A MOUNTAIN LOVE AFFAIR, CHAPTER 7 EBB AND FLOW OF LIFE

Posted by on Jun 23, 2012 in a mountain love affair, jackson hole, wyoming | 0 comments

DROPPED IN FOR TEA

 

CHAPTER 7

EBB AND FLOW OF LIFE

A few years after we moved from San Diego to Jackson Hole, my Mom and Dad became ill. Out of necessity, we moved them to Jackson.  Dad had a Parkinson’s disease and had suffered a severe heart attack.  While I was in San Diego caring for my father after his heart attack, my mother was diagnosed with bone cancer.  They needed care.  They needed me.

My mother grew up on a dry land farm close to the Canadian border in Montana.  When I asked her about leaving her beloved friends, home and garden in San Diego to move to cold, lonely Jackson Hole, she answered with a surprise.  “Why, here I thought I was just going to grow old and die in this house and now I have a whole new adventure.”  That was my Mom.  I smile often when I think of her tenacity, cheerfulness and drive.  I smile when I see those qualities in her granddaughters and great granddaughter.  Time moves on but the past rides gently on our shoulders.

I will never be sure moving my parents from San Diego to Jackson was the best thing, but it was the only thing.  We found them a condo with a Teton view close to where we lived while we built our home by the Snake River.  After a couple years in the condo, my parents decided they needed a larger home.  Upon hearing that news, I left their house distraught; sure I would never find them a suitable home.   The criteria were too many, one story, close to our home, the right price, not too large, a view of the Tetons, few stair steps.  It seemed unlikely in this area of few homes and much open, hostile space.

I did find a house.  It sits boldly on the flats.  Houses on the sagebrush flats look as if they would easily blow away in the ferocious winter winds. They don’t belong there.  There is no anchor to hold them to the sparse rocky soil.  This land belongs to sagebrush and small fragile flowers that manage a fleeting appearance, peaking from under melting snow in the spring and defiantly proclaiming their right to the sun in summer.  This land belongs to moving animals and whistling wind.  Migrating elk herds, bison and lonely moose forage out their uncertain existence.  The arrogant permanence of a stationary object seems inappropriate, a conflict, an invitation to ruin.

Most buildings in the Teton Valley area appear insecure in place and in time.  Modern conveniences and utilities are fragile against frigid temperatures and implacable wind.  My uncle told of one winter in the late 1970’s when the temperature sank below 65 degrees below Fahrenheit and held there for days.  Electrical wires snapped in the harsh winds. Electricity was out for days.  My family members burned all the firewood they had available.  Residents people who were trapped in the cold, went to homes vacated for the winter and borrowed all the wood they could find.  The next thing on the list to burn was the furniture.  It was the only hope they had to stay alive.  My mind always turns to settlers during the late 1800’s and 1900’s when I hear these stories.  I wonder at how long the winters must have been, how isolating and how lonely.  Yet, stories written by early settlers ring with barn dances and friendly visits with neighbors during dark winter months.  People, like the mountains, survive.

Against the permanent roar of the Teton peaks, nothing looks stable.  Massive bison bodies with their thick chests and powerful heads become fragile under a mantle of heavy, thick snow.  Their girth and mass look diminish under swirling snow and stinging ice.  Nothing is permanent, nothing is stable, nothing but the distance and the time.

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A MOUNTAIN LOVE AFFAIR; CHAPTER 5 THE PERFECT DAY

Posted by on May 29, 2012 in a mountain love affair, jackson hole, my day, personal, wyoming | 0 comments

 

One of the neighbors

 

My hiking buddies and I try to take the cross country skis and go somewhere every day.  Just GO!!  Up hills, down hills in and out of the trees we ski. Snow covers our hats, our goggles.  We are red, or blue, or yellow mounds under clumpy snow.  Moving silently, gliding effortlessly.  Silky, hypnotic swish of snow under the skis, loose repetitive movement, right, left, arm, leg muscles tensing releasing.  We are part of the snow, part of the air, part of the forest, part of the mountains, part of life.  We pass elk and moose. They are busy breaking though snow and ice for what food they can find and pay little heed.

All winter we gaze fondly up into the snow clad canyons of the Teton Range.  There is Cascade Canyon, Death Canyon, there, the ascent to Amphitheatre Lake.  The mountains are chiseled, rough shadows and light accents. But, in our minds we see last summer.  We see the sparkling waters of alpine lakes.  Sometimes a trout reaches out of the water for an insect.  We stop and watch as he splashes back into the deep dark lake.  Concentric circles float out from his entrance.  We imagine his dark, cold beautiful world and smile.

Flower lined paths and sunlit peaks are irresistible.  We picture the canyons and trails in their summer dress.  There is no passage into these formidable areas during the winter months.  Snowshoes and skis will take us only so far into the deep, dark winter canyons.  Our gear keeps us from sinking to our eyes in soft, icy, treacherous snow, but the days are short and we are slow on our clunky snow shoes and long skis.  We will wait for summer to climb high on our beloved, ancient paths.

And summer comes, and summer is glorious.  It can be July before enough snow is off the trails to climb to the higher elevations.  Now we can reach our favorite summer spots.  Eight miles and a half up Death Canyon is the perfect lunch rock.    Six vertical miles of switch backs takes one to Amphitheater Lake. Sometimes, even deep in summer, we climb steep cliffs above the lake and traverse to a still snowy spot.  Then we slip, slide, ride the snow to the rocky, flower clad shores around the lake.  Not too far.  The lake is icy.  Hard core kids carry their gear miles into the mountains to ski the summer snow.  We are more sedate.

One year we watched a bear, high in one of the pines trees, breaking off branches and tossing them to the ground where he later extracted the juicy pine nuts.  He has only a few summer months to fatten up for winter.  It is a big job.  He is noisy and aggressive.  We watch, smiling as we eat our lunch.   Alpine lake to the right, bear to the left, six hours hike back to the car.  It is a good day.

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A MOUNTAIN LOVE AFFAIR; CHAPTER 4, GETTING STARTED

Posted by on May 25, 2012 in a mountain love affair, jackson hole, my day, personal, wyoming | 0 comments

Moon over Tetons

CHAPTER 4

GETTING SETTLED

On our property by the Snake River, we often saw little black bears, elk and moose.  We lived in there for five years.  We didn’t keep that wonderful spot.  Everything changes.  We traded our home in the trees for a lovely place on the flats with a view of the Tetons.  The new place was still surrounded by Teton Park land but more in the open.  A magnificent view of the Grand made up for some of the loss.  I thought moving away from the Snake River, even the short  two miles, would kill me.   I am more resilient than I had thought.

Many people warned me that until we had been in Jackson for three winters, locals would not invest a lot of time in us.  If you can survive three winters you might stay, but chances are, the winter weather and hardship will be too much and off you will run.   Better not to invest time in someone who is transient.  We stayed.  I can now count some incredible people as my friends.

Winters in Jackson Hole are brittle and beautiful.   Thirty degrees below zero is commonplace but fifty and sixty degrees below zero are not a surprise.   At those temperatures skin freezes after only a few minutes contact with the air.  I learned my most basic lesson early on.  There is no bad weather, just bad gear.  At thirty below we take our cross-country gear and head for Teton Park.  There were many times when the day trek turned into a grueling marathon, whipped by frozen winds and slow snow.  The only thing worse would be to stay inside.  We loved it.

Winter trees and bushes in the Teton Valley are wooly, sparkly.  Snow wrapped and ice incased, they rise out of their surrounding white mounds like giant ice sickles.  Hoar frost clings to spindly branches giving leafless trees and bushes depth and bulk they do not exhibit in their lighter, summer garb.  At twenty below zero, the scant humidity in Jackson’s frigid air freezes so that showers of ice diamonds drift slowly in the frozen air or sting spitefully when the breeze quickens.

There is no color in the frigid winter months.  Everything is white and shades of grey or black.  Dark and imposing, the Tetons loom above the Snake River, snarled in snow.  Shadowy grey, skeletal trees cling lifelessly to frosty white snow.  Here and there a loan bush shows bravely above sharp, icy drifts.  It will be covered soon. Wind whips and swirls the snow until all is white, and quiet.  Quiet.  The silence is like a wet, soft towel.  Nothing moves, all is frozen, rigid, stark.  It is beautiful.

My car in winter is stocked like a Mormon cupboard.  A flashlight, a shovel, extra gloves, a pair of boots, a sleeping bag, water, food all are necessities.  A trip to the grocery store could end badly and there is no guarantee of rescue in a blizzard.   If any of us should pass a car stuck in a bank of snow or hanging precariously to the edge of the road, we stop.  My teenage girls stop often to pull a neighbor or visitor from a snow bank.  We must.  Another car may not come along for a very long time and life is uncertain in the winter.

On the perfect winter day in the Tetons, it is snowing and about 20 degrees.  Too warm, and the snow gets sticky and then sloggy.  A bit colder is fine when there is sun and little or no wind, but at around 20 below zero it is getting cold enough that removing gloves and goggles is uncomfortable.  I found wearing a liner glove worked to keep my skin from freezing while I quickly ate a sandwich or fixed a frozen ski binding.  We burn so many calories that we learn to wear less clothing and to carry an extra layer in our packs in case we must stop long enough that we cool off.  It is best to keep moving.  Two hours or eight, it is best to keep moving.

 

 

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A MOUNTAIN LOVE AFFAIR CHAPTER 2 ADJUSTMENTS

Posted by on May 19, 2012 in a mountain love affair, jackson hole, personal, wyoming | 0 comments

Jackson home in the trees

CHAPTER 2

ADJUSTMENTS

 

One morning, before the house was built; I went down to the property to feed the horse and was attacked by a moose.  Welcome to Wyoming, city gal!!  Face to face across a narrow dirt drive, Mamma and I came eye to eye, or eye to chest.  She was big.  As Mamma flattened her ears against her head, I dropped the flake of hay I had taken out for my horse, and ran to the two horse trailer parked in a small clearing.  I barely got the door closed, before the snorting, angry moose hit the trailer.  Noisily, she expressed her rage, as my darling dog did his best to distract her from the trailer. For the only time in his life, Sunshine showed protective instincts and refused to get into the trailer with me.  Either that or he wished to play.  He was used to playing with the horse.  That probably saved his life.  The quarrelsome gal held me captive and terrified in the horse trailer until my cries for help alerted a construction crew building our neighbors’ house a quarter mile away.

The next spring, Mamma Moose, now the mother of a day old baby, brought her small one around to show to Doug.  Proud Mama, tike in tow, walked smugly up to Doug, close enough that he could have touched her baby.  Mamma stayed a few minutes and then took baby off into the trees. She had tried to kill me a few months earlier.  My feelings are still shredded!  Animals love Doug.  There is no point in being jealous.

Since that day, I have seen many, many moose while I was hiking and skiing.  Not one has charged me since that first encounter, but I am cautious.  I am much more wary around moose than I am around black bear.  Grizzlies are a different matter.  We are very careful around them.  On summer hikes, miles up the narrow, rocky canyons of the Teton Range, we see griz, scratching trunks for insects or wallowing in calm shallows of rushing streams.  We are lucky.  Not one has ever shown any interest in us.

 

 

 

 

 

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A MOUNTAIN LOVE AFFAIR, Prologue and Chapter 1

Posted by on May 18, 2012 in a mountain love affair, jackson hole, my day, personal, wyoming | 2 comments

LIVING IN JACKSON HOLE

 

Prologue

 

 

It’s been a journey this leaving and coming back, San Diego to Wyoming, Wyoming to San Diego.  Wyoming has changed me, or is it just the time that made this alteration?   I left careers, parents, friends and secure ties to forged new skills, friends and outlooks.  Does the place we live make us who we are?

 

We left San Diego for Jackson Hole, Wyoming when our kids were about 9 and 14.  Daughter #1 was entering High School, Daughter #2, third grade.  They are both married now.  Daughter #1 has a 10 year old daughter.  She and her husband chose San Diego.  Daughter #2 and her husband chose Missoula, Mt.  The younger daughter had more formative years in the mountains.  That changes one, I think.

 

CHAPTER 1

LOVE AFFAIR

How I love the mountains of Western Wyoming.  Young and jagged, the ice, snow, rain and wind have not had enough years to wear them smooth and soft.   The mountains rise abruptly from the plains and dash heedlessly towards the sky.  All sharp peaks and steep assents, the Tetons are beautiful with youth’s cruelty and nonchalance.   There is no understanding or compassion.  Caring for these peaks and canyons is like loving a small child.  They are egocentric, selfish and greedy.  Time with them is time on their terms.   Alpine skiing in the Tetons, at first feels like free falling, and then, like falling in love.

I thought leaving the Tetons would break my heart.  It didn’t, however the song of those rugged mountains cling to the edges of my day.  Times change, places change, friendships change, we change, but where we spend time molds our edges.  We bought four and a half acres a quarter mile or so from the meandering Snake River.  To reach this land we drive through part of Teton National Park.  It is high desert, rough with sage.  This is elk and bison territory.  To reach our property, we drop down towards the Snake River where the terrain and foliage abruptly changes from sagebrush to spruce trees.  Bison do not spend much time in the river bottom.  Elk bear and moose do.

Dirt road, heavily treed, a spring and a pond.  Owls, moose, elk and bear, it is heaven. This land has a pond where an ermine lives.  White in the winter, brown in the summer, he is a magical, changeable creature.   We built a house on that land ourselves.  A new experience, but really not so different from building two boats and remodeling a house.  Compromise and understand.  Compromise and understand.

 

 

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