Until Next Year, Stanley
In May of 2014 I drove my car across the Idaho border for the first time. I was six months out of college and ready for something new, as so many 20-somethings are. Coming over Galena Pass, I stopped at the overlook and stood a moment to take in the scene in front of me. But here is where my story drifts from the normal path. While the Sawtooths were incredible, I didn’t feel that instant connection that I have heard from so many others. These mountains, which are in no way modest, were calling out to me, “Look at us. Be in awe. Fall in love.”. But I couldn’t, not so quickly. What had they done to deserve a part of me? So I continued down the pass, through the valley and into Stanley, into my new life there. This morning, two and a half years later, I sat in my small house outside of Stanley and watched the night turn to morning, witnessing the valley I now consider home come to life. In those few years this place has slowly and surely etched a place into my soul, as I am sure it has for many of you. If magic exists, the Sawtooth Valley surely has its fair share.
Enjoying a sunny winter day at Redfish Lake. What is it about a place that sticks with people? Is it the scenery? Or maybe the solitude one can find in these hills, waters and mountains? Reasons for such a thing are personal, but for me Stanley is a place of reality. While living here, many people have asked to visit. They say they want a break from their normal lives, to escape into a world where real world problems don’t need to be acknowledged. I tend to disagree. Life here is as raw and real as anywhere. Before moving here I lived a fairly normal life of work, school, bill paying, and weekends packed full of fun. And it was great. But there was always something missing, something I couldn’t put my finger on. Living in Stanley has opened my eyes to a new, refreshing way of life. I still go to work, I still pay my bills, and as with everyone else out there, I still have my fair share of pain and hardship. But along with that I have a new sense of self. Stanley and similar places will build you up if you let them, showing you the best version of yourself, testing you mentally and physically. That is what I think finally and permanently stuck this place to my heart. The feeling of being alive, capable and completely content, in good times or bad, rain or shine. Stanley and I didn’t rush into our relationship, and it made for an incredible connection.
It's good to sleep under the stars every now and then! So, it is my last few days living here for the year. Whenever it comes time to pack up and leave a sense of urgency begins to set in. Did I fish enough? Did I make it to enough alpine lakes? What about that hot spring I’d been meaning to check out? My final week so far has been a whirlwind of activities and roadside stops to cast into the river. But with weather settling over the mountains the past few days, things have slowed down. It is a beautiful slowness. It allows me time to just sit and reflect, and realize that in the end, number of miles hiked or fish caught doesn’t really matter. What matters is how the whole experience made you feel. Whether you live here, are a dedicated visitor, or are admiring the area from afar, I think we can all agree that the feelings this place gives a person are so truly special. My most memorable moment this summer wasn’t in the jagged Sawtooths or the vast White Clouds. It was in the smaller, surrounding mountains, through burnt snags and rocky hillsides. A “less spectacular” area, if you believe such a place exists here. After spending the morning working on mundane, every day tasks I got to the trailhead in the afternoon. Knowing I had at least a 10 mile hike ahead of me I started into the hills at a brisk pace, racing the oncoming darkness. My destination was a fire lookout, a small speck on top of a distant mountain that seemed unattainable at the time. But step by step it came closer, and realizing that I would make it with enough time to get back to my car before nightfall, I slowed my pace, opening my eyes wider to the wilderness surrounding me. On the return hike, I stopped at a lake and basked in the last rays of daylight, continued down the trail where I spooked a herd of elk, more startled than scared I think, and took in the silence that comes with the hugeness of the country I was in. The scenery was no doubt beautiful, but that is not what made it memorable. Wind whipped at my face and wild places spanned in every direction. Being out there with just a few ravens and elk for company, I felt at peace and in tune with everything surrounding me. That is the feeling I chase. And that is what keeps me coming back, year after year, to this special spot on the map that so many of us are drawn to.
The destination. In a few short days I will pack up my car and drive to my winter dwelling. Snow has not yet cloaked the valley in white, and I am sad to be leaving before that happens. When I return in the spring, the valley will be refreshed and coming back to life. Wildlife and humans alike return from warmer wintering grounds, and colors enter the landscape palate once again. Leaving is hard, but returning is a joy. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, they say. And they just may be right. Until next year, Stanley.