Three Days in Sun Valley and the Best Writing Teacher

5 Min read

Book rec

Photo journal

Ernest Hemingway

Pioneer Cabin Trail hike

Foodie highlights

Toolbox, to improve writing for ages 9 to 99

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All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway*

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The plane’s descent into Sun Valley surprised me with its sage-green mountains (from the rains they said) and because the pilot flew so close. After dinner, friends and I hiked up to the golf course in the clouds, dotted with daisies and grass. This land of everywhere vistas has a rich history as America’s first ski resort.

I missed the writers conference by a day, where Abraham Varghese would receive the Writer in the World Prize. I hadn’t planned for it and was vaguely aware of the town’s writerly roots. I visited Hemingway’s grave, his memorial trail, and cycled by the elementary school named in his honor. At Chapter One Books, I bought a copy of Green Hills of Africa on July 21st, his birthday. The impromptu visits helped me channel inspiration through scenery and activities. Here’s where “Papa” hunted and fished, skied and wrote.

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Ketchum Cemetery, visitors leave coins to show respect for service in the war, a custom traced back to the Roman Empire. E.H. was rejected by the US Army for poor eyesight but signed on with the Red Cross as an ambulance driver until he was wounded in Italy. Five miniature liquor bottles, shot glass, and four pens.
Memorial bust overlooking the golf course

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We set out early from the Corral Creek trail head to Pioneer Cabin, modeled after Alpine huts by the Union Pacific Railroad. It was a highlight of the summer visit, hiking from forest into alpine meadow. Friends brought their hunting dog who loped about like a hound in love. His spirit matched my own.The three and a half mile hike took us up 2500 feet, a vigorous and rewarding effort with spectacular views. The air was thin up there at 9400 feet elevation but clean and cool in the chest. Out and back we were done in three and a half hours.

The cabin itself was functional with dual racks to sleep and walls brimming with hiker grafitti, shelves of sundries like sun protection, bug spray, maps. An abandoned guitar. A pot-bellied stove. It was hot inside and buggy by the entrance so we didn’t linger. My friend says the cabin shot is his screen saver.

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Pioneer Cabin with author on right, rooftop quote “The higher you get, the higher you get.”

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Sun Valley hosted the sixth annual Tour De Force** for car lovers. We stopped by the show the next day and I saw a little boy jump into the McLaren 750S, a supercar with its open vertical doors. He wasn’t in there long. Drivers would take to the road that weekend for high speed runs at Phantom Hill and a virgin ride for the newly unveiled McLaren.

I ate my last meal at the Pioneer Saloon where Hemingway’s Winchester shotgun hung on the wall. Stuffed, dead trophies, five-foot barrel shotguns suspended above the wood bar, vintage posters and a host with a neck the size of his head. He said he lived in the cabin where E.H. finished For Whom the Bell Tolls. The town’s official site said he finished in Suite 206 of the Sun Valley Lodge, but I didn’t know it then and even if I had, I wouldn’t be one to argue. My husband ordered the 20 ounce prime rib and I had the signature Jim Spud. It’s a loaded potato with Teriyaki prime rib, grilled onions and cheese. Seemed right for my first time in Idaho. I’d call it the Forever Spud because there was no end to it, delicious as it was. For $12.95 it was a third the cost of the Prime Rib so probably the best deal in the house.***

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Sun Valley was what it was because of our friends. The view from their deck, their enthusiasm for hiking and fly-fishing, golf and cycling, their French gun dog named for the Pixar film’s Little Chef, Remy. Remy looms large in my memory, plopped on the back seat of their mud-splattered pick-up, his back side pushed against me, gangly legs on the floor, boxy head with floppy ears looking out the window. At the view.

The outdoors was the best writing teacher, one that inspired Hemingway to move there, to die there. At home I pulled his books off my shelves, read stories again, read first chapters of A Moveable Feast.

All I have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence I know.

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FOOTNOTES

*A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway is memoir, travel essay, and classic collection of sketches of the author’s life in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife, Hadley Richardson. I read this as a companion book to The Paris Wife by Paula McLain; both books gave me a powerful sense of the lost generation and Hemingway, the man and the writer, fallable and human. It’s a particularly insightful book about writing and what it means to write. The title gets its name from this passage: If you are lucky enough to have lived inParis as a young man, then wherver you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. (Hemingway to a friend, 1950)

Full excerpt of opening quote from chapter, Miss Stein Instructs, p. 12. Good advice for the writer:

It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I’d had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Editions vary and this is the Scribner 1964, renewed 1992 by his three sons.

**Sun Valley Tour De Force: “The signature event of the weekend is the ‘NO SPEED LIMIT’ high speed runs at Phantom Hill. Located in the heart of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, 3.2 miles of state highway becomes a no-speed limit zone. For one day only, drivers are allowed to put their machines to the ultimate test. To date, the fastest speed on record is a Bugatti Chiron achieving 253.01mph.” (VisitSunValley.com Tour de Force)

***FOODIE HEAVEN: Grumpy’s for casual burgers, Pioneer Saloon for steak and potatoes, Ketchum’s Kitchen for whatever; to see and be seen. Knob Hill Grill for cocktails and hand-tossed pizza–bibliophiles can visit Hemingway (gravesite) next door at the Ketchum Cemetery. Java on Fourth for scones, muffins and coffee, sweet-tooths try the signature Bowl of Soul. Konditerei the Austrian Schnitzel Waffle, OMG yummy, and Artisan Grilled Cheese, delicious.

*Cycling paradise – paths throughout the valley and resort.

*Grave rubbing. I confess here at the very last of the footnotes for serious readers who’ve made it this far, that I made a grave rubbing of full name and dates. The engravings were huge and took up several sheets of copy paper and a simple pencil. You can learn more here about the increasingly common custom, though it may seem odd. I am grateful for indulgent friends who waited in the heat for me, though there was shade enough around the family plots.

Jul 29, 2023

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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