Scott, Wurtzy and I followed Kevin and Michael in Kevin’s Jeep up to Luton’s Teton Cabins, thirty miles or so north of Jackson toward the border of Yellowstone, and a bit east of Moran, Wyoming. We laughed some as we watched Kevin swerve in and out of his lane, saying, “Ah, Kevin’s talking right now,” which was a phenomenon we had witnessed earlier. We also noted elk and deer off to the sides of the road as we drove through the darkness. But the thing that struck me the most was to see the Tetons by moonlight. It had never been terribly clear weather in any of my visits to Jackson, most of which had been in the winter. Not since Kev and I drove through in August 2000 on the famed Road Trip had it been so bright and pleasant, according to my memory. Now the Hole was largely clear of snow, except for a few shadowed areas where a drift hung on. But the mountains were still covered, almost down to their bases, giving a stark white contrast to the valley floor. By moonlight they now fairly glowed.
The cabins turned out to be pretty much everything we had hoped for: clean, well-appointed, comfortable. Even better, we were there the first weekend they were opened, with some of the cabins still boarded up for the winter. So we had virtually no other people around, as the season for such things in Jackson Hole normally began with the Memorial Day weekend. (This had complicated things for us when we were trying to find a place to rent.) We unloaded the trucks, opened a few drinks, and suddenly it seemed that all the exhaustion of the day, of only getting two hours of sleep the night before, of the travel itself – it all fell away. Instrument cases were opened, guitars and mandolin were tuned, and the first music of the weekend came forth. Nothing was recorded that night, I think, and we weren’t up terribly long as I recall. I think that was when I requested and received a flamenco guitar version of Michael’s upbeat Latin dance piece “Love,” which is one of my favourites off of his lush CD Virtues, featured at Out of the Blue Works. That was as good a musical baptism or invocation for the weekend as any we could have dreamed up. He followed that up with his ""How We All Are One."
In fact, "Love" is so good that I’ve just pulled it up on my iTunes on my laptop as I write (one of the benefits of having bought a much better battery for this beastie. … Actually, I have to admit, that the loud, pulsing sounds of the Memphis Horns backing this ecstatic piano is rather abrupt and incongruous with the previously-silent hillside I am perched on. And this is music that makes you want to dance, even when you’re by yourself, but if I did so here I’d probably fall a couple hundred feet, which would be no fun. I think I’m remembering why I find people with loud radios so annoying in wilderness parks. In fact, the silence here has been one of the things that I most noticed and was grateful for. Plus I’m trying to not run into buffalo or elk, and to avoid the notice of the occasional cougar that Frannie says will stray down here during the summer. Ouch: the sun just came out from behind a cloud for the first time since I set out (today has been the first overcast day since I arrived, high and grey, still above even the Grand Teton, and I suddenly feel like I’m going to sizzle like bacon as the temperature seems to leap ten degrees or more, while the black keys are in seconds almost too hot to touch….
Okay, enough of that. Took a stretchy break and eased my bum, too, while turning the music over to Mark Lang’s magnum opus “View of Heaven,” off of his CD Simplicity, while enjoying the sheer fact that I have moved in the most extraordinarly musical/mystical circle I’ve ever heard tell of. A view like this is a video that is worthy of their efforts. Rah Rah, Go Team. So: back to the story.
Friday featured us all getting up at our leisure, which is another key point of the do-it-yourself retreat: it’s restful. People did as they liked for breakfast, which we had planned as being light: bagels, fruit, juice, milk, coffee. Kev took in a thirty-mile bike ride. I woke to look out at Mount Moran and compare the actual view to the computer image I'd conjured up from Google Earth (two entries previous). People went off here and there to meditate and pray, read some, talk now and again, and we didn’t start forming any kind of consensus until the question arose of whether to have Mass before lunch. Deciding that that was the best option, we settled in around the dinner table for that wonderful sort of mixed formality and informality that I find I quite enjoy: the ancient rites of the Mass, but with the casual intimacy of friends being gathered at the table. This was only the second time I had seen Wurtz in his priestly duties, the first being Kevin’s wedding. Again, it was a splendid experience of the kind of balance found in the best of Catholicism: the intelligent reverence and reflection of a highly-educated priest, along with the generous liberty of a less-formal setting in asking for us to contribute our own reflections after his own brief homily. When we concluded, we then had a brief debate as to what to do for lunch. It was decided to go straight to our sandwich/lunchmeat reserves and so save cooking for later. We piled our blessings of food onto plates and sat outside at the picnic table across from our cabin, taking in the view of Mount Moran, which would face us throughout the week, entertaining us with its constant changes according to the light and the time of day. We spoke of places we could eyeball from where we were sitting that we could walk to, from which where we might have a clearer view of the Grand Teton itself – all of which was hidden below the ridge to our south, save only the very peak. But Kevin intrigued the group with his descriptions of a place he liked to go, Goodwin Lake. We would have to drive back to Jackson in order to get the road that would climb to the lake, but we all agreed to his recommendation, and the shared trip in the Armada was full of conversation, so it wasn’t like we were losing any time on the retreat by taking the drive. The view was to die for, anyway, and I had never driven south along the length of the Tetons during the day, so I took in that vision eagerly, noting various sights along the way, including the Turner ranch, which I had heard much of over the years, both from Doug and from the Flemings.
We drove out into the Elk Reserve, below where I’m now perched on a friendly orange and green lichen-covered boulder, and drove up a winding, occasionally terrifying gravel road with a sheer drop off below my rear right window. We paused on the way up to take a few group shots at a wide space that gave a grand view across the Hole to the Tetons, and to the cloud of smoke we had noticed on the drive down, where what looked like a considerable fire was burning over near Teton Village. We drove until we were suddenly stopped around a blind turn by a massive unmelted snowdrift that blocked the road, forcing Kevin to turn the truck around carefully, as he was blocked on one side by the upward slope and limited on the other by another drop-off. That made for some hair-raising moments while we directed him from outside, while wishing him the best of luck. We left the truck at the first wide and convenient spot and continued on foot, giving up the journey to the lake, still some miles away, but climbing up to the clear view of the Hole. (We paused so that I could take a run of photographs of Michael for a possible new album cover, featuring this absurd, partially Nacho Libre-inspired shot.) And there we simply sat with the valley and the sound of silence, with only the occasional murmur of conversation. Some photographs were taken, but it was largely just a quiet time, with the awareness that we devote far too little time to quiet, and are places where we can obtain it even more rarely.
That said, I think I’ll shut this down and enjoy it a bit myself for the last time before heading back in to the family. We’re heading over to the Rendezvous Bistro for my farewell dinner tonight, where we had been back in January 2006 with most of the rest of the Biolchini kids and I’m looking forward to simply enjoying Kevin and Frannie’s company where they can put down their work for a few minutes.