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Buck Brook #1: Introduction

Buck Brook was a campus of Green Valley School. Inspired by the principles of Summerhill School in England, Green Valley’s approach to educaiton was to feed our natural desire to learn.

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Summerhillian schools at the time catered to the wealty and talented, since public funding was not available and because their ciriculum appealed to parents pushing gifted kids. But the founders of Green Valley were convinced what is good for gifted kids is also good for every kid and, possilby, especially good for the “ungifted” — ie, the troubled and troubling students. By the time I joined the Buck Brook campus some of our students were from mental health establisments and some junvinile incarceration facilities.

With few exceptions we found most the troubled and troubling students had become bored and restless sitting in rows waiting for the teacher to again explain a simple principle to the same student. Labeled as a “trouble causer” in the teacher’s lounge, they were treated as such in the next grade. They then lived up to the expectation.

Also, with exceptions, we found kids from mental facilities had figured out the way to get lots of attention was to go for the fawning and special beds and bottles of pills that came with “commiting suicide.” If they had a pattern of suicide attempts in their history, they always tried “commiting suicide” once when they got to Green Valley.

Just once.

Rather than the fawning and drugs they expected, the reaction was scorn for not doing a good job of it. One was given a gun, shown it was loaded, and told it would do the trick. Another, having a second floor room, had a noose hung outside her window and was assured it would get the job done. They were then told if they want the attention and respect of the staff and students to come on down to the library and have some fun.

Now don’t worry, dear reader. They had just been programed for “committing suicide.” Every one of them were with the rest of the campus before the end of the day. The only successful suiside was a kid who had absolutely no history of attempts or speaking of it. And that is the pattern of most suisides.

Students got $2.50 a week allowance to spend as they wished and staff got $5 a week with all expenses paid except tobacco and alcohol. It was miles to a store or bar. It was one of the few times I’ve ever actually saved money.

Flower Shade

Boise is in a desert. We have sunny, hot summers.

Not only does the sun make cars into ovens, it is the fastest way to fade paint and deteriorate a car’s interior. For these two reasons I never worry about walking across a large parking lot. The only consideration I have for summertime parking is finding shade.

Winters are different, of course. The low sun neither heats the car up nor damages dashboards. From November to March, I forget about looking for shade.

Every March, when the temperature gets near sixty and we have a sunny day, I find myself thinking, “Is the sun hot enough and will I be parked long enough to heat up the car?”

Not that it really matters. We are in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and our winters are cold enough so when warm, sunny days start in the spring the trees do not yet have their leaves.

Even so, there is one place I can park in the shade of trees even though they do not have leaves. From what I can tell the trees are ornamental pears and their blossoms are thick.

Like moon shadows, I always get a particular joy from parking in the shade of flowers.

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Atlanta ID to Alturas Lake #2

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After packing our horses on that Atlanta morning in 1954, we found ourselves walking the entire operation up the familiar road to Atlanta.

Atlanta was a virtual ghost town even then, so probably no one noticed Mom and Dad and we three kids and three loaded horses, but we did our best to provide a parade for anyone interested in watching.

After the few buildings of Atlanta we walked past the Forest Service bath house, fed with hot springs, and a short bit later the swimming pool, also fed by hot springs. Back in 1917, when he was fourteen, Dad and his school buddies had kicked the mud up from the bottom of this pool when the schoolmarm walked by. The mud made a good curtain to hide their skinny dipping from such a pretty authority figure.

Pool INT

I knew what that warm mud felt like between my toes. Returning to Dad’s youthful haunt had filled many an evening on our summer camping trips. The crisp air at 5,500 feet, the warm water, the mossy mud and the smell of pine trees were all one Atlanta amalgam.

But this time we didn’t stop for a swim. We just kept walking. Past the rusting penstock of an abandoned powerhouse. Past the upper campground we never stayed at. Along the deteriorating wooden flume that had run water to the penstock. Then we crossed the green-clear rushing water of Leggit Creek on a most precarious bridge of barely more than logs laying on rocks.

Then the climb began. A steep and rocky and dusty climb in my mind. And tiring. Before long I had been hoisted up on one of the pack horses to ride (What? A nine-year-old whine about walking uphill? Pshaw… I’m sure the horse just needed more weight).

Folks, to my mind it was a long way up to the back of a horse. Add another yard or so because of pack boxes piled over with blankets and tarps — blankets and tarps I was sitting on that left no room to reach my legs around!

Way down beneath it all was a steep slope littered with rocks to bash my head on should I fall off.
Nyla INT

Well. I was one very attentive boy and my knuckles turned whatever color they had to while my hands gripped the ropes that cinched the awkward mound on a swaying and bucking perch!

But I didn’t ask to get off and walk …

Atlanta ID to Alturas Lake #1

I was nine in the summer of 1954, the year mom and dad took on the task of herding three kids and guiding three horses over our first trek through the Sawtooth Mountains of central Idaho.

Atlanta, Idaho, is some eighty miles from Boise, up a very rough road along the Boise River. Dad was thirteen years old when he first saw Atlanta and his mother ran a laundry there until he was fifteen. He loved the rugged mountain setting of towering peaks and rushing cold water, all sprinkled with hot springs here and there.

Atlanta 1952 INT

By 1954 we had camped in Atlanta several times, so I didn’t think much of yet another summer vacation in the remote reaches of Idaho.

Atlanta camp INT

The first hint of this being an unusual camping trip was Dad talking with locals about horses. And then having horses in our camp while we loaded wooden boxes with raw potatoes and cans of food and our Coleman camping stove and a can of white gas for the stove and pans and can openers and knives and matches — only to double check and check again that we had everything.

Packbox INT

Then, next morning, dad put what looked like small sawhorses on the backs of the horses. The sawhorses were called called packsaddles and had little legs that stuck up from them. Where these legs crossed made a notch to catch rope loops — rope loops that were attached to the wooden boxes holding our heavy 1950s camping gear.

Packsaddle INT

Photo: A special thanks to Trailhead Supply of  Kalispell, Montana.

Mom and Dad were careful to make sure the weight of each box was real close to the weight of the box on the other side of the horse. Then they mounded the loads ever higher with quilts and canvases thrown over the tops of the boxes and the backs of the horses. Finally the entire kit and caboodle was secured to the packsaddles with ropes.

My beautiful picture

And we were off !

Frost Valley #14: Back to Bud

I don’t remember Seager or getting out of the car or what the beginning of the trail looked like. Nor do I remember crossing the headwaters of the Beaver Kill river. But I do remember snippets of a beautiful springtime path cutting its way through mountain meadows and hardwood forests, fresh in the bright green of new leaves.

I remember the path — just wide enough for a single pair of legs and largely obscured by the tall grasses and wildflowers crowding in on both sides.

And I remember a particular wide opening in the forest with dead timber and boggy ground where the gentle climb eased over a generous hump and began to descend.

I was not sure where the path was descending to. It was all a guess, taking off on this path having seen no map that showed it. But it seemed to be going in the right direction. And it was a path so it went somewhere. If it petered out I could always turn around.

It was a path with no footprints, so it could have been an animal path, but that never crossed my mind. The path had started at a road. It would come out somewhere and I could figure out where to go from there. It made no never mind to me where the path rejoined civilization.

In the meantime it was getting dark so I unrolled my cotton sleeping bag and ate a can of beans and crashed, glad it was the middle of May and not nearly as cold as the nights I had spent beside the roads in March and April.

The next day the little path continued to reveal itself — all running downhill. About noon I recognized the tree stump Bud and I had sat on chatting. I walked by the big old barn. Just past the barn I opened the door to their house and joined Stan and Lola for lunch.

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Frost Valley #13: Two Fun Gals

When I hung up the phone in Pine HIll I was mostly thinking about returning to Bud and Stan and Lola and the estate I had left in Frost Valley.

When at the estate, Bud and I had often walked up the rutted road that ran between their house and the hillside. Just a few yards past their house the narrow road passed a big old barn before turning left, into a gully that led into the hills. The road became two ruts and the two ruts gave way to a visible but not-well-maintained path. Stan had said the path went all the way over the ridge and through Catskill Mountain back country. Several times Bud and I sat on a stump where the road turned to path, visiting and enjoying the day.

As I returned to the road from the pay phone at the Pine Hill gas & grub, I decided to take the long way back to Frost Valley and see if I could find that little path that came in behind Stan and Lola’s house. I knew I had to keep going north and east and eventually drop south through the forest, but my map showed no paths.

I wish I could remember the names of those two spunky gals who picked me up as soon as I crossed the gas & grub’s parking lot. I thoroughly enjoyed their company and they seemed to enjoy mine. I’m guessing they were in their late twenties or early thirties and only as I write this have I thought perhaps they were looking for something other than a little daring-do, picking up a lanky hitch hiker to chat with. I’m so gay I miss all kinds of signals from the ladies, I’m sure.

Oblivious to anything other than friendly folks who seemed chatty and interesting, I told them about returning to Frost Valley and my decision to return the long way, hopefully on the little path I had been told crossed the ridge and led to the estate.

The gals looked at one another and agreed it might be the path that takes off from Seager. “At least it heads in that direction.”

I encouraged them to let me out whenever their route took off from mine and just point me in the right direction, but they would not hear of it. Rather, they insisted they take me to Seager and point out the trail.

to Segar INTI became most thankful for their insistence. Seager, it turns out, is a once-active village that died with the tanning business. With just one home, I would probably have been carrying my heavy cotton sleeping bag some nine extra miles. And then I don’t know if I would have found the tiny path.