It’s over. The last gasp has gasped. It is no more. That three-minute walking commute to work, that view of mountains across the road, the open space, that simplicity of life (eat, work, hike, socialize, sleep), the predictability, and also, the freedom. The nearly five months of mountain living in Grand Teton National Park has ceased. I’ve returned home—to my Minneapolis home. Where everything now is unpredictable, and yet, eerily, the same.
When the lodge closed its doors on the 2011 season on that Sunday morning, it was as I’d hoped and predicted: it was out of my system, I was eager (really) to move on. Indeed, the third time was the charm.
There’s always a flurry of activity at the end of the season, breaking down the lodge and the cabins, getting them ready to safely withstand the long and snowy Wyoming winter. Then there is packing up and cleaning our own cabins, where I discovered how much more stuff I had in my little space than meets the eye. And then there were the good-byes, which, in the age of Facebook, have been made a little easier; that, and feeling that I have made friendships that will withstand the miles. I did not break down in sobs like I did the first year.
I dawdled on my way home, waking up that first morning in the comfortable guest room of a friend who lives near the town of Jackson, WY. Lying in bed, I opened my eyes to the first rays of sun hitting the snow-dusted mountains. There was no going back to sleep with that show happening through the window.
Then there were two precious nights with the lovely man who has kept my attention for the past two seasons, followed by a very fun weekend with a girlfriend who shared my most audacious exploits over 30 years ago. As I drove away from her house in Boise, Idaho, my Western adventure came to an end.
Driving north in Idaho toward Montana, the backside of the whole snowy Teton range appeared in the distance. Jaw-dropping. Gorgeous. And as I passed an exit sign for Jackson, WY, my heart seized with longing.
My antidote to moments like these is a list I devised of things I will NOT miss:
- Walking to the bathhouse in the rain or in the middle of the night (or both at the same time)
- Crappy food in the employee dining room (although there were some very good meals and an always-ready supply of ice cream)
- Sharing my bedroom (well, that wasn’t terrible), but the quarters were close and there was little privacy
- Witnessing a long marriage dissolve
- Seeing drunk and/or stoned people show up for work
- Clueless tourists (I couldn’t possibly give out another hiking map)
- Thinking my experience is an asset when the inference is otherwise (hard on the spirit)
It doesn’t matter so much what I do miss. That list is kept in memory and it pops up, usually in my dreams, where mountains, sagebrush and the faces of certain guests make fairly regular appearances.
The ride home on that wide-open Interstate across Montana and North Dakota was my transition—CDs, radio, dreams, all diversions for what lie ahead.
Now my attention is set on some new chapter—the first piece of which has yet to fall into place. Keeping my goal simple (and therefore quickly attainable), what I do know is that I will work at a job that offers healthcare benefits. In a fragile economy, how long will it take for a 57-year-old woman, with years of self-employment and a little off-roading (metaphorically speaking) in a national park, to get hired? Here’s my self-induced pep talk: “the past is no predictor of future occurrences” (to borrow a phrase from my investment literature), and anything can happen.
Sounds like a different kind of adventure. Starting now.
My on-the-road soundtrack: 8 Hour Drive by Lynn Miles