Stephen Hartgen

Stephen Hartgen

Seems like every news account these days begins with “We all know how stressful a year this has been.” Yep, for sure. Coronavirus. Presidential election. Cooped up in the house. Can’t go to town or to a restaurant. Can’t see the grandkids, nor friends.

In some places, you’re not even supposed to go to church. How can expressions of faith not be “essential”?

And yet we have much to be thankful for, not the least of which is this bountiful sun-lit valley on a cold November morning, the fog settled in the canyons, ducks and geese circling. It is indeed a glorious Creation.

For the past seven years, since 2013, I’ve walked with the help of a cane, the result of a viral infection that has affected my balance and limited my mobility, but not my mind.

I don’t think of myself as disabled or impaired in any way. People who know me joke that I only use the cane to keep me from leaning too far to the political right. Yeah, well maybe.

I’ve lived in Southern Idaho almost 40 years now, and while not a perfect place, the Magic Valley has mostly been a delight. The physical landscape is immense and the people mostly kind, generous and hard-working. It reflects the way America generally was two generations ago before the country was overrun by near-constant discord of political correctness and identity politics.

Here, we’re still a valley of families, faith, farms, ranches, quiet towns and a shared base of conservative cultural values. How rare and special is that?

I have two new books out on the culture of Southern Idaho life, and am working on yet another. This valley doesn’t get written about very much, so I’m doing what I can to correct that.

But none of this is as important as family, place and remembrance, living here in this magnificent rural valley, a land of freedom, energy and progress. Linda and I have five children between us and a passel of grandkids as well, rambunctious, curious, verbal, loving, all out to make something of themselves in this world. There’s plenty to be thankful for just in that.

In my spare time, such as it is, I love to read American history. I particularly favor accounts of the American West, its rich legends and vigorous settlement, the courage and determination of its people in this vast and enduring landscape.

It is the Magic Valley story that is a major theme of my books, as well as the Idaho story and the American story of this great country. How can we not be thankful for that?

No one knows when we may be summoned to a distant trout stream, when one’s spirit returns unto God, who gave it. In any case, I have many blessings and almost no regrets. Looking back, I have been given much for which to be grateful:

— A childhood of delightful memories in a safe and warm place on the edge of a deep, natural forest, a lens through which I have seen the world in most every circumstance.

— Loving parents whose own efforts made the world a better place for those around them, a mother who helped others with sympathy and grace and a father who in his own art and teaching, opened people’s eyes to the world of beauty and human ennoblement.

— An education at schools better than I had any right to attend and from which I was able to extract some, if not all, of what they had to offer, sometimes in counterpoint.

— A life of the mind developed from an early age, nurtured by parents and then by myself in quiet hours and moments, overcoming each day’s hustings.

— A long search in a career and then a settling in what seems “God’s country” of the West in the presence of daily beauty, the flow of crystalline water, the crisp green of spring farms and high summer range.

— The blessing to live in the best region, of the best state, of the best nation on the planet, in freedom and opportunity, where love of country abounds. These traits are not incidental; they stem from our heritage, our community, faiths, family structure and community. All of these have been denigrated in modern life and we are the poorer for it.

— A flowering of family warmth and love and a spouse whose dedication to the “us” of our marriage and to faith grows as we age.

— A renewal in my 60s and now 70s of public service and involvement, through both public office and appreciation of my community to help our valley, state and nation be a better place for generations ahead.

— Reasonably good health, despite setbacks and conditions. Yes, I have chronic ailments, but so do many others. So what? Scripture tells us to be constantly ready, as we cannot know the hour of the calling. That’s good advice.

But sometimes, we forget how thankful we should be for what we have been given. This is a good week to be thankful for all those blessings.

Stephen Hartgen of Twin Falls is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.