Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Save the Hemingway heritage

Guest opinion by Dan Drackett

Guest opinion by Dan Drackett

Dan Drackett is a trustee of The Nature Conservancy of Idaho, and an Idaho Hemingway House Foundation supporter.

The Historic Hemingway House in Ketchum, overlooking 17 acres of riparian habitat, along a favorite trout stream, was an inspiration to Earnest and Mary Hemingway, and it should be to all of us.

The place epitomizes the extravagance of open space we long to preserve, while the home itself—in addition to its enormous literary, historic, and sentimental value—mirrors the soft cinnamon tones of the historic Sun Valley Lodge, in fact, sharing the same architect.

It was there long before any of its neighbors, who were undoubtedly proud to claim Ernest Hemingway as a neighbor, when they bought into his neighborhood, realizing full-well that his house was already being used as State Headquarters for The Nature Conservancy at the time, "saving the last great places on Earth"—but especially in Idaho. Now it appears we will all have to speak up, and speak out, to save this precious bit of our heritage.

The Nature Conservancy has always behaved sensitively--especially with regard to the house's rather distant neighbors--and TNC now occupies headquarters in faraway Hailey, but it inherited a paradox: the legacy of the Hemingways, as well as required adherence to its own mission.

Not, by nature, the least bit confrontational, The Nature Conservancy now needs our help and our collective voice. It needs an outpouring of sentiment, innovative ideas and influence to help preserve and restore the "Historic Hemingway House" as a museum, "frozen in time the day the Hemingways left it," but still as vibrant and interactive as the law allows---because Ernest Hemingway was never static, and anything but exclusive.

"Option One" is the only acceptable path, for a community crying out to preserve its remaining open spaces, and at the same time, struggling to maintain its small-town historicity. However, some neighborly concessions must be made, to protect the privacy of the Hemingway neighbors, because "being kind" is another essential and precious element in our village culture.

Whatever perceived impact, feared by its distant neighbors, can probably be ameliorated by sensitively rerouting the Hemingway driveway, without changing history, and The Nature Conservancy can probably advise on the placement of specimen landscaping elements, which would effectively block any activity from the view of neighbors. One good suggestion even calls for eliminating all public access from Canyon Drive; with visitation only by way of a footbridge over the Big Wood, like the trailhead bridge at Lake Creek.

Historic homes, village churches, and gardens all over Europe are visited by way of circuitous nature trails and footpaths, designed to balance public curiosity with the privacy of neighbors. Certainly, if the neighbors can be persuaded to embrace the will of the community, we can begin to find equitable solutions, instead of retaining law firms to exacerbate animosity and build walls of exclusivity.

When I became a trustee of The Nature Conservancy, my orientation was held at the Hemingway House, an impressively emotional and inspiring setting. Later, I treated my mother-in-law, a much-published French author and Hemingway aficionado, to a private, surprise visit to the home. She placed her fingers on the keys of Ernest's typewriter, looked out at the river, and wept.

This is a very important place, and it cannot be walled up, torn down, or left to rack and ruin. We must all speak out, join hands, and save the place—of course in cooperation with those fortunate enough to call themselves neighbors.

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