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Have we lost our soul?
Mark Oliver reflects on what draws his generation back to the Wood River Valley.

Today, like many other days, I went to get the mail. As I stood at my post office box pulling out the magazines and bills hoping for a check coming my way, I overheard a man in his early 50s talking passionately to a mid-20s male about how Ketchum is in a dismal state of disrepair. He was asking the younger man what he thought of his summer experience. "Well, the music scene is terrible," the younger man said. "The art scene is lacking, and there are not too many young people." The older man replied, "Well, this place really isn't what it used to be. It has completely lost its soul."

I slipped between them to deposit a few recyclables in the receptacle they were standing over, but not without also depositing my two cents. In moments like these I feel I need to defend the place I love and have called home my whole life. I dropped the items and said, "I have to disagree completely."

They looked at me like I was crazy. The older man took a moment, his tone got sharper and his decibels grew as he said. "And where are you from? Did you grow up here?" "Yes," I replied. He then told me how he had lived here 30 years, and how people don't smile here anymore, how hard it is to find a woman here, especially because of how "androgynous" they all look. He said the young people are worthless and don't contribute to the community the way his generation and the one before him did. He said this place had lost everything that once made it great. After he finished his rant he looked to me, and I told him I had to disagree on just about everything he just said.

While the landscape of our town has changed, and I will admit there was a time we lost ourselves and that we have seen ups and downs, I believe our integrity has yet to be fully taken from us in the form of a Wal-Mart or McDonald's. I disagreed on the lack of smiling happy people outright. I live in town and ride my bike everywhere. If two minutes go by and there is not a friendly horn honking or someone waving, that is a surprise. It is kind of uncanny how happy I find this place.

I do agree that dating here is hard. The man told me, "Don't wait until you are my age to be single here." I chuckled inside, as I really hope not to be. He also said all the men here are boys. Maybe so. I've heard women talk about the "Peter Pan syndrome." It is common. Maybe I have it. Do we make trade-offs? Sure. Are we boys? Maybe. Do we anger girlfriends when we would rather be fishing or skateboarding, or hunting? I know we do. Do we have passion? Absolutely. I would wager it is better to have someone with passion who is gone sometimes, than someone without and on the couch all the time.

The man seemed to think none of us had paid our dues, that the young community here is not building a community like he did. I differ on this. I see people building great things, organizing great events to complement what is already here. I will admit we still have work to do, but over the years I have personally beaten the ground with my community of skateboarders to build two world-class skate parks. I have seen two bike pump parks go in and two flow trails. I have watched a young community of mountain bikers help turn a ski mountain into a mountain bike destination, creating recreation here that could possibly rival winter's. I have watched young bands put on shows in town squares, parks and on the backs of trailers, all for free and for the love of sharing what they have. I have watched a community of artists come together. Death to Day Jobs put an exclamation point on art that says there is a community of young artists here and to pay attention; they are that good.

Remember, us young people have it a little different than most of our older neighbors. Many of us are ending up here out of college, many not sure what to do. Remember when everyone told us, "You must go to college if you want a good job"? Guess what? There are not as many real-life jobs in our world and a degree does not necessarily mean a job. But I have witnessed friends end up in amazing jobs here, opportunity exists here. I've watched in awe as my contemporaries step up in local government and leadership positions. I believe it is all working toward building this place. It is amazing and it will be amazing.

Have we lost our soul? Should we jump ship and move on? Sure, there are always greener pastures. But look at where we live, look intrinsically. Is the problem where you are, or who you are? Is it being discontented with yourself or your situation? I say keep moving forward and take advantage of what you have in your backyard or local park, gallery, community! I feel that if we are always moving forward and taking advantage, then we can stay happy. I assume my 50-something post office buddy is stagnant, he has stopped taking advantage of what he has. If that happened to me, I bet this town would look like a dismal place void of soul, smiles, and good women. I hope that wherever I end up I do not feel this terrible about it. But I know this, until I leave here or die, I am going to keep being a contributor to my community and myself. I will help keep the soul.
A version of this essay appeared on Facebook.