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Basque-ing In The Valley

Sun Valley city staffer has a literary side gig

By Eric Valentine

The cover of Sun Valley Serenade, a mystery novel set in the Wood River Valley. Image credit: Bryce Ternet

Next time you’re hiking or snowshoeing the Valley’s trails, pay close attention to the trees. That’s what Sun Valley community development director Bryce Ternet had done for years. His newly released book—Sun Valley Serenade—is the result.

Sun Valley Serenade is a work of fiction—a mystery novel—based on some very real Idaho history. Specifically, it’s about the arborglyphs drawn into the Valley’s trees, predominantly by the early Basque people who settled here. Arborglyphs are carvings into the bark of trees, depicting everything from Basque-region town names to flocks of sheep to nude women.

“It’s graffiti in a way, but it’s historical,” Ternet said.

The arborglyphs inspired Ternet to develop a story about an old, unsolved mystery whose secret was carved into the trees. The story combines three time periods all tied somehow to one Basque-American family, starting with a sheepherding immigrant in the 1880s and carrying over to a Basque boarding house in Hailey circa 1930. Since moving to the Valley a little over three years ago, Ternet collaborated with Professor John Bieter, who specializes in Basque-American history and affairs at Boise State University, on searching for and recording Basque arborglyphs in the region.

The novel by Ternet and the work by Bieter are important because the arborglyphs won’t last forever. Already, Ternet said, many arborglyphs have been destroyed by age and by fire. It’s a matter of time before none will exist. In part, that’s where the book derives its title.

“It just works for this story as it is, in a way, my own love song to Sun Valley and the general Valley area,” Ternet, a member of the Hailey Arts and Historic Preservation Committee, said.

Ternet’s History

So how does a West Coast transplant and history buff end up writing a book of fiction about central Idaho? In part, it’s thanks to the decade Ternet spent in California, specifically in Monterey—the setting of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, where Ternet had worked for a time.

Bryce Ternet has long enjoyed the Valley landscape. Now he’s written a mystery novel about it. Photo credit: Bryce Ternet

“I lived in an area where its history was connected to famous literature,” Ternet observed. “My interest in Basque culture goes back to when I was in high school and was an exchange student in the French Basque Country,” he added.

After going to university in Montana, Ternet became even more fascinated with mountainous landscapes.

“My wife, Renata, and I used to come to Sun Valley for Thanksgiving when we lived in the Seattle area,” Ternet said. “We always thought this would be a nice place to live.”

And then, like a plot twist in a novel, his current position with the City of Sun Valley opened up.

In that position, Ternet has used his appreciation for history when evaluating development projects. When the city approved the demolition of the Moritz building, which served as one of two hospitals in the Wood River Valley from the time it was built in 1961 until 2000, Ternet proposed that the resort erect a plaque on the premises detailing the historical significance of the site, which was named after Dr. John Moritz, Sun Valley Resort’s first year-round physician. The city declined to make that a condition of the permit.

Ternet’s Future

Ternet’s book is self-published and available on Amazon and at the Basque Museum gift shop in Boise for purchase. He doesn’t currently have any specific promotional plans, but said he’d be looking into local radio interviews and library talks.

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