Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The True Story of Heidi, Idaho

About a mile downstream from Banks, Idaho, on the Payette River is a spot with picnic tables and a beautiful little sandy beach. Although the sign doesn't say so, it's called Heidi, Idaho... and has been since the early '60s.



Dad loved to fish. But even more, he loved to be with his family.

As did Mom. I don't know about the fishing part... far as I know, she has never stepped foot in Cabela's, or had a fishing license. But she loved to spend time with her kids. Still does.

(I wasn't much of a fisherman, either. I tried a few times, but didn't have the patience for it. If a fish didn't bite my hook RIGHT NOW, I quickly lost interest. I preferred roaming up and down the shore, looking for discarded fish... so I could flip 'em over and look for creepy crawly maggots. Yeah... I was a sick kid. Still am.)

A favorite family outing involved driving in the forest and fishing in a beautiful lake or river.

Although Dad loved to fish, he didn't get much fishing in on these trips. He spent most of his time baiting hooks, clearing snags, untangling lines, rejoicing in the occasional kid-fish caught.

Mom was his assistant.

As I think back, I don't know if Mom EVER fished.

In the early 60s, Mom had six kids... at one point she had six kids aged seven or under. (And none of 'em twins. Think about that.) I was the oldest of the six; Heidi was the youngest.

At the time Heidi, Idaho got its name, I was eight pushing nine; Heidi was 1 1/2.

The day was a perfect spring day; we'd been on our forest drive in the old Plymouth station wagon (three seats - the rearmost seat faced backwards), and were headed back toward Boise, when that beach and that bend in the river beckoned in the mid-to-late afternoon.

We scrambled down to the beach and took our places. As I recall, we were the only ones there; it may be that it was still relatively early in the spring. But I also recall that it was a nice day.

As it was in the springtime; the water was running high and swift from the snow-melt. But we all knew to respect the river, and keep our distance.

Dad was making his rounds up and down the line, baiting hooks, helping the young'uns with their casting, untangling lines, etc. Mom was helping, and trying to keep inventory on her beloved babies.

As she made a head-count, she came up one short. And quickly determined Heidi - the baby - was missing. About the same time... here comes a tiny baby, a couple feet out in that swift-flowing river, floating face-down, drifting away from shore. HEIDI!!!

Dad started pulling off his shoes, removing his wallet, keys, etc., to effect a rescue.

He never got a chance.

Mom didn't have time for those formalities... she immediately waded out into the stream and plucked her tiny child by the arm, pulling her back to shore.

Heidi obviously hadn't been in the water long... she was gasping for breath, but mostly because of the coldness of that melted-snow water. A little wrapped-in-the-blanket time, and a new set of clothes, and she was good as new. We all felt grateful that she had gone in upstream, rather than downstream. Eight of us had left on the family outing... and eight returned home that evening. Mom was our hero. (Dad and Mom were always our heroes, but Mom shone particularly brightly on that day.)

Before we even got into the car and headed home, that beautiful little spot was named Heidi, Idaho.

It's got a nice ring to it.

(Click on either photo for larger viewing options. They were snapped on 21 Sept., 2007)

UPDATE: In my quest to make this story as "true" as possible, I'm adding some clarifications and corrections that my mother has supplied after reading it. (She was a little older than me at the time, and is qualified to make these corrections.)

- We had stopped for a family picnic, and all family members were gathered at the picnic tables up above the beach (minus Heidi... who was drawn to the beautiful water).

- Mom had to run down to the beach from the picnic area, and then swim out into the river to get to Heidi.

- Dad explained his hesitation later. He was mentally reviewing his Boy Scout rescue training... trying to remember if it's better to take shoes off or leave them on... wondering if he could throw his belt for Heidi to grab onto, etc. (Yeah... I can believe that.)

- Following her heroic and successful rescue, the rest of us wanted to eat our picnic, so we ate while Mom sat and shivered. (There was a change of clothes for Heidi, but none for Mom. Funny that she would remember that little "detail" better than me...)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Does religion create misery?

There was a letter in the Idaho Statesman yesterday (September 11, 2007), that I feel compelled to respond to, even though the author of the letter will likely never see my response.

Here's the letter:

So much misery is the result of religion

Today, Sept. 11, marks the anniversary of one of the most perfidious attacks on American citizens.

This was the infamous 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, which has been described by historians as the worst Indian massacre in American history — except that it wasn't committed by Indians, it was committed by ordinary Euro-Americans in a frenzy of religious madness working under the orders of a deluded, self-styled man of faith.

Fast forward 144 years to 2001 and once again innocent Americans were murdered by religiously inspired zealots working under the orders of a deluded, self-styled man of faith.

How can so much misery be the result of religion?

First, one must realize that all religions require their adherents to turn off their minds. This makes them more easily susceptible to control by their power-hungry clergy. The Abrahamaic religions go one step further by commanding that there be no other gods.

From this commandment, as Thomas Jefferson so poignantly wrote, "Millions of innocent men, women, and children … have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned."

Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg has concluded that all it takes for good people to do bad things is religion. Now you know why these atrocities occurred.

Gary Bennett, Emmett

Now, first of all, Gary Bennett writes letters regularly. Most are critical of religion or religious people, conservatism, patriotism, etc. He obviously has a burr under his saddle, and views "the root of all problems" far differently from me. Which is his prerogative.

How unfortunate to view religion as an impetus for carnage and misery. Bennett is definitely a "glass-half-empty" kind of guy. Maybe he had a bad personal experience with religion.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre of which he writes - perpetrated by Mormon settlers in southern Utah - has been debated for 150 years. Bennett describes it with authority, as though he is aware of facts that have escaped other historians for all that time. (I s'pose his "deluded, self-styled man of faith" is Brigham Young. Or it could be John D. Lee, a local Mormon who was tried and hanged for the incident.)

Incidentally, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued this statement on the anniversary of that tragic occasion: "We express profound regret for the massacre carried out in this valley 150 years ago today, and for the undue and untold suffering experienced by the victims then and by their relatives to the present time." (Delivered by Apostle Henry Eyring at the site of the massacre, where the Church has also erected a monument honoring the victims.)

Indeed, much evil has been perpetrated over the course of history by people who claim to be motivated by their religion. But in almost every case, upon closer inspection those people could also be accused of personal greed, or ambition, or lust for power and influence, and their "religion" is a smokescreen. The radical Islamofacists come immediately to mind (particularly on September 11th). Richard Butler - former leader of the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho - painted himself as a "Christian." What could be farther from the truth? Is it fair to condemn a billion Muslims because of bin Laden? Or all of Christianity on account of Butler's twisted behavior and philosophy?

One could also get a negative view of religion by looking at "Reverend" Fred Phelps and his band of followers who call themselves the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. (How is it that he can call himself a Baptist? I'd think they'd disassociate themselves with the likes of Phelps.) In case you're not familiar, his group travels from place to place with brightly-colored signs reading "God hates Fags," and declares that anything bad that happens is God's punishment on society for our tolerance of homosexuals. They are well known for "demonstrating" at funerals for fallen soldiers, etc. (I s'pose he thinks we should round all the homosexuals up and gas 'em, like Hitler did to the Jews. Can you imagine Jesus Christ - the Prince of Peace - endorsing such a message?)

Yeah... people who claim to be religious don't always act religious.

Consider the good that has been done, and is currently being done, by people who are trying to be good Christians.

When disaster strikes, it's almost always religious organizations (and the Red Cross - a private organization), who are the first responders. They don't ask for anything in return. They're just trying to be good neighbors and citizens, and treat folks the way they would like to be treated.

Right here locally, religious people provide shelter for the homeless, clothes for the naked, food for the hungry, care for the needy. They visit people in prison. They create recreational and learning opportunities for children and youth. They seek out those who are hurting, or lonely. I heard about a group of folks - motivated by their religion - who visit the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital once a week to sing to the patients and lift their spirits. I know a group of women who devote every Monday morning to assembling essential supplies for disaster response - "humanitarian kits," they call them - for people they've never met, and will likely never meet.

Yeah... so much misery.

(As for religious adherents "turning off their minds" - that is an entirely different topic. But I can confidently declare that Mr. Bennett's view is distorted. Some of the smartest people I know are deeply religious. A thinking person has no problem reconciling scientific theory with religious belief. Exercising free will by participating in religion does not mean surrendering one's free will. It's difficult for skeptics and cynics to understand that concept.)

I take great satisfaction in being associated with people who are motivated by genuine religious charity, and can't help but feel a bit of pity for Mr. Bennett for his jaded viewpoint. (Although he may be the author of much good in his community; I hope he has such opportunities.)