2011-09-27

Private Idaho

The picture below is a portion of the Snake River, in Idaho, courtesy TrekEarth.com.


As near as I can tell, the origin of the phrase "living in your own private Idaho" can be traced to that B-52s song from way back when. I am not sure where else it could have come from. The only other references I can find out there are references to things that were inspired by that song and/or its title.

The Bad
Generally speaking, "living in your own private Idaho" is a bad thing. The imagery is especially difficult to appreciate if you have never been to Idaho. For the "average person" living in the uncomfortably densely populated regions of, oh, say California, New York, or Ontario, Idaho is a desolate patch of nothingness bereft of anything other than sagebrush. Occasionally you will see an old, abandoned, and decrepit farm shed made of weathered planks, and there are small towns peppering the state, consisting mostly of a gas station (the center of the town's universe) and a lot of houses made of aluminum siding. Beyond that, Idaho is a massive expanse of nondescript landscape - not quite prairie, not quite mountains.

To live in your own private Idaho, then, is to exist in a vacuous mental hole, spaced-out, dazed. You wouldn't be connected to reality, and you wouldn't have much to say. Lost in your own thoughts, yes, but more than that - you would be lost in completely unimportant and insignificant thoughts. You'd be truly spaced-out.

The Good
And yet, Idaho as I have described it above has precious little in common with the gorgeous waterfall and winding river set against a backdrop of gorgeous green that I have included in the text of this blog post. How on Earth could a place as beautiful as the one in that picture exist in a state so bleak, empty, and desolate?

The answer is that Idaho is more or less what you choose to make of it. While Utah and Colorado are the western states with the reputations for "great skiing," people who actually live in Utah and Colorado go to Idaho for skiing vacations. The crowds are smaller, the prices are lower, and the skiing is just as good or better.

The soft, warm, dry breeze that floats over the tips of the grass has a sort of magical sensation to it. It is the ecological equivalent of the word "solitude." There is a peace in that breeze that is difficult to find elsewhere. Sure, the breeze can be cold sometimes, or annoying if you're trying to do something. But I think the key is in simply stopping, standing where you are, and letting the breeze pass by you for a few moments as you realize where you are.

In the summertime, the landscape has a dreamy, subtle beauty. I reiterate that there is not much there, but in that sense, the aesthetic is not unlike an abstract painting, or perhaps atonal music. The minimalist backdrop ignites the creativity of the mind's eye. Beauty suddenly and truly finds its way into the eye of the beholder. One begins to perceive the subtleties of the mountain peaks in the distance, the grassy plains and patches of trees arrange themselves in virtually endless combinations.

Then, suddenly, the landscape will break apart into huge rocky spires and jutting cliffs cut by a silver-blue strand of a river. The moment you accustom yourself to the gentle, lilting landscape of Idaho, it throws you a curve. The Snake River appears, with its whitewater corridors and gushing waterfalls. A small lake peeks out from behind the base of an unknown hillside. A huge volcanic boulder appears in the middle of an otherwise completely flat plane, deposited there by some prehistoric glacier, long-forgotten.

Idaho is stunning.

The Point
The past couple of days, I have been living in my own private Idaho. Sometimes, when things aren't going quite as well as we hope, we need some sort of mental outlet to digest the negativity and make something positive of it. Faithful readers of this blog will know that I have blogged a lot about negative and positive outlets for this sort of digestion.

I would like to propose that in our own private Idahos, we are the masters who determine whether we escape into a dreadful void or into an aesthetic perfection. In any respect, it is the same place. We must always process our stress and our negativity within the confines of our own minds.

And, just as Idaho is more or less what you choose to make of it, so you get to determine for yourself how you're going to digest and dispose of your stress and negativity. Better to do it in a good way than a bad way.

Better to seek the peace of an Idaho breeze than the barren frustration of an Idaho wilderness.