Between the Rows: Up a Creek

Accepting change, embracing tradition

Published online: Feb 05, 2018 Articles Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appears in the February 2018 issue of Potato Grower

Mill Creek originates on the western slope of Cache Peak in Cassia County, Idaho. It winds its way down the mountain in a more-or-less northwesterly direction, through a few miles of fairly heavy brush and timber before the country opens up a bit into what is known as the Basin.

Here, the creek (pronounced—and I cannot say this adamantly enough—with a short “i” sound, not a long “e”) supplies sustenance for a tangle of willows and cottonwoods, and even a few wild apple trees. In the summertime, it’s a lush green ribbon cutting through the blue-gray of the surrounding sea of sagebrush, providing refuge for the Basin’s steadily growing population of mule deer. The creek turns due north alongside Poleline Road for about a quarter-mile before veering back west under the road on its way to the low country. This northbound stretch of this innocuous little creek is its most important, because this is where my parents’ house sits, right across the theoretically paved road.

Mill Creek played a sizable, albeit inconsequential, role in my childhood, most notably as a primary source of my mother’s loving angst. From early March through the middle of June, the creek runs fairly high and terribly fast, easily powerful enough to pull a grown man off his feet and drag him downstream a ways. As kids, my siblings and I were repeatedly warned to stay away from the creek. But because we were kids, we—mostly I—repeatedly played and explored our little stretch of waterway. That’s how I discovered the Hideout.

About 50 yards upstream from my folks’ driveway, a small headgate allows water to be drawn from the creek and into the corrals to water the livestock. Though I’ve never investigated the history, several large, broken slabs of concrete jutting from the bank into the creek seem to indicate some long-forgotten attempt to divert it further. Dozens of big rocks also litter the creek at this point, creating a small waterfall that fairly roars, even in late September of a dry year. Those concrete slabs and rocks provided the adventurous, chore-evading feet of me and my siblings with a pretty decent bridge.

On the far side of the creek, the fence of the neighbors’ horse pasture was more of an idea than an actual barrier, and a crouching, curious kid could shimmy his way through the brush upstream to a six-by-six-foot clearing on the bank where the creek formed a calm and quiet, little pool. A good many hours of my youth were spent perched on one of those old chunks of concrete, munching on a freshly picked apple, obscured from view of civilization by tall wheatgrass, low-hanging tree branches and the thunder of Marchant Falls.

Shortly after I was married, my new bride and I were at the home place for the weekend, and I thought it would be awfully romantic to show her my old sanctuary, one of the wonders of my childhood. As I held back some grasping branches and led my new wife down the steep bank, I grinned inside—I was laying down some Notebook-level charm. It had been a few years since even I had ventured into the Hideout, and I was excited to show it off.

Once we got down in there, though, I was…disappointed. A couple of the trees—trees you couldn’t see until you were in the Hideout—were now dead and brittle, including the ancient apple tree. Someone had had the gall to rebuild the fence, blocking off my super-secret passageway. The whole thing just seemed smaller somehow, the magic faded. I turned my crestfallen countenance toward my wife, ready to apologize for the lameness of it all. But she was wearing an ear-to-ear smile of joyous, almost child-like wonder—just what I was going for. In that moment, I realized that, sure, a few things had changed, but it was still an awesome little Fortress of Solitude. Now, several, years later, my wife still sees it as a beautiful little place, and so do I.

Sometimes, most of the time, change is hard. It’s tough to finally get rid of the old Massey 165 that’s been sitting behind the shop, undriven, for the past nine years. It’s tough seeing pivots where handlines used to be and wondering how your grandkids will ever learn to work. It’s tough believing a tractor can drive straighter without your help, or learning how to run the zillionth app that promises to “increase yields and efficiency.” It’s tough ceding any level of control to the rising generation, hoping you’ve taught them enough. It’s just tough.

Every one of us is guilty—even fond—of viewing progress through the lens of how easy the younger generation has it. I like to think I’m still pretty young, but even I catch myself saying, all the time, “You know, back in my day…”

Farms, just like everything else, change with time. But that doesn’t make them any less special. The American dream ideal of working your own land is still there, still within reach.

And it still feels just as good.