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Place influences the way we read and the way we write. Part of the delight of blogging is traveling around the virtual world, gathering an insider’s view of what makes different places tick. I realized recently that I often dwell on the negative aspects of my location. It’s a bit like looking in the mirror and seeing only your wrinkles, zits, or proboscis.  In this post, I will attempt to paint a more balanced picture of my locale.

Boise rests on an ancient reclaimed floodplain. Before three damns tamed it, the Boise River ambled over the valley, distributing fine grains of sand, silt, and clay to create an oasis of fertility in the midst of dry sage scrub that fingers off to next range of mountains.

Historically, the Boise River hosted indigenous people who came to hunt and to soak in thermal mineral springs that bubble up from basalt fissures near the river. Later, European fur trappers mined the beaver that flourished in the river and its tributaries. According to legend, the town owes its name to French trappers who referred to the tree and willow rimmed river that runs through the valley as La rivière boisée (The River of Trees). After the beaver were trapped out, waves of starry-eyed miners arrived. Like a horde of super ants, the miners humped into the hills north of the valley and corralled the force of the upstream river to blast hillsides apart in search of gold and silver. Farmers cashed in on the miners who were too preoccupied and too crowded for space to grow their own food. On the heels of the gold rush came wagons loads of dreams headed for the Eden known as Oregon. Stopping to replenish spirit and supplies near the Boise River, some weary emigrants decided they had found their Eden right here. 

Aside from an occasional wind storm, Boise is miraculously free of weather extremes or natural disasters.  Geological activity sometimes shakes and shudders the ground nearby, but Boise itself has not suffered damage from earthquakes since I’ve lived here. One very hot, dry summer we lost several fancy foothills homes to a voracious grass fire. Most spring flooding is controlled by dams. This a damned pleasant place to live with average year-round temperatures ranging from  22° – 90°F (-5.5° -32.2° C).

Boise, the state capital is the largest city in the state of Idaho. The 2010 census recorded 205,000 people. Small towns that historically huddled near the railroad tracks have been nearly subsumed by the Treasure Valley, driving the larger metropolitan population to over 616,000 people.

When I first arrived in the late 1970’s, Boise was smaller, plainer, and paler. The population was around 90,000; I could have counted the African American families on my two hands. Quite a few Hispanic families were linked to the farming economy. Perhaps the largest ethnic group was Asian—thanks to the importation of Chinese and Japanese laborers who built the transcontinental railroad in the 1860’s—or Basques who had emigrated from the old country to find work as sheepherders in southern Idaho. 

In 1976, bland Chinese American fare was the only Asian cuisine available. Near where I currently live was the first Mexican restaurant. One small Basque restaurant had just opened.  All other dining centered around Americanized Italian or some version of steak and seafood—particularly strange since Boise is 500 miles from the nearest sea. The explosive growth of Boise during the past 30 years has been bad and good.

The Bad
  • Valuable farm land disappeared under a jungle of pavement,  non-native grasses, trees, bushes, and too many houses.
  • Old farm roads, never intended to carry the daily commute, became plaque-filled arteries threatening a stroke.
  • Because land seems infinite in the west, people spread their wings and built homes as far away from each other as possible, meaning that everyone needs a car.
  • The rapid expansion of the city limits outpaced establishment of an effective public transportation system.
  • A blanket of cold air that lies over the valley during the winter months traps auto emissions coupled with particulate emissions to produce depressing and unhealthy inversions.

The Good

  • Along with the influx of people from both coasts, came new manufacturing, mostly centered around the tech industry.
  • The tech industry lured foreign labor to our valley, opening the door to exciting new cuisines and cultural events.
  • The throbbing economy of the 1990’s marked Boise as one of the premiere locations in the US for refugee resettlement. The restaurant scene blossomed with various types of Asian, Middle Eastern, and central European cuisine. YUM!
  • What was once a white-bread enclave of Christian, Catholic, and Mormon faiths was forced to remove the blinders and recognize a variety of imported religions and cultures.
  • Boise State University, born in 1932 as a junior college, grew academically and sprinted onto the national college football scene with the Champion BSU Broncos playing on the only blue turf in the nation. In addition, a handful of community colleges and private universities sprang up to feed the growing need for an educated work force.
  • There are now more cultural events in the valley than I have the time, the money, or the energy to take advantage of.

With the river running through the center of town, the mountains to the north, and a sage desert stretching to the south, Boise is a unique mixture of culture, sports, recreation, muscle, and intellect. When the fishing is good, business people trade loafers for waders, grab their fishing gear, and head outdoors for a peaceful hour of noontime fly fishing. Come April, skiers hustle up the mountain early Saturday morning to ski for a few hours, then race back down the mountain for a stroll around the golf course or to hop aboard road bikes for an afternoon spin.

Summers are an endless reel of water sports, mountain biking and road cycling, hiking, running, or horseback riding trails in the foothills, outdoor concerts and theater, and endless gardening or farming.

It has been interesting to watch my little community work through its growing pains and garner media attention as one of the best communities to live, to retire, or to start a small business. Aside from political conservatism that makes me want to flee the state each post-election Wednesday, I love living here. I feel like my town and I have grown up together and aged rather well.

All images not otherwise attributed are my own feeble attempts.

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