Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't disparage one of Idaho's great small towns

(Revised version)

The first year I moved here, there was an incident on Main Street involving two women in a fender bender. Instead of rushing out of their cars to blame each other, they both emerged to apologize profusely and peacefully. They each made sure the other person was all right and then gave each other sweet bear hugs. They then agreed that they should get together soon, because it had been too long since they had seen each other.

This remarkable event defined for me what the essence is of everything good about Ketchum, and perhaps for what is great about many small towns in the West: people who care about each other more than they do for their measly worldly possessions.
Therefore, it grates at me, when I hear intermittent comments that disparage the town and townspeople of Ketchum (and the Wood River Valley). Some will say, "I have no desire to visit Ketchum, or any of the people up there." That's too bad, because if you take a closer look, this pedestrian-friendly town offers much for young and old, rich and poor, sick and well.

Like most Idaho towns, Ketchum has changed over the years. Yet it retains many high-quality aspects of a hardy Western town. When it comes to weather, Ketchum is in the top 10 percentile of sunniest towns. The people here are equally sunny, and there is ample reason for this. A river runs through it, offering opportunities for enjoyable fishing and water sports. We have a popular YMCA. On summer Tuesdays, a vibrant farmers' market attracts vendors and customers from throughout southern Idaho. After that, music performers play freely til twilight in the Forest Service Park.

For the spiritual, Ketchum has more than a handful of sacred places to worship. When someone becomes severely ill or is in a crash, our community often bonds together, helping with fundraisers.

Wagon Days brings a festive weekend of olden-times coming alive, as craftspeople, blacksmiths and storytellers demonstrate their trades and speak their lore. Wagon Days also features the largest non motorized parade in the west.

Ketchum's Community Library has an extensive regional history section, with helpful staff and an oral history program. The library also hosts frequent lectures and enlightening events, featuring respected authors and adventurers from near and far.
Ketchum has dozens of fine restaurants. We have movie theaters, nine (and growing) outdoor parks, live stage and Huck Finn-like swimming holes. Free newspapers, magazines, maps and wi-fi are abundant. We also have a water park, bringing boundless glee to splashing kids. On the edge of town, Sun Valley Co. has installed a gondola for thrilling Bald Mountain rides.

This list of what good things our fine town (and valley) has to offer is much longer than this, but I hope for now this gives some hesitation to those who are quick to sneer at lively Ketchum.

I sometimes wonder if some of Ketchum's harsh critics have even spent much time here.

After Hailey's candlelight vigil march in July for Bowe Bergdahl, the Hailey soldier captured in Afghanistan, I sat with some friends, one of whom described an image she thought best captured Hailey's essence. One of the men attending the vigil had left his tools in the open on the back of his truck, parked in front of Zaney's coffeehouse, where the event began. The tradesman had drawn a large sign, asking passersby to leave his tools alone, because he was standing for Bowe. And the aura of respectfulness that evening permeated the atmosphere so thick that nobody dared tamper with his tools. Then we agreed that we all look forward to the day when Bowe can return to this pleasant valley, where his friends and family can give him strong bear hugs.

Good people make a community, and the spirit of that community is exactly what should define our towns. Those who have lived here long enough, know the truth is, that the Ketchum community is blessed with salt-of-the-earth type neighbors, who often bond together constructively. Come visit us soon, so you can dispel the rumor for yourself, that here, we are not all a bunch of rich jaded California snobs.

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