Note: Part of this post was written while in Grand Teton National Park and it was finished upon my arrival in Seattle.
As I write this I’m sitting on the deck at Dornan’s, one of my favorite spots in all of Jackson Hole. It isn’t much use trying to use words to describe the beauty of the Snake River and The Tetons in front of me because it won’t do this scene justice. Buck Mountain is staring at me wondering why I haven’t climbed it, and the south face of The Grand looms in my peripheral vision. Looking at these mountains now, I regret never having written about my experiences of my first summer here–my first rafting trip on The Snake, my climb up South Teton, celebrating my 21st birthday at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar (while having mono and not knowing it yet). But those memories still exist here. This place has gotten in my blood, and I’m confident that I’ll always be proud to say that I spent two of my college summers here.
Pictures of this place may look impressive and give a glimpse to those who haven’t “seen,” but when I drove in town on Wednesday night and made my way up into the park, these mountains looked even more majestic than I remembered. And on that drive north on the inner-park road I discovered again what it was that drew me out here that first time for the summer of 2008. Though the curves of the road are more familiar now, the exploration and discovery are not over.
As I progressed farther north toward my dinner destination at Signal Mountain Lodge, I started to get confused, wondering how it was possible that this place was more beautiful than I remember.
Last summer, after the chaos/excitement of the final weeks of college, graduation, and a trip to Zambia, I returned to Seattle and attempted to debrief it all before running off to The Tetons again for a second summer of work there. Little did I know I wouldn’t actually process many of those recent events until many months later. But a question I stumbled upon in the process, and have since continued to revisit, is: Which is better: A moment or a memory of a moment?
I’ve asked several people this, and I’ve more or less decided that it is in fact a memory that is better. But in this drive along the base of the Teton range, I felt my fragile understanding of this idea being challenged. These mountains were BETTER, BIGGER, and more DEMANDING of respect than the mountains I had talked about and remembered in the months since I last saw them in October 2009.
While the mountains were, in a way, different than I remembered, I traveled up to Jackson Lake Lodge, where I saw many familiar faces and everything was exactly as I remembered it, in full swing for another summer season. The lobby was filled with the usual suspects, the same questions were obnoxiously being asked by the tourists, and the pantry where the conventions crew assembled to receive our daily tasks smelled the same. The man-made is stale, the God-made is alive.
When my friend Brett (whose WONDERFUL wedding I attended in Jackson on Saturday) asked me how it was to be back in Jackson Hole, I could only think to respond saying that paradoxically it was exactly the same and totally different than last year. Having spent a few summers here himself and starting another one, he expressed his acknowledgment and understanding with a simple but firm nod.
So how is it that these places get inside of you? And you return and find them the same . . . but . . . different?
I don’t really understand how it is that when I arrived at Jubilee in January, I proceeded to talk to Don Mosley (who is 71-years-old but spent three summers from ages 19-21 leading the trail maintenance crews in GTNP) about the Tetons for hours… because, I guess, somehow after all these years it’s in his blood. And I don’t quite understand how it is that I obsessively talked about Seattle/Washington/The Pacific Northwest for the entire 5 months I was in the South (my apologies to all, thanks for tolerating!). . . . because this place I still call home, despite rarely ever being here, is just in my blood. It’s me. And now I’ve returned, feeling SO GLAD to be back in the Northwest where I “fit” (let’s be honest, I just wasn’t ever going to be the “done up” southern girl in a sundress), and yet I see a Georgia license plate on the interstate and I get excited. That is simply ridiculous. What was once an objective dot on the map goes from a few geographical coordinates to months’ worth of conversations and unquantifiable memories. Go figure. The next dot on the map to become my new stomping grounds? Sitka, Alaska!