On a recent perfectly sunny summer day, my sister got married. I never expected I’d be attending a wedding in Idaho. But after a weekend of starlit skies and homemade pies, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting locale.
We drove from Salt Lake City to Sun Valley, an Idaho resort town known for its steep ski runs down Bald Mountain, affectionately known as “Baldy”, abundant green space, and miles of hiking trails. As an outdoor enthusiast, I knew that even in the middle of nowhere, I’d feel right at home.
Having grown up in the Midwest and spent the last six years on the East Coast, it’s hard to describe the feeling of waking up to mountain views each morning. It certainly didn’t fit the cityscape I’d come to know. Yet there’s something about being surrounded by such exquisite beauty, a sense that our daily backdrops are only a sliver of the diverse landscapes that beckon us, that made me feel like both a native and a newcomer, overwhelmed yet at ease.
The sunflowers that lined the streets sprouted up like weeds, perhaps easily overlooked by locals, but photo worthy to my fresh eyes. The larger-than-life dandelions that speckled the fields only added to the enchantment. If I spent more time here, would I eventually come to take such a view for granted? As I paused to look around, it seemed hard to believe.
The next evening, we drove an hour to Redfish Lake. After a few miles, I’d lost all connection with the outside world, a welcome reprieve from the blue LED light and assortment of pings that drew me away from the here and now. As we forged our way through the mountains, the blue sky stood out in contrast to the earth tones it accentuated. I bravely stuck my camera out the window attempting to preserve the images that I was rapidly trying to tuck safely away in my mind.
Redfish Lake sits at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains with an elevation of 6,547 feet above sea level. Its rustic cabins and spacious wood-paneled lodge reminded me of a summer camp I’d never been to, but only dreamed about, assisted by my brief but deep infatuation with “The Parent Trap.”
The cabins were simple and appliances sparse. I heard a number of guests asking about hair dryers, their absence, along with televisions and coffeemakers, unheard of in our 21st century world. My cozy loft with nothing but a bed was the ideal sleeping cove. No city lights shining in, no cars driving by.
Our days were filled with hiking, canoeing, and coffee and tea sipped slowly from rocking chairs on the front porch. We shined flashlights into the lake in the evening to see the silhouettes of the fish down below and gazed skyward to try to make out the constellations up above. We made new friends over bar drinks and beach walks and found our way back to our cabins by the limited light of the moon.
On the morning of the wedding, the sun shone brightly. After a brief ceremony alongside the water, mountains gleaming in the background, we drank and ate from long picnic tables elegantly disguised, our quiet neck of the woods effortlessly transformed. String lights hung from the trees and music filled the air. There was ping pong and cornhole, dancing and dozing. Henry curled up on the couch, exhausted by the day’s excitement.
The next morning, we drove to the nearby town of Stanley, population 63, to get a taste of Stanley Baking Co.’s famous sourdough pancakes. As we stood in line, I looked around at the faces of people I loved, some of whom I hadn’t seen in ages, and others who had flown in from far off corners of the world. It was remarkable, all of us being together in one place.
Idaho has a way of taking strangers and making them friends, of creating community amidst the remote. By far the most common response the weekend elicited was that while many had never considered visiting Idaho before, they’d have a hard time forgetting it and even hoped to come back.
I too was guilty of neglecting The Gem State from my personal map. It had never made its way on to my list of must-sees, and I was apt to gloss over it, simply referring to it as “the potato state.” But Idaho took me by surprise, its pristine lakes, friendly resort towns, towering pine trees, and looming mountains all competing with my preconceived notions.
My sister has roots in many cities, from Chicago to New York, Portland to Brussels. She is well-traveled and had a number of options on where to say her nuptials. Her husband is from Idaho, so it was a natural choice for them. But in a way it chose her, in the same way it chose all of us.
The places we go may not always be the ones we expect. Our lives’ events have ways of unfolding in ways we don’t anticipate. If we’re fortunate though, we end up somewhere that exceeds our expectations and expands our imaginations, even if only for a few days.