Grand Teton Essays
The Grand Tetons
The Grand Tetons push forth from depths of the earth’s crust to the high point in the sky that we all see today. When the first fur trappers came to the Tetons they looked up and after a very long time out in the wilderness deprived of human contact, namely contact from the better gender, their fanciful minds began seeing things. Like the sailors of yore who saw mermaids and serpents, their minds wandered into the wishful world as a matter of mental survival. So in coming to the Grand Tetons, I am sure their all-male French language conversations saw something in the three main mountain peaks that made them wish for more then each other. And, I am certain the jokes began to fly. And the tough rugged men, who survive in the mountains for months on end in the crude days of the middle nineteenth century, became like all men, adolescent boys.
Yes, as they looked up at the majestic peaks they did not see the glory that Ansel Adams was so mesmerized by, or what Rockefeller saw, they saw a place of great trapping for beaver skins and a place that set their immature imaginations afire.
While this whole thing seems trivial, it means that we in today’s world are stuck with the name, Grand Teton National Park. The reality is that the name does have a historical context even if it’s a bit on the young male amygdala side of thinking. Fur trappers were a huge part of the context of the Park as well as bringing the tales of the place back to an American public with their own fascinations of an idealized West. A large flat valley with a teeming river, high mountains, and an endless supply of water brought visions of farming and easy homesteads to the minds of people living in crowded conditions and plagued by the darkness of a civil war that brought the American people to the brink of despair. When the tales returned of this place, fathers and husbands saw a promise of a life where they and their loved ones could just live.
They set out across a difficult land to find the place of fancy. And it was just as they were told, verdant valley with a plentiful river and forests for shelter and wood. They found animals and others who would help them. They rejoiced to their God. The warm valley full of life and hope was far away from the pain of their former home. As summer extended their crops struggled but it was a matter of time to understand how to live off the land. After all, there were others who had come earlier and made it. What they did not know was that many did not make it. And they were about to find out why. Summer turned to September and the wildflowers died away. The grasses turned yellow and waved in the strengthening winds. The nights cooled, but any food they grew was still available. October hit and it felt like back home. Colder temperatures with a snow flurry now and then. After all their cabins were built and there was plenty of wood for warmth. November brought a change. By their Thanksgiving celebration, the men began to wonder. Christmas brought a fascination of an entirely different kind, a longing for home. Winter never got easier, the cold got colder and the snow fell stronger as the winds blew harder. Temperatures dropped to degrees they had never known. Snow was so deep that leaving the little stark cabin was a struggle. Blizzards meant that leaving the cabin could be the last walk they ever took.
Their moments of laughter disappeared. Their hope gone. Their prayers never stopped. And, the days went on forever. Every night they went to sleep they wondered if all would wake up. Disease and hunger sent shrills through the man who had brought the family to the promised land. And just like the childish thoughts of the fur trappers, they dreamed of something that was not real, a home to love and a happy family who looked to him as their hero. That reality never came, at least in the shadow of the Grand Tetons.
Copyright, Greg Foote, 2015