Editor’s note: This posting was authored by Pat Ford. Many years ago, Pat served as the executive director of ICL. Most recently, he was the executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Pat lives in Boise, Idaho, and periodically contributes to the ICL blog.
Richard Shelton, a writer and teacher who lives in Arizona, grew up in Depression, war and post-war Boise. In 2000, back for his brother’s funeral, he drives through vastly changed terrain with a 50-year old instinct for where he is and needs to head. And thinks:
"In spite of the fact that this valley was named Treasure Valley by the developers or politicians or somebody, it has not been treasured. Much of it has been trashed, and nowhere more than right here."
"Right here" is now Chinden Boulevard and Garden City (next to Boise). He knows it as Chinese Gardens:
"We had always taken the Chinese Gardens for granted, the way we did the river or the foothills. Acre after acre of immaculate gardens: lettuce, cabbage, radishes, onions, garlic, potatoes, turnips, peas, beans, beets, herbs of all kinds, carrots, spinach, squash, tomatoes, and on and on. Brilliant green fields laid out in well-tended rows that seemed inevitable. The Chinese gardeners peddled their produce down the alleys and streets of Boise in ancient Model T pickup trucks that often listed to one side. A truck would stop on a neighborhood street or alley in the shade of a big walnut or maple or elm, and the housewives would flock to it…. I remember a truck near our house completely surrounded by women, many of them with baskets or bags in which to carry home their fresh vegetables. The truck created a break for them, a chance to visit with neighbors and exchange news or gossip."
He says Chinese Gardens lasted eighty years, until a realtor cornered most of the land. His brief account of what happened then-Garden City-is unsparing, and concludes:
"Gambling was outlawed again in Idaho in the mid-1950s, and Garden City subsided into a quiet stretch of wreckage. Hell after the fire went out. The people who stood to gain by it had gained. The Chinese who once cultivated the land were gone. The landscape had been destroyed."
I bet most Boiseans don’t know. I didn’t. My younger daughter loves to grow food, backyard and farm. I imagine her imagining herself in Chinese Gardens, and in a Boise that still had it. Just think if we did have it, of course changed, but with the character of growing large amounts of local food and gathering people.
Unsparingly is how to assess a loss like this. Old people see ghosts and ghost landscapes that are so palpable. My sharpest in Boise is the reach of valley from Warm Springs to Lucky Peak-unobstructed, lovely and connective when I first came here, now a hash-in-progress whose remnant graces are pinched, thinned, and slotted. As I am pinched: over hundreds of drives and bikes through Garden City, I don’t recall once having the imagination to look through to the land below, its place and aspect, and think "I wonder…."
Mr. Shelton’s words are from his new book, Nobody Rich or Famous.