NEITHER George Bush nor Michael Dukakis is likely to hit Smiley Creek during the presidential campaign. But in their preoccupation with the big cities and industrial states rich with voters, it would be well if they did not forget the character, the quality, the values, of small-town and rural America. Smiley Creek is a blip on Route 75 through Idaho which would probably be dismissed by many as a one-horse town. That's an exaggeration, because it doesn't even have a horse and it's certainly not a town. It does have a friendly black dog, a couple of ginger kittens, a campground, a dozen or so cabins for summer visitors, and a store with gas pumps that closes in winter.
Smiley Creek is surrounded by some of the grandest scenery in the world. It is snuggled in Stanley Basin, a broad and open valley through which meanders the Salmon River, and from which the Sawtooth Mountains, caressed by crisp sunshine, extend their jagged tips into a blue sky.
The nearest ``town'' is Stanley (pop., 99), 19 miles down the road. In the other direction is the glitzy Sun Valley ski resort and near to it Ketchum, where Ernest Hemingway lived in his last days, although a good many of them, it appears, were spent in Sun Valley, hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities. But Sun Valley is artificial and alien to Smiley Creek, and anyway the road to it lies over the soaring Galena Pass, which is often blocked by winter snow.
Smiley Creek is more concerned with ranching, fishing, elk, antelope, and bear. Outside the little store stands a 12-foot papier-m^ach'e statue of a bear, standing on its back legs and clutching in its front paws a good-size salmon. Bears are treated with respect around here, and there's a lot of local lore about how to handle them. If you're hiking, whistle and make a lot of noise. It's a good idea not to surprise a grizzly. If you run afoul of one that is less than cordial, look for a tree. Make it a sturdy one. There's a myth that bears don't climb trees. They don't need to. A full-grown bear who wants something in a tree just shakes it out.
The store is the center of this community, and it has a lunch counter where eggs and wisdom are dispensed. For sale are fishhooks, mousetraps, insect repellent, groceries, and camping gear. You can get a hunting and fishing license here, or a ticket to the local quilt festival. The men wear cowboy hats or caps bearing the names of tractor companies and have the far-off look of men who spend time in the open, dwarfed by the grandeur of the scenery around them. They are not desperate for the latest news out of Washington. A few copies of the paper from Boise come in around noon. Nobody seems much concerned with the black-and-white TV set in the corner.
We spent a few blissful days here during the Republican convention in a cabin without telephone, radio, or television. We hiked down to the store to see if anybody would mind if we watched a bit of the convention on the final night. ``Don't see why not,'' said the girl behind the counter. Then: ``What convention is that?'' We had the TV to ourselves.
Two days passed before we found out whom Mr. Bush had picked for his running mate. We could probably have survived a little longer without knowing.
But if folks out here have a different perspective on events in politics and Washington, and are not seized with a news junky's fervor, don't dismiss them. They are shrewd and thoughtful. They are without artifice, but quick to detect it in others. The harsh winters make them tough. The economics of farming in Idaho, where many farmers have gone bankrupt, make them skeptical. The openness of the glorious terrain makes them independent.
Messrs. Bush and Dukakis, please note.