By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
One of the joys of a long car trip is passing through towns that are barely on the map. Such was the case on our journey up to Sun Valley, Idaho when we stopped for the night in Ely, Nevada. Where, you ask? Ely (pronounced EE-LEE) is smack dab in the middle of nowhere. It is in the eastern part of the state on State Route 93, exactly 250 miles north of Las Vegas and 250 miles south of Twin Falls, Idaho. This was not our first stop in Ely…it happens to be just a bit past the mid-point from our home up to Sun Valley so it’s a good place to rest for the night. “Rest” being a relative term.
The nicest hotel in town is a La Quinta Inn that was built about five years ago. It is pretty much what you would expect from a La Quinta – the bare minimum of furniture in the room, cold bagels for breakfast, and people slamming doors at 2 am. This trip we were delighted by people across the hall who left their baying hound alone in the room for five hours. There are several casinos in town where, we assumed, the dog’s owners were on a hot streak.
However, as I stated at the beginning, I find a particular joy in going through small towns. Having grown up in a town where everyone knew everyone else, I find it comforting to know that such places still exist. A habit I picked up years ago is buying the local newspaper to get a flavor of what life is like in these small burbs. In Ely, the local paper is called The Ely Times. Clearly they didn’t spend a lot of time coming up with a catchy name. On the other hand, I think simplicity is key in Ely. My brother, Bob, has the same fascination with small town papers and we obviously came to that trait naturally since our parents owned our small town paper, the Novato Advance. Or The Retreat, as some people took to calling it.
Regardless, the name of this blog is a tribute to a column that our mother wrote each week, “A Bird’s Eye View”, in which she regaled people with stories about local activities. Her riveting articles chronicled such highlights as “Mr. and Mrs. Tresch went into San Francisco for lunch on Thursday where they enjoyed a crab salad at Aliotos” or “Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Smith entertained their cousins from Modesto last week”.
So it was with some interest that I opened the Ely Times to see what constituted news in this small town of 4200 people. Here were some of the major stories:
- “The City Treasurer has been placed on a 90 day review for insubordination. The Mayor asked her not to write a check to the Fire Chief, but she ignored his orders, asked the opinion of another council member, and then went ahead and wrote the check anyway.”
- “Mrs. Zelma Brown died in February but the town will be celebrating her life at a memorial to be held at the Pool Park next Saturday. Refreshments will be served but seating is limited so bring along a chair for yourself.“
- “The Ruth Mining Days competitions will be held on June 21. There will be a mill ball toss, rock hammer toss, tire roll and a tug-of-war over mud. In addition, we will hold the annual Adult Mucking Competition.”
Mucking competition??? I thought that was a skill held by scrappy newspaper reporters trying to “get the goods” on corrupt politicians. But, being the intrepid reporter that I am, I did a little research and discovered this is a very serious competition, conceived to keep old-fashioned mining techniques alive. There are seven events in the competition: Jackleg drilling, gold panning, hand mucking, hand steeling, timber sawing, surveying and track stand. Points are assigned in each event and the lowest cumulative score at the end of all seven events is the overall winner. I guess it’s sort of the decathlon of mining.
I was sorry that we had to miss all of the festivities…I’ve never been one to pass up a good mill ball toss. Driving out of town the next morning we passed the new Dialysis Center. I recalled there was an article in the paper about the local quilting guild that donated dozens of quilts for the comfort of the patients undergoing treatment there. In Ely, if someone is in need, there is someone to help out.
I’m not sure I could live in a town that small again; I’ve grown accustomed to Costco, Starbucks and high-speed internet. But I envy these people in ways that others envy the Kardashians. They live life simply, they take care of their neighbors, and the only muckraking they care about has nothing to do with politicians. I think they’re pretty darn lucky to live in Ely.