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.