Every day except Sunday, Don Collins drives his battered pickup to Bruneau's Catholic church, unpacks his tools and attacks a tree stump.
The stump is surrounded by a plywood platform on bales of straw stacked two high. He climbs the straw steps slowly, grasping a two-by-two to steady himself, and walks to the middle of the platform.Then he carefully lowers himself to his hands and knees, rolls onto his backside and tumbles into an inner-tube seat.
He grimaces. One Reebok pops off.
"One of the things with MS is you can't feel your feet," he says. "It sounds silly, but you can't."
He arrives at St. Bridget's Church at 8 a.m. and works until noon or later. He started the second week of June and figures the job will take the rest of the summer. When it's finished, the stump will be a sculpture of St. Bridget, a 5th-century Irish nun.
He works patiently, intermittently shaded by a small, green-and-white umbrella. His straw hat is damp with sweat and patched with masking tape. Sweat glistens in his sandy mustache.
He smiles as his big, suntanned hands work the wood with a chisel and rubber mallet. The slow pace doesn't bother him.
"That's one of the secrets of doing work like this," he said. "We live in a society that's speeded up to the point everything's instantaneous. . . . There's beauty in working with your hands and going slow-ly."
Twenty minutes south of Mountain Home - jets from the air base rumble like distant thunder - Bruneau is a ranching and farming community. It has one store, a cafe, post office, library, tackle shop, two churches and 125 people.
Collins knows every one of them.
Longtime resident Fern Graham says Bruneau would be a lesser place without him.
"He helps anybody who needs it. He mows the church lawn, teaches computer classes at the library and donates his artwork to every cause in town. We all fight to buy it. His illness would cripple most people. He just doesn't let it."
It takes him most of a morning to outline part of a hem. Surrounded by files, rasps and chisels, he moves from the inner tube to a covered tool bucket to folding chairs to work at the proper level.
He has power tools but does most of the work by hand. It would challenge a person in good health. Collins does it with one good eye and fingers he can't feel.
His lack of depth perception makes it hard to pour a cup of coffee. When he puts on gloves to protect his hands from cuts, he puts two or three fingers in one.
"I get by," he said when asked whether it hurt his ability to work. "I just go slower."
He got the idea for the sculpture when the parish decided the old ailanthus tree in the church's front yard had to go. The little white church, with its 12 tiny pews and a bell rung with a knotted rope, is 85 years old. The tree was so old its limbs were falling.
At Collins' request, the sawyer left an oversized stump. St. Bridget will be 6 feet tall.
She isn't his only church project. A retired elementary school principal and art teacher, he cares for the grounds, teaches religion classes and made the wooden building's imitation stained-glass windows.
"He doesn't let his illness stand in the way of doing anything," St. Bridget's pastor Raul Covarrubias said. "You don't get the impression you have to feel sorry for him. You see his eye isn't working and he has some trouble getting around, but you overlook it.
"He doesn't come across as someone with a disability. When I feel sorry for myself, I think of Don and I'm out of it."
Collins is 55 and has had multiple sclerosis since he was 40. It came on overnight. One morning he woke up and had trouble walking. If he closed his eyes, he fell. In time it closed his left eye permanently and took the feeling in his extremities.
A native of neighboring Elmore County, he took early disability retirement and moved to Bruneau in 1992. His wife, Carol, is a descendant of the town's first settlers. They married in their teens and spent 27 years in Nevada, where they raised a son and a daughter.
Now they live in her great-grandfather's home. The house is cool and homey, with purring ceiling fans and worn wooden floors.
Don's Idaho scenes line the walls. Carol's red and pink roses, orange lilies, blue bachelor buttons and vivid red poppies dot a yard that looks like a park. They don't own a television.
The rolling lawn, another of his projects, is a three-hole golf course.
When the sculpture is finished, he'll have spent almost 300 hours on it.
Sometimes he pauses to caress it. When he finishes a day's work, he pours antifreeze on the wood to keep it from cracking.
The emerging St. Bridget glistens in the desert sun. He doesn't know, or care, how long she'll last.
"If I came here tomorrow and it was gone, that would be OK. I'd still have the joy of working on it."
When his illness was diagnosed, he wept. Now, he sees each day as a gift.
"We can use it however we want," he said, struggling to remove a glove. "We can be as happy as we want to be."