This week marked my 75th birthday, Sept. 30. I’ve been walking this Earth at least 74 of those years, except for the first one, when I was just a squiggly, squirmy little guy. Mercifully, there aren’t many pictures of me then and I don’t intend to make them public anyway. Of course, I was the cutest baby ever, even cuter than my twin brother, says my Mom, Bless her soul.
For the past six years, since 2013, I’ve walked with the help of a cane, the result of a viral infection which has affected my balance and limited my mobility, but not my mind. I don’t think of myself as disabled or impaired in any way. People who know me joke that I only use the cane to keep me from leaning too far to the political right. Yea, well maybe.
If I have “world enough and time,” as the poem says, I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing. I’ve been a college professor, a journalist, a newspaper editor/publisher, a business consultant, an elected state legislator, and now, a blog columnist and community historian in the Magic Valley. It’ a comfortable list.
I’ve lived in Southern Idaho almost forty years now, and while not a perfect place, it has nonetheless been mostly a delight. The physical landscape is immense and the people mostly kind, generous and hard-working. It reflects the way America generally was before the country was overrun by near-constant discord of political correctness and identity politics.
Here, we’re still a valley of farms, ranches, quiet towns and a shared base of conservative cultural values. How rare and special is that?
I have a new book out this summer on the various cultural aspects of Southern Idaho life, and another underway. These follow a personal memoir in 2014 and several journalism books on reporting, as well as biographies of both my parents, Vincent Hartgen and Frances Hartgen.
I’ve been a writer most of my adult life, so I think I’ll stick with it. Ernest Hemingway once said that his goal as a novelist was to write one truly perfect sentence. I doubt I’ll ever make that standard, but I keep trying.
But none of this is as important as family, place and remembrance, living in a magnificent rural valley of Idaho, a land of freedom, energy and progress. Linda and I have five children between us and a passel of grandkids as well, rambunctious, curious, verbal, loving, all out to make something of themselves in this world.
In my spare time, such as it is, I love to fish Idaho’s pristine trout waters and to read American history. I particularly favor accounts of the American West, it’s rich legends and vigorous settlement, the courage and determination of its people in this vast and enduring landscape. It is the Magic Valley story, the Idaho story and the American story of this great country.
As I age, life’s more visceral contests fade in importance; they were only sound and fury, as Shakespeare calls them. These days, I’m working on another book, on how communities in Southern Idaho convey values across generations through families, rituals, schools, faiths, civic affairs and many more.
No one knows when we may be summoned, called away to a distant stream, when one’s spirit returns unto God, who gave it, says Ecclesiastes. In any case, I have many blessings and almost no regrets. Looking back, I have been given much for which to be grateful:
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A childhood of delightful memories in a safe and warm place on the edge of a deep, natural forest, a lens through which I have seen the world in most every circumstance;
Loving parents whose own efforts made the world a better place for those around them, a mother who helped others with sympathy and grace and a father who in his own art and teaching, opened people’s eyes to the world of beauty and human ennoblement;
An education at schools better than I had any right to attend and from which I was able to extract some, if not all, of what they had to offer, sometimes in counterpoint;
A life of the mind developed from an early age, nurtured by parents and then by myself in quiet hours and moments, overcoming each day’s hustings;
A long search in a career and then a settling in what seems “God’s country” of the West in the presence of daily beauty, the flow of crystalline water, the crisp green of spring farms and range.
The blessing to live in the best region, of the best state, of the best nation on the planet, in freedom and opportunity, where love of country abounds.
A flowering of family warmth and love and a spouse whose dedication to the “us” of our marriage and to faith grows as we age.
A renewal in my sixties and now seventies of public service and involvement, through both public office and appreciation of my community, giving me a chance to lead through the debate, purpose and challenges of public life;
A gift of friendships in a public life bound by common purpose to make our community, state and nation a better place for generations ahead.
Reasonably good health, despite setbacks and conditions. Yes, I have chronic ailments, but so do many others. So what?
Scripture tells us to be constantly ready, as we cannot know the hour of the calling. That’s good advice. But we should all take time here as well to count our blessings. Enough of ruminations. Next week, back to Idaho issues.