More Precious Than Gold

[Previous Rural Farmgirl, April 2009 – May 2010]
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.

  1. Gary says:

    What a wonderful glimpse of a nostalgic yet still vital Community through your words Rene…
    The "Oral Tradition" of passing down accounts of History is very much a part of rural life, and it is an ancient one; predating written History. It comes from a time when a person’s "word", and it’s truth, could be the difference between social acceptance and banishment, even life or death, and it forms the foundation of our system of jurisprudence. One of the oldest books known, The Holy Bible, began in the Oral Tradition, and was not begun to be put into writing until Moses. Faith is a big component of the tradition, and when I think of Faith, I am humbled by the realization that Abraham and Moses had no written Bible. Whatever Faith I think I have pales in comparison.
    It comes as no surprise that you found great Hope among those people, as Hope is usually hand in hand with Faith, and I bet you felt another thing yet unmentioned about them and their mountain… Love.
    Thank You for this rare glimpse of people living a can-do lifestyle… it’s very re-freshing and Inspiring.
    GodSpeed to Y’all…!
    in Tampa

  2. jami says:

    Was fortunate to go there a few years back, it was a wonderful place to visit. The people band together with pride and for security. Living in a rugged place like that you do depend on each other and suport one another. I was blessed to live in one such place for 20 years, I gleened from my neighbors and felt community with them. Places only give the stage, its the people with grit who give it depth. Great writing Rene, love to hear from you!

  3. Julie says:

    I’m feeling a bit homesick at the moment. I’ve recently moved to England, but I’ve lived in Boise, ID for the last 11 years. My grandparents own a cabin near Idaho City and one of my best memories when staying at the cabin is driving into Idaho City for ice cream at Delsa’s. There was also a public swimming pool there when I was a child that was fed by hot springs. Hot spring swimming and ice cream. It doesn’t get any better than that 🙂

  4. Michele says:

    Thanks again for allowing me to travel vicariously through your experiences.As I get to know more of my Farmgirl sisters I wonder" Where have you been all of my life?"
    It is so much easier to live the lifestyle that is right for me when I know there are some out there who understand and applaud it. Even my grown children are often caught up in the popular mentality of having it all. Well., I know I have it all and need nothing more to make me happy but the friendship of my sisters, the recipes, books and philosophies we share and the differences between us that keep me on my toes and keep me open minded

  5. Rose says:

    Thank you Rene’ for such a beautiful story. You are truly a gifted writer that has the rare talent of painting a picture with words. We so loved your visit and we all felt like we had known you for years. Thanks again for sharing your experience with us.

  6. CherylK says:

    I’d love to visit Idaho City…the very next time I travel west from Minnesota to Washington (where my sisters live), I believe I’ll make it a point to stop there.

    The farmgirls "make do" philosophy reminds me of the philosphy of a favorite home decorator, Kitty Bartholomew. She always said, "It’s not what you don’t have; it’s what you do with what you DO have!" So true.

  7. Dalyn says:

    Years ago, my family and I spent a wonderful day there…loved it. Seemed like such a magical place to live.

  8. Reba says:

    We went through that area this summer on vacation. Now after reading your blog, I feel like I have had an opportunity to get to know the people. Thank you for your writing (self-proclaimed is being aware of who you are, which I think is great!). I long for a farm in the mountains of western NC or eastern TN. The blog reminds me of those type of people in that area, where my mom and dad are from, community!!

  9. Bruno says:

    Tiffany . Is that not a fabulous find??!! I have a book about utlnziiig found objects to create artists books. One of the projects uses this colorful, square egg carton. I had no idea where to find them until on a trip to Santiago (would love to go again!), they had their eggs for sale in these very cartons! Bring green, orange, yellow . woohooo! Guess what got packed to come home with me~ of course, without the eggs!

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