After our hike in the Sawtooth Wilderness, which proved a little more hardcore than perhaps was advisable, we enjoyed a rest day in Sun Valley. It was the Fourth of July – a rare opportunity to celebrate this most American of holidays on American soil, only the third time we have been able to do so (out of eight potential Independence Day celebrations) since D joined the State Department.
While the Grand Tetons get top billing, we found Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains not only every bit as spectacular, but also much more sparsely frequented. Whereas the Tetons were swarming with visitors, we did not see more than a couple dozen people on the trail in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Our first hike there – a five-mile ascent to the Wilderness’ eponymous lake – proved the most memorable of our home leave adventures.
Since returning home from Kigali, we had been in a state of limbo. Naturally, we took advantage of D’s home leave to go exploring out west, but S was forced to cut her travels short, returning to DC for the start of her Foreign Service Orientation. The opaqueness of the assignments process and the temporary lodging she took up in Virginia while D stayed out west only served to further underscore the sense of suspense and uncertainty. Should we settle in and get comfortable? Or would DC serve as but a brief stopover before our next overseas destination? Until Flag Day, it was impossible to tell.
The most highly anticipated day of S’s training came and went in a flash of nervous apprehension and high-energy excitement. With parents, spouses, children, and friends crowded into a big auditorium at the Foreign Service Institute, the entire Flag Day ceremony lasted barely half an hour. A few speeches were made, which were greeted alternatively with big cheers and nervous titters. Then the first flag flashed on the big screen, and the rest of the ceremony raced by in an exuberant blur.
Flag Day – the exhilarating, nerve-wrecking, and slightly ridiculous ceremony in which new Foreign Service Officers’ first assignments are revealed – is almost upon us. On Friday S will learn her fate along with that of her 81 classmates, and we will start laying the groundwork for our next overseas move. Assignments are typically finalized a couple of weeks ahead of Flag Day, making the wait for the grand reveal all the more excruciating. Yet compared to the long, tortuous path leading up to this moment, the next five days will last little more than the blink of an eye.
Given the upheaval of the last few months – the move from Kigali, the jet lag-plagued road trip out West, a stint in a temporary apartment in Virginia, and another move, this time to a more permanent abode in the District – it comes as no surprise that our kids’ clinginess level has spiked.
The mere sight of snow-capped peaks sets D’s heart aflutter, and the Tetons are quite spectacular as far as American mountain ranges go. There are myriad lakes and streams criss-crossing the valley beneath the peaks. On a clear morning – when the water’s surface is undisturbed by kayakers or paddle boarders – it is possible to capture the mountains’ reflection at one of the dozen turnouts along the main road that runs north from Jackson alongside the Snake River.
As with our previous trips out West, one of the biggest highlights of exploring the great American wild is the opportunity to get up close and personal with the wild animals that call it home. We saw plenty of mule deer, prongorn, and smaller animals (rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks), and quite a few of the woods’ larger mammals. S and Junebug even had a terrifyingly close encounter with a bear.
Now that we have settled into DC, the time has come to let the cat out of the bag. Our big news – which has been several years in the making – is that S also joined the State Department. She started training several weeks ago and will get sworn in along with the newest crop of America’s diplomats next month.