reading about birds that dropped gold out of their backsides. But no, there it was, a definite hum, a vibration. Over and over again, I felt waves of it. It was cool, yet slightly disturbing. What could it mean?

            I left the Sunken Garden feeling certain I’d just experienced something profound. Turning back into town, I walked to a diner. Mounds of onion rings and finger steaks with Idaho-style special sauce were hard to resist, so I didn’t. Planning to take a soak, but recalling one should never swim on too full of a stomach, I decided to walk up the other end of Main Street to the hill up yonder. Quaint rental cottages and the home of Charlie Potter, one of the town’s founders, lined the sidewalk. I heard a tomcat howl, sounding like a small child wailing, then saw the tom and another cat facing off on a nearby lawn. I stopped, watching the animals prepare for a battle that never happened, no matter how long I lingered. Perhaps the animals, too, were aware that this was a “neutral resting ground.”

            Just over the hill, I saw it. The sign indicated a splendid manor one-half mile to the left. I wanted to see it, and a half mile was no big deal, until I realized it was all uphill. In the midst of labored breathing, I thought to myself, “This had better be worth it.” At the summit, I expected to see a dramatic estate, but there was nothing other than endless hills and valleys beyond. I spotted another sign in the distance, pointing to the left. I began to grumble, yet laughed at intervals when the occasional vehicle passed by. I wasn’t dressed for a hike, I was dressed for the mall, complete with silver-studded handbag. They’d wave, I’d wave.  Thankfully, no one stopped or asked any questions.

            I turned, about to hike up yet another hill. It all began to be more worth it when five large deer crossed my path, leaped into a stand of trees nearby, and shyly peeked out.
“I can still see you,” I told them.

            Five inches of pea gravel made traversing technical, with the peas threatening to pop into my shoes. I saw a gigantic log cabin estate. “That must be it,” I thought thankfully, but it wasn’t. The driveway was chained off. The only other house looked like more of a residence, not a manor. When I walked up to it, I saw the manor sign. I snapped a picture and began to walk away, just as I heard the front door open. Spinning around, someone waved at me, inviting me in for a free tour. Why not?

            The manor housed creatively decorated, royal-style theme rooms. The high-backed, hand-carved chairs at this bed and breakfast gone medieval were surprising. The kicker, though, was in the basement. Moving the bookshelves out of the way and dramatically sweeping aside a purple, crushed velvet curtain, we descended a winding metal stairway into the depths. Phantom of the Opera music suddenly began to play. Thirty minutes ago, I’d been eating onion rings in a relatively normal, small-town diner. Now I was in the basement of a mountain house in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by flickering candles, red roses, a mirror with the Phantom himself looking at me from the other side of the glass, and Box Five, complete with an old-time organ. This was turning out to be a really, really strange day.

            As I trekked down back down the gravel road, I noticed the deer had disappeared. The sun was setting and I had visions of a) walking in the dark along the highway with my non-hiker clothing and silver-studded purse, looking kind of ridiculous, and b) being eaten by a passing cougar. Mind wandering, I remembered how in 1995 this was the town where lions, ligers (a lion-tiger mix) and hybrid wolves escaped nearby Ligertown when owner Robert Fieber was attacked by one of his own animals, and the rest got loose. I shook my head, knowing that was a long time ago, and that because of the ruckus, Ligertown had been disbanded.

            Taking what I thought was a short cut, I crossed a narrow street just in time to see two black shadows bounding towards me, barking ferociously.  I assumed I would soon be a goner, not at the claws and fangs of a cougar or even a liger, but of two black devil dogs. “Bulldozer! Shadow!” a woman’s voice called. The names didn’t make me think they were heading my direction for a friendly pat on the head. Miraculously, they stopped, and then nuzzled my hands.

            “Do you have a dog?” the woman asked. “They probably smell your dog on your jeans.”

            There was no denying at that point that I did, in fact, have a dog. A neutral resting ground, I thought once more, happy I hadn’t been devoured after all.

            That evening, I asked my sister about the goat birds, the golden droppings, and the manor. She’d never heard of the goat birds or their golden droppings, but her husband had installed some flooring in the manor.

            The next day I arrived back in Lava with a list of questions, among them:
1. What’s the deal with the goat birds?
2. Did the waters really heal people?
3. What was that humming I’d felt in the Sunken Garden?

            I went into the first shop that caught my attention, and struck up a conversation with the lady at the register. She’d never heard of any goat birds, either. I showed her the pictures I’d taken of the write up in the museum, briefly told her all about John Taog, the cave, the skeletons, and the pile of golden poo in the vault. She told me to ask Kathy at the museum, which I fully intended to do. Right then and there, a large wave of doubt washed over me.

            “If that’s some sort of town joke, I’m going to laugh really hard,” I told her, already laughing. Seconds later, the cashier’s husband walked in.
            “Hey,” she said, “Do you know the legend of the goat bird?”
            “Yeah, the one about the bird that lays golden droppings,” he replied.
            “Why haven’t I ever heard about it?” the cashier asked.
            “Because it isn’t true,” her husband said.
            “I knew it,” I said, semi-honestly.

            I was soon seated across from Kathy Sher at the South Bannock County Historical Center. She too, had become fascinated with Lava Hot Springs. After what she thought was a temporary move to Idaho, the state worked its way into her heart and a few years later, she bought a house in Lava on a whim. The people were so wonderful and accepting, she says, that she’s stayed for thirty years and counting. Jumping in with both feet (sort of like my pencil dive, but I’m sure Kathy had much better form), she now sits on the City Council.

            Her fondness for the area is evident as she tells of Lava’s history, something she does daily at the museum. When I asked about the varied demographics of the populace, she nodded. “Lava was built on diversity,” Kathy began. Mostly inhabited by Native American Indians, trappers had discovered the area as far back as 1812. Several others in the trapping business traversed the land in the 1830s, but really by the 1860s, most people were still using the area as a pass through to elsewhere. The entrepreneurial trapper Bob Dempsey saw opportunity around the time of 1851, providing traveling parties with fresh horses. The land offered a natural draw for travelers with its water, timber, and good grazing ground.

In 1862 when gold was discovered in Montana Territory, multitudes of miners passed through, moving along the Portneuf. Enterprising individuals turned a profit from being able to provide stage stops and feed. It was estimated that by 1875, many who’d pioneered across the country had gone through South Bannock County.

Historically, the town was created through a good deal of cooperation. There are wonderful stories about the founding settler, Charlie Potter, who had a large family with lots of children. One winter, he gave one of his few hogs to new homesteading neighbors, so they could make it through the cold months. His wife, understandably worried, became very upset with him for donating the food. Charlie put his foot down, telling her that was just the way it was, that a person helps their neighbors, period.

“He was a very good community leader,” Kathy said.

            I admitted to the museum director that they’d gotten me with the goat bird thing. Kathy laughed so hard, she started coughing. It seems Don Worthylake, a retired journalist and obvious humorist, conceived the goat bird story. As a former volunteer for the Museum of Natural History in Idaho, and a recently retired Board President, this also-woodcarver hand made the goat birds to sell, raising money for the museum. Goat birds were marketed in the eighties and nineties, delighting and mystifying visitors (like myself), much like the well-known Idaho jackalopes. 

            Lava, it appears, is a town with a sense of mirth, and it has influenced Kathy. She showed me around the museum building, which was once a bank. When we got to the vault area, she leaned over towards me and whispered, “This is where we keep the golden droppings.”

            Next stop: the water itself. The sixteen beneficial minerals were permitted to go to task on my bad shoulder. After one hour of soaking, I felt better. Not scientific at all, but for me, it seemed to work. Kathy told me there were people who swore by the stuff.

            Last stop: a return to the Sunken Garden to get to the bottom of that hum. I walked along the path, touching the rock walls as before. I took the same route back to the gazebo, sat, and waited expectantly. Hum. Hum. Hum. What on earth could that be?
I looked up in time to see a semi-truck passing by on the highway above. The entire hillside was one big piece of lava rock, so it only made sense the vibrations from the highway made their way down to the concrete bench where I now sat. Hum. Hum. Hum.

            Some are historical and some are homemade, but there is no doubt about it: Lava is chock full of legends.

*For more Appetite for Idaho, visit me on Facebook and Twitter.
Oh, and watch for the Appetite for Idaho book, due out soon: Part memoir, part anthology, part foodie heaven with recipes from Heather Lauer, Vickie Holbrook, Randy Scott, and Larry Gebert.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Idaho Gold Prospecting: with Hinsel Scott

Hinsel Scott is someone who is hard to explain with mere words. He’s an interesting mix of so many things. Businessman, friend, social media and PR genius, graphic and web designer, and chief of reciprocity. I have a picture in my mind of Seinfeld’s Kramer, (given all of the pies he has his fingers stuck into) but in Hinsel form.

He’s sort of like that.

I’ve learned not to be surprised when some new Hinsel facet emerges, but when he mentioned gold panning and mining, I just had to ask.

It seems this Southern-born boy, an Idaho resident for over ten years now, thinks there’s gold in them thar hills. No…he knows there is.

His area of origin was flatland, without a ton of mountains, so the fascination for rocks and digging was already present, then fed by a friend in the process of building his first little gold dredge. That friend invited Hinsel to join him for a prospecting trip. Up in Boise County, Hinsel was shown how to pan, and found his very first flake that day while just kicking around at Grimes Creek.

“My first piece of color was really small, the size of a grain of salt, but it didn’t take long to find it.”

Hinsel got bit by the gold bug.

“I was pretty excited when I saw the real thing for the first time,” he says, “That’s happened to me, and everybody I’ve ever taken out. They see all of the sparkly, shiny stuff in the creek, think it’s gold and that they’ve struck it rich. But most of it ends up being either mica or iron pyrite, Fool’s Gold. Once you see the real thing, you’ll know nothing else in the river looks quite the way gold does.”

Hinsel passes on Gold Panning 101 tips he got from his friend, and things he’s learned himself during his own five years of prospecting:

“Always remember that gold’s going to be about nineteen times heavier than anything else in the river. It’s over nine times heavier than lead, so concentrate on taking your dirt, your material, and getting it as liquefied in your pan as possible with water. Don’t let it ‘rock up’ on you. When it’s all liquid and aerated, the gold naturally drops into the bottom of your pan, due to gravity. Pick out the bigger rocks, because if you have a ping-pong sized rock in there, despite gold being so heavy, a small flake of gold can get displaced by that bigger rock, just because of its size. Keep it liquid and work the material back and forth, so the water washes the lighter material off the top. What’s left at the bottom is the heavy black mineral sand…and gold.”

He adds, “Take a shovelful of dirt, pan it out and work it down to just a couple of tablespoons. That’s where you’ll start to see your color show up.”

Although looking for gold of any kind, Hinsel says he prefers going for the gold flakes, yet he wouldn’t turn down a nugget if he found one.

“We didn’t find our first actual nugget until last year,” he told me, “It’s not like in the movies where you see people pulling fist-sized nuggets out of the river. Nuggets are rare. For the prospectors back in the old days, and these days, too, your bread and butter’s going to be the fine gold, the ‘flour’ gold. You can pan and sluice, getting the small stuff all day long. That adds up a lot faster than any nugget you might find.”

I wondered how much money we were talkin’ about, here…

“Enough to support the habit,” Hinsel laughs.

When a nugget was located last year, weighing in at around a quarter of an ounce, a lot of hooting, hollering, and high fives were exchanged.

“We’re definitely making more than enough to pay for beans and gas,” he happily states.

How severe is this particular case of gold fever?

“I’d pretty much go up every weekend if I could,” Hinsel admits, “Just about every weekend during the summer months, I head for the hills, with a few days off to go up here and there during the week.”

As in the old gold rush days, Hinsel is subtle about the exact location of the claim.

“We’re pretty secretive about specifics,” he says, “People ask where we’ve been going to find all of that gold, and we’re sort of like, ‘Oh…you know…somewhere around Idaho City’, or, ‘somewhere in Boise County.’ You don’t want everybody knowing where your sweet spot is.”

It’s the opposite when it comes to being an evangelist for the hobby.

“As far as letting people know I’m into it, yeah, I’ll be glad to talk about that. When my dad visited from the South a couple of years ago and I took him up, he caught a little of the fever. It was all he could talk about for the whole next year,” Hinsel relates.

Hinsel’s dad isn’t the only one. Thanks to the appearance of tv shows like Discovery Channel’s “Gold Fever” and “Gold Rush”, hunting for yellow ore is more popular than ever. The shows were what fueled Hinsel and his friends’ already-present prospecting passion.

“We watched the shows during the week, which sort of fanned the flames, then got all excited to go out on the weekends,” Hinsel says. He credits his friend, Trent Starkey, saying that he wouldn't be getting out nearly as much, or finding as much 'yella' stuff without him.

Trent started the business Idaho Gold and Gem Outfitters, which Hinsel and another mutual friend are also now a part of.

These days, Hinsel and his ore-seeking associates are hard core miners, with a claim and all of the legit, legal paperwork. They now run a few ‘high bankers’, which are portable sluices and dredges, and a five-and-a-half inch dredge.

“It’s definitely gotten bigger than just panning and buckets,” says Hinsel.

The Gold Prospector’s Association of America is big on getting people involved, with an emphasis on families. The Idaho Chapter of the GPAA is based in Nampa. Once generally hosting an older membership, thanks to the aforementioned TV reality shows, that’s quickly changing. People of all ages are now on the search.

Although a person can pan during just about any time of the year, for most, the Idaho cold is a deterrent. That doesn’t stop Hinsel and Co. from playing in the dirt. During the summer, they plan ahead, filling buckets or Rubbermaid containers with dirt they suspect to be gold-rich. This provides something to sort throughout the long winter months.

According to Hinsel, waiting within just about any river in Idaho sits some type of gold.

“Gold is abundant,” says Hinsel, “You can usually find flakes anyplace you go, especially in Western Idaho.”

*For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Celebration Park

Celebration Park

Nestled near the Snake River on the western boundary of the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area is Celebration Park; an attraction that shouldn’t be missed. The twenty-one mile drive out of Nampa is well worth the time it takes to get there.  Travel south on 12th Avenue South, which is also Highway 45. Turn left (east) on Ferry Road, near Walter’s Ferry and the Snake River, then right on Warren Spur Road. Take another right on Sinker Road, which takes you to the north end of the picturesque Guffey Bridge, then follow the river to Celebration Park. All roads are paved on this route.

At Idaho’s first—and only---archeological park, unique Paleo-Indian ‘rock art’ pictures (called petroglyphs) can be found by the thousands, dating up to 12,000 years ago, thus creating a sacred site in the eyes of the Native American Indians. These were painted or etched onto the Bonneville melon gravel that was long ago washed up by the Lake Bonneville Flood. The Interpretive Specialists at the park assist in immersing their guests in the Indian culture, telling of the customs, geology and history of the valley. Imagine learning to throw an ‘atlatl’, that 45,000 year-old slinging weapon, and then doing so competitively (after a bit of instruction) at the atlatl range. Not to mention getting an education about the rock chipping and arrowhead making methods of the past. Scattered near the Visitor’s Center are several teepees to both view and enter, to get the feel of that ancient lifestyle. 

Feel like a hike? Before you take that first step on the trail, apply a liberal amount of sunscreen. Celebration Park is considered the high desert; that means shade trees are at a minimum. Oh, and you’d better take plenty of water.

About two miles upstream from the Visitor’s Center along the marked trail is Halverson Lake, a natural seepage that pops up out of nowhere as an oasis. Before arriving at the Lake, keep your eyes peeled for a waterfall or two, pouring over the basalt rim. You’ll also see several rock cabins (or their remnants), en route, built by the miners in the late 1890’s to 1900’s. These guys were looking for the super-fine ‘flour gold’ that was in the region.

The panoramic view includes high desert flora, the rushing waters and incredibly rugged scenery.

Halverson Lake is a hot spot for fisherman early in the calendar year, due to its smaller size and depth, which causes it to heat up a lot sooner than other bodies of water in the surrounding areas.

If you’re really feeling like a hike, just continue along the non-motorized marked trail, twenty miles upriver to the next park over, which is the Swan Falls Reservoir. You’ll see lots of birdlife along the way; according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, you are in the home of one of the highest concentration of raptors in the world. Raptors are not the only feathered friends you’ll see, however.  Keep a keen eye out for bugs, rabbits, Canadian geese, coyote, lizards, and even the occasional scorpion or snake.

When hiking downriver from the Visitor’s Center, you can’t miss the prominent fixture of Guffey Bridge. Renovated into a walking bridge, it was built in 1897 for the railroad and is the popular subject of many a photographer and painter.

The beauty of this park, beyond its breathtaking views and haunting fields of lava deposits, not to mention the meandering Snake River that clings to its edge, is that it is open to the public year-round. Better yet, the location shelters the park from the elements when other areas are snowbound, making hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails accessible all year long. The clincher for those that like to camp during the winter months is drinking water and heated restrooms, making Celebration Park just about as user-friendly as it can get.

Twenty five minutes from Nampa and all this can be yours.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cleo's Trail: A Vibrant Faith Adventure

Cleo’s Trail: A Vibrant Faith Adventure
By Amy Larson, as seen in IDAHO Magazine

“This was a bad idea,” I told myself as I drove up Highway 45, south of Nampa.

Curious about a place friends had told me of, Cleo’s Trail, I decided to take an afternoon off from work and visit. Two problems: I got a late start, and it was raining buckets. With wipers on full speed, I was questioning my wisdom, or lack thereof.

Then something interesting happened. The closer I got to Cleo’s Trail, near the Snake River, the better the weather got. Driving over the last hill, the clouds parted and the rain stopped. My mood brightened, too, and I sensed I was about to have a singular experience.

Before me was the old Walter’s Ferry site. To the left were two houses, with an open gate beyond them. An overhead sign read, “This place was built as a vibrant faith adventure.”

That sounds like something I can use, I thought. I could see several old-style houses, barns, and a little chapel. To the left was a vacant parking lot, and I found out why. The trail closed at five. I looked at my watch. 4:45. Fifteen minutes to explore. I decided I would snap some photos and move quickly through.

The very first sign slowed my pace.

“You are my special friend and visitor today,” it said. Who was this Cleo person, and did she really mean it? I looked around, noticing I was surrounded by a courtyard full of children at play. Sculptures of children being read to on benches by parents, children doing cartwheels, and masquerading as caped superheroes. I started grinning, something I hadn’t done all day. The sculpture of two children holding hands and galloping off toward some adventure triggered a memory of my older sister and I. She was always dragging me around to something or somewhere, but whatever she dragged me to was often fun. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time.

The paved pathway led up a slight hill. Needing to make good time to be out by five, my pace was brisk, until I saw another sign.

“LOOK and forget your troubles,” it said. How did they know? I took a deep breath and walked on, I’d just have to ‘look’ a bit faster.

“You deserve to be happy,” the next sign said. Yeah, I thought, I really do. Everyone does.

Five steps further, another sign. They were everywhere, on both sides of the trail. This could take a while. There was no way I’d be finished with the ten minutes I had left.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” the next sign asked. As I thought of the clouds parting, and how the rain had stopped, my footsteps resigned to a more gentle, thoughtful pace.

“Imagination is important,” the next sign said. Thinking back to when I was a child, what had I imagined back then? I could hardly remember. This trail was getting me in touch with my younger self.

What I couldn’t get out of my head was one question: Why would someone go to so much trouble? While a spiritual element was evident along the trail, there was also a mystical element, and a whimsical element, too. The combination confused me somewhat. I didn’t usually see expensive, commissioned sculptures placed beside simple wooden birdhouses. There was an ‘anything goes’ feel.

Figurines of squirrels and birds sat along wooden fences, and as the path curved, a trail split off up the Idaho prairie hill, with steps leading to a little white miniature church. I skipped up the steps, feeling twenty years younger, then tried the door. It was open!

Inside was a Bible and a space to kneel, but what got me was the picture window, taking up the entire back wall. Three crosses stood gloriously at the top of the hill, the framed subject of the window. Breathtaking.

I’d dawdled. I was sure it was past closing time. There were so many statues, glass globes, and with the sun going down, sparkling holiday lights appeared on miniature faux trees placed along the path. It made me feel like royalty, or ‘A special guest’, as the sign said. It was so magical, I half-expected to see one of the statues move.

I hadn’t yet seen another living soul. This enabled me to absorb, uninterrupted. I rejoined the main path and continued reading.

“Sit down. This is a good spot.”

A bench by the sign. It would be wrong not to sit, after so firm a directive. I did as told. I wished I could’ve stayed longer, but I was now there after hours, and it was getting cold and dark.

Taking a few more steps past the sitting bench, I looked off to my right.
A sunken area said ‘Cleo’s Prayer Garden.’ There was a lot of movement along the trail, because there are hundreds of birds and squirrels present. To see movement in the garden didn’t seem odd, until I realized some of that movement was human. It was a man who looked like he worked there.

“I know you’re closed,” I said apologetically, “But could I stay a little longer? I’ve just discovered this place, and it’s…” I paused, searching for any one word that could describe it, and came up with nothing.

“Isn’t it?” the man smiled knowingly, “Doctor and Cleo Swayne put this together,” he told me. Swayne, I thought, where had I heard that name before?

“The Swayne Auditorium is named after them,” the man said. The Swayne Auditorium in Nampa at Northwest Nazarene University, of course. I’d been there many times. So these were the people behind it. The man working in the garden, Steve Washburn, was the caretaker of Cleo’s Trail.

“Is Cleo still alive?” I blurted out like an over-anxious fan. If so, I very much wanted to meet her.

Steve told me she was not, and I was disappointed. He told me he and his wife cared for the grounds and lived on-site. I couldn’t believe anyone was fortunate enough to get to live at such a place, and said so. He told me Cleo had been quite a character. In the course of the discussion, Steve gave me permission to take more time, and I was grateful. There was no rushing through the place. Coming up next, he said, was the Enchanted Forest.

Twinkling lights led the way off to the right and down a slope, into a thicket of overgrowth. Twisting branches blocked the sky as I followed the path, ducking for lower boughs encircled with strings of white lights. There were benches and chairs for sitting and contemplation. There were warning signs, citing the presence of trolls. I encountered a tiny brook with a small waterfall, feeding into a pond. Next a playhouse, surrounded by fairies, silk flowers and the occasional gnome.

“Who does this?” I asked, shaking my head. In my practical world, land was precious, used to grow or graze something on. How was it that this Cleo could have done whatever her heart desired with it, decorating literally acres with signs, lights, animal sculptures, expensive artwork and the random this and that? I just didn’t get it…but then I did. Whoever she was married to, this Dr. Swayne, must have really loved her. Knowing next to nothing about them as a couple, I looked around, fairly certain I was right.

“Feel the quietness,” said a sign, “Let’s eliminate negative thinking,” said another.

I continued walking, charmed. Ahead was the Snake River, with a decorative fence and white gazebo, a picture postcard scene. Nearby was a huge willow tree, beneath that were several benches, all with occupant sculptures of Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, and Benjamin Franklin. I took a seat by Mr. Twain, hoping for tips. He said nothing, yet smiled approvingly.

“What’s life without a dream?” said another sign. Indeed.

In front of a cozy shelter was a plaque, shaped like a book, which read:

“A joyous place filled with warmth and good friends, A place where everyone feels welcome, A safe place to grow and learn, A peaceful place filled with trust and love.”

The view was so grand and sweeping, it wasn’t hard to picture the Swaynes standing at that very spot, happy together. My imagination was now fully awake. Childhood, romance and gnomes, there was so much to see! Beyond the willow was an entire playground, a blacktop filled with children’s likenesses playing marbles, hopscotch, learning to ride a bicycle, jumping rope. Three child sculptures, towering high above me, were trying out stilts. In the next section was a baseball game, with a pig-tailed girl winding up for the pitch, everyone in their respective places. A little boy sculpture watched the game in a reclining position from a distance, holding a baby bottle between his bare feet, which a puppy was licking.

Beyond was the scene of a parade, as those observing the flag held their hands to their hearts.

“Exactly as it should be,” I said out loud.

I remembered Steve’s words about the next piece. ‘The only one that was commissioned,’ he’d said. It was a recreation of the Swayne’s wedding day. As the preacher gave a lively sermon, the couple looked into each other’s eyes with calm and confidence. Like an intruder, I stepped into the space between them and the pastor and gazed curiously. Not many got this view of the beginning of a marriage. Yep, I decided, they’d been good for each other.

I looked up and saw six deer. As I walked, they walked with me. A minute or two later, they went into the trees. I’d never been that close to deer in my lifetime, but they prepped me for what came next. My head jerked backwards as I stared at replicas of a full-grown rhinoceros, giraffe, lion, and several other animals you might find in not-Idaho. A safari by the Snake River. I laughed out loud then, thrilled at the ‘anything goes’ attitude. Why not have a jungle here?

Angels, fairies and gnomes lined my way back to the parking lot, while I tried to process what I’d just seen. It was as though someone had peered into my once-colorful, little-child mind and recreated what they’d found there. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d missed that part of me. The trail had introduced me once again to my younger, more innocent self.

I found I couldn’t stay away from the place. Returning two days later, I had a different experience, with resident peacocks following me (two of them white), a visit to the hilltop chapel, and a stop at the family cemetery, where Cleo and Dr. ‘Pappy’ had their resting place. I also noticed the large rainbow at the top of the hill. How many times had I driven by this spot on my way to Murphy, Reynolds Creek, or Givens, and saw the rainbow, never looking into why it was there?

On my way out, I saw a glass case advertising Cleo’s books. One was “Pappy the Doctor”, their love story. I knew it! The notice in the case said books were available at Dan’s Ferry Service. I drove there, bought the story, and finished it hours later.

Dr. Samuel Swayne and Cleo had enjoyed each others' company. Cleo was first married to Dr. Clarence Heuck, an osteopathic physician. They had two children, Dan and Betty. Dr. Swayne was a widower with four older daughters, with a reputation as an excellent physician, which is why the Heucks chose Dr. Swayne to deliver their second child. He later assisted Dr. Heuck in treating young Dan’s polio. He was a trusted doctor and friend. When Dr. Heuck suddenly died from stepping on a rusty nail, Cleo had to fend for herself for years, taking in boarders and working long hours. Dr. Swayne became interested in her, and although that might have looked like a meal ticket to outsiders, Cleo carefully considered, postponing a decision for several reasons. One of which was perhaps the fact that she was 26 years her suitor’s junior. With many adoring women in the area, some were not happy with a youngster sweeping the eligible doctor off his feet. Cleo stood her ground, raised her children, cooked and cleaned for boarders, and waited until conditions were best. What followed was the story of two people who worked together, played together, danced together, and laughed together. Established as a happy couple, the people around accepted them as such. Cleo helped Dr. Swayne in his practice, and when he retired, they built up their beloved ranch on the Snake.

They traveled, collecting this, that and the other and brought it all home. Wanting to duplicate the historic Walter’s Ferry dwellings, ‘Pappy’ constructed the rock museum by himself, then with a helper built several more buildings. At age 89, he’d just finished work on the ‘little house by the river’. A hernia bothered him, and the day after the Swayne’s wedding anniversary, he went in for a simple surgery. The surgeon commented that Pappy had ‘the blood pressure of a teenager.’ The surgery went well, but the next day due to some swelling, another surgery was ordered. For three weeks afterward, Pappy was ailing, with Cleo close by. Then a heart attack occurred, and he died. Cleo wrote that she ‘had to will herself to pick up life again.’ Her best friend was gone. Apparently, she later put her energies into giving back to others, via Cleo’s Trail. I’d been right with my vibes about those two, thinking whoever put the trail together must have been very loved. Pappy is quoted as telling an associate who helped with construction, “However Cleo wants it, that suits me.”

Knowing more of the story, the trail became even more sacred.

Hearing the trail was lighted on certain evenings, a few days later I was back again.
There was a campfire going by the caretaker’s home, with chairs, hot chocolate in Styrofoam cups, and marshmallows for roasting. About a half dozen Cleo’s Trail walkers gathered around the toasty fire, conversing, sipping and soaking in the peaceful surroundings.

I envied Steve and his wife, being able to live at such a place. He told me I could call anytime with questions, so a few weeks later, I did.

When asked how he got the job, Steve said, “You know how you’re supposed to be quite collected for an interview? When Dan showed us around, I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed throughout the entire trail, saying, ‘This is great!’

He said the Swaynes had a love for their fellowmen in common, and told of how Cleo used to give tours to fourth grade history classes, wowing them with the grand finale.

“She’d end her tour in the upper story of the doll museum, saying ‘And now, children, it’s time for you to leave.’” She’d open the side of a wall, revealing a slide that went all the way down to ground floor.

“That was her, through and through,” Steve told me, laughing, “She just loved to joke.
When she told you something, you’d wonder if she was pulling your leg. She was pretty feisty, too, you had to pay attention, or she’d get after you. She kept those fourth graders spellbound.”

Why the trail? I asked.

“The sign says, ‘A vibrant faith adventure, and that’s what it was for her. She knew there would be results. Its purpose was to touch lives.”

“It sounds like a lot of people find refuge there,” I commented.

“—And that was to Cleo’s delight,” Steve answered, “She loved that.”

Steve told of a message left behind, stating the writer had gone through a troubled life, that she was getting back on track, and that she now had hope. Steve gave that to Cleo, who got great joy from it. Cleo also went to great lengths to get light to the three crosses on the hill, a complicated and expensive project. She later got a letter from a woman who had been standing at the bridge over the Snake River one evening, contemplating ending her life. As it got dark, the lights on the crosses came on, and the woman saw them and changed her mind. The note was written to thank Cleo.

I told Steve I couldn’t believe I’ve lived in the area since 1988, and had never heard of the trail. He expressed his theory that people find the trail at the right time for them.

“Cleo didn’t advertise it,” he said, “On purpose. She didn’t want it to be too crowded. If people got after her about that, she’d say, ‘Are you enjoying yourself here today?’ When they replied ‘yes’, she said, ‘If there were sixty other people walking around, would you have enjoyed it as much?’”

Steve told of a group of visiting twenty somethings, too tough and cool to even smile. When he called out, “I hope you have a great time!” they glared. When they returned, they’d changed. The trail had done something for them.

“If anyone needs that, they do,” said Steve, “It’s an experience. Everyone gets something different out of it.”

Explaining the rainbow, Steve said Cleo had been nervous about getting married to Dr. Swayne. On the day they went to get their marriage license, the weather was dark and stormy, not helping matters. When they came out of the building, however, the sun was shining, and there was a big, beautiful rainbow across the sky.

“That’s the significance of the rainbow,” he told me, “It’s the second one they put up. I believe she had a swing on the first one.”

Somehow, I wasn’t surprised.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Jack Rencher, Sr. and Werner Goering

Circling Back Around

*Published in IDAHO Magazine

I’ve never had a thing for airplanes. An adult in my youth used to take my sisters and me to the airport to repeatedly watch the planes take off and land. Given that my relationship with this individual was not the best and being a captive audience, I focused on other things. How my younger sister’s elbows stuck me right in the ribs whenever she’d move around in the back seat, how I never got to sit by the window. Our driver, engrossed by the planes, was oblivious to our plight. We’d wait for hours in the lot beyond the runway’s chain link fence, hungry and bored.

I developed a rather healthy aversion when it came to aircraft.

Then I became the mother of a cheerful, curious boy who loved playing outside. A couple of times a week, a yellow plane could be seen in the sky doing loop-de-loops or a low fly-by, to the utter delight of my little person. My son named the mystery person the ‘Crazy Pilot’. Many times I’d hear the call of,“There’s Crazy Pilot!” To our family, the plane and its operator were legendary. My anti-aircraft attitude began to soften.

Later in life, I enrolled in Real Estate school. The instructor, Corinne Rencher, became a good friend of mine. When I’d lost her number, I called Corinne’s late husband’s father, Jack Sr. Through his listing in the phone book, I attempted to contact my friend. This was my first introduction to Mr. Jack Rencher, and, as I would learn was typical, he gave me a humorous verbal runaround.

Not long afterward, Corinne, widow of Jack Jr., remarried a terrific guy named Tom. The couple began to throw annual summer parties in their backyard. This is where I finally met Jack Sr. face-to-face.

“Are you Miss America?” he asked me. I discovered he said that to all women, young and old alike. This opening line had helped him to acquire Corinne as a daughter-in-law. Corinne had been working at a bank, and Jack Sr. had met her while making his business deposits. Soon, a wise Jack Sr. began sending the young Jack Jr. to make the deposits, and a marriage had been the result.

“Where did you and your husband meet?” Jack Sr. asked during that first party, leaning forward in his lawn chair and looking at me with his keen, intelligent eyes. “I’m a marriage counselor. I like to know these things.”

Since tone and demeanor indicated the high probability that Jack was once again pulling my leg, I answered in kind. We both enjoyed the exchange, being one of many such conversations. Jack was a likeable fellow. Corinne told me he’d been a pilot in WWII and that he’d flown ‘a lot’. In the future I would learn what that meant.

As an older gentleman, Jack’s look was that of a hat of some kind, dress slacks, nice shoes, and sports jacket with a bolo tie. Hats he’d often wear would indicate his being a Veteran. Had I ever noticed the Hell’s Angels ball cap, the significance would not have registered, being neither an airplane fan nor very interested when it came to matters of WWII.

When Jack Sr. passed away in 2010, I attended his packed funeral service. A chuckle went through the crowd when it was said that he never met a woman he didn’t like. Jack’s sweetheart Louise had passed away several years before, and it seemed that he’d made his way through life without her by staying involved with the community. Well-known and well-liked, he’d been a regular at the Singles’ dances in the Valley. He helped and served in churches where he wasn’t even a member, but did have ties. Jack actually had done amateur marriage counseling at his late wife Louise’s church, the First Methodist Cathedral of the Rockies in downtown Boise. This was in connection with the singles and young couples groups.

“I always said all of Dad’s stories had an element of truth to them,” Jack’s son Brian told me.

After the funeral, I thought I’d seen the last of Jack, but that wasn’t to be the case. My children and I were invited to help with Jack Rencher’s estate sale. This was in exchange for the always-great company of Corinne Rencher Janstrom, Brian and his wife Monica, and lunch.

I was surprised to find that the Rencher home was identical to my own former home. Both dwellings shared the same builder. I had missed my old home and found solace in being able to spend time inside its twin.

Being amongst a person’s belongings for a couple of days and seeing the tangible remnants and reminders of a long life is a poignant experience. I did a lot of thinking that day about Jack, with the song, ‘A, You’re Adorable’ mysteriously running through my head the entire time. I wondered if the tune had held some significance for the Rencher couple.

At the end of our time there, we selected an item from the wide assortment of clothing left by Jack and Louise. I chose a woven beige hat of Jack’s, thinking it might keep the sun out of my eyes while gardening. Driving away from the Hill Road estate, I was sure I was seeing the last of Mr. Jack, and quite regrettably so.

As a writer who constantly wrote about things to do, see and eat in Idaho, it became increasingly clear that to ignore the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa would be wrong. What I found at the WAM was the last thing I expected. The planes, old-time cars and memorabilia were all there; but so were the journals, the photos, a wedding dress made out of a parachute that had saved the groom’s life. And poetry. People had written the most charming, heart-felt letters and poetry. Pure art in the form of the written word came from their pain and experiences. Lovesick, missing home, missing their girl; it was all there for anyone to read. It wasn’t just about the airplanes; it was mainly about the people who’d been touched by them, in one way or another. This was personal. 

Later in the year, I submitted my WAM writings to Idaho Magazine. Bad news; they’d done a feature on the WAM already, but, I was told, if I knew someone personally who’d donated to the museum, perhaps I could write about that. I was told that the Publisher had recently heard of a late Boise man whose family had donated, and there was a book about him that I was generously invited to borrow. ‘That’s okay,’ I thought, ‘I already have someone in mind.’ Days earlier during lunch with Corinne, I was told that the Jack Rencher family had donated many of his WWII items to the WAM. I offered the name to Kitty, the Publisher, and learned that she and I had been referring to the same man all along.

Jack was back in my life again.

When I called Brian Rencher to glean more information, I marveled at the coincidence.

“It’s Boise,” Brian commented. While I’d both heard and experienced the two degrees of separation in our large capital city, in my mind I added, “---and it’s Jack.”

I pored through Kitty’s book, ‘Hell Above Earth,’ by Stephen Frater, and slowly had my eyes opened to the man I’d sat beside at the backyard parties. Jack had been one of the top pilots and co-pilots during World War II; one of the best. His sheer skill and log of hours in the air was awe-inspiring to those that knew him.

How he became a pilot is a story worthy of a book in itself. From an outsider looking in, it was a long shot. However, Jack specialized in long shots, being a dead-aim with a gun. As a high school dropout, and for a time, a vagabond that slept at friend’s houses, he was never born into the privileged set that had things handed to them. He had to fight for everything he ever got, but seemed to get everything he put his mind to getting.

Jack had worked hard to acquire his education. While attending an overcrowded high school in Arizona, he held two jobs. His family had moved back to a more rural setting, but Jack wanted to stay where jobs, money and schooling were, so he remained in the city. When the school schedule was split due to high population, Jack was unfortunately assigned to the earlier shift. This didn’t fit with his hours, since he often labored past midnight and needed sleep. He instead showed up each day for the later shift. When the principal chastised Jack for this, the toughened youth who’d learned to fend for himself was having none of it. He argued with the principal, claiming that the ‘rich kids’ were dropped off at nine a.m. in their limousines, so why couldn’t they make space during that shift for him? The administrator flatly refused and began to abuse Jack verbally, who then gave him a warning blow. The man ran away like a frightened child. Though it meant Jack’s high school days were through, he stood his ground and stood up for himself.

Reading about Jack gave me new determination when it came to my own goals. I knew he’d gone on to become a successful entrepreneur, the founder of TechniChem in Boise. He’d been living proof that nothing was impossible.

“Wow, Jack, reading your story is giving me guts,” I caught myself saying aloud.

Jack flew as co-pilot to Werner Goering, who was said to be the German-American nephew of Nazi leader Hermann Goering. Because of this, Jack was asked covertly to shoot his friend Werner dead, should the plane ever go down over German territory. It would have been too big of a feather in the Nazi’s cap to capture the number two man’s nephew. Accepting it as duty, Jack agreed to the assignment. A time or two, Jack nearly did have to shoot his buddy. This was a tale that he shared with his family more than once, over time. When the Freedom of Information Act which allowed previously undisclosed information to be released, author Stephen Frater became aware of the story and interviewed both men. In doing so, he got to the bottom of an age-old mystery surrounding the almost-assassination of Werner Goering. Jack unfortunately passed away before he was able to read Frater’s book, a work that put together many a missing piece to the two men’s WW II-era’s puzzle.

More than once while reading, I got a lump in my throat for those boys---Jack and all the rest of them---most well under age 25. On those long, sometimes up to ten-hour flights, there was no working bathroom on board. Due to high altitudes, they often fought in as low as -60 degree temperatures, vastly complicating things. There wasn’t much room in which to function, they operated in cramped spaces. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve shed a few tears from my deeper understanding, at the most unexpected of times, like while driving down the street during an otherwise normal day. The stories have made a profound impact.

While turning the pages of the book, it was strange to slowly look up and spot Jack’s beige woven hat, hanging on a hook on the back of my office door. Having become a fixture since the summer before last, I hardly noticed it anymore. The hat now held great value. I worried that I might not have paid due respect to my former marriage counselor, who had been an American hero.

Knowing many of Jack’s things from the WWII era still existed in the care of the WAM was a comfort. It was the WAM’s Director of Aviation Operations, JC Paul, that led me to the next wing of my journalistic journey.  He suggested that I interview a recent donor, Dr. Paul Collins, known as ‘Doc Collins’. 

A few days later, Doc Collins walked towards me with a broad smile and his hand extended at the WAM, surrounded by his donations: an N3N bi-plane, 1927 Studebaker, 1955 Buick, 1941 Lincoln Zephyr, 1940 Desoto and a 1936 Dodge.

I could tell within the first few seconds that he was really, really into this stuff. Doc immediately insisted that to fully understand, I’d have to sit in the cockpit of the N3N.

“Foot here, foot here, foot here, crawl up, left foot goes in and you step over it,” Doc Collins told me. “Walk up. Grab the pole up there. Top wing. Swing around. Put your foot right on the seat. That’s it!”

I was sitting in a bi-plane.

“Grab the stick; you’re gonna learn. Look at the wing. Look way back at the tail. Move around with that,” Doc said, “That’s how you fly. That puts that wing out and this wing up and over you go. That lifts the tail; that puts the tail forward so you go down. Pull back. The tail goes down; the airplane goes up.”

It was surreal. I sat there for a while longer as I imagined being able to actually fly a plane. Thoughts of piloting had never been on my radar; but were there now. I forced myself to climb back out of the plane, surprisingly hesitant to leave it.

“This is what people learned to fly in,” Doc Collins was telling me, “Once you became level, you could see, but when you’re coming in to land, you’ve got to know where things are. Your brain begins to remember the tree, the building. In modern airplanes you can get away with a few things. Not in this. You’ve got to do exactly what it tells you. You’ve got to be willing to try it and put up with what happens. Pilots back then didn’t pass unless they were lucky and good.”

I thought of WWII’s young Jack Rencher. Lucky and good. Yep.

“I’ve been flying for more than thirty years,” said Doc, “My dad was a B24 pilot in WWII, flying a lot of missions early on and it was pretty tough. He didn’t talk much about it. I got the plane years ago, when my dad passed away. I felt it was time for me to decide what to do with it. The WAM takes great care of things; everything in here either drives or flies.”

Doc Collins said he’d give any WWII participant a flight. Once while giving such a flight, Doc yelled back, “Do you want to fly it?” and got a thumbs up from his passenger, who then made an impeccable 360-degree turn, though he hadn’t flown since the forties. Doc said he was impressed at how most pilots never forget how to fly.

JC Paul joined us and the pilot talk started, something I’d never been privy to. Eyes lit up, frequent laughter was involved, both faces became animated with the visible thrill of flight. 

The pilots explained that when in such planes, you strap it on, become a part of it. I remembered how it felt to sit in that bi-plane and related a little. The planes had been designed around guns and engines, not for creature comfort. Doc Collins’ dad had flown a B24 over England, then into Germany to attack places like ball bearing factories, where over ninety per cent of the planes were shot down.

“One of the neatest experiences is to be standing here watching some guy from WWII putting his hand on a plane, looking at it,” Doc said, “You don’t go talk to them, they’re in a whole different zone. The veterans love it. When they see these things, some of them actually start crying. It’s what they remember, what they trained with.”

As if on cue, we looked over to see an apparent veteran viewing the N3N with a man who might have been his son.

JC told me he had asked a recent visitor when the last time was that he’d been in one of the planes. ‘1953’ was the response. The man was told to get in.

Doc Collins said he liked spending time at the WAM because of his father, and because it represents an era that’s taught us a lot, lessons that he himself didn’t want to miss.

“They think it’s about airplanes,” Doc said, “It’s not. It’s about the incident.”

After shutting off my digital recorder, I asked Doc Collins to pose near his biplane for a picture. As he was standing beside the aircraft, the pilot and his bright yellow plane, my memory was jogged.

“Did you ever fly this plane over the Meridian area years ago?” I asked. I named the particular location, telling him about my then-young son and the name he’d given the ‘Crazy Pilot’.

“That was probably me,” I was told with a grin, and then Doc added, “How old is your son? I’ll take him up.” Our fascination with the famed Crazy Pilot had just come full circle.

I shook my head, seeing the pattern. It was now being made perfectly clear: Jack Rencher Sr. and airplanes were meant, for whatever reason, to be a part of my life.

I can’t currently claim disinterest when it comes to all things aircraft; that’s no longer the case. Someday soon, I’m going up into the wild blue yonder in a yellow, open-cockpit N3N.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!