By The Bakersfield Californian
I spent last weekend in Boise and McCall, a beautiful mountain town two hours to the north of the capital city, etched on the shores of Payette Lake.
My sister Pam and her two kids, Colin and Nicoya, live in Boise. Pam is a freelance photographer, a get- up-at-6 a.m.-to-make-her- kids-scrambled-eggs-and- toast-before-they-go-to-work mother, and, like many single mothers (recently so in her case), she works roughly twice as hard as the average man.
Women are tough. Men try to fake it with big muscles and booming voices, but the only people who are fooled are other men with big muscles and booming voices. Women like my sister, and there are a million of them, do the hard, quiet, inglorious work that keeps the world knitted together.
On an airplane, in a magazine article, I read a passage from Hemingway in "A Farewell to Arms":
"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places."
That made me think of Pam. I went to visit her because the people who are strong in the broken places still like company.
I now get Idaho. I understand why she moved there 30 years ago and why people retire there. Forest, rivers and hiking trails run together like "water colors in the rain."
Pam turns 60 Aug. 1. She doesn't like to think about it, and I don't blame her. Sixty is old. Thank God I'm only 58.
A couple of years ago, Pam lost Teak, her chocolate lab. She's still hurting. A good dog doesn't go away even when it goes away.
The only thing Pam likes more than dogs are horses. If you turn into a horse, and I hope you do, you'll be all right if you end up in my sister's care. She'll make sure you have shoes and a blanket when it's cold.
Saturday in McCall, we took a hike in the White Cloud Mountains and headed toward Big Boulder Lakes.
"It's only a six-mile hike," Pam said innocently, as we took off.
I was suspicious, not of the countryside, which included meadow after meadow of lupines, elephant ears and small white flowers I couldn't identify, but of the "six-mile hike."
No, the flowers were resplendent, the lakes gleaming and the sky searingly blue. However, in my family, six miles is code for anything from six to 20. The fudge factor trends upward.
Pam may be strong in the broken places, but her brother is broken in the broken places.
The hike took four hours. If that was six miles, I'm Ernest Hemingway. I'm calling it 10 and as long as I am complaining, I think my sister ate most of the M&M's in the trail mix. By the time I reached into the bag, it was all Mission almonds and unsalted peanuts. The M&M's had flown to M&M's heaven.
After the hike, we drove to the town of McCall and sat on an outdoor patio drinking cold rose. The water looked like Lake Tahoe. People were swimming, sailing and paddleboarding.
I've had a taste of Idaho. I won't ever raise my eyebrows again when friends take off for Coeur d'Alene.
My flight home Sunday started in Boise and included a two-hour layover in Phoenix.
Whom should I ask to watch my bag while I go to the bathroom? The girl with the diamond stud stamped in her nose? The tall lanky cowboy dressed in his airport best? The large dark-haired woman devouring a pepperoni pizza?
No matter who you ask, they think you are a terrorist. There is no graceful way to start the conversation.
"Will you please watch my bag ... until it blows up while I am safely in the bathroom?"
"Will you please watch my bag ... until my fellow terrorist comes and switches his bag for your bag and that bag blows up?"
"Will you please watch my bag ... so I can get away from the giant rattlesnake I've been forced to pack in my bag for the terrorist cause?"
There is no good way to ask, so I didn't.
I do have some advice. Should you want the best snack deal in the airport, I suggest a 4-ounce of bag of Cheez-Its and an Almond Joy bar.
Four ounces of Cheez-Its may not seem like a lot, but a Cheez-It doesn't weigh much to begin with, so 4 ounces will feed you and three of your terrorist friends.
Second piece of advice: Visit Idaho if you can. It's beautiful. There's a chance it can make you stronger in the broken places.