Howard Cain, 77, works for himself cleaning windows.
“I like what I do,” he said. “I bring light into people’s lives. I also like the exercise.”
His journey to that life—like the sobriety and perspective with which he lives it—took many years, and many miles.
Cain was part of a clan of newcomers to Ketchum when he arrived in 1971 after a mind-expanding sojourn around the country.
“Those were cool days in Ketchum,” Cain said. “Town was being transformed and a lot of us had small businesses that sort of set the tone for the community for quite a while.”
Howard was an owner of the Wine Market, a hub of creativity, friendship—and partying.
“Many of us were looking for an extended family back then,” he said. “We no longer related to our own families because we were growing in consciousness.”
Cain left the suburb of Boston where he grew up and briefly attended Harvard and Northeastern University before striking out for the West.
“It took a long time to get up the courage to tell my parents I was going to hit the road to ski powder.”
Idaho wasn’t his first stop. Cain said he dropped acid in Aspen and woke up the next morning with a new perspective on the place.
“We knew Aspen was not the place for us,” he said. He lived in San Francisco in 1969, “hanging out and getting high and getting laid.”
“It was fantastic,” he recalled. “There was a lot of love around, good feelings and trust between people. It was a feeling of compassion and understanding.”
But moving from Boston he felt the need to adjust.
“I had to learn to be less willful and roll with the synchronistic events of that time. This meant getting more aware of the environmental influences around me and becoming less self-centered. My parents didn’t know where I was for months at a time.”
Cain surfed with friends from California to Panama and wound up in the sleepy ski town of Ketchum.
“For me it felt nurturing, arriving in autumn with the gold leaves,” Cain said. “The valley is like a womb.”
Cain took a series of jobs at restaurants that no longer exist. He then set out to Mexico and Central America to buy arts and crafts and clothing for import, heading into rural villages with a “fistful of joints and bottle of tequila” to start bartering.
“The people in Guatemala lived so differently than how I grew up,” he said. “Being together with them was more important than the transactions we were making. It was more important to share stories and get to know one another.”
Back in Idaho, Cain worked as a logger and briefly as a realtor. His primary business, though, was at the Wine Market, where customers gathered for “cocaine and champagne Fridays.”
But time passed and things changed. Cain got married and had a son and a daughter. After years of partying, he got sober in 1985.
“Mostly because other guys I hung out with had already become sober,” he said. “There was no stigma.”
With 35 years of sobriety, Cain looks back philosophically.
“I discovered that there was a life around me I wasn’t paying attention to and that’s what made it so compelling,” he said of his travels in the 60s and 70s, and the substances he took along the way. “But after a while that stops happening. Alcohol became toxic for me.”
That time may have provided a road map for a spiritual path, he says now, but so did sobriety. After being sober all these years, it’s like that’s happening all over again.
“But it’s more subtle,” he said. “I’m really present now, like we always wanted to be.”
Cain still looks back on the wild years with a smile.
“The Wine Market was a melting pot for philosophical knuckleheads,” he said. “There was a happy brotherhood of loving, like-minded souls. Now there are 20 or 30 of us that are sober and we are still supporting one another. That’s the beauty of living in a small town.”