During my nearly four-decade career in community destination marketing, two of the three communities I represented were totally new to me. It is a phenomenal experience to see a community through totally fresh eyes and seek to distill its temporal brand.
That’s why it meant to much to me recently to see the depiction shown in this blog (click on this link or on the image to enlarge) of how Salt Lake Valley would have appeared to two great x 2 grandfathers and a great x3 grandfather as they entered the valley as advance scouts for a the vanguard wagons to enter in 1847.
Today I visit my daughter and grandsons there often. Although an Idaho native, I lived about midway down that Utah valley for a year in the mid-1960s.
This was in the summer before entering Brigham Young University, located in the next valley south, where I completed an undergraduate degree in 1972.
I’ve visited sites in the Salt Lake Valley where a handful of sets of great x2 grandparents and three sets of great x3 grandparents made homes within five years of the time this image depicts, but nothing is as powerful as seeing it as they saw first saw it.
A few stayed for generations at the outlet of one of the canyons midway down the left side of the valley, but most of my ancestors moved on within a year or two to settle many other valleys not only in Utah but Idaho and Arizona.
Maybe the ability to see the potential of what was unique about a place was woven into my DNA. It has struck me, that maybe instead of backing into my career, as I’ve often joked, I was actually drawn there to make contemporary use of this innate ability.
The depiction is part of an atlas published last year by BYU was added to my library. The publication immediately won acclaim from the Cartography and Geographic Information Society and fortunately, BYU Magazine posted links to a few of the maps and images this summer.
I’m a native of a part of Idaho that is 265 miles north of Salt Lake, tucked into the Yellowstone-Teton nook just a few miles from that state’s borders with Montana and Wyoming and the Continental Divide through the northern Rockies.
Any participation with my Mormon culture lapsed four decades ago but parts of anyone’s culture are always coursing through their veins. Seeing the image above got me thinking about parts of my heritage I tried to leave behind.
At birth and for many of my early years, I lived in a four-room cabin clad with squared logs that was tucked into a bend of Snow Creek, a mile from the Henry’s Fork River.
For half a century before, it had been my grandparents home on the southeast corner of our ancestral ranch until they moved 14 miles to St. Anthony after my dad returned from serving in a WWII tank battalion where it had charged across southern Germany and much of Czechoslovakia, liberating the infamous Dachau Concentration Camp.
It was never expanded because even in good years there are always other priorities on a working ranch.
My first recollection of my own shame was how I felt when I was forced to admit to friends in first grade - both townies who had rooms of their own - that I slept on a pull-out couch in the living room of our house. In the preceding years, my middle sister and I slept on bunk beds in my parents bedroom.
I had other fleeting feelings of unworthiness at school back then when it was learned that I did my homework standing in the corner under a lamp on top of a console radio. Also, when some falsely judged me as anxious or weak as has happened throughout my life, because my hands shook with Essential Tremor.
Impressionable though minor in the scheme of things.
However, I realize now after reading Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown, a researcher in such things and TED lecturer, that my parents ensured this self-doubt did not take root by fueling my confidence and resilience not by artificially puffing up my self esteem but by teaching me to let go of what people thought about me.
Unfortunately, it would not be until later in life that I would recognize that many others I encountered would pretend they were ten feet tall or bullet proof merely, as the book notes, as a means of numbing and masking their own uncertainty.
I grew to view vulnerability as a strength and a sign of courage and grit.
However, in those early years, as I strived to overcome self doubt about some of my circumstances, I was guilty of judging my homesteading grandparents, whom I loved deeply, because they spoke with a deep country accent.
I similarly judged my aunts and uncles as we gathered frequently for Sunday family dinners at my grandparents house because they always seemed to talk too loud, argue too much and at times sound bigoted. For their time they probably weren’t.
For years, I ran from that heritage. Running from Idaho is what a friend since the 1970s called it. It motivated me, but three things occurred within a year in the mid-1970s and I stopped running.
First, stretched thin by an evolving career and going to law school at night, I found myself separated by several hundred miles from the regenerative influence of my little girl. At the time, it seemed I was only able to to visit every few months, a mistake I regret.
I was at a low point when I first heard two cross-over country hit recordings that reminded me of my past.
One which I had originally heard around the house when I was growing up, “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” was given new life by Willie Nelson, now a classic. It launched a new “Outlaw” sub-genre. The other was the country-rock classic “Take It To The Limit” by The Eagles.
Both took me home again and back to my roots.
Third, I received a box from my grandmother. She was selling her house to live in rotation with each of her children, including stints with my parents.
Accompanied by a sweet note about my grandfather, Grandma Adah included ten sets of horseshoes he had kept that has been worn by his favorite horses from the time he was young, many of which he raised and trained. Others had been worn by animals he raised and trained before they became famous.
She knew how much they meant to me dating from my first memories. They had been nailed to a beam in their basement. She also knew how much my grandfather had meant to me, having spent nearly every day together doing chores for my father around the ranch from the time I could first walk.
Within a year, my grandmother also passed away and this period was soon bookended by the autobiographical significance I found in “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” sung by Waylon Jennings and Nelson:
“Them that don't know him won't like him and them that do,
Sometimes won't know how to take him.”
I stopped running from my origins in rural Idaho and fully embraced my heritage, my people. I also realized that it was from my roots that I came by my drive, determination, grit, passion and character along with a love of learning and the ability to rise above circumstances.
I soon regained my ability to project confidence even during the times I felt vulnerable but without losing authenticity. Throughout my career, I excelled at standing up against bigotry and for those who were truly vulnerable, and as a passionate advocate on behalf of misunderstood and disparaged communities.
I sense all of this when I look at the image above and, while a work in progress, I am grateful for my roots and to be who I am.