Thoughts of summer send most people into a reverie of daydreams. There is something mythical about the season.
The heat, light, sights and smells tap into some primordial part of the brain, demanding a reconsideration of life's pace, routines and demands.
Grown ups recalling past summers find that feelings are what persist more than individual events. Memories take us back to simpler times, when days were less structured, freer and seemingly endless.
A few of my own childhood summers lived up to that promise. Three were spent at a girls' sleep-away camp nestled next to a deep Vermont lake where days were spent sailing, canoeing, hiking and yes, singing songs around the campfire, arm-in-arm with new friends.
When I grew a bit older, summer breaks shifted west, to the Wood River Valley. My family landed here when I was 13 and started to put down roots, making Sun Valley our summer destination.
The warm weather months were spent biking and hiking, fishing, splashing in the pool and soaking up the sun in the days when it acceptable to slather baby oil on your skin instead of SPF 50.
But whether summers were spent among the tall pines in Vermont, or the aspen copses in Idaho, there was one crucial constant in creating lasting memories—friendship.
What we remember when waxing nostalgic over summers past are the people who made the experiences and the days unforgettable. Time with friends and family shapes the vacations, the camps and the long, leisurely do-nothing days that permanently imprint on the brain.
For my first few summers in Sun Valley, I imported friends from home to enjoy the "western" experience with me, but soon I made local friends.
Many were summer girls like myself. The most important of these was a friend I made the year I graduated from high school. It was that summer that I met my new, instant bff, Gillian. Gillian was also a part-time Sun Valley girl, also about to start her freshman year at Yale in the fall. It was meant to be!
From the moment we laid eyes on each other that summer when we were on the cusp somewhere between girlhood and adulthood, we were inseparable.
During the day, we worked at jobs in the valley that, if I recall correctly, paid about $8 an hour. Still, I loved going to work at the Snug in the Sun Valley mall, folding t-shirts, stocking merchandise, processing credit card slips by hand and trying really hard not to blow every paycheck on pretty clothes.
But work took only eight hours a day, and as we know, in July, it stays light for 16 hours. The other eight waking hours were spent with my friend.
Every day, without fail, we would meet at the base of Dollar after work and hike to the top for our daily exercise. We biked everywhere, sat on the deck of her house and watched the sun set, and went to Jazz on the Green at Elkhorn each Thursday.
And we talked, and talked, and talked and talked, about books and boys, philosophy and possibilities. I'm sure that summer, at the age of 18, we thought we had figured it all out.
Fast forward, yikes, 20-plus years. It is the first day of camp at Ketchum-based Mountain Adventure Tours. I pull up to deliver my three kids to the care of Mat Gershater and his amazing team. Behind me, Gillian drops off her four kids.
Even though I now live here year-round, the first day of camp always feels like homecoming. Many of the friends that I grew up with during my summers here are still here, but with their kids. Our children are now forming what will hopefully become lifelong friendships.
Gillian has been a constant every summer, no matter what "real life" throws at us.
Through too many jobs to remember, marriages, children, divorces, ailing parents, she has been there for all the joy, the worry, the major triumphs and the minor, and not-so-minor, defeats.
And all these many years later we are still hiking our way through the summer. We graduated from Dollar to magnificent Sawtooth and Pioneer hikes, but climbing those sublime mountains is still just an excuse to talk, to reconnect, to figure things out. Though I don't think we would claim anymore that we have figured anything out.
That's summer in Sun Valley.
For children and adults, it is the chance to connect, to unplug, to make real friends instead virtual ones.
It is a chance for kids to spread their wings, discover their strengths and test their independence. Before we moved here, when my children came to Sun Valley from Connecticut, they were asked to try things they thought impossible.
Hike five miles? Jump into a river? Whitewater raft? Rock climb? The stories they brought home to their friends who spent the summer pursuing more conventional pursuits seemed wild and adventurous. It was an unbelievable boon to the children's confidence.
They reminded me of a much younger me, traveling back to school with tales of the Wild West and a summer spent pushing my limits.
In addition to taking advantage of the great camps and activities available in the valley, my children still have the luxury of just being kids during the summer months.
They bike around the neighborhood and around town with friends. They spend hours at the pool doing underwater handstands and diving for sunken treasure.
Almost every outing is family-friendly. Together, we can listen to live music at Ketch'em Alive, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts concerts or the Symphony. They can take long walks with their friends, sorting out life and finding time to think and to talk.
A Sun Valley summer is a gift we give to our children; a gift that was given to me.
Of course, kids can take summer school classes to get ahead for the coming year. Like everywhere else, they can do sports camps and hone their skills for the upcoming seasons.
But here, summer is not just a time to prep for what comes next, like it has become in so many parts of the country. Here, children can walk in the woods, throw a line in Penny Lake and hook a trout. They can loll down a river in an inner tube beneath a hot August sun. There is time to explore, to ponder, to imagine and to dream. They can be children.
The possibilities are as endless as the days.
I don't doubt that 25 years from now, my children will all still be close to a special friend that they will forever associate with long, magic summer days in the Wood River Valley. They will have their Gillian.
That is what this valley engenders, the promise and the reality. As the poet Wiliam Carlos Williams wrote, "In summer, the song sings itself," and our lyrics are of innocence, quietude and friendship.