THE WAY I SEE IT by Don Polson Red Bluff Daily News 8/01/2017
Great Divide views; meeting Jews
Several days ago, we took a little day trip to the top of Sawtell Peak, a nearly 10,000 foot high site of an unmanned FAA facility. The day before we could see that the 9,898-foot mountain had a thunderstorm. Such dramatic weather hits the peaks and the valleys (at 6,000 to 7,000 feet in elevation) almost daily at the “roof” of the lower 48 states, the Continental Divide.
The trip up the 13-mile gravel road—maintained by the FAA for year-round access because, as a weathered sign informs, people can die if the radar and communications are interrupted—elicited the kind of reactions you’ll have at a fireworks show. You see, the end of July and beginning of August finds endless fields of wild flowers along the road for the entire length of the drive. Even above the tree line, tiny flowers rise to greet the sun in what the mountain experiences as springtime, followed by a brief summer, fall and then October snows.
A map will show the straight, right-angle lines of Yellowstone Park, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The Montana/Idaho border, however, uses the Divide and its southeast to northwest meanderings to give the states their squiggly border. Geological events millennia ago dictated not only the Divide’s trajectory, from the park to the west for hundreds of miles, but also the odd shape of a “thumb” created as the Divide circles back to the south before heading west.
Sawtell Peak sits alone in that “thumb” and east of the Divide but that drainage goes not to the Yellowstone, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers (the Atlantic Ocean); it feeds into the Snake and Columbia Rivers (the Pacific Ocean). From the peak, you are looking both north and west to the side of the Divide that drains to the Atlantic; looking east, the water can go either way. Drivers can stop at the Reynolds Pass on Highway 87 and see the same phenomenon of waters to the west going to the eastern rivers and those to the east going to the western rivers.
Usually, only skiers get to see such sights from the peaks of ski areas. Sawtell Peak is a rare place you can drive to and look at the mountains of the Continental Divide in Yellowstone Park, the Idaho/Montana border and the Madison Range to the north. If you ever can, go see it. Google “Sawtell Peak” and you can see photos of what I just described.
On a couple of occasions, we met some Jewish travelers and campers. At Yellowstone’s Gibbon Falls, a dad and his son asked us why we had a bunch of wood in our pickup truck bed. We told them about our fallen mulberry tree that we had cut into firewood lengths. They then complemented us on our bumper stickers: “Bush/Cheney ’04,” NRA’s “It’s not a privilege, it’s a right,” and “We can’t afford his kind of change,” an anti-Obama one. The son’s name was Mordecai but I’ve forgotten his dad’s name.
They were both fans of President Trump; the dad had come to his politics in an ironic, but hardly unusual, way. He’d been a youthful volunteer for Jimmy Carter’s campaign but turned to support Ronald Reagan after witnessing Carter’s anti-Israel positions as president. They both find it refreshing and encouraging seeing Trump’s rejection of Obama’s insults, disrespect and undermining of the State of Israel. While not the only reasons, that carried a lot of weight for them. His parents, Mordecai’s grandparents, survived the Nazi concentration camps and passed on their faith to new generations. To them, Trump’s support for Israel is vital.
Three young Jewish men camped next to us at McCrea Bridge campground in Island Park. They set up a tent and bought a plastic-wrapped bundle of wood for a fire. The one named “Avraham” (Jewish for Abraham in the Bible) was not having much success making kindling with a small ax. I took my hand splitter over out of mercy to rookies; as I walked back, I heard the “thud” of a split log and cheers for having the right tool for the job.
It turns out Avraham did know how to start a fire; he’d served in the Israeli Defense Force, the IDF. The little ax was all they could find at a Walmart. After a while, seeing that the purchased wood might not last, I took a couple of our pieces to them to supplement the fire. With the gift, I shared the stories of our Mulberry tree and the day trip around the lake that took us from treeless grazing land with cows on the ranch road to forested hills with roadside logs.
Two were from New York; Avraham was from Chicago. They traveled from Canada, where they worked with young Jewish men and boys, “troubled” you might say, to overcome bad habits, bad company, broken homes, etc. I shared my years of living in “Chi-town,” and got a laugh when I treated them to some Chicago-speak: “So, da tree a youse are helping da wayward yoots, eh?” We also shared our gratitude for having Donald Trump as President; they, like the father and son at Gibbon Falls, were much relieved over his support for Israel.
I’m just over half way through “A Better War” by Lewis Sorley, “The unexamined victories and final tragedy of America’s last years in Vietnam.” Obsession over the few atrocities committed by American military troops factors into many accounts of the war; the My Lai massacre is about the only example, and it was punished severely as it was an aberration.
Here’s a caption below a photo of a room filled with caskets: “Buddhist funeral flags flank coffins of some of the 3,000 people bound and executed by Communist forces during the temporary occupation of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Terrorist acts by the enemy—assassination, kidnapping, forced labor, shelling of population centers and refugees—against the people they sought to ‘liberate’ constituted a record of unremitting viciousness.” By any measure, Americans were “the good guys (and gals)” in that war. Next week: how truly close victory was.