Although there have been other places I have visited that have taken me back to days gone by, none compare to my recent trip to Idaho City, Idaho. The old timers there would tell you that the wealth traveled off the mountain during the gold mining days in the mid- to late 1800s. But as a self-proclaimed writer, I would argue that fact. For me, the wealth of that little mining town is in its residents, who not only keep the history alive in the care and keeping of the physical needs of their city but also in the telling of the stories.
What makes Idaho City so rare a find is that many of the current locals have roots deeply imbedded in the “rock” that makes up the mountain itself.
They not only tell stories of those who came and went, but also the stories of their own families’ love affair with the land. I have never met a more hopeful group of people anywhere, nor have I ever felt a more palpable sense of hope than I felt there. The original miners came to the mountain seeking prosperity, and those who currently make the mountain their home seem to stay for the same reason. They don’t seem to expect that more gold will be found, but rather that the world around them will someday want to know the history of the mountain. And when the world is ready again, the keeper of the tales will be ready as well.
As my husband and I drove out of Boise up the mountain, I did not have any expectation as to what I would find there. I was going to meet a group of farmgirls…farmgirls I felt that I had already met, known and loved since reading about them in MaryJane’s book. The vast beauty of the mountain mesmerized us. Every twist and turn seemed to be taken straight out of a book. As we drove into Idaho City, it seemed surreal that an actual town could be tucked away up there. Yet sure enough, there it was.
It was a dichotomy of sorts for me: the peaceful setting juxtaposed with the frantic rushing of my mind. I wanted to know ALL the stories of the prospectors, those who won and those who lost. And then there was the town itself; it seemed to be screaming out a story as well. It took all I had to settle myself down and allow the stories to come to me.
My husband and I had been offered a little house to stay in while we were there. It couldn’t have been more quaint or perfect, yet as we settled in for a good night’s sleep, sleep wouldn’t come. It was as if all the stories that wanted to be told were as restless as the writer who longed to tell them. So I wrestled with the night, losing the battle as the new day dawned.
Idaho City has one thing in common with the many other places this year’s travels have taken me—brilliant farmgirls. I am always surprised at the modestly of farmgirls, how it always seems to me that they are the only ones that cannot see how brightly their light shines. I am convinced that the reason for the popularity of the farmgirl movement and the farmgirls chapters is simple really…light attracts light. Here in Idaho City it is no different.
As you can imagine, mountain living is not easy living. While most of us who love to garden have dirt (even bad dirt), here on the mountain dirt is a luxury that few have; it was water cannoned away during the dredging of the mountain in the quest for gold. So the farmgirls start out minus dirt and still manage to thrive.
It reminds me of the trees I saw whose roots were literally holding on to the rocks that surrounded them…now that is “plowing through.” The mountain doesn’t bring big wages either, so repurposing is not only trendy but a necessity. Oh, the things we could all learn there! The women of Idaho City breathed new life into the infamous saying of MaryJane’s: “Make do or do without.” Believe me, they have the discipline of “making do” down to an art form.
As the day got underway, we were whisked up by local farmgirls Rose (chapter leader), Margaret (potter) and Kara (farmer, herbalist and keeper of the city keys), for a history lesson and tour of the city.
Each building was rich with stories begging to be told, stories that roll off the tongues of locals as if they are common knowledge to the rest of the world. While they certainly should be, I found myself overwhelmed by the things I didn’t know. I was intrigued not just by what was being said, but also by what my mind knew wasn’t being told: stories whose characters weren’t any longer on the mountain sharing their tales…lives lost, dreams stolen and found.
That evening as I attended a farmgirl meeting at Kara’s, I was further intrigued by the women of Idaho City. Like other places I have been, their uniqueness was only accented by what they had in common…like pieces of puzzle in which no two pieces match but when assembled make a perfect picture. I always wonder, if life hadn’t thrown them together, would they have been sisters at all? Yet here they are in this moment, sisters indeed.
After my good-byes to the farmgirls, Rose drove me to one of the local hangouts where my husband had gathered to watch the Boise State game. As I met up with him, I was introduced to a local he had met. Ted was another person who had family ties to the mountain, and his stories were welcomed. We spent the next couple of hours listening to Ted, and his sense of pride and kinship with the mountain was evident in every word.
There is so much that I could write about concerning this trip into history, but it is one that is best discovered by visiting it yourself. So plan to check your cell phone and laptop at the base of the hill, and drive up to another place and time. The experience will be more precious than gold.