Even in a world of instant messaging and cell phones, men continue to gather in person each morning at coffeehouses across Blaine County to drink a cup, trade scuttlebutt and otherwise amuse one another before starting the day.
Membership is free at these coffee klatches, but attendance is required.
Early risers in Carey
A dozen or so men come and go at Castle's Corner store each morning to drink coffee, chat and otherwise check in before heading to their mostly agricultural jobs.
They pay little attention to the cable news channel playing overhead, choosing instead to glance through the Farm Country Trader magazine, offer one another advice about fixing equipment and tease one another ceaselessly.
Newborn steers have been on the ground since March, but these farmers are focused on irrigating their crops.
"When you're beating ice off your sprinkler heads, you know you're irrigating too early," said Darrell McKinsey, a self-proclaimed "greenhorn" at farming. He has only been at it two years, since moving away from building houses in the Wood River Valley.
Mont Roesbery says some of the men have been meeting long before there was a Castle's Corner. Old-timers sit in at coffee to still be a part of things, while younger men listen in to catch on to the daily proceedings.
Snowpack and water supply make up a significant part of the conversation. Carey farmers watch the snowpack in the high country every bit as closely as skiers watch the depth of snow on top of Bald Mountain near Sun Valley. A good ski year typically indicates a good year for farming in Carey.
During the course of the morning, I'm introduced to at least three Mike McKinseys—and I'm not at all sure I ever met the actual one. One of them tells me that in 1977, a very low-snow year, the reservoir was drained too early and farmers planted less acreage than they would have in a good water year.
"It was really hard," he says. "It was hard on Ketchum, too. That was before [Earl] Holding owned Sun Valley, before they put in snowmaking equipment."
When the sun crests over the hill, the gathering begins to dissipate. In summer, they will be out the door even earlier.
Roesbery says goodbye to the bunch, saying, "I have to go roll my lawn." Roesbery will spend the rest of the morning hauling a steamroller-type contraption behind an enormous tractor, smoothing out the bumps in his lawn caused by nightcrawler worms.
"Now that's something you should get a picture of for your newspaper," says one of the Mike McKinseys. "Mont Roesbery rolling out his lawn with a 200-horsepower tractor."
Newspapers and conversation
About an hour's drive north of Carey, a similar group of men meet every morning around the fireplace at Tully's coffeehouse in Ketchum. The group is made up of retirees, young professionals and a former ski instructor or two—instead of farmers—but the feeling of camaraderie is the same.
They read newspapers, laughing about a headline from time to time, or comment on the latest professional golf or tennis match. Everyone is happy that the sun is out.
Ron Heller, a legendary University of Southern California football player and bit-part movie actor, takes an obvious delight in getting together with friends at Tully's.
"It's an essential part of my day. A time to congregate with people of the same ilk," Heller says.
Conversation picks up in some corners and dies down in others when a group decides to focus on the newspaper. The talk is about as random as can be, but the goal is universal: to check in and stay in touch with one another.
"It all depends on who shows up and what's been happening," says Jim Dowen, who came to the valley from a suit job in Cincinnati four decades ago, working his way up in the building trades. He sold a business recently and says he has some time on his hands.
"I think we all get together to make sure we're still above ground," he jokes.
Jack Crawford, a 30-year ski school veteran and former head pro of the tennis program at Sun Valley, checks out at about 10 a.m. to hit some tennis balls.
"If the psychologists are right, it's important not to be a loner after a certain age," Crawford says. "Old guys can get pretty weird if left alone."
Hailey Coffee Co.
The morning Joes at the Hailey Coffee Co. are perhaps less close-knit than those in either Ketchum or Carey. Neither farmers nor former ski pros, the crowd in Hailey tends to be made up of smaller groups with shared interests rather than large groups of old friends who have been meeting for decades.
The café's sound system plays Bob Dylan as early morning turns to day. Several men are plugged into laptops with headphones, doing business in virtual worlds all their own.
Others, however, are more social. A group of thespians, Jon Kane, Scott Creighton and Andrew Alburger, gather occasionally at the café to talk theater, tell jokes and commiserate before going to work.
Kane is producing four comedy acts for the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum, while Creighton and Alburger also work non-theater-related jobs. Creighton is a day radio host and Alburger works nights as a waiter. But all three make sure to take time for morning coffee.
"We just sit around and dish about all the other people we know," jokes Kane.
By 8 a.m., the early groups wash out and the counter is a mosh pit of regulars, a bustle of men and women from all walks of life grabbing some caffeine before they start the day. A few stragglers linger, perhaps trying to savor the last remnants of newsprint and conversation. Soon they, too, will wander outside. Some may search for another café where conversation hasn't ended, but most return to their everyday lives, all the while looking forward to tomorrow morning.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org