Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Seeing the valley with fresh eyes


I've become a bit jaded about some of the activities I used to cherish, one of them being the festivities surrounding Labor Day.

Even presenting cowboy poetry along with Gary Hoffman and true and seasoned cowboys, which I occasionally did after the parade, might now not be enough to stimulate my energy as it once would have. I find myself content to watch the parade from my small deck overlooking Highway 75, and still get joy in greeting the people I know who are in the parade, but in recent years I haven't thrown myself into the crowds and temporary chaos of Ketchum on that day.

This past weekend, however, I saw my beloved Wood River Valley through new and fresher eyes. My second daughter, who lives in San Francisco now, came up for the holiday with her baby, and her husband and his family followed a few days later. One of the entourage was a 4-year-old nephew, Blake, who is going through a stage of devotion to and emulation of cowboys. Seeing our town through the viewpoint of an innocent and playful child was thrilling and renewed my belief that the years ahead will be filled with equally lovely perceptions as I watch my grandson grow up.

I have long known, of course, about the willing suspension of disbelief that is innate in children. I loved working with elementary-school-age kids for the many years I was employed by The Community School and have recorded in writing and kept many of their unique ways of seeing the world. One of my favorite lines of poetry is by Sara Teasdale in her poem "Barter" when, recounting the lush world of the senses we are given as a trade for occasional suffering, she writes, "Children's faces looking up, holding wonder like a cup."

Robert Frost expresses a similar sentiment in his great poem "Birches," where he says he would gladly leave the world for a while (not forever, as "Earth's the right place for love") to be once again the wonder-filled child who found a lonely enjoyment by climbing New England birch trees to the edge of the branches, "With the same pains you use to fill a cup up to the brim, and even above the brim." Both poets acknowledge the openness of childhood, the willingness to experience new things, to be filled with curiousity and daring, even through such a small exercise as pouring liquid into a glass so it curves slightly above the brim.

My son-in-law's nephew, as expected, adored the horses, his cowboy attire, Black Bart, the bareback riders, all the colorful costumes and wagons and old-fashioned greetings between participants and observers that we have seen before. To him, it was magic. I loved what I always do in this town, chatting with acquaintances and friends. I got a kick out of hearing about the comments of a young woman whose parents had just arrived here from their native Poland. They wondered where all the cowboys and Indians were. Well, they, and all of us, surely got to see them on Saturday!

The only disappointment Blake expressed was with the shootout, as the loud gunfire was frightening. I was surprised by his fascination with the Sun Valley Ice Show. I imagined him falling asleep about 9 p.m. or getting fidgety. His grandparents, however, reported that the front-row bleacher seats they occupied were perfect, as he could see the ice shoot up from the skates and was close enough to almost feel a part of it. He remained awake, excited and alert right until he was put in his car seat and immediately fell asleep.

My new family of in-laws expressed the same things I did so many years ago when I first visited here: They noted the friendliness of the people (including a sheriff who invited my son-in-law to sit in his car during the shootout so my grandson wouldn't be disturbed by the noise and then later greeted him warmly at the Big Hitch Parade). They were stunned by the beauty, as we would expect, but even more so by the ease with which one could be in the midst of the wilderness and experience it's grandeur.

They loved the food, the Gallery Walk, and the overall sense of community we haven't lost since I moved here. Thank god we still have all of these, just a few of the amenities about which I was happy to be reminded this weekend.

Viva the Wood River Valley!

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