Lake Pend Oreille - Idaho

How Nuclear War Nearly Ruined My Anniversary


It was late September, 2022. The Missus, the dogs, and I were camping in Farragut State Park in northern Idaho. The weather was beautiful with warm days and cool nights that herald the approach of fall and the reluctant passing of summer.

We were there to enjoy nature and celebrate our 30th anniversary.

On that day, we decided to drive to the east side of the lake, looking for a way to an isolated campground on the water which The Missus had read about. The road we picked became progressively primitive, from pavement to gravel to rough logging road to narrow goat trail to old guy blocking a bridge and demanding we answer three questions. The dogs in the back looked concerned. 

Luckily we found a portion of the “road” slightly wider than a bike lane, and managed to turn around. Most people utilize the three-point turnaround method, but in this case I used the 85-point method. It was a tight spot.

As we made our way back, rising to a ridge that featured a beautiful overlook on Lake Pend Oreille, The Missus received a text message from our friend, a banker.

“Hope you guys didn’t invest your money in stocks,” said the first text.

We had recently sold a rental property and were planning to invest the proceeds for retirement income.

“Why? What’s up?” The Missus texted back.

A minute later she received the response.

The text was two words: “Nuclear war.”

We stood on a high ridge overlooking Lake Pend Oreille in north Idaho. The Missus showed me the text message.

“That’s disconcerting,” I said while looking intently at the crystal blue horizon to the west, searching for mushroom clouds.

“I’ll say.”

I’m no genius, but even I can guess that nuclear war is bad for more than just stocks.

We knew things were getting crazy on the international front. Our senile president, when he wasn’t pooping his pants in front of world leaders, was recklessly goading a nuclear-armed nation like a crazy old fart yelling at traffic. It’s embarrassing, but we never thought the missiles would start flying.

There we were, voluntarily cut off from the outside world (the way I prefer to travel), and now we were being told that nuclear holocaust was no longer a distant hazard but quite possibly the new reality. 

“I think you better text him back and ask for clarification. Did Russia just launch nuclear missiles?”

She sent the follow-up text asking for more information.

Nothing came back. It was as if he didn’t receive it. Like communications were down. Like perhaps the world was ending.

Still no mushroom clouds on the horizon. The uncertainty on this beautiful fall day was making me anxious.

“We better head back to the campground.”

On our way back, we took a detour to the nearest grocery store to pick up a few things for our Anniversary dinner. Everything seemed ultra normal to my eyes. No wild-eyed panicked shoppers filling their carts with toilet paper, beans, and Funyuns®. No mayhem. Just the normal North Idaho shoppers in their huge camo-trucks, buying beer and other hunting supplies.

At that point I did something I hate to do even on normal days, and never – never ever – on vacation. I picked up my phone and went online to check the news.

It turns out that bankers make lousy international news correspondents. Because to most of us, “Nuclear War” means the end of… well, just about everything. But to a banker, “Nuclear War” means  a bad day on the stock market.

Bankers. Don’t ever trust ‘em.

Back at the campground, I lit the campfire. When it was nice and hot, I laid the grill over the top and grilled our Anniversary Steaks on an open fire. The steaks had been marinading in my special black pepper, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper sludge all day. The smell was awesome and reassuring.

Our anniversary was a success, despite the message from our Chicken-Little banker. The next day the weather would change, so it was our last night in the wilderness, with grilled meat, foiled potatoes cooked in the hot coals, and hungry dogs begging for the bones. In a word; Perfect.

Perhaps it was relief that the world was not ending, or the flavor enhancement provided by one or two stinkbugs that flew into the fire, but those steaks were some of the best I’ve ever grilled. So good, in fact, I hardly noticed the chunk of plastic fork that got snapped-off by my knife and swallowed.

Perhaps, I thought with hope, that plastic, like bankers’ declarations of nuclear war, would eventually pass.

Steve in 2021
About the Author

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a retired graphic designer, illustrator, and unrepentant asshole. Steve can usually be found working on a portrait commission or some other artwork. Steve fills his days by painting, writing, shootin' guns, cuttin' trees, hiking with his dogs, and savoring a beer or two, all while searching for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.