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A Timeless Walk

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 Up in the high mountain valleys, when the ragged shadows of the Sawtooths settle softly over camps snugged up against the White Clouds, the tinkle of bells, like the old songs of the Basque sheepherders, can still be heard echoing faintly through the groves of aspen trees.

Somewhat romantic now, even a little mysterious, sheepherders have been a part of the Wood River Valley landscape for almost a century. A familiar yet elusive sight from our roads and trails, these bronzed men with foreign tongues are generally unassimilated into our community—part of, but seldom included in, our collective reality. Their movements are framed by the floating of fine brown dust along the hillsides, accompanied by the bleat of lambs and the occasional bark of working dogs, punctuated by a low, sweet human whistle.

The progress of the herders up and down the Valley can still be measured by the movement of their camps—picturesque wagon homes on wheels, in pleasing shapes of bowed white canvas or painted bent tin. The boxes are painted a uniform green, with a half-door in front for driving during inclement weather. And always, permanently affixed to one side of the door, somehow proclaiming the occupant to be tidy and organized, are a broom and a small, round, enameled washbasin.

The camp wagons are inevitably pulled by a team of gentle-looking, often mismatched horses. The horses look perpetually tired—or perhaps they’re just patient, understanding that, in their scheme of things, there is seldom an occasion for hurry. From early spring until late fall, they are destined not to arrive at a given place, but only to move from one spot to another. Another of their roles seems to be to stand patiently hitched to the wagon or staked out nearby, solely to provide photo opportunities for interested passersby.

And interested we are. Few of us are not touched by the romance these scenes evoke: the shade-dappled campsite, the dogs underfoot, smoke rising from the little camp stove inside the wagon; the robust young men graciously interrupting their chores to pose shyly, seated or standing in the sheep-wagon door. Our snapshots reflect our own nostalgic visions of a simple, healthy life, unfettered by cell phones, uninterrupted by meetings or media or must-do lists—truly a life lived in the present.

The history of Sun Valley is often mistaken for the history of snow. By now, the story of Count Schaffsgotch’s final shot at finding a suitable location for Averill Harriman’s ski area, somewhere on the Union Pacific’s system, is the stuff of legend—as is the selection and purchase of the Brass Ranch for the location of the yet unnamed Sun Valley Lodge and Resort. >>>


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