Sunday, July 27, 2014

Shutting Off the Noise. Notes from Small Town America

On one hot lunch break at work, our company fed us hotdogs in the blazing sun, on the lawn in front of our building. I shared the table with one of our DBA’s (google that if you’re fuzzy on what it spells) and we started talking about our love of the Rockies – mine, of Colorado, my husband’s of Montana, and his – of Star Valley, Wyoming.  And although I drove through Star Valley a couple of times, en route to Jackson, WY and Yellowstone Park, the name didn’t ring a bell.

What better way to learn what Star Valley is but to drive up there for the weekend, right?! Plus, it’s North of us – remember my rule: head North in the summer, South in the winter – just like a bird.

Our weekend in Afton, WY (the heart of Star Valley and its largest town, at around 1900 residents) was one of the most relaxing, peaceful, simple and no nonsense good weekends we have had in a long while. Just a small town atmosphere, with no clutter, no noise, not even from RV generators, with homemade, fresh food, and gorgeous landscape and hundreds of miles of. We went away to find again the quiet in us, and that, we did.  

Here are ten clues that you are in small town America – as we have found them during those two days about week ago:

  1. When we pulled up to check into Old Mill Log Cabins, we found this “welcome” setting on the front porch of the owner’s cabin. Seeing the picture my mom asked “was that to protect you from animals? Or people?” – well, I guess it’s still the Wild West out there, mom, it could be either. Or both.
  2. After we checked in, we were told to go right ahead, drive to our cabin, which is unlocked, with the key inside. Then, when we would leave on Sunday, she would like us to just leave the key inside the cabin, and leave the door unlocked. And have a nice stay!

    The barn at the Old Mill Log Cabins complex
  3. We had dinner the first night at Rocky Mountain Seafood - how brave is that of us?!, to have clams and octopus and shrimp in the heart of the mountains, thousands of miles away from the ocean?! – and the  waitress kept hugging the customers as they left with “love you, hon' “ – all of them but us and this other couple that we knew as our neighbors from the cabin next door.
  4. People from neighboring towns, that made the drive for a nicer dinner to Afton and are not quite familiar with the restaurant’s staff, assume that everyone who works there is related to each other. Most times that is a safe assumption. It was not such at Rocky Mountain Seafood but the staff understood the presumption completely.

    Subtle: a sign of the times, in a shop window
  5. There is a quietness and boredom about small towns. Especially on a summer afternoon, you feel like the air stands still. Oh, that feeling of “there is nothing to do and we’re just rotting …”. After dinner, we walked up and down Main Street in Afton, and there were very few people out, especially for a Friday night. That feeling of boredom glided through the warm evening mountain air. Teens were driving up and down the street, with windows down, in packed cars going 20 miles an hour, yelling profanities to the scattered, chance pedestrians. Adds just a tad of color to the bucolic landscape.

    Downtown Afton, WY on a weekend

  6. We stepped into one of the two gift stores in town and the shop assistant was an old man. He was welcoming without being pushy and extremely witty. He gave us directions to a well known trail where we’d enjoy the Bridger National Forest at its finest, and we felt almost obligated to buy something from him. Which we did. He then wrapped our purchases in local newspapers. I am thinking of framing them with my favorite picture of that weekend, should I have any wall space left in my house to hang it in.

    The trail runs parallel to Swift Creek, towards the Intermittent Spring.
  7. Because of the city taking over The West, in larger towns deer is completely unfazed by their proximity to humans. Here, on the roads behind the cabins, they were still skittish at the sound of the car engine and would not sit still for a photo. Wilderness is still untouched out there …
  8. We’re used to not only being seated by the host(ess) in restaurants everywhere we go, but to wait for a while (sometimes close to an hour or more) for a seat. But in Star Valley, there is no host(ess) and no wait for a table. You seat yourself – take your pick. It’s never crowded.
  9. I grew up partly in a small, retreated town in the mountains of Romania. Every year, when I would make the journey back to it, I always noticed how things never changed. There is a feeling that history is frozen in time, at some point in the past, perpetually, every time you go back, in a remote mountain settlement. This feeling was revoked when we walked into The Elkhorn Restaurant (of course, on Main Street) and saw a framed picture of president John F. Kennedy over the deli counter.
  10. The number one way to tell you’re in a small, remote town in the middle of nothing but God’s beauty is that you’ll be watching your phone looping around for cell, internet and GPS signal all weekend long and draining its battery into the ground. After a while, you give up trying to connect to the world “out there”, and realize there is a whole world “right here” that needs your attention. This (forced) shift of perspective is refreshing.

You turn off the “other” noisy world you come from and you learn of a new dimension that still exists in today’s universe, but it’s so often turned off for us, city dwellers. No matter how fast the world is being overpopulated and overbuilt, I hope humanity will manage to forget about the remote corners of the world, and leave them untouched, so we could go for a weekend and get reacquainted with ourselves, our thoughts, and un-mute our internal voices once again. 

Drinking from the fountain of pure, untouched beauty and simple life is the best reward we can give to our too tired, too rushed and too shallow bodies moving through the muck of the daily grind …
Click on the picture to see the entire album from this weekend.

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