I didn’t know he committed suicide. That he was a raging alcoholic and a three time divorcé. That while watching the Allied Invasion of Normandy on D-day through a pair of field glasses he heard guns that, “Sounded as though they were throwing whole railway trains across the sky.” When I discovered this it changed him from a beloved childhood memory to a terribly complex man who shaped American literature.
The road that lead to this discovery was the I-84 East out of Boise. At six A.M. we were barreling down it shivering, our breath fogging up the glass while we waited for the heater to kick in. Gids lectured me on the merits of preheating the car until he fell back asleep. The first hour on the road it felt like we were phantoms, our headlights struggling to show us the way through the netherworld.
Ernest Hemingway’s Memorial in Ketchum Idaho, and the Silver Creek Preserve were our destinations. His house, owned by The Nature Conservancy, is closed to the public. Their website however recommends if you really want to know the Idaho he loved then you should visit his favorite places. Places like the Silver Creek Preserve. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/idaho/placesweprotect/hemingway-preserve.xml
Why the interest Hemingway? When I was five my moms friend Dixie read The Old Man and the Sea to me. I was enthralled. The Sea! Sharks! Giant fish! Would the old man die? Now struggling to find my own voice in writing, the opportunity to be inspired by and connect in some small way with the author of that tale was irresistible.
The blogs I read featuring the memorial involved lots of contemplation, whiskey drinking and profound revelations. I’ll admit, standing next to the stream that ran in between a mini stone amphitheater and the monument topped by Ernest Hemingway’s weathered bust, I teared up reading the inscription:
“Best Of All He Loved The Fall
The Leaves Yellow On The Cottonwoods
Leaves Floating On The Trout Streams
And Above The Hills
The High Blue Windless Skies
… Now He Will Be A Part Of Them Forever.”
Then the profound revelation came: “My children could die here! They could fall and drown! Hey get back here you little…” and off I went chasing them over a small stone bridge at the far end of the memorial. By the time I caught up with them they had traversed the bridge, scampered down the hillside, and were telling a man and his Labrador about the island of Kaua’i. “Did you know it’s across the ocean? Did you know this is the mainland?”
After walking along the river we visited the cleanest outhouse in the world. It still smelled like (you know) but there wasn’t a speck of dirt in it, let alone cobwebs, flies, and graffiti. (“Of course not,” my aunt later said. “The Sun Valley elite do their business there!”)
Before heading to Silver Creek Preserve we stopped in Ketchum for food at The Village Market. Gids was upset over their lack of Musubi’s. I consoled him with Ice cream, they didn’t sell singles because it wasn’t summer so him and Rossi did their worse to a pack of Häagen-Dazs. I tossed bananas and chips in the wagon and took a picture of Chili Rellano in their hot food section.
I intended to Instagram it with “You know you’re out west when the Grocer has…” but I was horribly sidetracked on the way out of town when I discovered in Ketchum Idaho they park in the middle of the road. How fashionably bizarre! I imagined people yelling at me for holding up traffic while I haphazardly parked in the middle of a row. Banging the car in front, smashing the car in back, tucking my insurance info under their windshield wipers before dodging traffic with my kids to get to the shops.
For almost an hour our car rumbled through gently rolling bald beige hills, and then BOOM! Bursts of reds, oranges, and greens, with a blue creek snaking through them. The visitor center was a log cabin with a spacious deck overlooking the preserve. Gids and Rossi took in the view swigging water from the hydro flask while I got a map. The map, home to a large wolf spider, was promptly dropped in a fit of hysterical screaming. Most of which I did after jumping to safety on the porch railing. Rossi started chasing it, grabbing at its hairy brown body while Gids jumped up on the railing screaming right along with me. Thanks to Rossi’s bravery however we soon had the map back and made our way to the nature trail.
The nature trail was marked with numbered guideposts. Each one had a riddle about an animal in the area and then you pulled it up to reveal its picture. Gids loved it, he hasn’t seen most of them outside of books or TV. In between guideposts he whispered at Rossi to be quite so they could sneak up on animals. The best part was the walking planks! Logs carrying you over marshes and small ravines. There was a few scary switches where I considered carrying Rossi but she didn’t share my lack of confidence and blazed ahead.
I could have spent an eternity there but hearing voices behind us we moved aside and let a pair of fly fisherman pass us by. “Hi!” I said, with a big touristy happy to be here grin.
“Afternoon.” The next one, a Mr. Rogers look-alike said pausing and glancing at the kids, “Cute kids, but there’s moose in the area.”
“Yeah I saw the whiteboard. I was thinking they’d moved on.”
“No,” he shook his head. “They hang out in the undergrowth by the river, yesterday a big bull came out, he was blocking the path there.” He pointed behind us to the trail leading back to the visitor center. “We tried yelling but he wouldn’t budge, started to look agitated. We had to climb the hill and skirt around him to get out. You don’t want to do that with kids.”
I thanked him for the info, and we turned back. I was bummed we didn’t make to the bridge I had seen pictured on their website but the trade off of not losing a child in a wildlife encounter was worth it.
Driving away I didn’t feel any closer to the genius behind The Old man and The Sea. After all, like my fellow bloggers who visited his memorial, grave, and favorite places with a bottle of whiskey in tow, he was able to lose himself in experiences absorbing every sensory detail. Sober with two kids in tow and dangerous wildlife on the loose you don’t lose yourself so much as you find yourself experiencing the bittersweet beauty of motherhood.
Thank you so very much for taking the time out of your day to read this! I know what a valuable commodity it is and I appreciate it. If you ever make it up to Sun Valley check out their YEAR ROUND ICE SKATING RINK!!! I certainly hope to next time we’re up there. 😀
*The quote, “Sounded as though they were throwing whole railway trains across the sky.” is from this article http://www.worldwar2history.info/D-Day/Hemingway.html .