One thing I absolutely love and despise about being a twenty year old, is love. It’s that hopeless romanticism that plagues my existence, sometimes blurring the lines on my judgment and reason. It’s the ability to fall in love with everything and everyone at the drop of a hat, without even meaning to sometimes. It can be triggered with a sight as simple as the light falling upon a building in just the right moment, rendering you breathless and pained by the beauty of it all. Leaving one to ponder what the cosmic odds of such a meeting were, and why you were lucky enough to win that lottery. Or it can be the way a girl smiles at you, ripping all the gloom out of your soul and replacing it with a radiance. A moment of bliss that refreshes your very existence. Both opiates of a powerful persuasion. All I know is I’d rather feel all through love, or not at all.
I sat under the arch protruding points and horns, antlers from another time, immortalized in those famous monuments. It was a surreal moment to sit there, knowing I was standing in the same place that my feet had been planted almost a decade earlier, except the circumstances just resonated a little differently this time. In this year of our lord 2014 I was a man rather than the boy I was last time. Which grew a sort of pride and accomplishment in my chest, which threatened to burst if my reminiscing continued. Luckily it was at that moment that Max finally found me.
“Jeremy?” I turned to my right and there he was, my next ride and adventure. A tall grizzled man who resembled a mountain man straight out of the past. We made our acquaintance, and I was immediately put to ease by his kind calmness that seemed to resonate from him.
He told me more of himself as we navigated our way through the village back to his vehicle, an old dusty blue jeep Cherokee, my dream car. I found out though that Max was a park ranger that worked for Teton National Park just a little north of Jackson. He was single, but apparently had a nice quaint little cabin that he happily lived out of. Living out his dream of living in synch with the land, serving it, and the wildlife that populated it. His passion for what he did was quite inspiring and something I could relate to.
I expressed my own love of the outdoors to him, and what I was doing out west here. Which only grew his own excitement, as he found the opportunity in it to flex his own knowledge of the area. Which was vast and bottomless, he began spouting off all these areas he’d be able to take me to if I was interested. To see some of the “True Tetons”, which I eagerly accepted and encouraged, as that was the exact sort of thing I was hoping to find in this little western odyssey.
We arrived at his cabin some 35-40 minutes later, which didn’t disappoint in the slightest. It was something straight out of a rustic old tale, something to match his mountainous presence. It wasn’t anything grand or intimidating, but rather homey and lived in. His walls were decorated with some hunted trophies, with accents of art, accompanied by random trinkets and relics from a life well lived. A home I wouldn’t mind finding myself living in one day.
Later that night after I’d settled in and we’d killed a couple of beers, we moved on to a dinner of elk steak, potatoes and greens. A dish that I hadn’t tasted in years, but had been a constant target of my lust. A dinner I will not soon forget.
Afterwards we retired to the living quarters and Max introduced me to a beauty of a smoking pipe, a long churchwarden piece that I quickly fell in love with. We passed it back and forth with a nice blend of tobacco that graced our pallets. He shared a few gems with me, stories of his time as a ranger.
Once he’d been nearing the end of his shift, driving along a main drag when he came upon a tourist playing ring around the Rosie with a moose, but the only thing between the tourist and his goring was his car, that the two were chasing each other around. Another where he’d nursed a baby fawn back to health after he’d found it tangled up in a trap, as poachers weren’t completely unheard of in the area. An adventurous sort of life that I quickly began to envy and admire.
The next day after an early rise and breakfast, Max and I headed out into the Park, where as promised he was going to show me a truer glimpse of the Tetons. We first ventured out to a place he called sitting bull, I’m not sure if it was after the chief or he just liked the name, I forgot to ask as the beauty of the place caught me off guard. It was a little clearing nestled at the bottom of the Tetons, next to a lake that was so crystal clear you could watch the schools of fish swim in and out. One where there were countless places to sit and meditate on. We took in the divine splendor of where we were at in the world. I just regret that my words can’t do it better justice.
After a few more places similar to this one Max asked me of my next plans after I was to leave him, which I confessed that I hadn’t begun trying to nail down anything quite yet. As I was trying to live in the moment as much as I could, I didn’t want to let a fleeting moment slip through my fingers on this excursion.
Max told me of a fellow ranger friend he had up in Yellowstone that might be able to take me in if I were so interested. Which needless to say I was. A phone call later it was all set up and I was good to go stay up in Yellowstone with Jerry.
Max agreed to drive halfway to meet Jerry, which was a bittersweet drive. Even though I’d known Max for hardly 24 hours, it was one of those brief friendships that mean more then some that lasted for years. It’s a funny sort of phenomenon that travel brings out when meeting people. Although you only may get to see a face for a day, the conditions are set up in such a way that allows for the fastest of friendships. As you both realize the predicament your in, and want to make every second of it more adventurous and memorable than the last. You lay yourself bare and more on the line then you normally would. For you know that the person you’re acquainting yourself with falls into the same niche as you do, and shares in that same spirit that keeps you fueled and going. A perfect recipe for memorable friendship.
As our time of separation approached Max bestowed upon me two gifts that immediately became some of my most prized possessions. The very pipe we’d drawn off of the night before, and a Jackson Hole sweatshirt that is the most comfortable piece of clothing that I’ve ever had the privilege of owning. I felt ashamed that I had nothing to give him in return, which he saw in my face and reassured me that it was okay, and he expected nothing in return.
A car eventually pulled up opposite of us and I knew that my time with Max had drawn to a close. We shook hands and hugged and then parted ways. A bittersweet moment of the trip, but a feeling that was quickly remedied as I entered into the company of Jerry, the ranger from Yellowstone National Park.
(The Tale shall continue in part three.)